Below is a fine letter published by University of Washington faculty and students in political science sent to me by my old friend and a marvelous political scientist, Jim Caparaso. In this era, I suspect, every one of us especially feels the force of the first paragraph which emphasizes the core decency of our commitments to doing research that is true – that exposes the increasingly naked depredations of the rich and powerful. There is a misguided slogan in empiricist methodology about “value-freedom.” (see my book Democratic Individuality, Cambridge 1990, which is about this widespread academic prejudice). For “value-freedom” contradicts the core values of political science (journalism, too) of seeking and speaking the truth as opposed to plagiarizing, and standing up for those who are exploited and lied about both historically and at present both in teaching and in the corporate media, naming and opposing the twin US genocides toward indigenous people and African-Americans, and of course, standing up against “alternate” Bannon/Sessions/Trump world.
Since this letter, Trump/Bannon have declared a free press the opposition. Trump has denounced “so-called judges.” He wants the silence of autocracy for his anti-Islam and anti-immigrant “national” crusade. See here. On the miserable racism of Bannon-Sessions-little Trump, Bannon and Sessions, Trump whisperers, are even to the right of Trump in wishing to deport Asian business students-“job creators” than Trump…
Bannon, who is the pure Aryan stuff – see the delphic remarks about Julius Evola here, who was into arcane SS rituals (the SS – the “elite” secret police in Nazi Germany) – wants to strike out at not just “the Jews” but Asians who in his view constitute too many CEOs in Silicon Valley. Bannon is whispering, whispering to Trump…Listen to the striking clips of Bannon shaping Trump even in interviewing him on Breitbart and now in the White House here.
This is even more a fight in the American countryside than in the cities where the fascists are wonderfully absent from the many demonstrations. We will either keep it that way through the pace, force and growth of protest, or a fascist movement, led from the White House, may win out. Consider this recent Trump-inspired incident at WestJeffco [Jefferson County, Colorado] Middle School, near where I and my wife live. Isabella Grunspan, a student has been harassed by students: “Cookies and jews are baked in the oven…” Loathsomely, the school bureaucracy is doing nothing. Here is an article from the Canyon Courier:
“At the Jan. 12 school board meeting, Isabella Grunspan told board members that students were targeting her daily for being Jewish — including making remarks that ‘Hitler was a genius’ and telling her that she should be ‘placed in the oven like the rest of the 6 million Jews.’ Grunspan said she had reported the incidents to school administrators several times but was told ‘not to take it seriously, and that it was just ‘middle school.’
District officials later confirmed they were aware of the allegations but declined to release any other information on the basis that an investigation had been launched Nov. 8, 2016, by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights.
According to some, Grunspan’s appearance before the board was the first time the concerns came to light outside the school.
‘I’ve been aware of some general concerns (at the school) about anti-Semitic comments, but not broadly,’ said Scott Kwasny, spokesman for the Jeffco Education Association, the teachers union. ‘I think the first time it really came to light broadly was at the Board of Education meeting Jan. 12. Unfortunately, I feel like it’s not unique to West Jeff, but really that public comment was pretty shocking and concerning.’
However, documents acquired by the Courier show the concerns were more broadly known prior to January.
A Dec. 1 letter to West Jeff principal Brown from math teacher Rebecca Stewart alleges [this is so serious that the pseudo-journalistic language is inappropriate; Stewart reports] an ‘anti-Semitic atmosphere that has been created and allowed to exist” at the school. In the letter, Stewart says she reported several anti-Semitic acts to school administration and supported Jewish students who were targeted and ‘intimidated’ by others, but she claims administrators were inattentive and dismissive of the issue, ‘as evidenced by the fact that swastikas were painted on the building and appear on student binders.’
‘Stewart further alleges that statements made in another class included, ‘Jews are like cookies; they are both baked in the oven,’ and that “the Nazis should have gassed more Jews.'” For the full article, see here.
In contrast to West Jeff administrators and like the courageous Rebecca Stewart, University of Washington political scientists have stood up for decency. All of us should until Sessions, Bannon, Trump are removed from public life.
And many of us might want to use this letter as a template.
Did you by any chance see our statement about the dangers to democracy posed by Trump? Since it is written by political science profs and students, it doesn’t make sense to sign on BUT what a lot of people are doing is to use our statement as a template for their own statement. I know that several depts in the UW are doing just that and i think but am not sure that other places are considering doing the same. Get something going at DU. See if you can publish in the local newspaper. We are just furious about the Trump administration.[Amen!] i can only hope that he flames out but i kind of doubt it. He was elected on the most outrageous of campaigns and promises and he is just playing to the original script, except of course for the billionaires and generals he has appointed. So for not so much for the working class. The American people were played for suckers.”
“An Open Letter to the UW Community from Concerned Political Scientists*
We write as professional political scientists who feel compelled to speak out about troubling developments in national politics and their effects on our local campus community. Transitions in partisan control of government often occasion rancor. However, we are concerned that a more fundamental erosion of democratic institutions and values is under way.
Our primary endeavors as political scientists is to study all forms of government, present and past. We document the harms and deprivations of undemocratic government and the grievances they impose on citizens near and far, especially on the least powerful among us. We also study the large gap between democratic ideals and the actual practice of democracy in the US and elsewhere. Perhaps most important, we analyze the fragility of democracy, the conditions under which democracy can thrive, and how easily it can deteriorate into authoritarian or even fascist rule.
Thus, we are alarmed that the new national administration and its allies at many levels have displayed a remarkable lack of commitment to and understanding of the basic values and institutional arrangements that form the foundations of the American polity. In particular, we identify four key norms now in jeopardy: democracy, including fair elections; the rule of law, including constitutional checks and balances; respect for rights of all persons; and commitments to fundamental norms of fairness and justice. In a stunning departure from past presidents of both parties, the new president rarely affirms these foundational norms; his “America First” inaugural speech did not mention any of these core values or institutional norms.
Moreover, the president’s actions have mirrored his corrosive rhetoric. The new administration’s policies, some simply proposed but many already enacted, threaten: to muffle the press; to stifle free speech; to discriminate openly on grounds of race, religion or country of origin; to denigrate women; to condone arbitrary violence; to challenge the legitimacy of federal judges; to undermine the integrity of the electoral process by lying and disseminating rumors in routine disregard for factual truth; and to stoke fears about national security threats in order to bypass or trample institutional processes long viewed as essential to constitutional governance. In terms of policy effectiveness, most experts predict that the administration’s policies will exacerbate economic inequalities and harm the most vulnerable, strain relations with allies critical to U.S. welfare and world stability, and increase rather than mitigate vulnerability to terrorist attacks. The recent ban on travel by people from predominantly Muslim nations and other refugees in particular is as unsound in its policy logic as in its reckless violation of basic constitutional principles.
Policies can be reversed or at least revised, though. The deeper and more lasting damage is to the core infrastructure that is critical to the possibilities for democracy and justice. The palpable erosion of democratic institutions, practices, and norms is neither entirely new nor exclusively a product of the nascent administration. Indeed, much of our teaching and research has addressed how enduring inequalities have long compromised democratic promises and excluded large segments of our population from meaningful opportunities for equal participation. The modes of overt racism and sexism that politicians now display openly are hardly novel in our history. But the sheer scale of the new administration’s derision toward vulnerable citizens, distortion of demonstrable facts, dismissal of science, undermining of democratic norms, and disdain for legal processes has demonstrated a threat to civilized practices and principles that is unparalleled in the last half century, at least.
The manifestations and impacts of these radical shifts at the national level are inciting and licensing corrosive, harmful relations at every level of our society, including on the University of Washington campus. Incidents of hateful speech, racist invective, intolerance for religious minorities, bullying, and physical violence have become more common in recent months. The perpetrators of this violence borrow from national – including white nationalist— discourse designed to strike fear in other students, making the most vulnerable among us feel more unwelcome, unequal, and unsafe. Some undergraduates, graduate students, and even faculty in our own department have been threatened for speaking out. The result is that, just as political civility and respectful dialogue necessary to democracy have deteriorated, so too have our cultural commitments to comity been seriously ravaged. These developments imperil free exchange, rigorous inquiry, enlightened thought, and respect for diversity in our campus community. Universities have always been havens for privilege, but they can and should also promote egalitarian inclusion. Recent developments have upset this complex tension, threatening to elevate the standing of more powerful groups over those who have been the casualties of unequal social power relations.
We conclude by making clear our position on matters that, we think, have been muddied by much recent discourse. We support the constitutional right to free speech but recognize that platitudes regarding a marketplace of ideas oversimplify the challenge of advancing meaningful exchanges of ideas. Like all markets, our public spaces, physical and virtual, are structured by and expressive of highly unequal power, including deeply rooted racial, gender, religious, and economic hierarchies that long have marked our society. Those who lie or insult to inflict harm may be legally protected, but they can also silence competing voices through intimidation. These actions do serious damage, to individuals and civic culture, and thus must not go unchallenged by citizens committed to truth, equality, and justice.
As analysts of democracy, as policy experts, as classroom teachers, and as public intellectuals, we commit our knowledge and voices to exposing, naming, and challenging all manifestations of injustice and intimidation, falsehood and fraud, that use legal freedom for cover. We will be unrelenting in identifying the harms that such acts impose on democratic possibilities, a just legal system, and the community committed to educational quality and intellectual integrity for which our campus is famous.
What took so many years to build, locally and nationally, can be undone all too quickly. Sustaining, much less expanding and improving, democratic forms of governance requires deep commitment and constant vigilance. We must not and will not be intimidated; we will continue to speak out.
Christine Di Stefano
Emily Kalah Gade
Megan Ming Frances
Jonathan C. Beck
Amanda M. Fulmer
Nora Webb Williams
Sarah K. Dreier
Sophia Jordán Wallace
*This statement does not represent an official position of the University of Washington Political Science Department. Rather, it was written by a small group of political scientists at UW and voluntarily endorsed by the listed signatories.