Renowned Historian, Author and Professor Dr. Manisha Sinha joins us to discuss the events of January 6, 2021, whereby a pro-Trump mob stormed the US Capitol Building. Dr. Sinha places this in historical context as the country tries to make sense of the incomprehensible state of this nation, in the last days of President Donald J. Trump and the current administration. Dr. Manisha Sinha is the Draper Chair in American History at the University of Connecticut, and the Mellon Distinguished Scholar in Residence at the American Antiquarian Society, for the current academic year. She ever received her PhD from Columbia University, where her dissertation was nominated for the Bancroft Prize. She taught at the University of Massachusetts for over 20 years, where she was awarded the Chancellor's Medal, the highest honor bestowed upon faculty. She is the author of The Counterrevolution of Slavery: Politics and Ideology in Antebellum South Carolina, which was named one of the 10 best books on slavery in Politico, in 2015, and featured in The New York Times' 1619 project. Her second book, the multiple award-winning, The Slave's Cause: A History of Abolition, was long-listed for the National Book Award for Non-Fiction. She is the author and editor of numerous books and articles, and has lectured all over the world, and written widely for the mainstream press, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Wall street Journal, to name a few. A historian of the long 19th century, her research interests lie specifically in the transnational histories of slavery, abolition, and feminism, and the history and legacy of the Civil War and reconstruction.
SONIYA GOKHALE (00:40):
Hello, and welcome to another edition of A Desi Woman Podcast. I am your host, Soniya Gokhale. And today, we are excited to be joined once again by renowned historian, author and professor Dr. Manisha Sinha. Dr. Manisha Sinha is the Draper Chair in American History at the University of Connecticut, and the Mellon Distinguished Scholar in Residence at the American Antiquarian Society, for the current academic year. She ever received her PhD from Columbia University, where her dissertation was nominated for the Bancroft Prize.
She taught at the University of Massachusetts for over 20 years, where she was awarded the Chancellor's Medal, the highest honor bestowed upon faculty. She is the author of The Counterrevolution of Slavery: Politics and Ideology in Antebellum South Carolina, which was named one of the 10 best books on slavery in Politico, in 2015, and featured in The New York Times' 1619 project. Her second book, the multiple award-winning, The Slave's Cause: A History of Abolition, was long-listed for the National Book Award for Non-Fiction. She is the author and editor of numerous books and articles, and has lectured all over the world, and written widely for the mainstream press, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Wall street Journal, to name a few. A historian of the long 19th century, her research interests lie specifically in the transnational histories of slavery, abolition, and feminism, and the history and legacy of the Civil War and reconstruction.
SONIYA GOKHALE (02:22):
She is currently writing a book on the reconstruction of American democracy after the Civil War, under contract with Liverwright. Dr. Sinha, thank you so much for making time in your busy schedule, to join us this evening. As I know you're being inundated with interview requests, as you renowned thought leadership is being called upon more than ever, as the country tries to make sense of the in comprehensible state of this nation, in the last days of President Donald J. Trump and the current administration. Welcome to the show, Dr. Sinha.
MANISHA SINHA (02:57):
And thank you for having me, Soniya.
SONIYA GOKHALE (02:59):
Dr. Sinha, the entire United States is still in shock from the storming of the US Capitol by a pro-Trump mob, who are enraged about the 2020 election results. And appeared intent upon unleashing any amount of violence and lawlessness necessary in an effort to disrupt our democratic process, and certification of the election. The images were horrific and startling for many Americans, as the fragility of our democracy, something which many of us had presumed to be a founding principle of this country, and virtually unshakeable, was exposed. However, as you have aptly noted in recent interviews, and in your published work, such a disruption by right-wing, white domestic terrorists has occurred previously in our nation's history. I wanted to ask you about this previous historical event and any parallels you can observe to our current state of affairs in the United States.
MANISHA SINHA (03:59):
Yes, this has happened before in American history, but it is rather astounding and unprecedented for it to happen today. Because if you want to look at parallels, you have to go right back to the 19th century, to the period immediately after the Civil War, but the Ku Klux Klan was formed in 1866. And many other right-wing, white terror domestic groups in the South, to prevent actually, from interracial democracy taking hold in the United States, to prevent the election of black officials, to prevent black men from voting. So there is a history of this, and when I saw those mobs yesterday with their paraphernalia, they reminded me a lot of these white supremacist groups, that over through democratic governments in the South, after the Civil War.
SONIYA GOKHALE (04:52):
I would offer that for many Americans, it was quite an eye opener to see the images of mostly Caucasian male supporters of Trump, waving the Confederate flag in Congress, and the Capitol building. In a recent interview, you did for Democracy Now!, you point out the historical significance in this, and indicate that this did not even happen during the Civil War, but it happened this week in the United States. Can you offer more insights on this from a historical context?
MANISHA SINHA (05:21):
Yes, it is rather astonishing that the Confederate flag, that never made an appearance in Washington DC at the height of the Civil War, even though Washington DC was constantly under threat by Confederate invasion. They were surrounded by Confederate States, and Confederate-sympathizing States, like Virginia and Maryland. And yet this did not happen then. And now we see white supremacists waving Confederate flags and Nazi flags in the temple of American democracy, in the people's house. I thought that was simply a low point in Trump's attacks on American democratic institutions, and the rule of law, enabled by the modern Republican Party. The image of that awful man in Speaker Pelosi's office with a [inaudible 00:06:17] US flag next to him, said it all.
MANISHA SINHA (06:20):
I do think that this was a seditious mob incited by the current occupant of the White House, and by a significant chunk of the Republican Party, including its leadership, senators like Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz. And that they should bear some responsibility for inciting this violence, for trying to interfere in a democratic process, for trying to overturn the results of a democratic election. They are no better than some third world dictators, or some fascists in the European past, and current authoritarian figures in Europe. They are just as bad. I hope that not only Trump, but also these men, actually bear some responsibility, and bear some consequences of their actions in inciting violence.
SONIYA GOKHALE (07:16):
Dr. Sinha, we are very saddened as a nation to learn that the death toll from this week's domestic terror incident stands at five. And one of them, Ashli Babbitt, was a 14 year veteran of the US Air Force. In fact, it is notable that many Trump's supporters, who arrived to protest the election results this week in DC, are veterans. Well, veterans are very much like the rest of the electorate, concerned and upset about the same issues as everyone else. There are also some differences. In some respects, they are the 1%, the 1% that takes on the burden of fighting in war. For veterans, unfortunately 22 suicides a day is not just a statistic, it's a reality. Can you explain how Trump played to this group of voters?
SONIYA GOKHALE (08:06):
And even the non-veterans who stormed the Capitol, many of whom were dressed in military gear, knee pads, and stab vests. And also perhaps speak to the fact that when it became evident that the US Military was not going to support Trump in his attempts to subvert the election, effectively to instigate a coup, that he then mobilized and incited those amongst his space to carry out his agenda. And if you could also speak about the resistance at the military, to participate, and the significance of discussing reconstruction now.
MANISHA SINHA (08:43):
Yeah. So I think, there were clearly some who may have been veterans like this woman who unfortunately died because of her own actions. I think it is difficult to what percentage of the crowd was made up of veterans. There seems to be some suggestion that some of them were actually currently serving law enforcement officers, who were able to get in by waving their badges. And we know that many of these right-wing groups have infiltrated certain areas of the police and military, but Trump has shown no respect for the military. He has called them suckers and losers. He has put a bounty on the heads of a lot, he has not said anything against Russians putting bounties of the heads of many US soldiers. So I think the military and the veteran community itself is divided.
MANISHA SINHA (09:38):
The Republicans love to talk about patriotism in our veterans, but they have been really very stingy when it comes to giving these veteran benefits, or giving them physical and mental health counseling that they might need, especially if they're suffering from PTSD. I think it's important to note the veteran presence, but not to overblow it too much, because I think a lot of veterans and a lot of military men have been offended by the manner in which Trump has spoken about them, and by the manner in which he has sometimes behaved. In misusing our military, for instance, to tear gas peaceful protestors, or in simply overturning military codes of conduct, pardoning people accused of war crimes. I think his support in the military, and among veterans is probably not as high as usual Republican precedents have.
SONIYA GOKHALE (10:37):
That makes a lot of sense. Absolutely. And then, what is the significance of discussing reconstruction at this point?
MANISHA SINHA (10:45):
Yeah, I think it's important to remember reconstruction because it was one moment in American history when right-wing terrorism, white supremacist terrorism, actually manage to overturn democracy. Actually manage to overturn the rule of law in this country. And we need to be very wary of that because the democratic experiment, even though it has lasted for centuries, in the United States, is a fragile one. And if we have people like this, who are intent on overturning the results of elections, of interfering in democratic process through violence and intimidation, we are in a dangerous place. I think it is really important that these groups suffer the full consequences of their action, and that the entire weight of the law come down upon them. They all, I have suggested, should be tried and prosecuted according to the enforcement acts that were passed during reconstruction, to actually quell white domestic terrorism in the South.
SONIYA GOKHALE (11:57):
Dr. Sinha, my final question for you pertains to President Trump and the 25th amendment, or impeachment proceedings. With even former White House Chief of Staff, John Kelly, now advocating for discussion of the 25th Amendment. Can you offer for our listeners some historical context around the 25th Amendment? Which was passed by Congress on July 6th 1965, and ratified by the States on February 10th, 1967. And on a related note, you have offered that there's simply not enough time to contemplate an impeachment process, but assert that the 25th Amendment is needed to wholly disabled Trump in these last days of his presidency given the dangerous turn of events that he essentially incited this week.
MANISHA SINHA (12:48):
Right, so the 25th Amendment is a very recent one. It was passed only in the 1960s. And it was really passed in order to make sure that if the President is disabled, either physically or mentally, the Vice President could step in. But in order for that to be triggered, you would have to have a majority of the Cabinet, and the Vice President agreed to this. And I suggested this, hoping that Pence would develop a backbone, since he had refused to interfere in the counting of the electoral college votes. That he would in fact, invoke the 25th Amendment with the Cabinet. He clearly is not going to do it from what I hear so far, the Republican Party has been recreated completely to its oath of office, the Republican office holders, to the Constitution and to our democracy. They did not impeach Trump, they did not ask him to resign when there was ample evidence that Trump had engaged in impeachable and criminal behaviors, in high crimes and misdemeanors, as is required.
MANISHA SINHA (13:56):
I thought maybe the violent attempt to overtake the US Capitol would change their minds. And it clearly hasn't. In that sense, I think in fact, to impeach him again is the only other option we have because he should not be allowed to get away with this. He incited the mob. I don't think the framers of the 25th Amendment ever thought that we would have a seditious President, that we would have a man who would actually encourage sedition against the government over which he is presiding, it would boggle their minds probably. But in this case, I think Trump's insanity has led to this. It should have been triggered. I mean, this is a clear case where the 25th Amendment should be triggered. But of course the Republican Party, as usual, will not do it. They're making noises about not wanting to impeach Trump again.
MANISHA SINHA (14:55):
But I do think it is really important that a message be sent, that what Trump did was seditious, it was illegal. That he be held to account for that. And also, the Republican members of Congress who encouraged this, should be held to account. They should, at the very least be censured, if not expelled. But knowing the Republican Party, how it has been hostage to Trump, and how a large section of it actually believes in these anti-democratic, violent actions, I don't have much hope for them finding their conscience at this late stage. All the crocodile tears that they shed over the violence yesterday was a complete turnaround from their position, which has enabled Trump to keep challenging the results of the election. They had never denounced him for doing that. They never completely distanced themselves from his wild conspiracy theories, and even the wilder ones that his strange, so-called lawyers were putting forth.
MANISHA SINHA (16:02):
At this point, I think next week, we might see another impeachment. Obviously, he won't be convicted because you need a two thirds vote in the Senate and the Republicans won't do it. But even symbolically, sending that message. And then, making sure that criminal prosecutions follow for members of Congress, and leaders of the Republican Party, and Trump, who actually enabled this attempted coup is important. I think that is important to set that precedent, to say that the rule of law is what will prevail. And it's not a question that if you are in power, you can get away with anything, including inciting a violent insurrection against the government of the United States.
SONIYA GOKHALE (16:45):
Well, thank you so much for that response, and unquestionably, one of the darkest weeks in our nation's history. And as a preeminent historian, I know you're so much in demand so I really cannot thank you enough for joining us this evening, Dr. Manisha Sinha.
MANISHA SINHA (17:00):
Thank you so much, Soniya. Nice talking with you again.
SONIYA GOKHALE (17:05):
Bye bye. Thank you.
MANISHA SINHA (17:06):