From the Director: Optimism. Shock. Resolve. Gratitude.

From the Director: Optimism. Shock. Resolve. Gratitude.

The unity we need will not come easily

Today, Joe Biden will be inaugurated as our 46th president, and Kamala Harris will be sworn in as his vice president.

American inaugurations evoke optimism and reconciliation. That’s been the case since the first peaceful transfer of power between opposing parties, when John Adams yielded to Thomas Jefferson, and Jefferson said, “We are all Republicans. We are all Federalists.”

Even at the moment of our deepest national division—the Secession Crisis of 1860–61—Abraham Lincoln sought to assure the American people. “A disruption of the Federal Union, heretofore only menaced, is now formidably attempted,” Lincoln said. “We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies.”

Optimism and unity are needed now more than ever. And yet, they will not come easy.

Joe Biden’s inauguration arrives after nearly a year of a pandemic that has cost more than 400,000 American lives. His first steps will be to address the pandemic, and then he will turn to the economic devastation it has wrought—challenges on par with the Civil War and Great Depression.

That’s particularly the case because Biden’s swearing-in comes amid a political crisis, just two weeks to the day after the outgoing president incited a mob to disrupt the counting of votes. In the words of Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell: “The mob was fed lies. They were provoked by the president and other powerful people, and they tried to use fear and violence to stop a specific proceeding of the first branch of the federal government which they did not like.” That proceeding was the confirmation of an election that was, by historical standards, not particularly close.

Our nation must grapple with how we got to this point.

The January 6 insurrection threatened the lives of the vice president, members of both chambers of Congress, their staffs, reporters, Capitol police, and hundreds of others. The insurrectionists built gallows just steps away from where Biden and Harris will be sworn in today.

This is a new kind of secessionist crisis, where the president has been encouraging his followers not just to overthrow our democracy, but to secede from reality. Even following the failed insurrection, the president continued to claim a landslide election victory and to tell the roiling mob that he loved them.

Our nation must grapple with how we got to this point.

Our faculty and staff are working overtime to help make sense of this tragic series of events. Our colleagues Melody Barnes and Caroline Janney argued this week in the Washington Post that we must investigate and prosecute those who led, aided, and gave comfort to the insurrection. That will include, once again, trying President Trump in the Senate. If convicted, he will be prevented from running for office again. Even if he is not convicted by a two-thirds Senate vote, he may face prosecution in criminal courts. Or Congress could find that he offered aid and comfort to insurrection, which would bar him from office under the 14th Amendment. Republicans are divided over those inquiries. Until they are resolved, the future of the GOP remains unsettled.

Those trials will only be the first steps in understanding how and why so many raged against our democracy. Miller Center faculty will interview key public officials. We will frame the issues for an alarmed public: What were the origins of the politics of grievance? Who were the violent extremists and the political actors who encouraged the insurrection? Why did federal investigators fail to stop the mayhem? We will consider the consequences and will offer solutions.

We also must examine the many acts of heroism and bravery—from local Republican election officials in Georgia, Arizona, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania to national party leaders and police officers who stood up to the mob that stormed the Capitol.

We look forward to collaborating with you as we try to heal the deep wounds and root out the causes. These will be hard conversations that will challenge all of us. We will look to you for guidance, feedback, and support.

Thank you, Miller Center community.

When I reflect on 2020, I remember a very hard year during which you were essential partners. You supported us as we responded to the challenges of the pandemic, the economic undoing, the racial justice reckoning, and the election-turned-constitutional crisis.

With your encouragement, our scholars have generated more interviews, op-eds, and quotes than ever before. Our events and communications teams produced three times more free content for the public.

You responded to our webinar programming. The pivot to online events via the Zoom webinar platform has been game-changing: From March through December, we delivered 46 events (nearly double our live programming pace pre-Covid). Those events drew 11,648 live attendees, double the size of our average in-person audience. We generated another 13,255 event video views on YouTube, bringing total average viewership for each event to 569. And we greatly expanded the reach of our programming: 50% of our audience came from Charlottesville; 10% from Washington, D.C.; 36% from the rest of the nation; and 4% from around the world.

Those webinars help amplify the work of our scholars. Miller Center experts made 1,068 appearances in the media, for an average of three per day. This represented an impressive 63% increase over 2019.

While we look forward to the day when we can convene again in person, we also will continue the online component. Thanks to generous donors, we have been able to upgrade our video technology so that we can produce hybrid live-and-online programming later this year.

You see us as an integrated part of UVA. Many of you followed us through our programming on the election and its aftermath—and now with our presidential transition project. Both of those efforts brought together more than two dozen scholars from across UVA, resulting in 271 appearances in various media outlets from November 1 through December 31, or an average of more than four hits per day: 78 op-eds, 33 TV interviews, 64 other interviews, and 69 quotes in major media outlets.

Our post-election work produced 12 live Zoom webinar events since November, drawing thousands of views.

This effort will serve as a demonstration project for the new UVA Institute of Democracy—a collaborative effort with the College of Arts and Sciences’ Democracy Initiative, the Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy, the Karsh Center on Law and Democracy, the Weldon Cooper Center, the Sorensen Institute, and the Miller Center.

The Institute will host “Democracy Dialogues,” sponsored by the offices of the UVA president and provost, and the UVA Democracy Biennial conference in September.

The Miller Center sees itself as an essential partner in harnessing the University’s wide-ranging expertise in history, politics, law, and business to establish UVA as a leading home of public intellectuals studying democracy. Generous funding from the George and Judy Marcus Democracy Praxis Fund has enabled us to promote these efforts and attract large national and international audiences for the content.

Growing our community: Please tell a friend! We have one request in the new year: to spread the word. We are always looking to expand the reach of our community. Tell your politically curious colleagues, family, and friends to sign up for our emails so they too can receive our latest news.

As we begin a year filled with the promise of renewal, we are busy planning even more exciting events and, when it’s safe, we look forward to inviting you to once again join us in person. Thank you for your support and enthusiasm for our work.