Responding to Trump

We seek to provide a place where philosophers can share their thoughts about how it makes sense to respond to the election of Donald Trump. For those that think resistance warranted, how might this best be coordinated? For those sympathetic to aspects of his announced agenda, how to distance yourself effectively from the deeply unattractive (e.g. misogynistic and racist) elements that have sometimes been part of the overall presentation? What should people be thinking and doing in response to his election?

10 Replies to “Responding to Trump

  1. For my part I think resistance warranted. I take the election of Trump to be one of the most dangerous moments for the US in my lifetime. But I think the resistance should be coordinated. If we all pursue our private plans for resistance I think we will be less effective. On the other hand my current view is that creating new organizations for this purpose would squander energy and reinvent the wheel. I don’t think we need a distinctive philosophy reaction or organization for this purpose. There are fine existing organizations such as the Southern Poverty Law Center that are further along in stature and implantation than we could together create. I think we should coordinate in joining and supporting such institutions. But which such institutions should we coordinate on? That will partly be determined by what our trusted public figures recommend. And it will partly be determined by Trump’s actions—which are the most outrageous and pressing and can generate the most widespread resistance.

    This is a significant moment. Action is required. But we need to be willing to join together in response. Liberals do not take marching orders, which is a virtue. But liberals also too often are uncompromising and purists which can keep them from banding together in maximally effective ways. I urge discussion of where we should start and which existing institutions are most worthy of our support. But I also urge noticing and responding to where others have decided to coalesce.

  2. Priority: Containment.
    “Make Trump Normal” -i.e., not moving the extension of ‘normal’ to include Trump (“Trump-ize Normal”), but pushing Trump towards the normal range. Unfortunately, “normalize Trump” is taken to mean the former; we need a phrase for the latter. Surround Trump with normal people that will push back against Trump’s excesses. That means keeping (1) the alt-right, (2) nut-jobs, and (3) sycophants out of power. The most tangible means of doing this starts with maintaining the Senate filibuster (e.g., for cabinet confirmations). I think this requires 51 votes on senate rules at the beginning of the next session, but I’m not sure about the details. We’ll need #NeverTrumpers and very-reluctant-Trumpers to do this: e.g., Graham, McCain, Collins, Flake (see “Gang of 14”). I worry that hardcore pro-lifers will be too tempted by SCOTUS appointments to hold the line (e.g., Sasse, Lee).

  3. The character of a nation. How must we be perceived internationally to have elected one with such views. It seems Virtue Ethics (character) espoused by Aristotle is timely.
    An excellent lecture series in philosophy on the type of individual we want as our representative. So Machiavellian – morality and politics do not mix? What do we say to our grandaughter?

  4. Here is Elizabeth Warren’s voice about what our first priority ought to be:

    “And that marks Democrats’ first job in this new era: We will stand up to bigotry. There is no compromise here. In all its forms, we will fight back against attacks on Latinos, African Americans, women, Muslims, immigrants, disabled Americans — on anyone. Whether Donald Trump sits in a glass tower or sits in the White House, we will not give an inch on this, not now, not ever.”

  5. Some sensible suggestions I have seen out in Facebookland:

    Planned Parenthood
    ACLU
    Lambda Legal
    Southern Poverty Law Center
    Sierra Club
    Union of Concerned Scientists
    Brennan Center for Justice
    Grass Roots get out the vote Democratic Organizations not yet identified.

  6. I agree with David that Trump has the potential to be an extremely dangerous character, and I agree with Mark Herman that the best way to limit the danger is to surround him with reasonable people and use whatever constitutional safeguards come handy. On the other hand, more specific “resistance” seems to await him actually doing something worth resisting, and how best that goes will be determined by circumstances.

    On the specifically philosophical end of things, I like everyone else was surprised by the “marginal Trump voter”—the white working class Rust Belt voter that gave him the election. Their votes, and the subsequent commentary all over the web, have given me a few thoughts I have chewed on over the last few days:

    1. These folks are aware of Trump’s flaws but are prepared to run the risk of burning down the whole existing political system, for a chance at an economic system tilted less steeply away from them. I had not given their economic worries enough weight in my own mind. In the future, I will be less impressed by promises of a “growing economy”, instead of asking “growing whose economy?” I will be less content with incremental improvements, now that a possible coalition for transforming the economy more broadly suggests itself. Thinking about what that would look like in practice is probably better done by economists and political scientists, but political and social philosophy has a role.

    2. It seems clear that Trump himself is a racist, and his election has certainly enabled and encouraged some of the ugliest racist communication I have ever seen. At the same time, there is a lot of commentary on how all or many of his voters are racists, or even were motivated by their racism, which simply doesn’t follow. What does follow is that his voters did not regard Trump’s racism and racism-adjacency as disqualifying; they were not entirely anti-racist. Serious question: how anti-racist does one have a duty to be? If you are faced with existential pocketbook issues and your only hope for a solution comes through a racist, what do you do? What about non-existential pocketbook issues? And maybe it would be good for philosophers, anyway, to use ‘racist’ as an analytic term with a definition, and not as an epithet for people who vote differently. Somewhat surprisingly, there is no actual definition of ‘racism’ offered in the SEP.

    3. I need to think harder about immigration. One of the better economists of immigration, Borjas, says immigration is a redistribution program from lower-skilled natives to both immigrants and employers. The current Democratic party and the pre-Trump Republican party both find themselves on one side of this redistribution program. This gives bite to accusations of an economy run by and for a bipartisan elite, and it is not obvious to me that the elites are on the right side. To what extent does a nation have a duty to see to the welfare of its citizens prior to the welfare of (potential) immigrants? Is co-citizenship morally relevant, and if so how much?

    4. Immigration also has cultural consequences which are, again, most important for those lower on the income distribution. We know diversity lowers social trust. And you might say that when social capital is all the capital you have, defending it becomes more important. I am reluctant to call all forms of cultural or demographic anxiety ‘racism’ (the lack of a definition, again) and there is a tension here which liberals are reluctant to confront. I just have to think more about it.

    I would be interested in knowing whether anyone else has been asking themselves specifically philosophical questions as a result of the election.

  7. I think that there are two educational responses:

    (1) We should work to model consideration — in dual sense of basic human respect and of being open to considerations (reasons) — as a form of democracy. Over the election year, many people have seen themselves as unable to discourse with each other considerately. Families did not talk to each other during this election; many voters’ decisions were rationalized by claims with little consideration of evidence for them; trolling ruled; parody and techno-predictions did too (among many progressives); people showed conflict avoidance too, and moral disapprobation was either used as a bludgeon or avoided when it was needed between friends and family. Even the debates were about winning, not considering the matter and learning or growing from discussion of it. I think that we should play the long-game with democracy and start creating the conditions for it being used responsibly. As educators, we can do this by insisting on a different kind of discourse, esp. in civil society groups, classes, student organizations, and in the media to which we are asked to contribute. This is a time to double-down on consideration – and to become inventive with how we start to model it and insert it into public discourse.

    (2) We should defend social studies in public school and if needed create alternative forms of education (in the media, in civil society group) that will help all U.S. residents to understand our social reality. The vote correlated to what global restructuring has done (pulling away industry and grouping wealth in the areas of global services and flows of wealth) — down to the retrenchment of privilege around the parts of an identity that can be seized to shore up insecurity and assert power (white privilege and patriarchy, here). Our schools have been hard pressed to keep social studies at the center of them and civics have long been absent from them as central subjects of education, more than mere modules. As educators we can work to bring back social studies and an understanding of social reality to the center of U.S. life. We should — otherwise, people are prone to demagoguery and positions that fail to show consideration (in the senses of the word used above). When people are lost, they are easily anxious, and in that anxiety, reactive and impulsive, not able to think things through, trust and so on. And when we fail to understand democracy, it is hard to see the threats to it – including the conditions of respect of all people needed for it and defense of the integrity of its processes.

  8. There are of course many fronts in this conflict. One that is especially salient for professional educators is to work within education. I agree with Jeremy that modeling consideration in his senses is valuable and that is something I aim to do.

    As a professor in a rust belt swing state, I expect that my students have differing takes on this. I invited all my students who are interested to a conversation about the election later this week. I have emphasized the importance of respect, but also of allowing people to express strong reactions and about why they are afraid or angry, or why they are relieved or elated, at the results of this election. If anyone has seen good discussions online of how to facilitate this particular conversation, I’d welcome references. It will be a challenge, I think.

  9. Thanks for this forum, David. Aside from the substance that comes from it, I appreciate the intent to invite philosophers to get directly active in what’s going on.

    “What should people be thinking and doing in response to his election?”

    There are three things that come to mind here:
    1) Becoming policy-active, if not politically active. By that, I mean finding a few particular issues that matter to them and focusing their time, energy, and attention on advancing those issues. In this, we can be particularly effective at helping people identify top-level issues that have common philosophical foundations. I haven’t done a survey of philosophy curricula recently, but advocating classes that directly fuse philosophy (especially applied ethics) with current political issues is an approach. This of course may need to be done in concert with other departments or specialists.

    2) A lot of the discussions I’ve been having recently have focused on converting opinions about gun control, abortion, immigration, and terrorism into more defensible arguments so that we move beyond over-simplifications, ad hominems, and the fundamental attribution error. Again, we are particularly capable of doing this, it’s already baked into how we go about our enterprise, and probably what we’re already doing when discussing the issues with students. This is particularly important because one way of seeing the election is that it was a significant-enough portion of the population that just wasn’t heard. (I’ve had to do some honest reflection to see the hard truth that I would not have gotten up Wednesday morning saying “let’s figure out how to help the people hurting in the rural areas” had the election went the other way; if you can see some of their views on par with self-preservation rights on par with social justice issues, then I think there’s some headway that can be made in the discussions. And we can do that without trying to make racism, sexism, and xeonophobia morally or intellectually acceptable.)

    3) What does the under-representation of minorities and women in the field of philosophy say about the credibility of people in our field to address and speak for issues of social justice that particularly affect those groups? I don’t have any answers on this one, but I think it’s something that should be asked.

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