Michael Brendan Dougherty writes this morning (from the Right, in case you don’t know his work):
But the most immediate thing to be on guard for in the new era is the way Trump inspires both supporters and opponents to abandon their moral, ethical, and professional standards and give in to their unchecked instincts to acquire power and humiliate or denigrate their perceived enemies, usually their fellow countrymen. Trump’s political success can be partly explained by the way in which America’s culture war has a logic of escalation. Trump’s presidency may see a quickening of tempo.
We are already tempted to hate and fear each other and think the worst of each other, especially as we contemplate our country through backlit screens that draw us to them by stimulating our most basic fight-or-flight instincts. The virtues of sobriety and liberality will be denigrated as liabilities by both sides in the Trump era. Expect them to become rarer and more valuable, especially when their value seems less obvious.
That’s really true. I was shocked to see the way Betsy DeVos was treated by Democrats in her Senate confirmation hearing yesterday. Elizabeth Warren refusing to shake her hand. Bernie Sanders asking her if she didn’t think that the only reason she was there is because she’s a rich person. As MBD says, this is the kind of thing Trump inspires. I’ve felt it in myself too, in both ways. If you’re honest with yourself, I bet you have too.
Jennifer Holliday held back tears as she opened up about the backlash she faced for initially agreeing to perform at Donald Trump’s inaugural festivities.
“I haven’t done anything to be called names,” the Tony-winning star of Broadway’s “Dreamgirls” said Tuesday on ABC’s “The View.”
Holliday said she was called the “N-word” and received death threats.
“I woke up, and there was, like, this whole thing of terrible tweets and things on my Instagram, and I was like, ‘Oh, Lord, what did I do?'” she recalled after it was announced that she was to be among the performers at the Make America Great Again! Welcome Celebration.
She later pulled out of the event.
“I live a pretty reclusive life,” she told “The View” co-hosts. “You’re not on the radio, and then one morning you wake up, and everyone hates you.”
Collaborators will be shot, I guess.
Many groups of scholars and writers are planning teach-ins or readings for Friday, the day Donald J. Trump will be inaugurated as president of the United States. Others are organizing teach-ins to focus on Trump’s policies.
Some anthropologists are taking a different approach. They are planning events that day in which people — together at locations across the country or virtually connected — will read and discuss a lecture presented by Michel Foucault, the late philosopher, as part of a series he gave at the Collège de France. The lectures have been published as a book, Society Must Be Defended. The read-in idea is being backed not only by the scholars who have organized the events but by the popular anthropology blog Savage Minds and the journals American Anthropologist, American Ethnologist, Cultural Anthropology and Environment and Society.
At most universities there have been teach-ins, learn-ins, and panels, as well as emergency meetings of departments, faculty action groups, student groups, and other concerned parties. What more can scholars do?
Since the election, one statement we have heard repeatedly from some academics, pundits, journalists, and bloggers who write about academic life, is that scholars need to somehow change what they are doing, and how they are doing it, in order to face this seemingly new political reality in the Unites States. While the latter part of this argument has been addressed by numerous scholars and activists who write and think about race, class, sexuality, and inequality more generally – with clear and compelling arguments about how this is not a “new” political reality for many but rather a kind of contemporary culmination and re-entrenchment of the structures of power and oppression that underpin the entirety of the national political project – the former part of the argument has been allowed to stand with little critique. Do we need to change what we do and not just how we do it? Not necessarily.
Of course not, professors. Don’t change a thing. You really do understand the country you live in.
While we think that all of us–scholars, activists, journalists, and concerned citizens in general–can always do better work, we worry that by focusing on needing to change what we are doing and how we are doing it we lose sight of what we already do really well. We work to understand the world through research, teaching, writing, and reading. Along with this, we produce knowledge that allows others to understand the world and to work to change it. In addition to this, many of us are also activists whose political praxis is informed by our scholarly pursuits. We are not saying that new forms of thinking and working should not be welcomed. Instead we worry about the idea that scholars are doing it all wrong, and that this is somehow connected to the results of the last election. This suggestion is dangerous and fails to acknowledge the ways in which scholarship and scholarly practice underpins some of our ability to act, react, resist, and transform.
Wait, they really wrote this. They really are going to double down.
One key part of what all scholars do is read. Reading opens new scholarly connections and understandings for us almost every day. We know and understand the world, and we create new avenues for others to know and understand the world with reference to other people’s writings and insights. For many of us, since scholars tend to also be teachers, we also use what we read every day to help our students become clear and critical thinkers. Scholars read to research and to write and to teach.
And so, what book will these anthropologists and their academic collaborators nationwide be reading to understand America and the American people at this moment in our history? Tocqueville? J.D. Vance? Of course not. They’ll read a lecture by a French postmodern philosopher:
We invite all anthropologists and others to come together to read Michel Foucault’s lecture eleven in “Society Must Be Defended” which he delivered on March 17, 1976. This lecture strikes us as very good to think with at this present point: it demands we simultaneously consider the interplay of sovereign power, discipline, biopolitics, and concepts of security, and race. In light of the current socio-political situation where the reaction to activism against persistent racism has been to more overtly perpetuate racism as political discourse, we need to remember and re-think the role of racism as central to, rather than incidental to, the political and economic activities of the state.
Well, I read lecture eleven; you can find it in PDF form here; go to page 239 for the beginning.
Here’s the short, simple version: the Western order is built on white supremacy, and is racist to its core. Oh, and that white people are going to kill everyone not like themselves. Foucault wrote:
It is at this moment that racism is inscribed as the basic mechanism of power, as it is exercised modern States. As a result, the modern State can scarcely function without becoming involved with racism at some point, within certain limits and subject to certain conditions.
The fact that the other dies does not mean simply that I live in the sense that his death guarantees my safety; the death of the other, the death of the bad race, of the inferior race (or the degenerate, or the abnormal) is something that will make life in general healthier: healthier and purer.
So you can understand the importance—I almost said the vital importance—of racism to the exercise of such a power: it is the precondition for exercising the right to kill. If the power of normalization wished to exercise the old sovereign right to kill, it must become racist. And if, conversely, a power of sovereignty, or in other words, a power that has the right of life and death, wishes to work with the instruments, mechanisms, and technology of normalization, it too must become racist. When I say “killing,” I obviously do not mean simply murder as such, but also every form of indirect murder: the fact of exposing someone to death, increasing the risk of death for some people, or, quite simply, political death, expulsion, rejection, and so on.
“Political death.” Ah. If you wondered where Ta-Nehisi Coates got that stuff, there you are. One more:
So racism is bound up with the workings of a State that is obliged to use race, the elimination of races and the purification of the race, to exercise its sovereign power.
So, if Hillary Clinton loses the election to Donald Trump, that means that the new president is out to kill all his opponents, indeed has killed them, in a way, by winning the election. To fight against Trump and his supporters, therefore, is necessary to save one’s life, and indeed to prevent genocide. Right? Moderation in the face of genocide is no virtue, is it? And extremism to stop genocidaires is no vice, I take it.
Some of the best minds in America are coming together on Inauguration Day to teach young people that white Republicans want to eliminate people like them. It must be true, because the authority of anthropological science says so.
This is going to a very, very bad place. Again, I agree with MBD: Trump is not innocent of this stuff either, and has in fact encouraged it and profited from it. And now it has infected the other side.
UPDATE: A surprising e-mail from a reader who deconverted from left-wing radicalism, in part by reading Foucault:
It’s extremely odd to me that the radical professors would use Foucault’s “Society Must Be Defended” as a protest against Trump as that book was actually central to my deconversion from Leftism. Early on in his lectures, Foucault traces the genealogy of the Marxist idea of class war to an idea of racial conflict that emerged in the early modern period. Basically– and keep in mind this is me as a non-historian summarizing a book by a historian of dubious integrity that I read some years ago– the idea emerged in England and France in the 17th century that society was divided into two competing race, one ruling, the other conquered.
Foucault writes “…we see it emerging roughly in the 1630s, and in the context of the popular or petit bourgeois demands that were being put forward in prerevolutionary and revolutionary England. It is in the discourse of the Puritans, the discourse of the Levellers. And then fifty years later, in France at the end of the reign of Louis XIV, you find it on the opposite side, but it is still the discourse of a struggle against the king, a discourse of aristocratic bitterness.” He then goes on to insist that he is actually praising this “discourse of race war” because “until the end of the nineteenth century, at which point it turned into a racist [in the contemporary sense] discourse– this discourse of race war functioned as a counterhistory.” If you don’t know your way around left-wing postmodern terminology, “counterhistories” are ways of retelling history to give power to the marginalized. Finally, Foucault cites a letter from Marx to Engels in which Marx writes, “You know very well where we found our idea of class struggle; we found it in the work of the French historians who talked about the race struggle.”
I’m not sure if it’s obvious how this would lead to my questioning radical leftism and eventually jumping ship to conservatism. It happened this way: I was trying to figure out why Communist revolutions always ended in genocide. This was around 2011, the year of the rise and self-immolation of Occupy, and I was also trying to figure out why Leftists so often ended up turning on each other and making use of identity politics to destroy each other. Foucault provided the missing piece of the puzzle. Marxist discourse is racist discourse, with the word “class” substituted for race. Social Justice identity politics are Marxist politics, with race edited back in, along with gender and sexuality. In another direction, the historian (also a leftist, and woman of color) Nell Irvin Painter’s book “The History of White People” helped me trace the evolution of 19th and 20th century white supremacy back through time, through the ideas of Emerson and Carlyle and to that birth of race struggle as a vessel of “popular counterhistory” that Foucault had written about. In other words, Marxist regimes commit genocide, and Social Justice Warriors assault visiting speakers on college campuses, for the same reason Andrew Jackson ordered the removal of the Cherokee Indians or General Chivington massacred the Cheyenne at Sand Creek– because they’re racists.
So maybe reading Foucault instead of listening to Trump isn’t such a bad idea.
UPDATE.2: Let me clarify: I certainly don’t believe that the left was all sunshine and cupcakes before Trump came along. No reader of this blog can think that. But it’s clear to me from Trump’s behavior — first in the way he treated his Republican competitors — that he has crossed some significant lines. And it profited him greatly to do so; that’s why he’s going to be our president as of Friday. The gloves are going to be off everywhere going forward, in a way we haven’t seen in a long, long time.