Ever since the night of November 8, 2016, I’ve been struggling with how to reconcile my role as an educator and scholar with my impulse to respond as my heart dictates to the election of Donald Trump. If my interactions with colleagues since then are any indication, I’m not the only one going through such a struggle.
The struggle stems from my strong political convictions. Call them progressive, liberal, or whatever word for them is currently acceptable. I prefer to think of them as simple human decency. They include radical notions such as regarding immigrants, documented or not, as fellow human beings deserving of respect and compassion instead of scorn and scapegoating for global economic changes; regarding terrorists as aberrations within their claimed religious traditions rather than the norm , and not heaping verbal or physical violence on their home communities; regarding all human beings as equally deserving of respect, regardless of their skin color, ethnic origin, gender, religious belief or lack thereof, physical and mental abilities, and other differences — a respect that leads me to believe it’s not acceptable to mock individuals with disabilities or dismiss talk of sexual assault (whether real or ‘braggadocious’ ) as simply ‘ locker room talk,’ and that led me to recoil from a candidate (now president-elect) who called for violence against protesters at his rallies and continues to accuse five African American men of gang rape even after they have been exonerated by DNA evidence.
The campaign Donald Trump chose to wage, and his ultimate victory, was an assault on all those values, which I think most (which, ideally, all) members of the academic community share. In a campaign for the presidency of a liberal democracy, Donald Trump chose to run for the presidency of just the latter, mocking the norms, values, and traditions that have usually restrained democracies from devolving into simple tyrannies of the majority.
There is already a strong temptation among some in the academic community to simply observe and study how the Trump presidency unfolds over the next four years or more. I have been similarly tempted. But this was not an ordinary election, and the Trump presidency will not be an ordinary presidency. We face the prospect of a U.S. president who is utterly contemptuous of the norms, values, and traditions that fill the constitutional gaps of our democracies and keep them from descending into Putinist-like systems where the niceties of democracy are observed but their substance is gutted. Just look at this picture of formerly fierce Trump critic Mitt Romney dining with the president-elect to see how fragile those informal institutions could turn out to be.
I have become convinced that, as scholars and educators, we have an additional role to play in our societies and institutions over the next four years. That role is to resist, to the best of our ability, the encroachment of illiberalism that Trump and his allies around the world represent.