14 February, 2017
Cael M.Keegan: “The Trump administration does not reflect the majority opinion in the country—they are an emboldened minority.”
On 20 January , 2017 something happened that seemed inconceivable - Donald Trump entered the White House, becoming the next US president. In doing this, he had a multi-million army of screaming protesters.
We talked about the events of the most recent days with Cael M. Keegan - an active participant in anti-tramp resistance, transgender activist and Assistant Professor of Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies and Liberal Studies at Grand Valley State University, Michigan, USA.
The inauguration of Donald Trump as the 45th President of the United States was held on 20 January, 2017. How do you feel? Will the ceremony end the heated debate in American society, or will it give rise to much greater civil action and peaceful democratic attempts to change the situation?
I feel terrible. As a transgender American, I feel incredibly disappointed in my nation’s politics and endangered by the current situation, especially by the anti-LGBTQ agenda of Vice President Mike Pence. However, I hope you can see that there has also been historically low turnout to the inauguration and a massive set of protests against the new administration. There has been increased civil action across the country: The Women’s March this past weekend involved 2.9 million people nationally and is the largest protest to ever be held in the U.S. I think you can expect to see a combination of widespread dissatisfaction and targeted political resistance at the grassroots level for the next four years. How the Democratic Party will respond, I don’t yet know. The majority of the party membership is captive to corporate donors and has been somewhat rocked on its heels by Clinton’s loss, which was actually quite predictable. Clearly, new leadership is needed, and I hope they can listen to the people figure and this out in time.
Did you participate in any anti-Trump protests and what was the basis of your motives?
I did not attend the Women’s March, but I have been calling my representatives, emailing, and volunteering my time to the local grassroots chapter of Indivisible here in my state. Rather than protesting once, I am more interested in building local networks of resistance in my district. This is the only way to actually shift power by creating pressure on state-level leadership. Progressives are learning from the tactics of the Tea Party, which were very effective in flipping the House of Representatives to the Republicans in 2010 and thereby blocking most of President Obama’s policy efforts. Our hope is to do the same thing to the Republican House now.
According to right-wing conservative media, a typical Trump voter is the: "poor, white, angry man". Is this a correct characterisation in your opinion?
Actually, no - this is a misconception. In the days immediately after the election, there was a lot of speculation about how Trump won, mostly focusing on majority-white states like mine (Michigan) where manufacturing jobs have been outsourced to other countries. The standard explanation was that working-class, angry white men voted for Trump and put him in office by an extremely slim margin of only 70,000 votes across four swing states. However, the actual numbers show two things: First, people who voted for Trump tended to be middle-class, not poor. Secondly, Trump did less well with conservative voters than Romney or McCain. The actual thing that caused Trump to win is that the Democratic voters stayed home. Clinton was not able to generate enthusiasm in the Democratic base, and those voters abstained from voting or voted third party. Even though Clinton won the popular vote by 3 million, it was still not enough for her to win the electoral college in these key states, where Democratic voters abandoned her, largely due to her history of supporting the free trade policies of Bill Clinton.
Which social, political and ethnic groups are the most active opponents of Trump? And why?
I would say the most vocal opponents are a coalition of the more established left civic organizations like Moveon.org, what is left of the unions, Planned Parenthood, the ACLU, The Sierra Club, 350.org, the Green Party, liberal and progressive journalists like Rachel Maddow, Amy Goodman, and The Young Turks, academics like Naomi Wolf and Robert Reich, social movements like Black Lives Matter, Occupy, and Indivisible, key mayors and governors of liberal states and cities, and more progressive Democratic Senators like Bernie Sanders, Tulsi Gabbard, Keith Ellison, Elizabeth Warren, Al Franken, and Chuck Schumer (although even Warren and Schumer are voting “yes” on some of Trump’s nominees). The majority of the Democratic Congress has been less vocal, which is alarming but not surprising. I wouldn’t say that there is any one identity group that is most vocal—it’s a coalition of voices. You can see that quite clearly in the images of the Women’s March.
If we look at things realistically, what kind of danger does the new president pose? Especially in regards to the rights of LGBTQI-people, women and migrants etc.
He poses a huge threat, not merely because of his personal politics, but because of his cabinet and the fact that Republicans now enjoy single-party rule. In just the first three days, Trump has already removed all mention of LGBTQ people and the Spanish-language translation from the White House government website, frozen federal hiring, and instated gag orders on the EPA, USDA, and on overseas health agencies that the US funds, banning them from mentioning abortion. Today we woke up to news that he is likely to sign an executive order banning immigration from Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen and blocking entry of most refugees. Because President Obama was blocked by an obstructive Republican Congress, most of the protections he passed for these groups, LGBTQ people especially, were executive orders that can be rescinded at any time. The repeal of the Affordable Care Act, which Trump has also partially supported and which the Republicans are planning, would deal a major blow to the health and well-being of all three populations, since it protects women and LGBTQ people from discrimination in health care and ensures that health insurers have to cover basic preventive care. When it comes to LGBTQ people specifically, I think we can expect to see more bills banning transgender people from using public restrooms, and more bills permitting religiously motivated discrimination against LGBTQ people—meaning that current rights like marriage could be curtailed due to religiously-motivated objection by state and local officials.
Pro -Trump media, like Breitbart, have predicted and are ecstatic at the possibility of gender studies and other "left-wing bullshit" being smashed under the Trump administration. As an expert in Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies and Liberal Studies at Grand Valley State University how do you assess this possibility?
This is a tough question: Will the energy to suppress the democratic values of open inquiry in the academy be successful, or will it produce a huge backlash against conservative pressure? There has been a sustained attack on the humanities in the U.S. for nearly 40 years, so in some ways this is not a new issue, merely a more openly waged campaign. We may expect people to become more politicized in response, as we are already seeing with the wave of resistance marches and actions sweeping the country. Where I am very concerned is in the potential escalation of attacks on tenure in keys states where the legislatures control university boards of regents (see Wisconsin) and where WGS, ethnic studies, and LGBTQ studies programs and courses can be directly targeted and defunded by state governments. This is not the case in my state, but it is the case in others.
One thing that is crucial to remember is that the Trump administration does not reflect the majority opinion in the country—they are an emboldened minority who have no mandate (no matter how much they claim to) and might easily overreach. Republicans control so many state houses and governorships largely due to gerrymandering and voter suppression, which we may also see increased scrutiny of by the courts. During times when I am feeling optimistic (which are not frequent), I feel that this may be a tipping point at which the U.S. might finally completely reject the politics and economics of the Reagan era, but we need a new left coalition to emerge, and it’s not clear how that coalition will be represented in national politics. We have to figure it out, and quickly. One key thing that has to happen is that the Democratic Party has to put leaders in place that actually represent the interests of their base, not Wall St. or corporate boards.
You are writing the book "Lana and Lilly Wachowski: Imaging Transgender.” These directors are unsympathetic towards corporate capitalism. They are unlikely fans of the old model of the proletarian revolution. What model of liberation and democracy do you think they would like most?
I can’t speak for Lana and Lilly personally, but I can speak from the perspective of their work and what it communicates. First, I’ll say that especially in times like this, we need art that is sustaining to the human imagination and that illustrates change is possible. I believe that the Wachowskis’ films have given us immense gifts in this regard: They have created popular culture that is accessible to the people, and that is not simply critical of political and economic oppression, but also proposes new ways of seeing and building community. In that regard, I consider them utopians. I do not think, however, that their work supports returning to older models of resistance, even if it is some ways inspired by the theory of Marxist revolution (as is quite clear in Jupiter Ascending). Instead, it is focused on futurity, realization, and evolution. I believe that they make science fiction precisely because they are interested in the movement toward emerging forms of consciousness, and that their art is about sustaining the belief in another world—one that we cannot quite perceive, but that we can feel at the tips of our fingers. If you’ll notice, many of their films end with an image or sequence that opens into empty space, suggesting a new horizon of meaning coming into view. I believe all their work is about gesturing toward what is not yet expressible, either in formal visual aesthetics or in political discourse. Certainly, their films are broadly anti-capitalist and pro-LGBTQ—a combination that is quite striking in mainstream American media. However, I think that their work exceeds a single liberatory model precisely because it understands, as Foucault points out, that all forms lose their revolutionary potential as they come into wide intelligibility. One need only look at The Matrix Trilogy, in which Neo learns that he is not a messianic figure but actually a pawn of the hegemonic system, to see that the Wachowskis are critical of simple heroic narratives and established political models. I am very excited to see, in this new era of Trump, how they will use Sense8 to point beyond our current situation and create new visions of what might be possible.
Ŕrtem Langenburg - Journalist and Cultural Studies Expert
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