Since the election of Donald Trump, we have been constantly bombarded with terrible news. I myself cannot help checking news websites every half an hour, and we are all awaiting and preparing ourselves for the worst, for a catastrophe. And no matter how thrilled we are to see so many protests and demonstrations being held against this wave of irrationality, our anxiety is most of the time accompanied with a sense of helplessness, of powerlessness, of defenselessness.
I was relieved of these senses for a short period when I, as one of the direct victims of the policies of the new administration, felt the support of a union and a community behind me. Since the minute I told my friends and colleagues at the CUNY Graduate Center that I had been banned from coming back to the United States after being in my home country of Iran, I was inundated with emails of solidarity, and I was witness to the inexhaustible efforts to oppose this ban by the students and professors of CUNY and the members of PSC, to whom I am truly grateful. I must confess that I was not very optimistic about the results of their efforts at first, but it came as a relief to know that this was not my problem alone and to know that I am a member of a community that has my back, and more importantly, recognizes the political nature of such a problem and tries to engage with it through collective action that stays true to the notion of “union.”
This is the positive aspect of the current situation, if one could speak to anything “positive” with regard to the disaster we are facing. After decades of the rule of triumphant neoliberalism, after years of obsession with market-ridden “exploration of the self,” “individual” liberty, “freedom of choice” and “diversity in lifestyles” in the absence of politics, politics is back in the streets. This is not an identity politics that focuses on difference and is incapable of realizing the ties between the particularity of distinct identities and the universal conditions of society and their relations with other social groups; a viewpoint the fallacy of which is accentuated when it is translated into the identitarianism of the right. The emerging politics are based on the recognition that the freedom of workers, of women, of undocumented immigrants, of members of the LGBT community, of Muslims and of people of color is tied to the freedom of each and every individual, that individual freedom is not possible without recognizing the “we” in “I.”
This moment should not be fetishized, however. The sense of powerlessness in the face of the many irrational policies that have been implemented in the past few weeks and what is yet to come testifies to the inadequacy of such protests, however glamorous they have been. We need to recognize the danger in order to fight it. Getting rid of this administration through impeachment or any other way is not the solution to the real dangers we are facing. The army of xenophobes, white supremacists, Islamophobes, racists, homophobes and misogynists who have taken office are insignificant when compared to the bigger danger that is a frustrated society that might cling to any hand reached out to it. What matters is to understand how we got here, how to fight the deep-rooted structures of inequality and discrimination that have been at work for decades and which different administrations, in the absence of real public participation in politics, have just intensified. If we don’t want to get caught by surprise once again, we need to reflect on these issues.
But why was surprise the most common reaction to the election results, even among academics, in the first place? Aren’t social and political scientists supposed to be aware of such trends within society? The unexpectedness of Trump’s victory by the academia is a sign of its straying from its responsibility; if long ago set aside even its original conservative aim of maintaining the stability of society, let alone the more radical ideal of seeking a more rationally organized and just society. This is a sign that it has almost totally given up the critical reflection upon what society “is” and what it “ought to be” in the name of a professionalization that only serves particular interests that are necessarily at odds with the well-being of the 99 percent. This should be a moment of self-reflection for academia, whose ties with the society has been cut through its neoliberalization.
This self-reflection could be our first step in the long fight we have ahead. In order to overcome our feeling of powerlessness and defenselessness, we need to not only build an organized resistance bloc that is capable of enforcing its will and not just defending itself in the face of current assaults, but also pursue more progressive goals. And it seems that the most important force that would be capable of all these is exactly what Noam Chomsky calls a “militant labor movement.” It is time for us to get more organized, to defend the right of unionization for all workers, to try to make this emerging sense of solidarity permanent; a true solidarity that is based on the recognition of the “we” in “I.”