As a child, I would often ask my mom about my grandfather, a man I only ever met in my imagination. Most of the time, she provided a blanket statement that sounded something like “he hated everyone” to calm and protect my feelings about his personal thoughts. Born in Ukraine in 1943, my grandfather was a Nazi sympathizer. As an adult, I now see America has a Nazi problem. We consume Nazism through pop culture. We study it and search for answers through documentaries. We rationalize it in our families. Nazism has continuously festered in the United States and it expanded during the years of the Trump administration.
Former President Donald Trump, a 1968 Wharton graduate, is, at minimum, a white supremacist enabler. He began his 2016 presidential campaign deceitfully calling Mexicans “rapists” and claiming he would “make America great again.” As a nation that has never owned up to its dark history, there is plenty of room to argue that the United States has never been great. With that context, it is clear that Trump’s pomposity was always geared towards certain Americans. Everyone that attached themselves to and empowered Trump (including, Mr. MyPillow) must be held accountable. Trump is a fascist. He has long manifested racism and white supremacy as mechanisms for support and control.
As a true autocrat, Trump utilized his power to undermine our democracy and the rule of law. He eroded truths and created fantasies that millions of Americans consumed as legitimate. With the exception of a few, Republicans are responsible for Trump’s reprehensible behaviors over the last few years. They empowered him. He thrived on their abnormal and indecent support.
Trump’s four adult children, three of which are Penn graduates, must also be condemned for their role in the destruction their father catered. They are all complicit in the alt-right’s extremism. They all supported their father’s agenda and they all contributed to the normalization of dishonesty.
Harvard students recently published a letter demanding guidelines be created to limit any lack of accountability for former Trump administration officials. We need to do the same. Penn should no longer be silent about the mayhem we have witnessed over the last four years. No Trump affiliate, especially not Penn alumni such as Donald Trump Jr., Ivanka Trump, or Tiffany Trump, should be allowed to participate in any campus- or Penn-related activity. The University must denounce all of these individuals just like they denounced facts. Penn must hold every Trump affiliate culpable for their blatant disloyalty and undermining of our commonwealth.
Last October, I watched Penn College Republicans face off against Penn Democrats in an online debate. It was appalling to witness the College Republicans defend the Trump administration’s distorted concept of conservatism. They pandered towards his attempted annihilation of our democracy.
Recently, I caught up with Penn Dems to get some of their thoughts on how Penn should respond to Trump and his administration. They shared: “It is very important that Penn and other institutions are thoughtful about the speakers who they welcome to campus. While it is important to be cognizant and respectful of all viewpoints, Trump’s actions over the past four years and especially over the past month have been inexcusable. The Republican Party also needs to do some serious reflection about whether such actions have a place within their party and take firm action in opposing Trump and what he stands for.” I couldn’t have said that better.
I also got the opportunity to check in with Jeremy Ashe, a College first year and member of College Republicans, who gave me his personal perspective on Trump and the Republican Party: “I hope the Republican Party can divorce itself from the inflammatory rhetoric that Trump used, while retaining the policy agenda that extended/helped every single American. However, considering Trump is very liked within the party, I think the party will adopt some of the bluntness and appeal to the working class that Trump used, while rejecting some of the worst parts of rhetoric.” I too hope the Republican Party can divorce itself from inflammatory rhetoric. However, I don’t see the ways in which Trump helped every American. I’m blinded by the deaths his lack of leadership enabled, amongst many other failures.
In Professor Mia Bay’s Civil Rights Movement seminar, I always appreciated what College senior and former Penn Dems President, Owen Voutsinas-Klose added to our discussions. His point of view was consistently veracious and reflective. I reached out to him to see what his thoughts were, he shared: “Donald Trump and his enablers should be banished from civil society. They shouldn’t sit on corporate boards, be accepted into reasonable discourse, or participate in Penn events. There’s no equivocating on whether it’s good or not to incite a riot or separate children from their parents. With that said, conservatives thrive off of playing the victim and acting persecuted for their views. It’s important to not appear to muzzle views when they appear on campus but rather robustly confront them.” Voutsinas-Klose is right, we need to make it clear that dangerous rhetoric that enables violence and white supremacy is intolerable.
At the end of the day, history will judge Trump’s atrocities. In the meantime, let’s keep the pain he caused America and his facilitators in the front of our minds. It is imperative that we address everyone that aligned themselves with Trump, especially Penn alumni, accordingly and stop giving alt-right narratives and white power rhetoric spaces to prosper. The student body and the University must dismiss the fantasies projected by the Trump administration that spurred homegrown terrorism. Here’s what that should look like at Penn: Trump and his affiliates should not be welcome on campus to speak at any event, guest lecture, or conference. They should not be awarded any honorary degrees, awards, or be offered invitations to participate in any commencement activities, ever.
Ultimately, a guideline for accountability is indispensable. Democracy is a concept essentially connected to America. Likewise, we must acknowledge its delicacy. A slight fray in our democratic process could lead to an unstoppable unraveling. The only way to disrupt such destructive occurrences is to label them what they are. We must not accept the Trump administration’s impairments as a normality. The time to do better and look ahead is upon us.
JESSICA GOODING is a College senior from Philadelphia studying History and English. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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