Shock, sadness, denial and anger have brought us to this cold moment – the realization that Donald Trump, who ran on a campaign of racial incitement and misogyny, is going to be the next president of the United States.
With a white nationalist, Steve Bannon, in a top White House position, and fundamentalist Christian social conservative Mike Pence as the vice president, this administration and a Republican-controlled Congress will have immense power to alter the political landscape in a multitude of ways. Here, PSC members survey the domestic landscape, keeping in mind Trump’s foreign policy will also have grave consequences.
The institution of labor is on the chopping block, national right-to-work is here and nearly every public sector union is in danger. One of the conclusions I’ve drawn from this election is that organized labor is largely disconnected from the working class – Hillary Clinton only won 51 percent of union households. We need an open dialogue within the labor movement and with our potential allies. We have to reorganize the form of our union to draw on the skills, the fight and the interests of every single member. Organization – the scope of it – has to change. The politics of unions need to be discussed. Unions ignored the potential of the Bernie Sanders movement, they didn’t recognize that the right could actually capture the working class. I would pose the question: What does it mean to have a working-class movement? What should its leadership look like? We need a new political instrument, a new party. The notion of minority unionism is valuable and needs to be explored. We’re going to have to go through a protracted period of experimentation.
Ed Ott, distinguished lecturer in labor studies, Murphy Institute
CLIMATE IN CRISIS
A week before the presidential election, the World Wildlife Federation announced that two-thirds of Earth’s wildlife will be extinct by 2020. As if that were not enough, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) announced that the past five years were the hottest ever recorded, and alluded to rapidly rising sea levels, likely to surge in coming years as a result of the unexpectedly rapid melting of polar ice. The WMO said global temperatures are now two-tenths of a degree away from the upper threshold agreed upon only one year ago during the climate negotiations in Paris. It is no exaggeration to say that Donald Trump and the extreme right-wing ideological currents that he has helped harness and promote both within and outside the Republican Party are the most destructive forces in human history.
Trump and his cronies are long-time climate-change deniers and he supports a rapid increase in consumption of fossil fuels, the dismantling of all regulations restraining fossil capitalism and the rejection of aid to help developing countries transition to renewable energy. Trump has promised to pull out of UN-sponsored international climate negotiations.
The onus falls on progressive states and cities like California and New York City to decarbonize their economies. PSC members have a role to play here. Under Mayors Michael Bloomberg and Bill de Blasio, New York City cut its carbon emissions significantly, but it did so largely by shifting from coal-fired energy sources to natural gas. As a result, although New York State has banned the highly polluting process of fracking, our city is drawing much of its energy from the destruction of the environment in neighboring states like Pennsylvania. The city’s plan to reduce emissions by 80 percent by 2050 sounds great, but is extremely vague about how future emissions cuts are to be made, other than through insulation of buildings. It makes no mention of the need to shift to truly renewable (and increasingly inexpensive) energy sources such as wind and solar.
PSC members can challenge such suicidal schemes by joining with local environmental justice organizations to push for a renewably generated and locally controlled energy economy. If we are to avert planetary ecocide, we must fight against the capitalist kleptocracy Trump has promised to unleash.
Ashley Dawson, professor of English, College of Staten Island
When I was 22, Ronald Reagan was elected, and seven months later AIDS “started.” Yes, I am still here, but so many people aren’t. I know that what is ahead is suffering. I have a “been there, done this” feeling – and my focus is concrete action, building existing organizations and support. There is no way that this is not going to be awful. So, more inclusion, more kindness, less micro-critique, more coalitions, more political flexibility, laugh at how horrible they are and hope they sabotage themselves, as we try out new approaches, new ideas and new relationships. Simultaneity of action, approach and understanding.
Sarah Schulman, distinguished professor of English, College of Staten Island
JUSTICE FOR ALL?
Speculation is that the first Supreme Court justices Donald Trump will replace will be conservatives, which may not significantly alter the political balance of the court. The problems arise if Trump gets to replace justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg or Stephen Breyer, or both. In that scenario, we will certainly see a further eradication of voting rights protections, as the court will no longer block the actions of Republican state legislatures, and the unwillingness of a gerrymandered Congress to intervene in the area will continue. Trump has already signaled clearly that he wants to eliminate women’s abortion rights. Of equal significance to the Trump effect on the courts is what his appointments will do to the federal administrative agencies, which provide the backbone of federal policy-making. The Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Education will see a direct attack on their mission and possibly challenges to their very existence.
How do we fix this? The broken electoral system has to be changed. The country’s agenda cannot be determined by 26 percent of registered voters. Bernie Sanders is right that the Democratic Party is in need of “fundamental reassessment.” We may be able to stop Trump’s policies via street actions, but greater participation in the political process is inescapable. Too many of Obama’s supporters in 2008 and 2012 flipped to Trump to make the “racist tidal wave” theory a comprehensive explanation for Hillary Clinton’s defeat. I see the results more as a reaction to the atrocious consequences of neoliberalism, which Clinton and the Democrats failed to address. A vast majority of the electorate has had enough of corporate manipulation and exploitation. If we can contain the ever-recurring sting of racism, sexism and xenophobia, the future will be ours.
Frank Deale, professor of law, CUNY School of Law
LESSONS FROM THE PAST
We must ground ourselves in our resilience – for we have come this way before. Yes, there will be attempts to wipe out over five decades of laws and regulations protecting US residents from unlawful discrimination on the basis of religion, sex, race, national origin, disability, sexual orientation and more. There will be attempts to overturn and curb protective court decisions as many federal and state courts turn more conservative. But accomplishing such massive changes to the law of the land takes time, usually more than two to four years. Even for Nixon, Reagan and the Bushes, such change was slow in being effected. Remember that the newly elected President Reagan declared that he would abolish the Department of Education. Eight years later, the Department of Education was still standing, as was the Office for Civil Rights, which enforces Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and public policies like desegregation. They were bruised and bloodied, but still alive, and ready to enforce Title VI robustly, once Reagan departed.
The mid-term elections must serve as a referendum on the Trump presidency. Taking back the Senate and the House must be our priority if we are to get the ship of state back on course toward a democracy for all. We are not defenseless, but we must organize. We will battle for the hearts of those who are downtrodden and fearful. We will use the media and we will fight their changes in the courts. We will support our friends on Capitol Hill and we will put a protective arm around those whom the new administration may seek to target and attack with policies grounded in bigotry.
Esmeralda Simmons, executive director, Center for Law and Social Justice, Medgar Evers College
FIGHTING FOR IMMIGRANTS
While it is not for certain what the future of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and federal immigration policy will be, there are many clues. President-elect Trump’s transition team has a record of hostile statements and policies toward immigrants, people of color, Muslims and undocumented students. CUNY cannot afford a “wait and see” approach. It is imperative that CUNY join the national movement of universities and declare itself a sanctuary campus. Faculty and students from across CUNY that are organizing this movement locally have some early recommendations. CUNY should: Refuse cooperation with Immigration and Customs Enforcement regardless of actions by the future administration. Prevent surveillance against Muslim and Arab students and student groups. Allocate more financial resources to campus Single Stop offices and CUNY Citizenship Now for more attorneys and more public Know Your Rights workshops. Allocate more financial resources toward scholarships for undocumented students and other vulnerable student populations like LGBT and Muslim students. Establish an Undocumented Students Center. Campuses that do not have safe spaces for Muslim students to gather for prayer should establish them.
Arianna Martinez, associate professor of social science, LaGuardia Community College
Understanding the role anti-Semitism plays in Trumplandia is part of building the broad resistance we need. While individual Jews are not the most vulnerable people in the terrifying new climate, anti-Semitism provides an explosive ingredient for the newly declared open season on immigrants, Muslims, people of color and LGBT folks. For avowed white nationalists, anti-Semitism is ideologically fundamental. Its appeal easily oozes from the fringes to the mainstream when presidential campaign rhetoric, invoking persistent anti-Semitic tropes, blames an international cabal of banks, finance and especially the media for controlling the government – and thus the lives of forgotten Americans. Even liberal bubbles like New York are punctured by the absurd assertion that George Soros has been pulling the strings of the Obama administration and Democratic Party more generally.
Some 74 percent of Jewish voters chose Hillary Clinton, but from A (AIPAC) to Z (Zionist Organization of America), some self-appointed guardians of the Jewish community have even defended the White House appointment of white nationalist Steve Bannon, foregrounding his support for Israel. If there is any silver lining in the storm clouds now gathering, it may be that these groups (which also include the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations) will finally lose whatever remaining support they have had from the Jewish-American population at large.
However, on the mainstream side of the spectrum, the American Jewish Committee has teamed up with the Islamic Society of North America to create the Muslim-Jewish Advisory Council. On the progressive side, groups like Jews for Racial and Economic Justice, Jewish Voice for Peace, If Not Now, Jews Against Islamophobia and others are building on long-standing organizing and relationships to form – as a hashtag for a spirited demonstration against an announced Bannon appearance at a ZOA banquet put it – #JewishResistance. We Jews know what fascism looks like and we have a special obligation to fight it.
Marilyn Kleinberg Neimark, professor emerita, Baruch College
THREATS TO IMMIGRANTS
I don’t think there’s going to be huge mass raids, but we can expect legislation that will make it more difficult to get permanent residence or US citizenship. There’s likely to be legislation to make it easier to deport someone and limit due process. I don’t think they’ll be rounding up people protected by DACA. I don’t think there’ll be a border wall, but increased enforcement, more border patrol officers – their union endorsed Trump – and more electronic equipment – a virtual wall.
Allan Wernick, director, CUNY Citizenship Now!
UNHEALTHY AND UNSAFE
Donald Trump has already signaled how his administration will approach issues related to public health, worker protection and the environment, and it is not encouraging, to say the least. Whatever Trump’s rhetoric about reining in lobbyists and “draining the swamp,” the fundamental policy pronouncements that candidate Trump made throughout the campaign were to reduce and eliminate regulations on businesses as the way to generate jobs and promote economic growth. This means that we can expect the administration and the Republican majorities in both houses to cut the funding of the Food and Drug Administration, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other federal departments that were established to protect the health and safety of the American people. It is useful to remember that OSHA and the EPA were established in 1970 (under the Republican Nixon administration!) because there was widespread recognition among the American people that businesses, left to their own devices, all too often were willing to cut corners in ways that threatened people’s lives and endangered the environment. We have only to think of Ralph Nader’s exposé Unsafe at Any Speed, Paul Brodeur’s articles in The New Yorker exposing the role of Johns Manville and other companies in covering up the dangers of asbestos, Rachel Carson’s documenting of the effects of pesticides in Silent Spring, the burning of the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland, and the massive oil spill off the coast of Santa Barbara to understand the growing pressure for the federal government to enact the landmark legislation of the early 1970s.
Now Trump threatens to roll all of this back. He has praised asbestos as “the greatest fireproofing material ever used,” declaring it “100 percent safe, once applied,” ignoring the fact that the workers who apply it (and those who repair or dismantle it) are at risk of death, disability and disease. On the EPA, Trump told Fox News, “Environmental Protection, what they do is a disgrace.” And he has backed up his rhetoric by appointing Myron Ebell to lead his EPA transition team. Ebell is a prominent climate change denier and director of the Center for Energy and Environment at the anti-regulatory Competitive Enterprise Institute, a conservative policy group that once received considerable funding from ExxonMobil. This is reminiscent of when President Ronald Reagan appointed Anne Gorsuch as the EPA administrator. She vowed to dismantle the agency. Reagan was able to cut its enforcement budget by more than 45 percent, relax toxic waste and other regulations, and promote voluntary compliance by industry. But it is important to remember that Gorsuch was eventually forced to resign in 1983 under pressure from Congress as it investigated mishandling of the EPA’s $1.6 billion toxic waste cleanup program, Superfund.
Trump has also vowed to roll back President Obama’s signature effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, known as the Clean Power Plan, and to scrap a litany of other “unnecessary” rules, especially those imposed on the oil, gas and coal sectors. This struggle has just begun.
Gerald Markowitz, distinguished professor of history, John Jay College
I am not prone to drop the word fascism glibly, but I can’t help but draw parallels between this moment in the US and Italy and Germany in the 1930s. Even abandoning this frightening analogy, in all likelihood a Trump presidency means the return of right-to-work. For those of us in the PSC, there is a very clear path forward – we need to build our union, more vigorously than we ever have. This specter of right-to-work does not necessarily mean the end of the PSC, but it does mean that we need to fight in a way that makes our spring strike authorization vote seem like just the beginning.
Those of us who are already active in campus chapter work must create structures that enable every interested rank and filer to engage. At the Graduate Center, we launched five committees off of our strike organizing – Contract Enforcement, Internal Organizing, Legislative, Solidarity and Adjunct Organizing. Needs may be slightly different on each campus, but the point is that every chapter must have structures that enable the union to draw on the skills, the fight and the interests of every single member.
Luke Elliott-Negri, PSC chapter chair, Graduate Center