3 Gallatin Faculty's Meditations on Trump's America
A hastily scrawled “I’m sorry - America” adorns a bus stop in Union Square.
After two fierce weeks of protest, of Dickens-esque stormings of Trump Tower, it feels like America has settled down in melancholy - the collective sigh of apology is loud and clear.
Apologies aside, what’s left to do? I’m convinced that this is the end of the world, although, curiously enough, it doesn’t look like one - the stock market booms, starbucks restocks on red cups, life goes on. But then again, not all apocalypses are armageddon.
3 Gallatin professors weigh in below with their post-apocalyptic post-election meditations on whether this is really the end of the world or not, and glimmers of desperately-needed optimism.
The shock of Trump’s election is still resonating. Though of course we should have seen it coming. Secretary Clinton never did offer an alternative to Trump. She represented and reiterated the politics of the New Democrats, globalization, neoliberalism, and unending war - a rather discredited vision. Rarely did she address the egregious inequality, poverty, social death, structural racism, and precarity of whole populations within and outside our borders.
The President-Elect, on the other hand, effectively appealed to the (white, dispossessed) working class populations with promises of a more secure future (secure from outsiders, from feminization etc.) with robust calls of masculine redemption (which appealed to women as well), an apparently very successful strategy.
If the appeal of Trump is his nostalgic policies and politics of the 80s and 90s that echoed American exceptionalism, xenophobia, and the cultural wars, it is also a mobilizing force for the progressive left and radical democratic politics. My hope, and perhaps it is too hopeful, is that a Trump presidency will not lead to a depressive left but one that is reinvigorated and on constant alert. In other words, Trump prompts us to become even more vigilant and to work from the ground up rather than put our hopes in a state that has for decades been in the service of the few.
While part of me already feels nostalgic for the liberal democratic principles that Trump will threaten, perhaps the one silver lining from the election results is that it will expose the limitations of liberal democracy as we know it within the US. With this election the US has brought home the kind of 'democracy' it has exported over the past so many decades to Chile, Haiti and a zillion other places. Perhaps the coming years will bring home the kind of common sense knowledge that activists in the global south have long had about how exploitation, bigotry, and authoritarianism can be - and often are - systematically legitimated by the institutions of liberal democracy; that rather than settling for elections alone, we need to be more ambitious about our democratic aspirations.
One can see how the momentum of Black Lives Matter, Standing Rock, the Bernie movement etc. would have translated into lots of progressive energy fighting the neoliberalism of a Clinton presidency. However fighting the neo-fascism of a Trump presidency is much more daunting - where does one start when one has to fight on so many different fronts? Perhaps a global vision and transnational solidarities may offer some instructive and inspirational ground - from India to Turkey to the Philippines this is the era of elected authoritarianism, and in all of these places, people are fighting “ballotocracy” against all odds.
I've been listening lately to this recording of a poem by Charles Bukowski, which he reads, called "Dinosauria, We."
His voice, stylized but also sincere, is fascinating to me in this stark, brutal poem, which is obviously very dark. Bukowski wrote this in 1992, in the last book of poetry he published before he died. It makes 1992 sound like the end of the world. It wasn't, and maybe 2016 won't be either. Did things get better? Did things get worse? Where does that put us?