Scholars discuss the trajectory of the United States after Trump’s election
“Don’t waste time mourning. Organize,” labor activist and celebrated 19th-century American martyr Joe Hill once said.
However, “I think he got it wrong,” Prof. Gordie Fellman (SOC) said in a talk on Thursday. “I’ve been thinking a lot since last Tuesday’s election. I think we do mourn. We have to mourn for a lot of the enormous amount of pain over what’s happened and for the future.”
“My thought is … you mourn, and then you analyze, and then you organize,” Fellman concluded.
Fellman shared his post-election thoughts alongside Prof. Raj Sampath (HS) in a panel addressing the concerns of social progressivism under President-elect Donald Trump. The two opened the forum to discuss and answer questions like “What can we learn from this election?” and “What do we do now?”
“We’re here to share our views as to what we think happened — is happening — how we process and how we build solidarity and consensus towards a series of structured goals that we can do within the academy but also within the broader society as we face it,” said Sampath.
Fellman brought to attention the common post-election conclusion regarding the Clinton upset: that the Democrats failed to adequately address the needs of the white working class.
While he said the Democrats did acknowledge this demographic, he argued that this strategy alone was not enough, claiming that liberals and progressives must look deeper into the “great, complex and multidimensional” social issue and ideology underlying the Trump victory.
Calling upon his life experience as an activist, Fellman drew comparisons among the major themes in four of the largest social movements in American history, which he said have continuously built up the emotions of the “bypassed” populations. “What they have in common is that they were all assaults on normative masculinity,” he said.
“When Trump started the slogan ‘Let’s make America Great Again,’ I and [many of us] thought what he really meant was ‘Let’s make America White Again,’” said Fellman.
The civil rights movement, he said, was an assault on the white male. The Anti-Vietnam War movement was an assault on white male war makers. And which group maintained the patriarchy over the women’s lib movement and the heteronormativity assault against the LGBTQ community? The white male, he emphasized. “So I think a lot of this is about normative masculinity reasserting itself in a very desperate way,” Fellman concluded.
However, both speakers agreed that what upsets them most is what they see as the reality of the Republican agenda and their intervention in the social issues of the working class. These social issues are a way of taking attention off of the unstated purpose of serving the rich, Fellman said, adding, “Nobody gets elected by saying, ‘Vote for me, I want to make the rich richer.’”
And while social progressivism seemed once possible in America, Trump instead represents a form of regressivism, Fellman asserted.
“‘ Regressive populism is when people feel anxious and insecure and look for scapegoats,’ … when ‘unscrupulous politicians deflect people’s concern and anger toward whoever’s the easy target — new immigrants, women of color on welfare, religious minorities,’” said Fellman, quoting author Chuck Collins.
Sampath expressed similar concerns about the ideology he says is underlying the recent turmoil. “What is really what could be seen as a political revolution is actually a social, cultural, psychological transformation of power for the interest of one group,” he asserted.
Fellman said that part of Trump’s appeal is marketed toward the bypassed, the individuals who feel cut in line by the movements that work toward justice for oppressed minorities. Trump’s message to them was, “I realize that you feel hurt,” while Clinton’s campaign didn’t recognize this, he argued.
“What the left has failed to do is to acknowledge that a victory of one group — when framed as the loss of another group — is not a good idea,” he said. “One of the most destructive things Hillary Clinton did her whole campaign was [make the] claim [about] ‘the basket of deplorables.’”
Sampath brought forth the second question of the forum: “What do we do?”
“We have to work from each other across generations,” Sampath said, answering his own question. “What used to be the oppression — or the continuous oppression — of African-American, LGBTQ, women’s rights, minorities and the indigenous — it will deepen, it will infinitize, it will worsen and it will push people to the brink.
“[It] has to come from us as individual agents and communities that have come together,” Sampath added. “We have to instill in ourselves that sense of urgency [where] you’re pushed to the brink.”
Fellman added, “Don’t assume the other is frozen in their hearts and minds. When the civil rights movement started, I had to learn a lot about racism. The word didn’t even exist when I was in college, so I had to submit myself to conversations about racism. The same about women: Women started making demands. I learned; I listened; I fought some of it, and I remember specific moments when my male consciousness was grazed suddenly.”
“Spend the evening talking to them; really sit down to talk,” advised Fellman. “I think conversation is an alternative to war.”