Rabbi Dr. Matthew Kaufman writes about the resignation of cabinet members Elaine Chao and Betsy Devos.
The abrupt resignation of cabinet members Elaine Chao and Betsy DeVos does not represent a principled stand against the president’s incitement to violence.
It represents a complete abdication of responsibility.
Elaine Chao professed to be “deeply troubled” and that she could not “simply set it aside.” She was the first to take a principled stand against the violent uprising perpetrated by Trump supporters by walking away from it.
When Betsy DeVos tweeted her disgust at the violence, she added that she swore an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States. She apparently thought that means she must quit rather than exercise her authority as a member of the Cabinet to invoke the 25th Amendment to remove President Trump from office. She decided to take a stand against sedition by bravely going home.
I do not believe that we can trust the remaining cabinet members to take the clear course of action required and remove President Trump from office for his role in the violence that engulfed the Capitol.
The Talmud sage Rav teaches that “those who throw off the yoke of communal responsibility from their own necks and place that yoke on others” deserve punishment (Sukkah 29b). This strong formulation articulates the value that those in positions of responsibility have an obligation to use the powers of their office to serve the public interest, and not to deflect responsibility onto others as a consequence of their inaction.
Absent the necessary action of invoking the 25th Amendment, pronouncements condemning violence coming from various cabinet members are meaningless gestures. It is equivalent to those who respond to gun violence by offering “thoughts and prayers” rather than take decisive legislative action.
Trump’s cabinet members have removed the yoke of responsibility from their necks, forcing Congress to take it up through a new impeachment process. Elaine Chao’s and Betsy DeVos’s resignations are a dramatic manifestation of a spectacular failure to uphold oaths of office and to take responsibility for a nation in crisis.
Rabbi Dr. Matthew Kaufman is a rabbi at Congregation Kehillat Israel in Lansing.