During this moderated panel discussion on March 12, 2021, influential UC Berkeley scholars dive into a deep and crucial examination of the political conditions that led to the rise of Donald Trump and the consequences of his presidency on US society and the world.
Osagie K. Obasogie: Hello, welcome. My name is Osagie Obasogie. I'm a professor at Berkeley in the Joint Medical Program and School of Public Health. And today, I'm joined by four of my colleagues who joined with me earlier this year to publish a edited volume titled "Trumpism and its Discontents". It is a volume that explores the role of Donald Trump's presidency and the idea of Trumpism and its impact on everyday life, society and politics. So today, I'm joined by four contributors to that volume. We first have john powell who is the director of the Othering & Belonging Institute and also a professor of law at Berkeley. We have Catherine Albiston who is also a professor of law at Berkeley. We have Zeus Leonardo who's a professor in the School of Education and we also have Ann Keller who is a professor in the School of Public Health. And so we're gonna talk for about 45 minutes about each of their chapters and the idea of Trumpism itself and have a conversation in a largely Q and A format and then we'll reserve the last 15 minutes or so for questions from the audience. So my first question I sort of an icebreaker for the panel is what were your initial thoughts on January 6th when you saw the images coming from the siege of the US Capitol? john, I think we could start with you.
john a. powell: Well, good afternoon, Osagie and hello, fellow panelists. There was a little bit of whiplash because I think a lot of us were following Georgia and some may know that the Othering & Belonging Institute had actually worked various, intensely on get out the vote and civic engagement in Georgia and following whether or not what was happening in the Senate race and then it looked like we're gonna pull it out and just what we were saying yay, then the uprising of the insurrection started. And I wasn't shocked but it was shocking and my own thought and suspicion is that it wasn't spontaneous, that there was too much to suggest it was not orchestrated. And I sort of worried about best for our country and I've used the metaphor since then that we sort of dodged a bullet but then, the Trumpsters in some of the Republicans reloaded a Gatling gun. I mean it's just we're still, I think, in very troubling waters. So, it was hard and sad at the same time. It was also somewhat irritating because we couldn't really celebrate all the incredible work that had been done in Georgia and turning Georgia blue at certain levels, really, kinda lost. Anyway, those are my thoughts and feelings.
Osagie K. Obasogie: Thank you. Cathie, did you have thoughts when you saw some of those initial images coming from the Capitol?
Catherine Albiston: Yeah, I mean it was, I think john put his finger on it. It was surprising but maybe not a surprise because it was the culmination of a sort of boundary crossing administration that had moved in a direction of extremism already. I mean there were a couple of things that really struck me. One was the disjointure between the response to the Capitol Police and also the National Guard and other, the FBI and other police entities to this protest compared to what had happened in Portland or what had happened in DC before, clearing peaceful protesters out of the way and I had to wonder whether the nature of the protest, the nature of the protesters had something to do with that because it was stark and disturbing and commented on quite a bit. And the second thing that was disturbing for me and again, I think I'm echoing some of what john said was that I had read prior to this international commentary about how does democracy fail and when do coups happen? And from folks that had lived through it and one of the things that they pointed out is that it's a slow moving phenomenon, that you have to respond at every instance and that even what seemed to be silly or defeated queues can come back again and again and so, it worries me for the future. I don't think this was necessarily the period on the end of the Trump administration and I think that it's a warning sign for things that we need to be thinking of and vigilant about in the future.
Osagie K. Obasogie: Thank you. Zeus, did you wanna share any thoughts?
Zeus Leonardo: Sure, sure. Thank you. I think I am going to agree with my colleagues here. For the last four years of the presidency and including his run-up to the presidency, so, five years, really, we and I have been shocked by President Trump's behaviors, actions, words and speeches and I tried not to be shocked over and over again because it was a pattern. But this really was, again, a shocking event and on some level, didn't even feel real. I mean I felt like I was watching a Netflix special, right? But it was all too real. And the last time I felt that way, not counting the shot that we saw with George Floyd and other videotaped events of anti-black violence but, and that is still a shock but we were seeing so much of that these days as far as TV image, it's no longer surprising. The last time I felt that way about an image was the 9/11 event when you saw the World Trade Center in flames. So when I saw folks, mostly white in that crowd, breaching the Capitol and then the Capitol Building, it really felt shocking again and I tried to resist the temptation to be shocked because again, why should I be shocked? We've been seeing these kinds of images over and over four to five years but it was new and I don't want to underestimate the effect of that. I mean words and we will talk about words in this panel but words like sedition were being used, right? And a second impending impeachment which did happen was being talked about. So it was not to be underestimated as far the importance, the importance of the image, the importance of the event, the importance of the action. Folks who breached the building and putting their feet up on Pelosi's desk. It's all very, very much shocking but again, I tried to resist the temptation to feel that way because in a sense, why should we be surprised at all? So those were the conflictual feelings I had. Going back and forth being shocked and resisting the shock.
Osagie K. Obasogie: Great, thank you. And Ann, did you had thoughts that you wanna share?
Ann C. Keller: Yeah, I can echo I feel like what all of the panelists have said about the, on the one hand a feeling of inevitability. I mean, I think from the very outset of the Trump presidency, since he initially campaigned that he wouldn't accept an election loss the first time around, I think many people were already talking about what would it take to get this man out of office if once elected? So, from the beginning, I think it's been on our minds but at the same time, just the images of seeing this a crowd of white protestors reaching, initially, what we could have thought was a protest but became this act of sedition. It's just very hard to take in even though intellectually, I was prepared for it. I think just as a political scientist who studies public administration and who really studies institutions, I think, it was almost unbearable to watch people within the Capitol calling for help and callings for support of the Capitol Police and seeing nothing happen and then realizing what that was. That that was the institutions of government aligned with this man who was trying to steal the election, kind of waiting to see if the National Guard is not gonna sent in, what's gonna happen next? And so this feeling of seeing this real attack on our democracy play out where I don't think we saw kind of, there weren't active troops coming in to kind of support the sedition but the withholding of support for the Capitol Police felt like it was a move in that direction and that long pause, that three-hour wait for any support is what I can't, it's the piece of it that I can't quite get over. I feel like we will be grappling with that for years and potentially, decades to come.
Osagie K. Obasogie: Right, right. Yeah, my thoughts resonate with so many of the things that you all said. And I also had this additional feeling where many of the county that are being contested at that time that kinda gave or created the motivation for what was then thought of as a stop the steal moment that led to the breach of the Capitol. So many of those counties that were contested were from black counties, largely, minority counties. And so, from that perspective, we can think of the breach of the Capitol as not only a movement by conservatives but it was specifically an anti-black statement, right? It was a statement about the illegitimacy of black votes and from that perspective, I saw so many of the, or I began to think about some of the images from the 19th and 20th century lynching. So these photos of public lynchings and we tend to think about lynchings as these kind of secretive private acts that happened outside of view. In reality, they were often public acts that had hundreds, if not thousands of people attending and there were these public spectacles and so, there, for me, a kind of a connection between the mob violence that we saw on the 19th and 20th century with regard to lynching and the mob violence that we saw on January 6th to the extent that they're both become deeply anti-black moments to, in a sense, threaten and intimidate people who dared, to an extent, cross what were being thought of as kind of like certain social and political lines. And I think that type of historical continuity, for me, was very important and very striking in terms of how a mob violence that we traditionally think it of as being something in the past, in a sense, sparked up and we saw an instance of that in the 21st century. So, for our first panelist question, I will start with Zeus, and so, we have the idea that color blindness has been critiqued by sociologists such as Eduardo Bonilla-Silva and he talks about it as this kind of species of race speech and orientation that emerged after the Jim Crow era where it was no longer polite to talk about race in explicit terms and color blindness became a norm to talk about race and racism and seemingly race-neutral terms but still kinda preserve those kinds of substantive discriminatory ideas. And so, the question for you is are we now at the end of white color blindness now that it seems to be less useful and as a descriptor or as an end of, or excuse me, is a descriptor of end of race relations? And so, what has occurred or what has happened to make this shift, in the shift towards post-color blindness? That is to say that Trump and Trumpism seems to have a certain type of explicit conversation on race that seems to go against traditional normal color blindness and are we in a new era of something different or is this simply a extension of what we saw before as colorblind norms?
Zeus Leonardo: Thank you. Thank you for the question. So, I mean the first thing I'd like to point out is that speech, race speech, racialized speech is intimately tied to structures. So it's not that speech and words are divorced of the structure that gives them power. So that's the first thing I'd like to point out. So, color blindness made popular by Bonilla-Silva and it's been called other terms, laissez-faire racism by Larry Bobo and his collaborators, is an indication or an expression of race relations, race structures so that color blindness replaces Jim Crow as a way of talking or what I call the transparency, the transparency of racial power in Jim Crow becomes, or transitions towards color blindness which is a coded a way of talking about race without ever really mentioning race in overt terms. Now, since Trump, but arguably before Trump, we're talking about the Tea Party rise and then the importance of former President Obama and his being the first black president of this country. So it goes back before Trump. So we're that's why we're talking about Trumpism. So it's not to be confused only with the man himself although he may wish for that. I think Trumpism is a broader framework, a broader phenomenon that dates back to something like the Tea Party or before, perhaps, even farther back, perhaps Reaganism. So that post-color blindness is a term I'm invoking here to say that it's not coded. I mean when he's talking about build the wall, when he's talking about the Muslim ban, that's very overt, it's not colorblind at all, right? And it's post-colorblind to suggest that, to not suggest that color blindness is irrelevant because color blindness is still around. In fact, it may still be the dominant way of talking but I think there's an assumptive discourse that's happening, which is post-color blindness, this way of talking about race in overt ways. But it's different from Jim Crow, right? It's different from Jim Crow because the transparency of racial power evident in Jim Crow discourse is slightly different for that from what I'm calling post-color blindness, which is the sense that white folks are arguing for being part of the sort of rainbow, the racial rainbow, right? It's a sort of normalcy of whiteness and not the specialness of whiteness that's coming up. So it's after color blindness, which is not to suggest that color blindness is irrelevant but isn't that exactly before color blindness or going back to Jim Crow overt discourse. It is overt but it's reference are different, right? It's reference are that whites would like their own sort of sovereignty, their own sort of autonomy to determine their own cultural practices, their community and identity understandings. It is a white identity politics that is basically being inserted in an identity politics that the left or people of color have been using. So there's a kind of normalness about whiteness in it that's different from Jim Crow. Now, of course, if you dig a little deeper, we'll probably find overt racial power reference there but I'm talking about sort of the public way that whites are now using their own racialization as whites or white identity politics. So I don't think color blindness is irrelevant, I don't think color blindness is gone, I don't think it's necessarily after color blindness. So when I say post, it doesn't just mean after. It is a marker, a post, let's say a post on the street. It's a marker that something is happening and that it's very different from what sociologists and others have called color blindness. So that's my answer. Maybe we can circle back later.
Osagie K. Obasogie: Yeah, thank you. And I really like how you put color blindness on a broader political spectrum. Something that's been around for many years and Trump is just the most recent example of it, takes it to a new extreme but I ended up itself entirely brand new idea. And also like how you're suggesting how this kind of post-colorblind moment exemplified by Trump is, in a sense, in conversation with color blindness itself and I'm reminded of kind of many times where then President Trump was say something outrageous that was explicitly racist then his defenders will come out and use colorblind language to try to clean it up and make it seem more normal. And that kinda back and forth, that back and forth and just really led to a lot of confusion and kind of linguistic kinda gymnastics that have kinda let people, in a sense, rationalize where we're otherwise, irrational thoughts about race in our country. And so, I think that relationship is something to also keep in mind. So we'll turn next to john powell and the question, my question for you is why is group dominance more important to understand and focus on than racism or prejudice? So how are they related and how they differ?
john a. powell: Again, thanks for the question. So, in many ways, our education about prejudice comes from Allport in "The Nature of Prejudice" with 1954. But he spoke about it largely in terms of individual response to a group or individual response to other individuals. And so, in terms of that, as we sort of thought of racist as individual acts of discrimination, prejudice, stereotyping, the goal was to fix the individual, educate her or him to offer counter stereotypical examples and sometimes, it was also associated but not always, with animus. So you had stereotypes, prejudice and animus sort of working together but not becoming each other. And so, if you look at even today, a lot of the work around implicit bias, a lot of the work around anti-racism is really focused on fixing the individual and that individual has bad thoughts, bad models or ignorant thoughts or ignorant models. A group dominance is a very different concept. First of all, it doesn't require animus, it doesn't even acquire stereotypes or prejudice. It's basically saying the position of my group is to be dominant. And again, very close, very close cousin to group superiority. And when that position is threatened, then the group becomes both more salient, become more aware of itself and it becomes threatened and what you're doing then is actually trying to protect the group. So if you think about the young man who went into the church in South Carolina, what he said is that he actually liked the people that he was with for more than an hour. They were very nice to him, they're kind and he even expressed some regret that he had to kill them. And in his mind, he had to kill them in favor of his group, is that the white people as a group from his mind was actually under threat from the growing changes in the population, from the growing assertion of power and that's what he was concerned of. And oftentimes, also, in the group dominance discourse, we assume the one group is gonna dominate another. We can't really imagine groups actually not dominating. So you have the Proud Boys saying, "We will not be replaced by Jews." And I can't remember Jews saying they want to replace the Proud Boys but there's anxiety. And so I think it's both, all those things operating at the same time. There's individual prejudice and discrimination, there's bias, there's stereotyping. But what we're seeing now is group dominance. Increasingly, also, the group dominance is led, has a leader. So Trump is the leader of the group, which makes it hard to actually move people away from group dominance even if they start having some second thoughts because one of the things you get from group dominance is group membership. And Trump makes it very clear that if you violate the norms of group dominance, then you're out of the group. And the last thing I say on this is that I was thinking about this yesterday and today. I think it's appropriate that we look at Trumpism and people who organize around Trumpism but also think it's important and under examine the people and especially, the white people who don't organize around Trumpism. So there's a heterogeneity that we're not sometimes digging into. It's like with setting the pandemic and we look at people who get the virus and get sick, interesting, important, but there's also people get the virus and don't get sick. And the people who were exposed don't even get any symptoms. So we need to study the spectrum and what we're seeing in terms of the large society but certainly, white society is the spectrum in terms of this different kinds of white expression. And we're not clear as to what whiteness, white ideology means, period but certainly, what it means if you're not organizing around Trumpism. So what does it mean to be white in America and not organized around Trumpism? And I end this by saying Baldwin sort of posited to us years ago, right? And he said, "There's no hope for us as long as they think of themselves as white." He was saying the ideology of white is problematic and it has to be something else but we have never been clear on what that something else is.
Osagie K. Obasogie: Well, thank you, john. I've always appreciated your thoughts on this and I think the framework that you're suggesting here, it really explains, for example, why the media had such a hard time covering Donald Trump, in part, because their analysis of race was so embedded in the individual level. You have the rhetoric of Trumpism is at this kinda group superiority level that you just eloquently explained. And it I think it took so many people like a really long time to really figure out how do we capture what's so difficult and harmful with Trumpism because of that mismatch between how they were conceptualizing race and racism as individual phenomenon but yet, the political claims are being made were at this kind of group level and that's precisely why I think Trumpism has been attractive to so many people and for people who were outside of that way of thinking, it took them a long time to understand exactly what was at stake. So, next question is for Cathie. How has Trump and Trumpism over the years affected the conversation regarding sexual harassment?
Catherine Albiston: So, one of the things that I have found most disorienting about some of what has happened since, even before Trump was elected when he was caught on mic talking about groping women and how you didn't even have to ask beforehand is the way in which the conversation around sexual harassment has moved away from conceptualizing it as about power, workplace exclusion, gender policing and moved in a different direction around individual desire, boorish behavior or even hyper-masculinity. And so Trumpism and Trump himself, I think, has changed the narrative to be about salacious details and he said, she said squabbles which, of course, the media loved because it made for good coffee but the result of that has been a kind of resection realizing of sexual harassment as about boorish behavior rather than structural inequality and then sort of complete ignoring of harassment that isn't sexual in nature but is derogatory directed at particular groups as a means of excluding them from opportunities. A second consequence has been the resurgence of the sort of lying witness stereotype especially with the result in the Kavanaugh hearings but second, a weird kind of generalizing of that stereotype so that powerful men like Vice President Pence can say, well, I wouldn't be alone with a woman in the workplace because of this potential for false accusations and that ends up being this claim of false accusations which are exceedingly rare then becomes an excuse to avoid women in the workplace across the board and becomes an obstacle to women's progress. And then the third thing that's happened is a kind of devaluing of the harm of sexual harassment and assault altogether. So you saw this again in the Kavanaugh hearings where the question becomes whether something is negligible as sexual assault in a high school context should be used to deny the advancement of such an accomplished man. And Catherine McKenna put it really well. She said, "The debate presented Blasey sexual assault claim is a debate between her facts and his resume." And this is a sort of much more disturbing development because it wasn't necessarily that she wasn't believed, it was more that it didn't matter. And so, why did this happen? Well, I think that when Trump was caught on mic bragging about harassing women, his response was to normalize it, right? To normalize it as typically masculine behavior, as locker room discussion. This is a strategy we've seen in other context as he and his administration normalized what otherwise would have been unthinkable misogyny, racism, attacks on democracy and so this sort of normalization, denial of facts, kind of resistance to what had prior been the framework around sexual harassment I think was a strategy overall. It's also a pushback against something and I think john alluded to this, to the successful privilege of a certain group, right? To the gender privilege of men to harass women and use gender-based but not necessarily sexualized harassment to diminish and exclude women in the workplace. And so, to deny facts and attack the accuser is a much broader strategy that was used by Trump in a whole slew of opportunities. But in this particular context, it also resonated with the cultural stereotypes about rape victims and false accusations. I just wanna point out that this doesn't, this development leaves off the table the people who were meant to be supported by the Me Too movement and Tarana Burke when she started it was focused on supporting harassment victims. And so nowhere in this narrative is the experience of janitors raped on the night shift or women in the construction trades being ridiculed, harassed or demeaned for their gender nonconforming professional choices. Now, it's all about powerful men being challenged by women who were probably lying and in a politicized attack. And I think that that's a real concern for thinking about gender equality going forward in all kinds of structural areas as well. And so, while it's of a piece of the Trump strategies, it's concerning about where we go from here.
Osagie K. Obasogie: Great, thank you. So, Ann, in your chapter, you expressed more concern about how an anti-science set of strategies have taken hold among Conservatives than the particular anti-science moves that were made by the Trump administration. So can you explain these concerns and how they might affect the direction of the GOP and how this has evolved since the mid-1990s?
Ann C. Keller: Yes, yeah. So, I think, in keeping with other panelists and other contributors to the volume, I think one of the exercises that in here was to look at the particular stamp that Trump brings to a stripe of conservatism that we're seeing now and I've been studying science debates particularly around environmental politics going back to my dissertation and what I think was this kind of standard sort of century model for Conservatives and Progressives to fight over regulatory issues, which was the area where I was doing research and in particular, I started sort of cutting my teeth with acid rain and climate change was it Progressives would say there's a real problem here we need to regulate what's going on in the private sector in order to prevent more harm and Conservatives would say, really, we don't know enough, there's too much certainty, too much uncertainty. We can't really act now. And then what we would see out of that was this sort of bi-partisan sort of default to let's do more research. And that, I think, sort of shored up this partnership that I would call between kind of the federal government and its role in kind of regulating economy and science in revealing to us how that, what was happening, kind of what the private sector was producing. And what I noting that Trump and his appointees, in the chapter, I focus on Trump's appointees to the EPA and what I noticed that there's a long standing term where Conservatives started to start to figure out that the what we call, and scholars have called it merchants of doubt or bending science. This idea of sort of generating uncertainty to avoid regulatory action is not as powerful as saying let's not do any research. So what I've seen is this move that I call moving upstream or turning off the tap which is cutting off funding, cutting off the opportunity to do scientific research at its source so that so that you can't have the regulatory debate later. And that's, I think, the Trump appointees to the EPA were sort of working from that playbook and trying to find in this regulatory environment that's very codified and very formalized ways to choke off science available for EPA for decision-making. And I saw sort of Trump is kind of an opportunist in this environment. I saw him, I think, initially, through the lens of narcissism. Like if the scientists were making him look good, he loves science but they're making him look bad, he hates science but I didn't see him as participating in this much more kind of strategic move. I think more recently like thinking about the way that Trump navigated the COVID crisis, I think I see that the sort of maybe deeply, he is anti-science kind of at his base, not just the sort of opportunist that the way that it played out in COVID and the way that electorally, I think, he made a huge miscalculation. I think he could have led as the crisis president and COVID and gotten reelected. But I think when he started, I think, he was sort of uncertain about his ability to navigate that and so he sort of he took this very much anti-science, anti-fact approach to COVID. And I wanna just link back to something that john powell said about group dominance and group leaders. I'm really informed in thinking about where this came from from Claude Fischer's work around, he has sort of this correction for thinking of Americans as these sort of boundless like individuals and he uses this term volunteerism, which is Americans really don't wanna be told what church they should join, what synagogue, what party they should belong to, where they should go for employment but once Americans affiliate with a group, they're much more likely to follow the leaders than their European counterparts. So we see Americans will say, you should do what your boss says even if you think your boss is wrong, you should do what your church leader says even if you think your church leader is wrong. And so Trump as a leader of this group is really shaping the way that they understand COVID or the way that they understand science. We didn't see 370 million responses to COVID, we saw essentially sort of two. So I think that, I think, there's both this sort of long standing, I think, move that I would locate kind of in the 1990s and sort of emerges with Newt Gingrich and 101st, sorry, 104th Congress where they began to use their budget tools to cut off science. But I think Trump is a leader really brings something. He really animates it and he really tells people who may not actually sort of be as committed to anti-science, the sort of Conservative elites, to follow him down that path. So I think having seen COVID and since I wrote the chapter, I would add this piece but Trump's really fanning the flames. He's creating a much larger movement than I think would really exist, absent his position in the presidency and absent his ability to tweet.
Osagie K. Obasogie: Right, thank you. So I wanna return back to Zeus and pick up on the conversation that we had before about post-color blindness and really continue the conversation that you touched upon with this idea that post-color blindness represents some form of white concessions or a series of white concessions and I was wonder if you could say more about what those concessions might be and how they operate.
Zeus Leonardo: Sure thing. I'm unmuted now. So, that point is inspired by Gramsci and a Gramscian analysis, that what I see in post-color blindness or an overt racialized speech of white identity politics is the sense that for so long, right? The modus operandi of whiteness was to not claim their racial conditioning, that to be white meant to be human. It meant to be an individual, it meant to be a person. In post-color blindness, white is a racial identity. They're carrying flags to signal their whiteness and not in the Jim Crow way, right? And so, I'm differentiating it from that. It's a sense that they're asserting the everyday-ness of their whiteness, right? And to me, that's a concession, right? It's what I call in the chapter a recent sign of white desperation. So at the same time that yes, Trumpism and Trump won. They won something. They won the presidency for four years, they won the reinvigoration of the right and the far right. But I think it's not one without, it's not one or it's not one without concessions. And so the concession is this, that whites are now, at least to themselves because people of color have always known that white is a racial conditioning. But now, more and more whites from all sectors of life are asserting themselves as white, right? As let's say deserving of respect in their own eyes, right? Deserving of their own space, deserving of their own community wishes and standards. But I think that's a concession, right? It's a concession in the sense that Gramsci or maybe Stuart Hall's Gramsci would say is that white is now coming out of the bright cave to sort of be ironic with Plato's cave, right? They're coming out of the bright cave into the darkness, right? So, the opposite in the sense that whites can no longer dodge the question of their whiteness. Whites have now used it and weaponized whiteness, of course, but it's not without a concession, that they have now come out in public as white, as a racial group, as an identity experience. One that deserves more critical understanding, no doubt, but that's what I mean about the idea that post-color blindness is a white concession. It is, I don't know if it's the last straw, I don't know if it's the last straw of whiteness or the last heave of whiteness but it certainly is a progression of the changes in whiteness that we've seen all along. And this one to me is different, right? To me, this one is different. For so long, white meant to be a person. It meant to be a human individual. Now, it is a racial label. It is one that they carry and that they've weaponized but that's not without concessions.
Osagie K. Obasogie: Well, thank you, Zeus, that's very helpful. Next question is back to john powell. So, when we have these discussions about race and racism and anti-racism work, we typically talk about race as if this is kind of fixed form of identity and not a social construction and at the same time, we kinda gesture towards the social construction but it's not really taking it as seriously as it could be. So how should we think about race and what does this mean for bridging, bonding and the divisions that were created by Trumpism?
john a. powell: I think that's an extremely important question and it has multiple layers to it. So, we give a nod to the idea that race is socially constructed but our function, our practice, both on the left and right is that race is actually still essential. And by being essential, that is where it just happens, it's natural. It does a lot of work. Essentialism does a lot of work. First of all, it erases history. So if something has a history, it means it's constantly changing and it can change in the future. If we think of race as essential, even though there's changes going on, we either don't notice them and we think it's permanent. And by looking at someone's phenotype, we think we know all we need to know about the race. So race can't change and more particularly, racism can't change, it disempowers us. And it also means that it blinds us. I sort of alluded to it in my first comments about the heterogeneity of whiteness and the heterogeneity of blackness or the heterogeneity of Latino-ness. It's hard for us to see that because we keep slipping back by default into racial essentialism. And even when we sort of assign people to a group, like if you look at a lot of the work around tribalism, a lot of people will analogize what's happening now in terms of tribalism and they'll do work about the mind science and people naturally categorize. Tribalism, in a explicit sense, is about tribes and tribes were small, usually, from 50, most of them are 50, big tribe was 150 but there are people you have contact with every day. What do you have in common with these people? It's like it's your family. These are the people you live with your entire life. What do people who are phenotypically white having contact with, any relationship with each other? It's social. So at the at the height of Nazi Germany, Hitler was clear there were four different types of white people in Europe and they were hierarchical. And only the Nordics where the really pure white people. The rest of them were maybe. That sort of consolidated. So what I'm suggesting is that there's no natural group. We naturally think, I mean, people oftentimes will say people wanna be with their own. It's like who's my own? 200 million white people, that's my own? I don't think so. I was like, that has to be worked through. And if it's not worked through, again, we lose the capacity to interrupt and move it. The last thing I say on this is that race is socially constructed as it is and identity is actually socially constructed. It means it's constantly moving but it means we get to participate in the construction of that. We don't control it, it's social, it's not individually-controlled, it's socially-controlled. And so, that reflects in terms of how we do, where people live and where people go to school, who gets on television, who gets to go to university, who is deferred to, all of these things but we can interrupt that once we are aware there is this social construction. And we can imagine a white race or white group that doesn't need to dominate. We can imagine that, which is hard to do in America. It's hard not only for us to do. You go back to Dred Scott, chief justice supreme court, he couldn't imagine white people not dominating. Lincoln, even as he moved his progression and becoming more racially conscious, it was hard for him to imagine white and black people living together. He said know, "Okay, I can imagine black people not being slaves but you've got to go. You can't stay here. It's not conceivable." So part of it is it sort of narrows our imagination. We can imagine a future where people are living into their multiple identities and living into multiple groups and I think that's where we have to go.
Osagie K. Obasogie: Great. Thank you. Thank you, john. Cathie, I wanna ask a question to you that you alluded to in your previous comments but would appreciate your further thoughts. So some people have raised this concern that the Me Too movement has moved away from supporting women and been framed as a political attack. And so, again, you talked about this a little bit earlier but can you just talk more about how this occurred and talk about some of broader implications?
Catherine Albiston: Yeah, that's a great question and I'm gonna be cautious about attributing it to the motives of the Me Too movement because I think the Me Too movement has it's had its missteps but it's also been dragged along in the context of what happened in the Trump administration. So, the Me Too movement itself as I alluded to earlier, was started by Tarana Banks or Burke, sorry, Tarama Burke who was concerned about supporting women who had been the target or the victims of sexual harassment and I think that it's sort of later iteration on Twitter with encouraging people to indicate whether or not they had been sexually harassed drew a lot more attention and media attention to it and then of course, it got integrated into some of the events of the Trump administration, most notably, the Kavanaugh hearings. One of the things that became a little bit frustrating, I think in watching this happen is how Me Too became, as I said, politicized and then there was a backlash, right? There was the Him Too movement that was driven by the perception of some of the arguments about politicization that these were not women who actually experienced these attacks, this was a politically motivated effort or as one of the more prominent concerns about Him Too argued, it's a group of radical feminists with an ax to grind. And one of the things that is concerning about that is that it sort of detracts and takes away from the universal or nearly universal idea that sexual harassment in the workplace and sexual assault was a wrong, that normatively, we disagreed with. And so we might quibble on the margins about whether or not it actually happened but if it did happen then it was problematic and that if someone was making that argument, they should be listened to. What's happened now is that it's become women and perhaps, even radical feminist women making political attacks. And so, for example, in the recent debate over Cuomo, Kirsten Gillibrand said, "Why do you keep asking the women in Congress when it's time for him to resign? Why don't you ask other male congressmen? This isn't just our issue, this is a broader issue and yet, now, it's become a much more gendered aspect." And so, again, the problem with that is that harassment stops being normatively a problem. It changes what harassment is, it's a conceptual manner, it's no longer about inequality, it's now part of the culture wars. And so, once that happens, it's much harder to have a concerted effort to think about all of the women who are affected and in all the myriad ways they're affected and in the ways that this undermines inequality. And that's one of my concerns about what Trumpism has done to sexual harassment and the Me Too movement. In some ways, it's defanged it and marginalized it as a, quote, women's issue as opposed to a broader concern about equality.
Osagie K. Obasogie: Great, thank you. Next question is for Ann. So, we have seen a tremendous amount of partisanship with regards to the COVID-19 response. So would this have happened under any president or are we simply so partisan now that there is simply no hope for a national response to a COVID-19 or any other pandemic?
Ann C. Keller: I'm unmuted now. Thank you for the question. I can really connect this, I think, to what I was drawing on earlier about sort of Americans and volunteerism. I think Trump had an opportunity to say I'm going to be the crisis president that leads us through this and I think even people who didn't wanna see the economy shutdown or were sort of reluctant to shelter in place would have followed him into that. I guess that the question then is would Democrats have found some way to sort of reject Trump's leadership? But I think that there was a potential to kind of unite governors sort of across the spectrum around let's try to do what we can to really sort of limit transit transmission and protect people. So in that sense, I think, even Trump could have navigated this in a way that would have United Americans around a response. I mean, I think, prior to COVID, when I talked about the fact that I study partisanship or in scientific controversies around in partisanship, I would joke that the one thing that unites everybody is that everybody wants a cure for cancer and everybody wants the folks head to toe in white suits to come to town if there's an Ebola outbreak. And I think that I've now revised that. I so I think it's possible. I think because of this American volunteerism, we are willing to follow leaders who cue to us what is the right response. So as long as Americans can, as political elites could come to some agreement about what COVID response would look like, I think Americans would be quite likely to follow that leadership. So I think it's, once again, it really matters who our elected officials are and what sort of leadership roles they take.
Osagie K. Obasogie: Great, thank you. So we are now gonna spend the last 10 minutes of this panel answering questions from the audience. The first question is what actions do you suggest we need to take to shore up our democracy and move past Trumpism? So that's an open question for anyone.
Ann C. Keller: I just spoken, I don't know that I wanna go first but I mean there's, I don't... First and foremost is to protect voting rights and really make sure that everybody who's eligible and wants to participate has the opportunity to do so. As a political scientist, you knew I would say that, right?
john a. powell: I'll jump in. So I think it's a really important question. Just a couple of quick comments. First of all, just think about January 6th again. People carrying a Confederate flags, attacking the Capitol, claiming that they're the patriots. What America are they patriotic in? Not a multi-racial, inclusive in America. Their vision of America, which you kinda said in terms of, maybe Osagie saying that part of saying election is illegal. It's not illegal because people who are not citizens voted, it's because blacks voted because in a sense, people are participating who should not be citizens. How did black people get to be citizens in the first place? So in a way, and Howard Winant and Michael Omi writes about up until the 1930s and '40s, we had a racial dictatorship. To some extent, there's an effort by people to move to reject democracy if democracy means multi-racial. And W. E. B. Du Bois talked about that. He said, "We traded in democracy for racial hierarchy." In a sense, we're back at that deal and I think we have to do a couple of things. I think we have to sort of create those structures, I think frankly, President Biden's doing a pretty good job. I think we had to offer olive branch. I think we have to actually voting rights thing is really, really important and I'll stop and I can say a lot more but after every court across the country have said there's no widespread voter problem. We have 250 laws being in 43 states making it harder to vote, essentially, buying the Trump lie. And the real thing is outcome-oriented. How do we actually restructure society So that blacks, Latinos, anyone who's not white and Christian make it so that they can't vote? If they've succeeded that, we don't have a democracy. But that's the first thing, I mean that's the most important thing and it's not clear to me we can do that without getting rid of the filibuster. I can go into a lot more detail but I think we need to actually reshore up our container, our container has a crack in it. We're not just, this is not small discussions and if the container breaks, then all bets are off.
Osagie K. Obasogie: Thank you.
Catherine Albiston: I wanna follow on what john said about democracy because I think that the debate has been seen by the, well, I shouldn't say the average American but by many Americans is being not about democracy or if about democracy buying this claim that elections were stolen even there is no evidence. It seems to me that some of the central values of democracy are ones that most Americans subscribed to and could be put forward in such a way that people would rally around them as part of identity. If you were looking for something that 287 million Americans believe in, perhaps, it is democracy. And maybe that reflects my childhood growing up in the Cold War era where democracy, for better or for worse, was the ideology of the moment put forward, not only here, but in the world as a central and important. But for example, what if we had a national holiday on election day? "New York Times" had a really telling series of reactions from around the world and how we run our electoral system. The idea that you have to register, that you could wait in line for eight hours before you could vote, those kinds of things. So openness in voting and the importance of democracy and then, although I won't say civility 'cause I think civility can be used to silence but participation and a willingness to not engage in attacks against the speaker. I remember, there were some attacks against Obama's unpatriotic and he turned around by Rick Perry and he turned around and said, "You know, we don't attack our elected officials as unpatriotic," and he paused and he said, "Even if they argue, they should secede from the union," which I thought was hugely amusing considering Rick Perry had suggested the Texas secede from the union but also telling about what values matter, right? We don't attack our elected officials as not patriotic, we engage regarding ideas and that sends a broader message about democracy and engagement. And I realized that that's difficult and john put his finger on how I think that there's a certain segment of the population, the white population that is worried that if democracy is inclusive, then they don't want it. But I don't think that that's everyone and I think that there is a deep commitment to democratic values that perhaps, could be tapped here.
Zeus Leonardo: I'll keep it short because we probably have other questions and I agree with the structural suggestions here. I'll just make a pitch for education since that's my discipline and that one thing that we can do better and we can emphasize what we've been doing well in education is to promote more racial discussion, the racial history of this country to have racial literacy, right? And to promote that and to leverage that against some of the claims by Trump's cabinet that critical race theory is anti-American, that we have to challenge those kinds of ideas. And finally, that it's not racist to talk about racism, right? A requirement of racial literacy is to have a sense of fluency, yeah, a sense of fluency in being able to talk it and it's not comfortable, that's not what I'm talking about. It's not going to be comfortable, it's going to be uncomfortable but that that's part of being in sync with the problem of racism is that it should not be a comfortable conversation about a very uncomfortable situation we're in. So I'll just make a pitch for education or let's say racialized or racial education.
Osagie K. Obasogie: Great. Thank you. So we have a couple minutes left and so we have time for one more question from the audience. So the next question from the audience member is many of the hate groups that we saw or that we saw emerged during the Trump era were formed before Trump became president. That is he enabled them to become legitimate. So the question is how can we work to change the norms of these groups, particularly in a post-Trump era?
john a. powell: Well, I'll jump in just one minute. It's not a question you can answer in 2 1/2 minutes but a lot of what's going on is not just hate. And a number of the speakers have spoken to the role of leadership and I know that this debate wasn't always there and Trump has tapped into it. My opinion is it wasn't always there, that's something is changing and leadership matters. And Trump has created, there's a more evidence of people identifying with what Zeus talked about in terms of white identity and white consciousness that's relatively new in America. And it's not just white in terms of phenotype, it's white in terms of ideological positioning. And so people are taking that cues, with Ann talking about in terms of like before Trump came out against mask, mask-wearing on the right and left, the Democrat and Republican's essentially the same. So people are taking cues. So I do think we have to speak to this and then what Cathie talked about in terms of, I think Americans still care about some issues although it's hard because going back to Ann, if we don't agree on facts, it's hard to have a discussion about anything, democracy or climate change. But I do think if, we need to engage in and I think we need to offer people opportunities and I think we have to reach out but I also think we have to articulate and condemn white nationalism and white supremacy as being un-American and inconsistent with that values as a democracy. I don't think that'll solve everything but I think it has to be part of the discussion.
Osagie K. Obasogie: Right, thank you.
Zeus Leonardo: I'll keep it short. I think what happened with the color blind era is that it pushed down, right? A certain kind of ideology of whiteness and in fact, that is the moral victory of the civil rights movement, right? That it made it unacceptable, at least in public spaces. Private spaces, that's a different conversation but in public spaces it made it unacceptable to talk about race or the derisive ways of talking about blacks and other people of color in public spaces. But it doesn't mean those sentiments went away. They kind of got pushed underground, right? They went dormant and I think with Trump, we found a catharsis or that people found a catharsis, an expression for what they thought they've pushed down all this time. And so I think whether we call it hate groups or alternative groups, et cetera, I do think engagement is going to be an important answer to this, which is to say have more or less rational conversation about people's feelings and emotions and owning them and owning them and trying to have a dialogue and conversation about that and being clear what is not acceptable or to be condemned, as john has pointed out, but I do think that Trump was the outlet. He became the catharsis for what was pushed down and went underground for many decades and finally, percolated up again.
Osagie K. Obasogie: Great. Cathie and Ann, we have a minute. So if you all want to add your thoughts.
Catherine Albiston: I'll just add a brief thought, which is I think that everyone has a sort of leadership responsibility to speak up about what is a radical and not necessarily representative. I'm thinking of Beth Moore who left the Southern Baptist church in part by saying look, I can't accept these tenets as part of my values and I think that it may take more people being willing to stand up in that way including white Christian leaders on the left and other white leaders saying look, this is not who we are as Americans and this is not acceptable.
Osagie K. Obasogie: Thank you.
Ann C. Keller: I can just briefly say that I think Joe Biden is the president and he's white and he has an opportunity to articulate just what, he has an opportunity to articulate that it's not patriotic. It's not American to, what these groups are asserting as patriotic is unpatriotic. If we hear that from Biden and if he's forceful about it, then I think that could that could go at least part way to making sure these conversations are happening and modeling what kind of leadership needs to come from elected officials across the political spectrum.
Osagie K. Obasogie: Great. So thank you so much to our panelists for sharing your thoughts with us today and I wanna thank the audience joining us. The edited volume "Trumpism and its Discontents" is available for free online at the Othering & Belonging Institute and the Institute for Governmental Studies so you can check it out and download it from there. I also wanna give a special thanks to our sponsors for this event which include the Othering & Belonging Institute, the Center for Right-Wing Studies, the Center for Race and Gender and the Institute for Hovernmental Studies. Thanks again and I hope you all have a wonderful weekend. Take care.
john a. powell: Thank you, Osagie.