The divide is not purely partisan

A couple of weeks ago:

University of Virginia professors, alumni and others are up in arms over the school’s plan to hire President Donald Trump’s former legislative affairs director, calling it “unconscionable” as the one-year anniversary of the deadly white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, approaches.

Marc Short, a frequent Trump spokesman on television, is leaving the White House Friday and is slated to serve as a senior fellow at the Miller Center, a wing of the university focused on presidential history and public policy. Short received an MBA from the university’s business school.

A business degree, and a job working for Trump. That seems like a very odd CV for a wing of a genuine university focused on presidential history and public policy. Granted Short probably has insider knowledge of the Trump presidency, but surely senior fellow is more of an academic position than a source material position.

Short said he sympathized but on the other hand Trump did put out a strong statement condemning racism (a statement written by others that he promptly undercut with the “on both sides, on both sides” remark, but Short didn’t say that).

Short also said he and his family “feel a particular bond and closeness to the community” of Charlottesville. He said he’s been visiting the town and the campus since he was a kid attending sporting events there.

“I think that there is, as well, a cherished tradition at Thomas Jefferson’s university, hopefully, of welcoming diversity of opinion,” Short said. “I hope that the message isn’t that anyone who worked in the administration can’t work at a university.”

Well, if it’s not, it should be. The administration is intensely hostile to any kind of intellectual work or inquiry or background. Trump attacks the press daily, and he is no fan of diversity of opinion when it comes to himself and his doings. Diversity of opinion is a good, but “opinion” isn’t the issue.

On Thursday night, a spokesman for the Miller Center said it is committed to nonpartisan and bipartisan study of the presidency and employs former officials from both Republican and Democratic administrations.

“We understand and respect those UVA faculty members and other critics — even some from within the Miller Center — who disagree with the decision to name Marc Short a senior fellow. One of our core values is fostering robust, but civil, debate across our nation’s bitter partisan divide,” said Howard Witt, director of communications and managing editor at the Miller Center, in an email.

Yes but again, it’s not a matter of partisan or non-partisan. It’s a matter of truth telling, of rights respecting, of bullying avoidance. Trump and his people aren’t partisan, they’re Trumpan.

Today two historians resigned from the Miller Center in protest.

William I. Hitchcock and Melvyn P. Leffler announced Monday they are resigning from the Miller Center, a wing of the university focused on presidential history and public policy, over its hiring of Short, Trump’s former legislative affairs director. They remain tenured faculty in the university’s history department.

In their resignation letter, the historians blasted Short for not distancing himself from Trump’s response to the August 2017 white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., which resulted in the death of a 32-year-old woman and in which Trump famously blamed “both sides.”

“By not speaking out at the time, by not emphasizing the threats to human decency posed by the public display of Nazi symbols and racist diatribes in our own neighborhood, Mr. Short was complicit in the erosion of our civic discourse and showed an appalling indifference to the civility of our own city and university,” they wrote.

It’s the latest fallout over the center’s decision to appoint Short to a one-year fellowship. Professors, alumni and others have strongly objected, calling it “unconscionable” as the one-year anniversary of the violent rally in Charlottesville approaches. An online petition with thousands of signatures blasts the school for hiring Short, saying “the university should not serve as a waystation for high-level members of an administration that has directly harmed our community.”

Leffler is a former dean of the College and Graduate School of Arts and Sciences at UVa. Hitchcock is a New York Times bestselling historian and has been a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.

Hitchcock posted their letter on Facebook so we can read the whole thing.

The appointment of Mr. Short runs counter to the Center’s fundamental values of non-partisanship, transparency, openness, a passion for truth and objectivity, and civility.

Mr. Short has been a partisan activist during his entire professional career. He has associated himself with people and institutions who disregard, circumvent, and even violate the norms and laws that are fundamental to civil discourse and democratic politics. He began his career working for the Senate campaign of Oliver North, a man who had been engaged in illegal covert actions and who directly and knowingly contravened congressional legislation. Mr. Short worked for years for the Koch Brothers Freedom Partners fund, an organization that prides itself on the surreptitious funneling of big donor money into the political arena, thereby violating the transparency on which a democratic polity must rest.

In his recent work in the White House Mr. Short has associated himself with ongoing attacks on a free media. He has associated himself with rhetoric and policies that have empowered and emboldened white supremacists and that have led to spectacular increases in racist and misogynistic talk and behavior. He has been a visible and active spokesman for an administration that has attacked our law enforcement agencies, that has tried to disenfranchise millions of voters, and that has separated immigrant asylum-seeking mothers from their children. By associating himself with an administration that shows no respect for truth, he has contributed to the erosion of civil discourse and democratic norms that are essential to democratic governance and that are central to the mission of the Miller Center.

That even understates it – the administration doesn’t just fail to show respect for truth, it actively undermines and attacks it. The administration is hostile to truth.

We firmly believe that Mr. Short has a right and should be given an opportunity to present his views at the Miller Center. The Miller Center has welcomed, and should always welcome, people of diverse political views. We ourselves have brought many Republican and Democratic policymakers as well as many distinguished conservative and liberal scholars to the events we have coordinated at the Miller Center. But it violates the practices of the Miller Center to hire such a notoriously partisan political appointee as a paid distinguished fellow, and to do so without any open discussion – prior to his appointment – with the faculty and staff. This seems all the more true because Mr. Short will be joining the powerful Washington lobbying firm, Guidepost Strategies, an explicitly partisan organization.

Democracy in the United States today is in peril. As teachers, we have often told our students that the defense of democracy and its basic ideals – respect for truth, inquiry, reason, decency, civility, and humanity – requires constant vigilance and active engagement. We must not normalize or rationalize hateful, cruel and demeaning behavior. We should not reward and honor those who defend such behavior. When we see things we believe to be wrong, we must speak out and take a stand. We do so now by tendering our resignations from the Miller Center.


William I. Hitchcock Melvyn P. Leffler

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