After this unprecedented week of political violence fueled by President Trump himself, followed by a flood of resignations from his own top cabinet members, how will history remember the final days of the Trump presidency? Presidential historian Gleaves Whitney was the long-time director of the Hauenstein Center for Presidential Studies at Grand Valley State University, and now serves as the Executive Director of the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Foundation.
“I have never seen anything quite like what we saw on Wednesday in all of my study of history,” Whitney said.
As a historian, Whitney thinks about how events will be written in history and what conclusions will arise from these events. He explained that the storming of the Capitol building will be monumental in America’s history.
“The behavior we saw a couple of days ago, on Wednesday was the single most disruptive presidential act in U.S. history. Where you had a sitting president incite a mob to violence and insurrection and to go in strength to the Capitol,” Whitney said. “But I am saying that that is a historic event, it will go down in the textbooks, as it should, as the single most disruptive act of a president of the United States.”
While presidential assassinations and other attacks on the country have been devastating for the country, Whitney clarified that President Trump precipitated this disruption, which makes it a uniquely consequential case. But these actions have shown that the institutions in the United States are durable and secure, according to Whitney.
“Any future president who wants to do the same kinds of things that Mr. Trump has done, will find our institutions are strong, are resilient, and they’ll push back,” Whitney said. “This is a benchmark. It’s an ugly benchmark. But it’s a necessary benchmark for the vitality of our democracy. So I’m proud of our institutions and our spirit as Americans for allowing the institutions to work as they were.”
Many of Trump’s officials have resigned or are considering resignation after the Capitol siege. Whitney said it is orderly and constitutional to invoke the 25th Amendment, and that the Cabinet should choose to do so. He emphasized that it should be these constitutional previsions at the disposal of the American government that should be taken, not lawlessness or mobs.