8 Jan 2021

PM should not 'tiptoe' around Trump's culpability - professor

9:59 am on 8 January 2021

The prime minister needs to use her global standing to make an explicit condemnation of the attack on Capitol Hill, Otago University Professor of International Relations Robert Patman says.

WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 06: Thousands of Donald Trump supporters storm the United States Capitol building following a "Stop the Steal" rally on January 06, 2021 in Washington, DC.

Photo: 2021 Getty Images

Pro-Trump rioters stormed the US Capitol building in Washington yesterday, disrupting the proceedings as members of Congress were about to certify Joe Biden's win as US president.

There has been international criticism over the events at Capitol Hill, including from New Zealand politicians.

In a statement yesterday, Jacinda Ardern said democracy is the right of people to exercise a vote, have their voices heard and then have that decision upheld peacefully which should never be undone by a mob.

National leader Judith Collins said what was seen in Washington yesterday was a disgraceful attack on democracy. She said the National Party supports the peaceful and orderly transition of power.

Follow live updates here

Professor Patman told Morning Report while Ardern's comments showed New Zealand's support rule of law and democracy it should have gone further.

After the Christchurch mosque attacks and the country's successful response to Covid-19, Ardern had gained a global audience, he said. It was important that New Zealand made it clear Trump's refusal to accept the outcome of the election was unacceptable and there was a need to uphold the rule of law, both nationally and internationally.

As a liberal democracy, New Zealand needed to make its position plainer.

"When an armed mob incited by the sitting president takes over Capitol Hill, the democratic institutions, then it's important we don't tiptoe around this and we are very clear."

No caption

Donald Trump and Jacinda Ardern. Photo: AFP/UN tv screen grab

The events in Washington affected New Zealand, because the US helped set up international institutions such as the United Nations and the World Trade Organisation which the country depended on. These organisations helped maintain world order but had been seriously undermined during the Trump presidency although the outlook was much better with Joe Biden's succession.

While Trump is now facing isolation in the White House with Facebook and Twitter bans it would be better for him to be removed from power, Professor Patman said.

Trump has now indicated he will accept an orderly transfer of power so perhaps some heat was going out of the situation.

"But I do think we as a country need to be very clear where we stand on this situation... Most Americans are utterly appalled and ashamed by what's happened and they'll be looking for solidarity from other democracies around the world."

'Disregard for a legacy'

The attack on Capitol Hill is being described as the most shocking development seen in internal US politics since the Civil War.

Waikato University Professor of political science, Dan Zirker, told Morning Report the actions of the president have been unexpected, but not entirely surprising.

"When it got this close to the end of his term, I had assumed that something like this would not happen. It's an absolute disregard for a legacy.

"He is willing to do anything to maintain power and that is quite unexpected."

Trump has direct responsibility - US academic

US President-elect Joe Biden says yesterday was "one of the darkest days" in the nation's history and that many had seen it coming.

Professor of law at Cornell University in New York Jens Yens Ohlin agrees, saying everyone saw it coming because Trump has laid the groundwork with his false claims about the election being stolen from him. It was then topped off with the rally that Trump spoke at before his supporters invaded Capitol Hill.

"I think everything that we saw yesterday was the logical culmination in that campaign of disinformation and then also, in a much more specific sense, what happened was the direct result of the speeches that Trump and [Rudi] Giuliani gave at that political rally."

WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 06: President Donald Trump speaks at the "Stop The Steal" Rally on January 06, 2021 in Washington, DC.

Donald Trump speaks at the rally before his supporters set off for the Capitol. Photo: 2021 Getty Images

Trump has a direct responsibility for what happened, he told them to go to the Capitol, he urged them not to take no for an answer and not to show any weakness and demand that he be installed for another term, Professor Yens Ohlin told Morning Report.

Giuliani was even more explicit, referring to "a trial by conflict" to settle the election dispute which was a call for violence.

"It's pretty clear the cause and effect here."

The best way for Trump to be held accountable would be for the Republicans to dump him, whether by invoking the 25th Amendment to remove him from office or else impeachment which would make it clear Congress held him responsible. This could happen even after Trump leaves office and make it impossible for him to hold federal office again.

"I think that impeachment is also a relevant way for Congress to clearly state that this behaviour was absolutely unacceptable."

It would also be better if Cabinet members did not resign so that the 25th Amendment could be looked at as an option.

There needed to be a federal investigation by the Justice Department looking at the criminal actions of those who invaded Capitol Hill and the police response, Professor Yens Ohlin said.

"I would be surprised if they don't look at the political rally and the speeches that were made and whether or not there is some criminal responsibility for Trump and Giuliani and others who spoke at that rally."

Richard Barnett, a supporter of US President Donald Trump sits inside the office of US Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi as he protest inside the US Capitol in Washington, DC, January 6, 2021.

Richard Barnett, a supporter of US President Donald Trump sits inside the office of US Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi during the storming of the US Capitol by Trump supporters. Photo: AFP

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs