As those of us who have been witnessing the roller-coaster politics of the United States these past few months can attest, there’s a lot riding on the idea of the president. This may seem truistic, for we all know that presidents are very powerful in great part because they are the megaphone through which a series of legislative platforms is broadcast.
But even more than this, presidents are, for many, the image of the nation-state distilled into a single person. When certain Americans thus claim that Donald Trump is “not my president,” what they are indicating in a very straightforward sense is their rejection of this representative identity even as they wish to retain national ties, for presumably they find inconsistencies between the ways they align their own identities with the nation-state and the president as the national symbol. Of course, we’ve seen that before, most recently in this image:
Continue reading “What Is A President?”
A whirlwind of political actions and responses has overwhelmed many of us over the past few months in the United States. Almost everyone seems to be outraged about something. Some are outraged at Trump’s attempt to ban people from entering the US, his cabinet and staff selections, and various other statements and actions he has made, while others express outrage at the responses to Trump, from filing lawsuits to protesting physically. What does all of the outrage accomplish, besides exhausting everyone involved?
Expressions of outrage often contribute to the construction of groups. When Bill Maher, to much applause from his audience, thanked Trump in November because Trump “exposed evangelicals, who are big Trump supporters, as the shameless hypocrites they’ve always been” (see clip below), Maher’s assertion of outrage identified evangelicals as the opposition to those who, like Maher, opposed Trump. By associating two issues, the outrage encouraged people who agreed with Maher’s politics to join his opposition to groups whom he identifies as religious. A similar correlation can be found in statements critiquing the marches and protests following Trump’s inauguration. People have expressed outrage that the signs and speeches were vulgar and hateful. For example, the Federalist website highlighted elements of the Women’s March that it deemed problematic, even warning that their description included “vulgar and sexually graphic content.” These expressions attempt to combine people uncomfortable with public discussions of sexuality with Trump supporters. Thus, expressions of outrage used emotional responses to unite people with some similar positions against a caricatured Other. Continue reading “Effective Outrage”
by Martin Shuster
On January 27, 2017, the Trump White House issued, like many administrations before it, a statement on the Nazi genocide in remembrance of International Holocaust Remembrance Day. What was striking about this statement, however, was that it failed to mention the Jews. Trump’s statement merely noted that: “It is impossible to fully fathom the depravity and horror inflicted on innocent people by Nazi terror.” The problem is that this is exactly how those who deny or minimize the Nazi genocide talk about the event (as Senator Tim Kaine noted, Richard Spencer confirmed, and as a cursory glance at white supremacist forums will show). The White House, however, doubled down when the administration’s spokeswoman, Hope Hicks, claimed that the statement was intentional and that, “despite what the media reports, we are an incredibly inclusive group and we took into account all of those who suffered.” Similarly, Chief of Staff Reince Priebus remarked that, “everyone’s suffering in the Holocaust” (adding, “obviously all of the Jewish people”).
There are a lot of questions here. As Josh Marshall suggests, wouldn’t it have been wiser—if indeed that was the goal—instead to mention all of the groups you had in mind? How will this affect the relationship between conservative Jews and Trump, especially when that relationship is often based on a shared support for Israel that seems, mistakenly, also to signal support for Jews? How will such Jews weigh the importance of Israel in relation to the importance of acknowledging the Nazi genocide? As Jordan Weissman points out, the White House seems to have “all lives mattered” the Nazi genocide. Continue reading “Holocaust Statements and Identity in/of/for the World”
Among the most sensational elements of this week’s political news was the debate over the number of people who appeared across an approximately 24 hour window on the National Mall in Washington D.C., the site of both the Trump presidential inauguration and the Women’s March in protest the next day. The controversy started over this particular series of photos, which featured the population attending the inauguration:
and those attending the Women’s March:
Continue reading “When We Want Alternative Facts”
With Tuesday’s colossally surprising upset now behind us, I am musing about how to conceptualize democracy. I began to write this post on Monday the 7th, when the political landscape appeared much different from where many of us sat, perched at the edge of our screens. Indeed, with Trump’s camp appearing more on the defensive at that point, I was intrigued by the interesting and varied elements of anti-democratic speech that emanated from him and his supporters.
We are all familiar with the most public example of this, wherein Donald Trump pledged weeks ago to disavow the election results as non-democratic if they did not turn out as he wished. Yet consider how this same move has also happened among various religious groups that reassured their followers that god/Jesus/deity is in control of everything (including the election), and thus no matter what happens, the will of the people is not theirs, but the extension of the will of some god. Continue reading “What Is Democracy?”
There’s a new commercial playing in these parts, in which a toothpaste company tangentially links their product to enhanced school performance.
Take a look. Continue reading “Critical Thinking Applications #47”
I’ve written before about the curious relationship between form and content — and the manner in which (despite how we usually think about it) meaning is the product of the former.
As but the latest example, consider this Lipton commercial currently on TV here in the US.
Recognize the song? Continue reading “S.O.B.”
As you might have seen recently in the news, James Dobson, noted evangelical leader and founder of the Focus on the Family empire, has made the public claim that Donald Trump, the Presidential candidate to whom he has lent quasi-official support, is a born-again Christian. This statement was made largely in an attempt to explain how Trump’s string of unsavory comments and crude vocabulary need not offput the “values voters” who Dobson represents and whose support Trump so desperately needs. Rather, Dobson located the reason for Trump’s language and attitudes in the fact that he is a “baby Christian,” or very recent convert. In other words, Dobson has argued, Trump should be given a pass in the matter of his foul language and otherwise distasteful comments since he was not raised in an evangelical environment, and is just learning the cultural ropes, so to speak.
It will surprise no one that a wave of anti-Trump folks responded to the “baby Christian” comment by claiming that Trump’s ethics are so bankrupt that this news couldn’t possibly be taken seriously. Yet as Russell McCutcheon himself recently argued, the progressive clamor over whether Trump’s religiosity is “genuine” — that is, reflective of some inward personal shift — is actually a conservative move in the sense that it presumes the existence of some sort of authentic religious experience that is deemed authoritative and positive precisely because it is presumed apolitical. McCutcheon’s analysis points to the fact that since every religious act is designed to have some impact on the power relationships shared by people, every such act is political in one way or another. So while Trump may be among the more colorful candidates to invoke religion while on the campaign trail, there’s nothing particularly unique in how he’s doing it. Continue reading “Christianity as Logo: Is Donald Trump a “Baby Christian”?”
In the ever-growing torrent of op-eds about Donald Trump, the subject of the candidate’s misogyny has increasingly become a topic of interest and focus. Most recently, I came across this New York Times piece by conservative columnist David Brooks. In it, Brooks bemoans Trump’s bombastic misogyny that seems predicated upon competitive alpha male one-upmanship. Continue reading “Marketable Misogyny”
Donald Trump received some criticism from an interesting corner this past week when Pope Francis all but declared Trump “un-Christian,” an assessment rendered in response to the latter’s planned policy to build a wall between the US and Mexico if he is elected President. Predictably, Trump fired back with a series of remarks alleging that if ISIS were to attack the Vatican (a possibility in a world without Trump as President, he surmised), then the Pope would seriously regret his words. Although both offered more conciliatory statements later, the spectacle that remained exposed some of the very interesting seams of social identity, seams that should be particularly intriguing to anyone interested not just in the study of religion, but also in the dynamics of public life.
As a scholar of religion with an eye for social theory, one of the first rules of engagement that I use when analyzing a situation such as this is to presume that labels like “Christian” are more shifting descriptors of a particular group’s interests and place in a society rather than a finite, essentialist definition of them. In other words, there is not a single thing that characterizes all people who call themselves “Christian,” and so what intrigues me about the use of the term is why and how we use it when we do, rather than assuming that it is a neutral, self-evident category that objectively describes the world. Continue reading “Who Is A Christian?: The Donald, The Pope, and the Rhetoric of Religion”