Marshall Professor: Capitol Clash Exposes Nation’s Lack of Civic Education, Knowledge
The insurrection at the U.S. Capitol by pro-Trump extremists has thrown Congress into turmoil. Many are asking what to do about the president who encouraged the acts of the rioters who attacked the capitol building.
Mary Beth Beller is an associate professor of political science at Marshall University. Reporter Eric Douglas spoke with her to get some perspective on what brought us to this situation and what will happen moving forward.
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.
Douglas: The attack last Wednesday on the U.S. Capitol was disturbing for most of America. I'm sure you were glued to the TV like most of us. What were your thoughts?
Beller: I think there are a couple of things that we need to take into very serious consideration. The first is that all of us, as Americans, have a very cherished right to protest against our government to petition for redress of grievances. It is right there in the Constitution. It's a First Amendment right. And I think it must be respected at all times. That the second thing is, this protest was about trying to overturn an election that had been certified in all 50 states. It was a legal process in all 50 states. What began as a protest against something that had legally occurred, crossed the line and became an act of insurrection, which is illegal.
Douglas: Where do we go from here? We've heard a lot of discussion about the 25th Amendment or another impeachment. I understand the concerns, but do you really think that either one of those will have time to take place?
Beller: I don't think it is possible that we're going to invoke section four of the 25th Amendment because that rests on the president being incapacitated. That incapacity relies on a doctor's evaluation. So that may not be possible. What could be possible is impeachment and the speaker (of the House of Representatives) has said that she's prepared to start on that. It is also possible that the Senate and the House could vote to censure the president for starting an insurrection.
Douglas: The thought has crossed my mind that we would have a Nixonesque 11th-hour resignation when facing another impeachment. I wonder if that's not more likely than running the impeachment through the full process.
Beller: President Donald Trump has said quite firmly that he will not resign. And President Nixon, for all of his faults, did respect institutions. He did not want to have the stain on his presidency, or the presidency as an office, of having impeachment. For a long time, it's been speculated that President Trump would resign the day before he left office so that then-President Mike Pence could pardon him. Whether that is in the works, or whether a President Pence would actually do that is something that remains to be seen.
Douglas: There seems to be a real break since Wednesday between the vice president and the president. If that had been a possibility a few months ago, the likelihood of something like that happening seems to be much reduced.
Beller: Vice President Pence was a member of Congress. He respects the institution of Congress. He was fulfilling his constitutional duty on Wednesday. It has to be noted that he has a different regard for constitutional processes than President Trump does. The other thing we need to take into consideration is that Mike Pence, as Vice President, may have a political life left, and he needs to assess what's going to be in his political interest going forward.
Douglas: What haven't we talked about? What have we missed?
Beller: We have missed the elephant in the room and that is that we have thousands of Americans who do not possess the ability to discern fact from fiction. These people truly believe that there was a stolen election. Even in the face of the facts that show that there was no stolen election.
Douglas: Fifteen or 20 years ago, we would hear about people being radicalized online. This was all in reference to ISIS or al-Qaida, but it seems like we're facing exactly the same thing.
Beller: We have failed in civics education. None of this should require a sophisticated degree. All Americans should know how they can get involved in the political process. Everybody should know it's a right of every American to be able to do so. And it has been through social media, but also through a lot of networks that call themselves news. People don't have the ability to discern between news and propaganda.