A collective sigh of relief was heard across campus early Monday evening as students learned that the base of Silent Sam would finally be removed from campus. This unprecedented announcement provoked mental images of Chancellor Folt personally yanking down placards and dragging Sam’s podium behind her.
However, the UNC-system Board of Governors forcing Folt to resign earlier than she had planned was a harsh reminder of what can happen when leaders take progressive action against traditional institutions of power.
A leader falling on their sword, acting in accordance with constituents rather than obeying partisan norms, is a rare sight in any political arena. Folt chose to sacrifice her political authority among our conservative Board members for the benefit of our community. Though it was a long time coming, and not without some controversy along the way, we applaud her for her courage to ultimately do what’s right, and are disappointed by what followed.
The Board’s aggressive response to turn Folt’s resignation into a forced dismissal is perhaps the type of reaction that Republican senators fear during the current standoff over Trump’s similarly racist, divisive monument — the border wall.
The government shutdown over the proposed border wall is the longest in American history, an achievement for which Trump will undoubtedly laud himself in his presidential memoir. Meanwhile, 800,000 federal employees are unpaid, and real humanitarian crises are arising as many Americans fear for housing security and the depletion of funds for SNAP.
Similar to the imbalance of power between UNC students and the seemingly untouchable Board throughout the Silent Sam controversy, President Trump and all of those responsible for potentially ending the shutdown are still being compensated while their constituents face the consequences of this political pissing contest.
In the same way that the removal of Silent Sam’s podium will not entirely dismantle racialized biases levied against Black students on campus, ending the shutdown will not necessarily ensure a solution to the debate over border security. However, the shutdown is not a necessary measure to resolve this conflict, and Folt’s commitment to public service is a lesson from which our elected officials could learn a great deal.
A few Republican senators have already spoken out against Trump in recent meetings, and we hope that more of them will put aside their partisan allegiances and reopen the government. However, considering what just transpired with Chancellor Folt, we know that there can be real consequences for acting against the stubborn institution of partisanship.
Republicans, like Folt, find themselves caught between a wall and a hard place. If they choose to do what’s best for the public and end the shutdown, they may face a similar backlash from Trump and their conservative compatriots.
Will Republicans bow out soon and reopen the government, with the only cost being a bit of their pride and political capital, or will they push on headstrong in supporting Trump’s self-created crisis to erect yet another monument to white supremacy?
We can only hope that Republican senators might catch wind of Folt’s leadership and reorient themselves toward serving the public as well, sending a similar message of progress rather than prioritizing partisan politics.
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