Like everyone else currently living in the U.S., the graduate students and professors here at the University of Maryland’s Physical Cultural Studies research group have been both personally and collectively impacted by the election of Donald J. Trump as the 45th President of the United States. Below is a collection of short pieces by various members of the UMD PCS community highlight their reaction to the election. Our hope is that these pieces not only show the various ways we here at PCS are thinking about the election of Donald Trump, but expose the potential implications it will have on the critical study and significance of physical culture.
Empathy in Trump’s America
– By Katelyn Esmonde
Katelyn Esmonde is a Ph.D. candidate in Physical Cultural Studies at the University of Maryland, College Park.
As a community of Physical Cultural Studies scholars, we are in the process of thinking through what it means to study, write, and live in what we thought was the worst-case scenario: Trump’s America. In digesting this state of affairs, many progressives have called for more empathy and understanding for the voters who made this reality possible, citing the perceived shaming of the (white) working class as the reason for what was to many a surprising outcome. While I believe that engaging in productive discussion and extending compassion to those who oppose our values are both vital to any progressive cause, I think that we need to be careful about who we expect to do this work. It should go without saying that while a lot of us are devastated, we are not all devastated for the same reasons or in the same ways. Calls for those who have lost the most with this election to do the most work to challenge this new presidential administration and to be the most understanding of those who voted against their human rights are not empathetic, or particularly progressive.
Classmates now wonder if they should get married while marriage equality is still the law of the land, or indeed, if their marriages will be invalidated. Fears of deportation, state violence, and being banned from the country based on religion are more pronounced than before, particularly given the recent reports of hate crimes throughout the United States that appear linked to the election. Many women wonder where they can be safe after so many of the men around them voted for a[n alleged] sexual predator (though millions of women, mostly white, voted for him anyway).
This fallout from the election reminds us that fear is visceral. Oppression is embodied. It is no wonder that many of the people who have been targeted by the Trump campaign (and the list is long) do not feel safe around people who voted for a candidate who came to stand for white supremacy, misogyny, and Islamophobia. While it can certainly be said that not every Trump supporter would openly espouse the same hateful rhetoric that characterized the Trump campaign, too many decided that it was not disqualifying.
As we push ourselves to infuse our writing, teaching, and daily lives with our political goals, in addition to the calls for more empathy for Trump voters and supporters, we should have more empathy for each other as well. When we acknowledge that we are not all coming from the same place, we must also see that the work that we can and will do will be different as well. As we deal with this collective trauma, we need to make room for all kinds of responses and emotions.
What an Amtrak experience taught me about Trump’s America
– By Sam Clevenger
Sam Clevenger is a Ph.D. candidate in Physical Cultural Studies at the University of Maryland, College Park.
The week before the November 8th presidential election, I boarded an Amtrak train to travel from Washington, D.C. to Denver, Colorado to attend an academic conference. For two days, I talked and listened to various people about an array of topics as we collectively traveled in the same steel cars across the country. The weight of the election was palpable, and my guess is everyone could feel it even if they didn’t say so. People expressed their opinions about the election in a variety of ways, both subtle and overt: sometimes people told a humorous digression or joke, sometimes people shared a gloomy allusion, sometimes people engaged in an actual full-on conversation about it. But however they expressed or thought about it, it was clear we all were feeling the pressure of the election, and anxious to know what will happen.
But what struck me the most during that train trip were the ways a diversity of strangers talked to each other and collectively existed in spite of being on the cusp of a divisive election and in the midst of hate-filled political rhetoric. The exigencies and restrictions of class, race, gender, sexuality, nationalism are apparent and visible when people travel on Amtrak. Very few decide to take a multi-day train ride (instead of a more reasonable, but more expensive four-hour flight), without wi fi access, and sleep on an uncomfortable, upright coach seat because of sheer pleasure. But for those few days, away from the media narratives and the pressure cooker of their normal social lives, people seem to not only co-exist, but connect and share with each other. People with different sexual identities sat next to Amish families and played card games in the sightseer car. In front of me, an African American man sat next to elderly white man wearing a large wooden crucifix necklace for hours and talked about things like the best places to eat in Chicago. To my right, an elderly white woman talked with a young man about how he just just received word that his mother died. She gave the young man money so he could make it Kansas City to attend his mother’s funeral. As I felt the election drawing near, the experience gave me hope about the capacity for people to see through and deconstruct hate and division through ordinary, everyday interaction.
There is very little to add or expand on the humanist implications of Donald J. Trump becoming president-elect of the United States. They continue to be increasingly clear and terrifying to us all. But I still have hope in the ability of people to, even if unintentionally and unconsciously, find ways to help each other and transcend the terms and social divisions reinforced and exhibited by figures like Trump. The recent presidential election revealed the depth, ubiquity, and social complexity of peoples’ feelings of alienation in this country. If such alienation can fuel hate, reactionary nativism, and the discontents of populism, perhaps it can be harnessed to fuel a new, multicultural, leftist, grassroots populism too.
The End of Neoliberalism: Physical Cultural Studies in the Age of Trump
– By Dr. Michael Friedman
Dr. Michael Friedman is Research Assistant Professor of Physical Cultural Studies at the University of Maryland’s Department of Kinesiology.
On November 8, 2016, the zombie corpse of neoliberalism that has been rotting and shambling along since the Wall Street meltdown of 2008 was finally vanquished and buried. The international project of the Chicago School, Mont Pelerin Society, Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan was overwhelmed by a backlash grounded in populism and cultural nationalism. Before we rejoice at the defeat of the PCS project’s defining foe, we must recognize this new conjuncture is offering an adversary that may be more pernicious than the last.
Just as the Soviet Union’s collapse surprised many Sovietologists, who then quickly reinterpreted the Eastern Bloc’s fall as inevitable, PCS must respond to the new context by reevaluating many of our foundational assumptions. Based in the steadfast opposition of Stuart Hall and Birmingham’s CCCS to globalizing market-centric economic logics and their effectuating political policies, PCS has long discussed the possibility of culture to serve as a space for political resistance. Yet, we largely have failed to recognize the most meaningful manifestations of that resistance: populism and ethno-nationalism. Our assessments of the new conjuncture must begin with the roots, potential and implications of these movements.
We need to recognize that, despite their diametrical opposition, Occupy Wall Street/the Sanders movement and the Tea Party/Trumpism have common origins as reactions to and rejections of neoliberalism. The populist left’s response to neoliberalism has been to demand a fairer and more inclusive economy and society based in calls for greater social justice. The populist right’s response to neoliberalism has exploited ethno-nationalist appeals, promised to restore past greatness and offered an “other” to blame. Before we casually dismiss Trump supporters as bigots (though we must be concerned they did not outright reject Trump for his racism and misogyny), we need to recognize that many of our deepest concerns are similar and that effective political engagement is both possible and necessary.
Perhaps my declaration of neoliberalism’s final demise is premature and that, like many other horror movie monsters, it will come back more powerful in an upcoming sequel. However, another monster, Trumpism and its European cousins of Putinism, UKIP, and Le Pen, has stolen the screen and, with its revanchist militarism, represents a far greater and imminent threat. PCS has a new crisis to police.