Bollinger's Thoughts on the 2020 Presidential Election
Four years ago, I was in Beijing on an official trip when the result of the presidential election was announced. The outcome seemed to me to represent a repudiation of most of what I had learned and believed constituted the fundamental principles and norms of a constitutional democracy and of a civil society. For a nation that had over centuries painstakingly established the most successful system of universities in the world, and had benefited enormously from the dedication of these institutions to the advancement of knowledge and to the education of our youth, I feared even more. I returned to campus immediately and wrote of the need to resist intolerance, to give voice to our anxieties, to prepare to safeguard our values, and to continue focusing on what we do best and do for the sake of society, namely our scholarship and teaching.
The intervening years have provided the deeds that made the words so alarming. The policies and rhetoric of power have been disastrous for many and deleterious to our institutions. The erosion of the integrity of intellectual standards is more than jarring; the sanctioning of prejudice, of racism and antisemitism, in particular, is resonant with some of the worst periods in society in the last one hundred years, as are the regular assaults on expertise (including toward faculty at Columbia); and the demonization of those beyond our borders has been deeply destructive, including actions specifically directed at international students.
"What we are now witnessing is utterly unprecedented and the culmination of years of enabling by those best positioned to resist. No reasonable public official can or should condone this behavior."
The pandemic led to the widespread adoption of safe, reliable methods for voting other than visiting the polls on Election Day—a development that democracy advocates, including myself, have long advanced as a way to expand the franchise. These procedural changes, in combination with the present character of our politics and the nation’s and the world’s incredibly daunting challenges, produced the largest number of votes ever cast in an election in this country. And it is especially heart-warming to see the increase in turnout among young people. Students here at Columbia went to extraordinary lengths to work out complicated logistics in order to cast their ballots, often for the first time—a commitment wonderful to behold. To deny this process with completely unfounded claims of election fraud is to defame democracy itself and to open up possibilities of truly frightening proportions. What we are now witnessing is utterly unprecedented and the culmination of years of enabling by those best positioned to resist. No reasonable public official can or should condone this behavior.
On behalf of Columbia, I congratulate both President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris. There is no time to waste in addressing the myriad emergencies of our time, as challenging as any I can think of in my lifetime. We stand ready to do our part, just as we would with any new administration that came from within the traditions of our democracy.
More From the President
Read President Bollinger's column on the Mailman School's leadership during the pandemic.