Graduate Center Faculty React to the Storming of the U.S. Capitol: Heath Brown, Candace McCoy, Susan Opotow, David S. Reynolds, and John Torpey Weigh In

January 7, 2021

Experts on national and international politics, U.S. history and literature, criminal justice, and psychology comment on the implications of the "riveting and horrifying" attack and related events.

(Credit: Getty Images)
(Credit: Getty Images)

We invited Graduate Center faculty experts to share their perspectives on yesterday’s storming of the U.S. capitol. Here we share excerpts from their reactions. (Their full responses are in this document.)

Heath-Brown-200 faculty photo

“Every American should be embarrassed by the unwillingness to recognize the building threat posed by the president and his supporters and protect Congress and the critical procedures it was carrying out yesterday,” wrote Professor Heath Brown (GC/John Jay; Criminal Justice/Public Policy), who has studied and written about presidential transitions. “Today, Congress should call on every member of the Trump cabinet to hold hearings on Thursday and Friday to explain how they are working with the Biden-Harris transition team.”

susan opotow-200 headshot faculty photo


“Yesterday's attack on the U.S. Capitol was riveting and horrifying,” observed Professor Susan Opotow (GC/John Jay, Psychology), a specialist on the psychology of conflict and moral exclusion. She noted that a 2020 book chapter she co-authored “sets out the background for yesterday's ugly denouement of Trump's presidency, a presidency that's been predicated on hateful and exclusionary rhetoric, values, and actions.”


Candace McCoy Headshot

Professor Candace McCoy (GC/John Jay, Criminal Justice) commented on the ability of a mob to breach security and raid the Capitol. “The U.S Capitol police are basically security guards; think “mall cop.” … The D.C. National Guard was eventually mobilized after the Capitol was invaded, much too late to prevent its breach.  Who activated it? Politico has reported that Vice-President Pence called the Pentagon after he and all other members of the Senate had been evacuated from the Senate chambers.  Presumably President Trump would not call for the National Guard, but at the request of the vice president, his secretary of defense did.”



John Torpey

Presidential Professor John Torpey (Sociology and History), director of the Ralph Bunche Institute for International Studies at The Graduate Center, wrote, “Yesterday's assault on the U.S. Capitol building … was met around the world with astonishment and distress, at least in the democracies.  … America’s international stature over the past four years has been diminished and the reputation of the country tarnished by a coarse bully with little interest in our traditional allies and partners.  Yesterday’s insurrection contributed further to the decline of American influence and prestige abroad.”

David S. Reynolds faculty photo

Distinguished Professor David S. Reynolds (English) author most recently of Abe: Abraham Lincoln in His Times, observed, “What happened yesterday is what Abraham Lincoln, our greatest president, feared the most. Lincoln’s first major political speech — given in January 1838, when he was a 28-year-old state politician in Illinois — was called “The Perpetuation of Our Political Institutions.” In the speech, Lincoln said that the greatest threats to American democracy came from within. One was what he called “mobocracy” — that is, uncontrolled mobs who willfully violated the law to make a political point. Especially shameful, he said, were white mobs who went on racist rampages, destroying property and hurting people. In the speech, he also targeted another potential danger: the assumption to the presidency of a demagogue who was interested solely in his own power, not in the sanctity of the Constitution.  … Yesterday, despite Trump-inspired domestic terrorism, the Constitution held firm when Congress approved the results of the Electoral College. Let’s move forward with the trust that the ship of state will emerge from our political storm intact under Joe Biden, who has pledged to keep in mind both those who supported him and those who did not.