Invitation to a Discussion: Anthropologists on the Trump Election

Invitation to a Discussion:  What Do American Anthropologists Say about Trump’s Election, and What Does Trump’s Election Say about American Anthropology?   

    In an OAC Forum begun last month, The polls got it wrong, again... The end of 'social science'? Time to stop predicting and start listening... Huon Wardle suggests that the colossal failures of pollsters aka quantitative analysts to predict Trump’s win and the Brexit result and of economists to foresee the financial crisis of 2008 spell the end of social science – at least of its unquestioned authority.  Huon argues that social thinkers should instead follow Malinowski’s classic precept of attending closely to what people do rather than what they say, particularly the guarded and offhand responses they may give to pollsters who bother them on the phone or waylay them at polling places. 

     Huon here champions anthropology’s singular contribution to social thought: the method and theory of ethnography.  Equipped with that tool, ethnographers are expected to function as trained observers and analysts, often among people very different from themselves and for relatively brief periods of one or two years, observers and analysts who then produce substantive, reliable accounts of the world’s societies.  What, then, should we expect of those ethnographers when the subject is a major phenomenon in a society most of them have known, if not from birth, at least for years and years?  Specifically, what should we have expected American anthropologists’ reaction to have been to the events of late Tuesday night and early Wednesday morning, November 8 and 9?  Like everyone else, they had been inundated by polls and pundits who gave Hillary an 80% chance of winning right into election night.  And like everyone else, they had witnessed the incredible spectacles of Trump’s mass rallies, where hundreds of thousands of supporters across the country, proudly wearing their red Trump baseball caps, stood in line for hours to take part.  But unlike everyone else, one would hope, they had weighed those disparate sources of information with their own personal experience of living and working in the U. S., weighted them all together in applying their unique ethnographic insight into their own society.  But that’s not what happened. 

    Here let me speak personally, as an anthropologist who has done all those things.  On balance going into election night, I felt the immense enthusiasm and numbers of Trump supporters outweighed what the pollsters were saying, particularly in view of the dismal record of earlier polls done during the presidential primary elections.  At the same time, the electoral hurdles Trump would have to overcome in turning all those “blue states” red – Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Iowa, Michigan, Wisconsin – looked almost insurmountable.  Before the first vote was cast, Hillary could count on all the West Coast states and most of the East Coast states voting for her.  She only needed a handful of  additional electoral votes to clinch the victory.  At even money, I would not have bet on either candidate; given odds I would have wagered a modest amount on Hillary.  As election night turned into election morning the results were dramatic, with swing state after swing state going to Trump.  Not since the hanging chads of the Florida election in 2000 (Bush Jr. vs. Gore) had a presidential contest been so gripping.  From my perspective, Trump’s win was rather unexpected, but not an overwhelming surprise.  After all, there were those seas of red baseball caps surging across the entire country. 

    That was not, however, the reaction of American anthropology as a whole.   Prominent figures of our major institutions and publications – Cultural Anthropology, the American Anthropological Association, Savage Minds – spoke with one voice:  the election result was stunning, incomprehensible, a paralyzing blow to our sensibility and way of life.  A complete and total surprise.  A contributor to Savage Minds, Uzma Z. Rizvi narrates her sense of emotional paralysis as the election result became clear: 

 

The day after Leonard Cohen died.

November 12, 2016 Uzma Z. Rizvi

Suddenly the night has grown colder.

The god of love preparing to depart.*

 

The chill of the 2016 US elections is still in my bones. Glued to any and all forms of media, I watched what Van Jones and Judith Butler have called, “whitelash” unfold in graphs, charts, and all forms of measurable outcomes. I watched as the states of my country turned red one by one. This was not the first time I had seen this, but there was something unique about this time. This time, it was not just me and people who looked like me, who felt precarious, but rather I watched as the whitelash was aimed at and betrayed the white Left/Center Left. I watched and felt the hush over the newscasters in the newsroom as they realized the precarity of the first amendment, particularly of free speech and thus, their very existence.

Without intending to, I consumed/embodied that hush. I could not respond or say anything about the election. My inbox was flooded with messages of coping, my social media was a manifest of betrayal, blame, violence, fear, and ultimately action. I was still silent. 

 

    Rizvi was struck dumb.  Here we must confront a serious problem in the doing of American anthropology.  Any American, anthropologist or not, is fully entitled to feelings of outrage, disgust, fear at the result of November 8.  They may believe – and as time passes they may be proven right – that  Trump’s success is a harbinger of doom: markets will collapse (well, apparently not), civil liberties will erode to nothing, racism and religious intolerance will flourish, the long dark night of fascism will descend on American shores.  Those are legitimate concerns.  But anyone who professes a special insight into the workings of society, that is, any social thinker, is not entitled to the feelings Uzma Z. Rizvi pours out in her post, feelings of surprise, shock, betrayal to the point of being rendered helpless and mute.  Why not?  Because we should have seen it coming!  Or, at the least, the strong possibility of it coming.  American anthropologists, supposedly familiar with the workings of their own society, should not have been so grievously mistaken that they lapsed into emotional paralysis when things turned out differently from what they expected.  The election was a near thing; an objective assessment, as I’ve argued, would have seen the vote breaking either way.  It now appears that the charge Huon levelled at pollsters in his Forum applies to the very ethnographers he extolled.  As a body we were taken so unaware that we reacted as though an unforeseeable disaster had dealt a mortal blow to the way, the truth, and the light. 

    But why?  Why did American anthropology as a whole get it wrong?  I suggest this is an absolutely vital question that opens onto the contrapuntal questions I pose in the Forum title.  First, we need to know in some detail what American anthropologists have to say about Trump’s election.  There has to be more there, I hope, than the emotional outpourings of writers such as Rizvi.  A phenomenon involving more than 120 million Americans was played out over a year and a half.  We are, I think, duty bound to try to understand what they were thinking, at least the 60+ million who voted for Trump, what was going on in their lives, what vision of American society, past, present, and future they embraced.  Cultural anthropologists are supposed to do cultural analysis, that is, to go as deep as possible into the interconnected concepts, beliefs, and actions that together comprise a social group.  Anything less, I submit, is a form of professional irresponsibility and, yes, cowardice.  However ugly and dangerous we find a person, an event, a movement, we must be capable of looking it full in the face.  Second, the phenomenon of Trump cannot be approached as an already constituted object, sui generis, that simply awaits our analytic attention.  Rather, this major event in our history should be treated as an instrument or lens with which to interrogate its host society and the anthropological program which, like it or not, is part and parcel of its host society,, its style or culture of inquiry.  What does the event of the election teach us about the always precarious activity of doing anthropology?  As the second question asks:  What does Trump’s election say about American anthropology? 

    I submit that it is urgent to pursue both questions at this juncture in our political life and in the (d)evolution of the discipline of anthropology.  Fortunately, that effort is already underway.  Paul Stoller, perhaps American cultural anthropology’s pre-eminent public intellectual, has produced a set of perceptive articles in Huffington Post.  See in particular his “Revisiting the Anthropology of Trump: Ethnography and the Power of Culture.”

  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/paul-stoller/revisiting-the-anthropol... 

   

Also, it is remarkable that while American anthropologists were oblivious to the possibility that Trump might win, the Canadian anthropologist Maximilian Forte flat-out predicted it, and as early as January 2016, in his delightfully provocative website, Zero Anthropology. 

https://zeroanthropology.net/

In May 2016 Forte followed through with his prediction in a brilliant article in Zero Anthropology, “Why Donald J. Trump Will be the Next President of the United States.” 

https://zeroanthropology.net/2016/05/04/why-donald-j-trump-will-be-... 

Did the crews at Savage Minds and Cultural Anthropology not happen to see these before they reacted with utter surprise and horror at the election news? 

    My hope here is that these and forthcoming studies will encourage a thorough examination of what we might call, following Forte, Anthropology and Trump.  I invite all OACers and those soon to join to participate in this discussion.  However imperfectly I have rendered the issue before us, I am convinced it is of crucial importance for advancing the intellectual endeavor of anthropology as a foundational constituent of contemporary social thought.  Please note, also, that while the topic is American anthropology, thinkers from anywhere in the world are invited to contribute.  Thanks for considering my invitation.  

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Interesting data. Via Craig Froehle and Teramis on Googl+.

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Michael,

Thanks for bringing more Trouillot in here. I have read his essay about culture several times, and while I think his argument is strong, I'm not sure if it's time to bid culture farewell just yet. But I could be wrong.

You ask, "More keenly, via what anthropological posture can anthropological concepts regain their power in the world."

That's a good question. Now that we've made it through the 90s (Foucault and company), the 2000s (globalization?), and part way through the 2010s (the ontological turn and such), I often wonder where anthropology is heading next. Personally, I think Eric Wolf was onto something in 1982, but that was the point where anthropology went in another direction. Nothing against the "writing culture" turn, but the anthropologies and histories of Wolf, Mintz, and Trouillot are more up my alley.

The quote from Trouillot that you shared, for me, seems to be less about the politics of identity and more about how the discipline of anthropology positions itself and engages with the world beyond the academy. He does speak more directly about what might be called "identity politics" starting on page 74 with his discussion of "restrictive identities." He outlines this as a true dilemma, and not simply a matter of minority groups sorting themselves into various identities. Trouillot argues that these identities are imposed from the outside, and the choices that remain for those categorized into these "Savage Slots" are not simple or easy. At the end of this section Trouillot admits that he sees no easy way out; it's not simply a matter of people abandoning these categories. He argues that we need to look further into how these identities are "produced and reinforced by the unmarked and the Others that they define" (76). But, he says, "...in admitting that we need to flesh out how this dilemma is perceived by various individuals and groups at the level of lived experience, I am also admitting that, to a certain extent, we are all trapped by it" (76).

So, there's one point I want to highlight here. I pushed for a more specific outline of what some folks meant by "identity politics" for a reason. The term gets used in many ways, and some are more useful than others. Now, Lee may have a more complex version in mind, but the one he laid out here, in which he says that identities are self-ascribed (read: they're just choosing this identity), is the version of "identity politics" argumentation that I don't find very compelling. This is the version that calls about BLM activists for creating and maintaining their political identities...as if no outside forces or histories were part of the process. Pundits and others on the political right use a version of this argument to claim that minorities are simply being "divisive" with all of their talk about diversity, multiculturalism, etc. I think Trouillot lays out a more complex, and useful picture that doesn't omit the various dimensions of identity formation.

You also write, "I grant that Trouillot's point is difficult to accept. But, his point is not that anthropologists drifted away from the culture concept. His point is the twinned dynamics of institutional demands, producing an ethnographic monograph, and changes in the world outside the university, the uptake of culture beyond anthropology, have estranged "culture" from the Boasian context."

I think you misread me there. I didn't say that 'anthropologists drifted away from the culture concept.' I argued that they 'drifted away from that particular deployment of culture as the 20th century progressed.' I do agree that culture has been estranged from the Boasian context, but I'm not sure I agree, ultimately, that it's doomed and we have to find some other vehicle to encompass its conceptual mission (ie that "kernel" he talks about). Part of me thinks there are ways to work to link the culture concept to its Boasian roots, in which it was explicitly deployed to combat scientific racism. With the rise, once again, of people espousing Bell Curve racism, I think this re-connection (and reminder) is vital. But given all of the various deployments of "culture" these days, it's certainly an uphill battle.

Today at the Guardian about racism and knowlodge in the west....https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/video/2017/jan/18/the-wes...

Hi John,

On what basis do you argue that race has “become the one and only factor deemed worthy of discussion” on Savage Minds? While I agree that there has been an uptick in our coverage, which I think is a good thing, I don’t think it’s accurate—at all—to claim that that’s the only issue being discussed on the site. A quick look at the page right now reveals posts about artificial intelligence, MLK, the Foucault Read-in, medicine & technology, BDS, writing, Pokemon, Amazon Go, and so on. So I think that argument isn’t particularly accurate. But I do wonder why it is that you feel that race is the only thing that’s going on there.

As for the second part of your point, in which you say that your contributions to discussions have been met with ad hominem attacks etc, are you talking about SM or this thread here?

That anecdote with the two women is interesting…everyone is looking for that single factor that really did it for Hillary. So much for multi-factoral analysis, no? Check out this November 9 article by Thomas Frank, in which he says that Trump ran a terrible campaign, pretty much did everything wrong and offended everyone…and still won:

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/nov/09/donald-trump-...



John McCreery said:

Ryan, I am glad the we are approaching agreement. Thanks for checking the Ferguson, MO, claim. I pulled that example out of my imagination, and it would be good to have actual data. A point that needs further examination is Ferguson, MO's demographic profile. I have a dim memory of news reports during the protests there asserting that Ferguson is a majority black community with a largely white police force.

If I find myself in sympathy with Lee's reaction to what he reads on Savage Minds, it is not because race is mentioned and race is unimportant; I have just agreed that it is. What troubles me is that race has, it appears to me, become the one and only factor deemed worthy of discussion and that mentions of other possibilities are greeted with ad hominem attacks claiming that those who suggest them must be implicitly if not overtly racist.

Serendipiitously, I was with my wife two days ago. We were having dinner with two other women, both younger but close to us in age. One was an ardent Democrat, the other was, she said, a registered Republican. All three women supported Clinton and blame her defeat on misogyny.

Ryan,

If we list recent topics on SM, it is clear that race is not the only one. It would be interesting, however, to examine the proportions of posts and comments in which race and other identity politics issues are raised and to analyze the arguments advanced in them. Honestly speaking, I don't have them time for this research. What I have described are my impressions, nothing more. I'd better stop here.

Ryan,

What is the center of gravity for this conversation? I go back to the how Lee opened the thread. In framing the discussion, Lee wrote, "...Here we must confront a serious problem in the doing of Americananthropology.  Any American, anthropologist or not, is fully entitled to feelings of outrage, disgust, fear at the result of November 8.  They may believe – and as time passes they may be proven right – that  Trump’s success is a harbinger of doom... But anyone who professes a special insight into the workings of society, that is, any social thinker, is not entitled to the feelings "

When I picked the quote from Trouillot I intentionally picked the section relevant to Lee's framing of the conversion. And that is the section towards the end of Adieu, Culture: A New Duty Arises where Trouillot addresses (with a phrase that could have been written by George Lucas) the duty of anthropologists. His critique of the two dominant positions - retreat from politics or taking up identity politics - is not particularly easy to take. But Trouillot's critique of identity politics is specific, that identity politics collapses a meaningful distinction (Lee's "special insight") when employed by those who, as Lee put it, "profess special insight." Trouillot's critique is not a critique of identity politics generally, and I did not read Lee's critique that way either. I read both within the framing of this discussion.

At every opportunity you have chosen to collapse "those who profess special insight" (i.e. "American anthropologists") into "any American." Why? Do you not see the distinction? Or do you think the distinction is irrelevant?

And I am surprised by your thought that the culture concept, as it existed 100+ years ago, can simply be reclaimed. Trouillot, a historian by training, knew better. Bringing back the particular deployment of the culture concept operative 100 years ago will not make anthropology great again anymore than bringing back the particular manufacturing techniques of the 1960's will make American great again. And for the same reason. As Trouillot reminds us, the conditions of their possibility no longer exist.

John,

Well, I don't really see the point of spending a bunch of time examining the proportion of posts on SM that address race and identity politics. Sounds like a waste of time to me--I'd rather see effort put into writing, discussion, and producing or making something. Honestly, I don't understand why you or Lee find the coverage of race/racism etc on SM so distressing or annoying or whatever it is. Topics and themes come and go in waves, so it goes. Anthropology has many facets, many approaches. And there are new voices who are, of course, changing the discipline. I see what's currently going on at SM as the beginning of a conversation about what the site is all about, and where anthropology is heading. It will be interesting to see where it goes, and I'll definitely put in my 2 cents. Personally, I think it's about time SM and anthropology have some of these conversations.

What I have noticed, here and on SM, is quite a lot of resistance from you (and Lee) when it comes to discussions about racism "identity politics" (eg the name-change debate, the decolonizing anthropology series, etc etc). Both of you have characterized many of the discussions as little more than "political correctness" or the delicate sensibilities of "effete" scholars (the latter on Lee’s thread about ‘safe spaces’). Disagreement and debate are great, but this isn't exactly what I'm seeing. Lee, in particular, has been on a streak for a while now with his whole campaign against "political correctness" and anthropology's supposed devolution into identity politics. This "debate" started on the group email thread, and continued here (in the post about "safe spaces" and this post). Lee has pretty much continued apace with all of the talk about "political correctness," "identity politics," "snowflakes," "safe spaces," how "diversity" is really just divisive, and so on. I don't think this is a particularly useful or interesting line of argumentation. By all means, keep it up, but I'm not sure who's going to pay attention. How is any of that adding to the discussion? More to the point, if the goal is to expand the OAC beyond the handful of people who remain in this network, how is any of THAT going to help? As I said in the email thread last month:

"I find some of the comments about "political correctness" in this thread particularly problematic for any effort to revitalize the OAC. If you want new voices and ideas, and you want people to join up and take part, that's not the way to go."

This is not about avoiding debate, conflict, or wanting some sort of inoculated safe space. Far from it. The whole "political correctness" line that I'm seeing here isn't analytically challenging or even interesting. It just sounds like a bunch of name-calling and dismissive rhetoric. What younger anthropologists are going to want to join up with some network that rails against different approaches to and views of anthropology, or that write them off as a bunch of "effete" snowflakes? It's not that I think they find this rhetoric threatening or challenging--I doubt it. In that group email thread I added this quote from Keith, which I think is relevant:

"Soon our equivalent to the garden parties will be swept away and our Titanic deck chairs sunk, unless those of us who oppose such an outcome get our act together now and think more broadly about connecting with others who might be on our side. It is not so much a question of predicting a victory for our side as doing our best for what is right and in the human interest."

I like this quote because of the suggestion to "think more broadly about connecting with others who might be on our side." This logic applies broadly indeed, especially in these partisan days of the Trump era. Considering the history and current state of the OAC, it's a suggestion that some of the die-hard veterans may want to at least reflect upon. Unless, of course, there isn't actually an interest in expanding this forum beyond a handful of people.

In that email thread you responded with a good idea, which was that some sort of synthesis between various anthropologies is definitely in order. I find that idea intriguing and I think you’re onto something there. In that email, you said you’d like to continue that conversation. Well, as much as I like that idea, that’s decidedly *not* what I see going on here at the OAC lately.

Michael, you ask about the center of gravity for this conversation, and then quote Lee’s passage in which he argues that “social thinkers” who profess special insight are not entitled to those feelings. Not entitled to those feelings? What does that even mean? If that’s the center of gravity here then I think we’re on shaky ground.  

Michael: “When I picked the quote from Trouillot I intentionally picked the section relevant to Lee's framing of the conversion … But Trouillot's critique of identity politics is specific, that identity politics collapses a meaningful distinction (Lee's "special insight") when employed by those who, as Lee put it, "profess special insight." Trouillot's critique is not a critique of identity politics generally, and I did not read Lee's critique that way either. I read both within the framing of this discussion."

Ok, yes, I know that section of the book. I’m not sure what point you’re making though. You’re saying that Trouillot is arguing that identity politics collapses the meaningful distinction of “special insight”…when it’s employed by those who claim special insight? Again, I don’t see your point. It's not very clear to me what you're saying here.

I see Trouillot laying out two models for how anthropology engages with the contexts in which it operates: 1) the 19th century model; and 2) the post-1960s model that equates science with politics. He then proposes a third model, in which anthropologists reflect upon “our awareness of the true power and limits of our position as academics” (114).

Michael: “At every opportunity you have chosen to collapse ‘those who profess special insight’ (i.e. ‘American anthropologists’) into ‘any American.’ Why? Do you not see the distinction? Or do you think the distinction is irrelevant?”

Well, I’m not sure if I’ve chosen to collapse these two at every opportunity, but I have been arguing against the idea that US anthropologists automatically have some special insight into what happened in this election…just because they’re anthropologists who live and breathe the same air as the rest of their fellow citizens. Some anthropologists may actually believe this is the case, but I think it’s a dubious position. Sure, we may understand bits and pieces, and those may be insightful, but in order to actually have a deeper understanding of such a mass process we’d actually have to be actively doing the work. Anthropology, to me, is not some magical process of intuition or insight; it's a process of investigation and research.

Michael: “And I am surprised by your thought that the culture concept, as it existed 100+ years ago, can simply be reclaimed.”

Oh, I don’t think it can simply be reclaimed. I think Trouillot makes a lot of strong arguments against the use of the term, but at the same time there are points where I’m not sure what could replace it. He provides suggestions, and again his argument is compelling, but I also wonder about the long-game here. So does this mean that every time one of our concepts goes amok and spins out of orbit we have to abandon ship and find some replacement? When does it end? Sounds like a losing battle to me. The alternative here is to stake out our ground and do what we can to maintain conceptual clarity with how we deploy our concepts. Unless of course we plan on changing out our entire theoretical lexicon every few years.

Michael: “Bringing back the particular deployment of the culture concept operative 100 years ago will not make anthropology great again anymore than bringing back the particular manufacturing techniques of the 1960's will make American great again. And for the same reason. As Trouillot reminds us, the conditions of their possibility no longer exist.”

I agree with you actually. But, at the same time, I do think it can be useful to rethink our concepts and approaches—and that includes taking stock of our histories of thought. If the culture concept has become unmoored from its original Boasian deployment, why not revisit how and why it was used? The current conditions of possibility may differ, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not valuable or useful to draw upon the past. Maybe Trouillot would disagree; I’m ok with that. One of the problems of much of our theory is that we tend to plow through the kind of continuous “intellectual deforestation” that Wolf talked about. Again, where does it end?



Michael Scroggins said:

Ryan,

What is the center of gravity for this conversation? I go back to the how Lee opened the thread. In framing the discussion, Lee wrote, "...Here we must confront a serious problem in the doing of Americananthropology.  Any American, anthropologist or not, is fully entitled to feelings of outrage, disgust, fear at the result of November 8.  They may believe – and as time passes they may be proven right – that  Trump’s success is a harbinger of doom... But anyone who professes a special insight into the workings of society, that is, any social thinker, is not entitled to the feelings "

When I picked the quote from Trouillot I intentionally picked the section relevant to Lee's framing of the conversion. And that is the section towards the end of Adieu, Culture: A New Duty Arises where Trouillot addresses (with a phrase that could have been written by George Lucas) the duty of anthropologists. His critique of the two dominant positions - retreat from politics or taking up identity politics - is not particularly easy to take. But Trouillot's critique of identity politics is specific, that identity politics collapses a meaningful distinction (Lee's "special insight") when employed by those who, as Lee put it, "profess special insight." Trouillot's critique is not a critique of identity politics generally, and I did not read Lee's critique that way either. I read both within the framing of this discussion.

At every opportunity you have chosen to collapse "those who profess special insight" (i.e. "American anthropologists") into "any American." Why? Do you not see the distinction? Or do you think the distinction is irrelevant?

And I am surprised by your thought that the culture concept, as it existed 100+ years ago, can simply be reclaimed. Trouillot, a historian by training, knew better. Bringing back the particular deployment of the culture concept operative 100 years ago will not make anthropology great again anymore than bringing back the particular manufacturing techniques of the 1960's will make American great again. And for the same reason. As Trouillot reminds us, the conditions of their possibility no longer exist.

 

Ryan,

    I haven’t had this much fun since I stopped going to faculty meetings. 

 

    Identity politics is this . . .   Identity politics is that . . . Post and riposte.  I hope we can do better than that here, since we seem to be following the trail laid out on national television by Trump and Hillary, that grade school rhetoric I cited earlier: “He’s a racist and a bigot!”  “Am not. She is!” 

    Let’s try.  Perhaps beginning by acknowledging that we both know a thing or two about ethnic identity, race, racism. 

    So when I described the basis of identity politics as: “Individuals with particular racial, ethnic, or gender self-ascriptions join with others they perceive as like themselves to form movements and advance their political agendas.” 

. . . perhaps that didn’t need to elicit your response: 

So you’re saying that this is always happening through self-ascription? This seems both ahistorical and one-sided. Isn’t the process of identity at least a two-sided process, in which people identify themselves but are also identified by others? So your basic argument, then, is that Black people in America have simply separated themselves from American society? What about slavery and Jim Crow laws? What about incarceration rates in the US? I mean, there’s so much that you’re dismissing here. Would you argue that Civil Rights was just about a bunch of people with self-ascribed identities who formed a movement to advance their political agenda?” 

In providing a gloss of “identity politics” at your insistence, it seemed too obvious to mention that categories describing ethnic, racial, or gender affiliations are already out there, in the social-cultural world, and that those categories derive from particular historical processes (you mention slavery, Jim Crow laws, incarceration rates, and the civil rights movement).  For me the interesting and important thing about those categories is that they not only shape or influence the behavior of individuals, but are themselves transformed in significant ways by that behavior.  For example, there is a long and complex history of “blackness” in the U. S. and throughout the Americas.  Some years back, Norman Whitten and Arlene Torres filled two ponderous tomes on that subject, without even touching on the U. S.  Who is “black” and what it means to be “black” may differ significantly depending on time, place, and – of special interest here – individuals’ ideas and behaviors.  Hence the role I assign to self-ascription.  Racial prejudice unquestionably is a fixture of the background for being “black” in the U. S., but individuals of partially African descent (and on average that ancestry comprises between sixty-five and seventy-five per cent per individual) nevertheless differ greatly in how they live their lives.  For some, such as members of Black Lives Matter, being “black” is an unambiguous status and a call to protest an oppressive white society.  Their self-ascription differs fundamentally from that of a great many other Afro-Americans for whom life is more nuanced.  In short, race in the U. S. is not a monolithic and immutable Black vs. White affair, unless, that is, one chooses to make it that. Hence, again, self-ascription.  A classic study of the nuance of blackness in the U. S. is Tom Wolfe’s short story, “The Commercial.”  An even more classic study by Wolfe, focusing on the love affair between upper-class white celebrities and the “black cause” – sound familiar? – is “Radical Chic.”  These might be good selections to accompany the Foucault read-in scheduled for tomorrow.  What I find truly disturbing is that BLM ideologues and their academic defenders – who should know better – insist on the existence of a racial divide that is essentially that of our racist heritage as a slave society:  Black is Black and White is White.   

    How does identity politics – however we wind up defining it – figure in the Trump phenomenon, the subject of our discussion?  Rather than bounce one theory or theoretician off another, I’m often drawn to puzzles I see unfolding around me.  One such puzzle that perplexes me right now and that bears directly on the Trump phenomenon is the contrast between George Jr.’s inauguration in 2001 and Trump’s tomorrow.   

    The 2000 presidential election was fought to a draw between George Jr. and Al Gore; it came down to a few hundred votes in Florida.  As weeks of recount after recount passed, George Sr.’s cronies on the Supreme Court stepped in, declared the Florida voting over and George Jr. the winner.  It was an outrage at the highest level of government, a genuine constitutional crisis in the making.  Under the Constitution if the Electoral College vote does not produce a conclusive winner, then the matter goes before the House of Representatives.  The Supreme Court, the final arbiter of right and wrong, grossly overstepped its authority.  Yet upon the Court’s ruling Gore issued a concession speech and Jr.’s inauguration went ahead a few weeks later.  His supporters were dismayed.  Gore, however, is not a dramatic or even decisive figure; he did what he thought was necessary to preserve governmental authority and social order.  [A popular joke on SNL during the campaign:  The Al Gore character walks into a room where three or four people are talking.  He says, “Hello, I’m Al Gore.”  The others are shocked: “Al Gore?  But we thought you were dead!”  The Gore character responds, “No I am Al Gore.  I only look like I’m dead.”]  Funny joke, but after the Court acted the humor went out of it.  Mass demonstrations accomplished nothing and were suppressed by the police.  To protest the gross injustice of inaugurating an illegitimate president, four members of the House of Representatives boycotted the inauguration (among them John Lewis, who seems to have forgotten the occasion). 

    Tomorrow Donald Trump’s inauguration will take place.  To date not four, but some sixty-eight members of the House have announced that they will boycott that solemn event.  Prominent among them are members of the Black Caucus and the Hispanic Caucus, and prominent among their reasons given is that Trump is a racist and a bigot.   

    The contrast illustrates where the U. S. is as a society.  Is Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric so damaging to constitutional government that sixty-eight members of the House – representatives of the American people – will boycott his inauguration as opposed to four who protested the major fraud, the near-constitutional crisis of the 2001 inauguration? 

    A nation divided.  Trump’s election and the response to it are the cathartic moment when the institutions, beliefs, and actions of a people are stripped of conventional niceties, laid bare for all to see and reflect on.  What went into the making of that catharsis, what were the social, economic, historical, cultural factors at work?  Those are what we need to get at.  “Identity politics,” however defined, is one such factor.  Where does it fit among the others? 

    Finally, I air another puzzle.  The charge, “Trump is a racist and a bigot,” is heard everywhere.  I understand that his remarks about illegal immigrants as rapists and murderers have incensed Hispanics.  Yet 28% of the Hispanic vote went to Trump.  In sharp contrast, Trump received only 8% of the black vote.  Why?  Over the past eighteen months I’ve watched a lot – too many – Trump rallies, debates, and interviews, yet I can’t recall a racist slur aimed at blacks at all comparable to what he said about Hispanics.  Again, deep social forces must be at work here, but what are they?  Where does “identity politics” figure in?  

 

    Just to be clear, let me expand on Michael’s quote of my remarks in my first post here and Ryan’s reaction to it. 

Ryan:  “Michael, you ask about the center of gravity for this conversation, and then quote Lee’s passage in which he argues that “social thinkers” who profess special insight are not entitled to those feelings. Not entitled to those feelings? What does that even mean? If that’s the center of gravity here then I think we’re on shaky ground.”  

    The feelings I identified as inappropriate for American anthropologists, i. e. “social thinkers,” were not those of outrage, disgust, fear – everyone in the U. S. has a right to his or her political sensibilities.  Rather, what bothered me in Rizvi’s post was her expression of, as I summarized her, I think accurately, “feelings of surprise, shock, betrayal to the point of being rendered helpless and mute.”  I was especially troubled that much of the American anthropological community appeared to share those feelings to a considerable degree, as evidenced by Max Forte’s account of

 

 

Something is Rotten in Minneapolis

That something is very wrong with US anthropology is evidenced by the unjustifiable and unreasonable expressions of “shock” that have been made public. For example, in a series of articles presented by Dominic Boyer for Cultural Anthropology online, titled “Crisis of Liberalism,” it is easy to encounter these expressions of shock, while they take comfort in contempt and mockery in an all too familiar, liberal manner. The opening statement introducing the series engages in demonization when it points to “the perverse spectacle of Donald Trump” (by virtue of omission, Hillary Clinton is preserved as respectable). Thus Dominic Boyer refers to an “orange man’s narcissism” speaking of Donald Trump, also described by Boyer in this act of hyperventilating verbosity: “a seething, leering, glowering hypersubject radiating twentieth-century white male Northern privilege and dominion”. Boyer then comfortably concludes, “Trumpism is really not that much of a riddle”—while failing to predict his victory.”

-- In Zero Anthropology, “Trump and Anthropology”

 

Forte, of course, did predict that victory, a feat that impresses me but not Ryan. 

    Again, as I continued in my remark on “feelings,” American anthropologists, supposedly familiar with the workings of their own society, should not have been so grievously mistaken that they lapsed into emotional paralysis when things turned out differently from what they expected.  The election was a near thing; an objective assessment, as I’ve argued, would have seen the vote breaking either way.

In earlier posts Ryan sees no reason to hold American anthropologists accountable in this way, arguing that their specialties are in foreign studies so they couldn’t be expected to have Forte’s clear vision.  I don’t buy that.  They needn’t have predicted the election’s outcome, but neither should they have reacted with such irrational shock. 

    I guess I have a less-than-sanguine view of society, both home and abroad.  Because of that I’ve used an analogy – rough to be sure – of the anthropologist and the medical pathologist or emergency room physician.  The latter do not get to go into shock when a broken, blood-soaked body is wheeled in on a gurney.  The same holds for an American anthropologist confronted with the fact of Trump’s win.  

I borrow from Yeats.

The Second Coming

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

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