Date: January 6, 2021
TO: The NYU Community
FROM: NYU President Andrew Hamilton

After a year of difficulties and turmoil and sorrow, I thought, as I am sure many of you did, that 2021 would be different. I didn’t delude myself that all our problems would be solved — there are too many, and some are too large. But I allowed myself the belief that we might leave the worst behind, usher in a period of righting the most egregious wrongs, avoid the worst ignominies, and begin to replace untruth with facts and divisiveness with understanding.

And then came January 6, 2021.

In the worst desecration of American democracy perhaps any of us have known, a violent mob — incited by a steady diet of lies and stoked grievances, indifferent to the will of American voters, unconcerned about the tenets of democracy — stormed the Capitol, disrupted the work of Congress in duly certifying the election of a new president, and upended the peaceful transition of power that has been a centuries-long, cherished foundation of American political life.

It was a preposterous, unimaginable scene, like something from a novel picked up in an airport bookshop that we can enjoy reading because of its implausibility. This has been a heartbreaking, damaging, and disgraceful ordeal.

There are so many questions that will emerge from this day: how did we end up with leaders so willing to put their own personal, political interests ahead of the nation’s welfare? How has political courage become so rare, that elected officials are willing to let corrosive lies and mistrust stand when they have every reason to know better? How have we allowed our civic dialogue to become so debased that we are nonchalant about dangers of political extremism? How can we explain the passivity of law enforcement towards a throng that breached the Capitol and threatened Congress, much less reconcile it with the aggression previously shown towards peaceful protesters challenging injustice and oppression, many of whom were people of color? How resilient is our democracy, really?

On this unnerving day, I console myself with four thoughts. First, that notwithstanding its January date, I will consider this one of the final incidents of 2020 rather than one of the opening events of 2021. Second, I hope — indeed, I believe — that the Constitutional traditions and democratic institutions that drew me to American citizenship will, along with common sense, reassert themselves, and that this episode will — by casting the stakes in such sharp relief — prove to be the death knell for this destructive brand of politics, as the Army-McCarthy hearings were in their time. Third, that regardless of today’s awfulness, there will be a peaceful transition of presidential power two weeks hence. And fourth, that I am lucky to pass the coming period of reflection and correction in the company of a community of scholars and learners committed to truth, peace, mutual respect, inclusion, and true justice.

I share your sense of unease and discouragement. In response, I say: stay strong and steady, and stay true to our collective values. Take courage from one another’s comradeship. In the weeks and months and years to come, this country will need us at our best more than perhaps ever before.

Andrew Hamilton