Eminent scholar of American history Manisha Sinha faces death threats

Manisha Sinha, the Draper Chair in American History at the University of Connecticut.

An Indian-American professor at the University of Connecticut said she has received several racist and intimidating phone calls – including one death threat - after she published an opinion piece criticizing President Donald Trump and the Republican Party, comparing the latter with southern slaveholders.

CNN published the piece written by Manisha Sinha, the university’s Draper Chair in American History, on July 27. She wrote in the article that while Trump likes to compare himself to Andrew Jackson, “the Andrew he really resembles is Andrew Johnson,” the 17th president of the U.S.

The article, bearing the headline, “What happened the last time a president chose America’s enemies over its friends” went on to say:

“What they have in common are delusions of personal grandeur and a tainted ascent to the presidency. Trump was elected by a minority of the American electorate, with help from the vagaries of the electoral college system and from considerable Russian interference.”

Sinha explain that she wrote it in the context of providing a historical precedence of a sitting American president siding with his enemies, much like when Trump, a stunning rebuke of the U.S. intelligence community, declined to endorse the U.S. government's assessment that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election. She noted that Trump had said at the Helsinki Summit in July that he doesn't "see any reason why" Russia would be responsible.

“I have been writing this kind of historical pieces in reputed publications like The New York Times, Washington Post, Boston Globe and others for many years, including when Trump first came to power but I have never faced this kind of hostile reactions before,” Sinha told India Abroad. She said people in the past have disagreed with her opinions, sometimes had been “not-so-polite,” including when she wrote about the confederate monuments controversy, but she never had encountered the kind of reaction she faced this time.

Author of "The Slave's Cause: A History of Abolition,” Sinha wrote in the article that Johnson “played the race card, arguing that giving African-Americans rights would weaken whites’ rights. He called his political opponents’ traitors, even leading members of his own party.”

She wrote: “Trump works from the same playbook. He has called white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia, ‘very fine people,’ has viciously attacked President [Barack] Obama, Hillary Clinton, the United States government and our European allies, and cozies up to Russian President Vladimir Putin.”

After the article appeared, she wrote on her Facebook page that she had received “a series of threatening phone calls, vile, racist, and misogynistic” which she initially thought she would just ignore until the last one that read out her home address. She said that response indicated that “they have it on GPS and would be coming to kill me.”

She said she called 911 immediately and police responded at once. She said after hearing the messages, police took them as credible and serious death threats. She said the call giving her death threat has most likely been traced by the FBI to Texas where, she said, the man is now facing criminal charges. Police confirmed to India Abroad there was an investigation but released no details at press time.

Unlike before, she said, the violent response to her writing “seems to have struck a nerve,” she said. Sinha said she wanted people to understand that the Republican party of today is not the Republican Party of the 19th century which was the party of Abraham Lincoln. What surprised her, she said, was not the trolls but the death threat.

“I think part of it is that people now (in the Trump era) feel emboldened to attack people of color, immigrants like so many Indian-Americans who have been attacked and this has been going on since Trump was elected,” she said. “I think people feel free to do this and the person who threatened me actually used a lot of racist anti-immigrant language like ‘go back to India’ and things like that although I have been in this country since 1984.”

Asked whether Trump, like Jonson who was the first president to face impeachment, could face such eventuality, Sinha said she did not think that would happen.

“I don't think there is any possibility any article of impeachment being drawn up against Trump because the current Republican party does not care what Trump does. They just criticize him mildly, but they will go along with him. Everything that one hears in the news is actually quite shocking and I have a feeling sometimes it's even worse that Watergate,” she said.

She noted that there had been periods of American history when people have made a mockery of democracy and the need for people now is to strengthen democracy and democratic institutions. “Unless we guard against such forces destroying democracy, and fight for its reservation, democracy cannot survive in the oldest democracy in the world.

She said the Republican Party is playing with fire and she hopes that more people will realize that danger. “I think it is important for people to really understand that we are now living in interracial democracy. People have to understand whether they want the democratic values to be spread to all people in this country or they want “democracy for us and slavery for the rest of them” like the southern slaveholders.

“I think it is very important for us not to be divided or digressed by ethnicity and gender. I think it is important to portray this fight as a fight for right values rather than for ethnicity or gender.”

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