Bruce Watson's Page > Posts tagged with "trump"


Subject: Genetics, Race, and Politics

Forum: Genetics, Race, and Politics
This week, Senator Elizabeth Warren released an analysis of her DNA to refute President Trump's claims that she lied about having Native American ancestors. While Warren drew both support and criticism, there was no question of her political intent: Her release took aim at a longstanding attack by Trump, and she immediately pivoted to raise questions about his withheld tax forms and his earlier promise to donate $1 million to a charity of her choice if she submitted to a DNA test. Almost immediately, the President responded with tweets downplaying the issue of her heritage and questioning the accuracy of her genetic test.

What's far more interesting than Senator Warren's release and President Trump's response is what both events say about the meaning of race in our culture. For example, less than a day after Warren's release, representatives of the Cherokee nation pointed out that she is not a recognized member of any tribe, and that--for them--her DNA was insufficient backing for her claims of tribal heritage. Other, non-native critics questioned whether the very small amount of Native American DNA in her profile justified her claim of heritage.

The irony is that, according to Warren and her siblings, her parents eloped because her father's family didn't want their son marrying a woman with ANY native heritage. And, lest the message isn't clear, the US has a long history of racial prejudice against people who carry any non-European heritage.

It's particularly striking that all of this is occurring against the backdrop of Black Lives Matter, ICE detentions, immigration restrictions against Muslims, voting rights battles in Georgia, and other events that are casting fresh light on America's struggle with institutionalized racism.

Your Challenge:
How do you view Trump and Warren's battle? What does it say to you about race in America, or in our culture? How do you think your race impacts your position in society? Do you agree or disagree with Senator Warren's decision to make her genetic profile public? Why?

Subject: Who Gets to Be American?

Forum: Who Gets to Be American?
About a year ago, the posters started showing up in my neighborhood. Printed in red ink on a white background, they read “CHINGA LA MIGRA!,” and gave readers a number to call if they were having problems with immigration. The English language version was more polite -- it said “ICE-FREE ZONE” -- but the message was still clear: this was a safe area for immigrants.

In the news, the message is different. We regularly see the President and members of his inner circle talking about the dangers of immigrants -- the drag on our social safety net, the threat of criminal gangs, and the alleged damage to our culture.

In the last month or two, the rhetoric around immigration in our culture have been particularly ugly. But while child separations and the current attacks on legal immigrants that are being discussed by members of the Trump administration are extreme, anti-immigration bias is hardly new. America has had a strong vein of anti-immigration sentiment at least since the 1800s.

At the heart of all of this lies a fundamental question -- and a major contradiction. The contradiction is the fact that the US economy is largely based on cheap, illegal labor. Those are the people who pick our grapes and build our homes, take care of our kids and clean our hotel rooms. Their illegal status makes it possible to underpay them, and many companies both rely on them and take brutal advantage of them. They are vital to our country, yet are not legally allowed to be here.

As for the question, that’s your challenge…


What is it to be an American -- and who has the right to pursue citizenship? Does being American mean being born here? Being able to speak English? Having American born parents? Declaring allegiance to our country? How would you define citizenship, and what path -- if any -- would you make available to people who are looking to become a part of our country?

Subject: Celebrities in Politics

Forum: Celebrities in Politics
Does anyone out there remember Miranda from Sex and the City?

On Monday, Cynthia Nixon, the actress who played her, announced that she’s planning on running for Governor of New York. Nixon hasn’t previously run for office, but she’s got a bit of political experience: she’s worked for years as a marriage equality activist, and served on an advisory committee for New York City’s Mayor DiBlasio. What’s more, given the dysfunction between Albany and New York City, it seems that she might have a real chance against Democrat governor Andrew Cuomo.

Celebrities in politics aren’t anything new: we’ve seen a Congressman who previously starred on the Love Boat, a Senator who was on Saturday Night Live, a Governor who got his start in pro wrestling and a President who rose to fame in movies where his costar was a chimpanzee. And now, of course, the man in the Oval Office is probably most famous for his role on a reality show.

When it comes to effectiveness, those celebrities have been a mixed bag: some were great communicators, but lacked a deep understanding of policy. Others were solid on policy, but were plagued by the scandals related to their earlier years in entertainment. Some were great, and many were mediocre. Across the board, though, it’s pretty clear that the ability to understand an audience and the ability to understand policy are two very different skill sets.

This difference in abilities is likely to become even more important over the next few years, as we seem to be entering a new era of political celebrities. The merest hint that Oprah Winfrey was considering a Presidential run — despite her repeated denials — has led to an insane amount of speculation. And celebrities from Duane Johnson to Kid Rock to Caitlin Jenner are allegedly considering running for office. Far from disappearing, it seems likely that celebrity politicians are going to become an increasingly important part of our political landscape.

Your Challenge

What do you think of this trend? Are you excited by the ability of celebrities to reach voters and bring attention to political issues? Concerned by their often-limited understanding of policy? Do you see this as a positive trend for democracy in America, or a further lurch toward the consolidation of power by the wealthy and prominent? Are you eager to vote for President Winfrey or worried that professionalism in politics is disappearing?

Subject: When it comes to harassment, what is your role?

Forum: When it comes to harassment, what is your role?
I recently came across a pair of articles that, together, give an interesting glimpse into how the sexual harassment environment is changing. One covered Billy Bush’s appearance on the Late Show, where he reiterated that Donald Trump bragged about sexual harassment on the Access Hollywood bus. But when it came to explaining why he didn’t push back against Trump, Bush faltered, lamely pointing out that he thought Trump’s comments were a comedy routine.

The other article recapped a public disagreement between John Oliver and Dustin Hoffman that occurred during a panel discussion about one of Hoffman’s movies. Oliver surprised the actor by bringing up the sexual harassment allegations against him, and the discussion became heated. Members of the audience criticized Oliver for going off topic, but he explained that he felt it was important to bring it up, as “No one stands up to powerful men.”

Rather than focusing on sexual harassers and victims, these events put the spotlight on bystanders. Billy Bush chose not to speak out about Trump’s sexist comments, while Oliver chose to shift from a movie discussion — which his audience had paid to see — to a harassment discussion that many of them didn’t want to witness. But for all their differences, Oliver and Bush both made a decision about their values, their responsibility, and their willingness to create an uncomfortable environment in order to address a larger point. Faced with sexual harassers, they chose either to face the problem or to turn away.

It’s an issue that resonates: to a great extent, we’re all bystanders, and we’re all being forced to figure out where we stand on these issues. Knowing what we now know, can we still see “The Graduate” the same way? Do the events of this year change the way hear a Louis CK set, or see a Pixar film, or watch George Takei? Does Billy Bush’s failure change the way we react to our friends when they say something offensive? Where do we draw our lines between appropriate and inappropriate behavior?

Your Challenge

Our culture is in the midst of redefining many of its rules, and we are all part of that discussion. Where do you stand on the changing rules and perspectives around sexual harassment? Are we too insensitive? Are we oversensitive? What do you consider an appropriate punishment for a harasser? How about a bystander? Do you have a story about a time when you stood up to harassment…or failed to do so?

Subject: Honoring the Good and Bad in Our History

Forum: Honoring the Good and Bad in Our History
It’s been an interesting couple of weeks for American history and for the way that we memorialize it. But rather than rehashing last week’s events in Charlottesville, VA, I’d like to find out what you think about our shared history and the way that we address it.

For me, this is a complicated question -- my family fought for the North in the Civil War, but I grew up in the South. As a kid, I spent hours camping out on battlefields, listening to mythical tales about the South, yet still very much aware of my own relatives who fought for the other side. Growing up, I never had a problem with statues honoring Confederate soldiers - I saw them as an attempt to heal the wounds left behind after the war.

I later learned that I was wrong: most of those statues were built in the 1920’s, long after the majority of Civil War soldiers were dead. Memorials to a mythical South that never really existed, they were a rallying point for a host of racist groups - including the KKK - that were in the process of gaining power. In that context, it’s hard to defend their inclusion in our public parks or shared spaces.

But what about statues that honor other flawed leaders? As President Trump pointed out, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson - men that we associate with liberty - also held slaves. In fact, 18 Presidents - including Ulysses S. Grant - were slaveholders at some point or another, as were Benjamin Franklin, John Hancock, and many other founding fathers. For that matter, as some have pointed out, the White House and the Washington Monument were both built with slave labor. Does that history affect the way we see these monuments and the men they honor?

Recently, two people attacked America’s oldest memorial to Christopher Columbus, citing it as a tribute to America’s genocidal heritage. Given Columbus’ association with slavery, it’s a difficult point to argue against. In fact, the further we dig into our national heroes, the more it becomes clear how broadly, and deeply, the stain of slavery and racism goes.

Your Challenge:

Where do you stand on America’s memorials? Should we tear down monuments to our flawed and racist founding fathers? Should we keep some and destroy others? Should we ignore the flaws of our leaders? Or does doing so somehow make those flaws seem like virtues?

Ultimately, what criteria should we use for destroying or maintaining our monuments?

Subject: Taking Your Education to the Streets

Forum: Taking Your Education to the Streets
Regardless of your feelings about Donald Trump, one thing is beyond dispute: his election has ignited American political involvement in a way that hasn’t been seen since the Vietnam War, if ever. In the month since he took the oath of office, politics has touched almost every aspect of American life, from the Oscars to the Super Bowl to Nordstrom’s spring fashions. Cabinet appointments, once a fairly boring post-inauguration sideshow, have become nail-biting front page stories, and run-of-the-mill press brefings have become high drama.

And this has extended to the general public, too: protesters have taken to the streets in support of women’s rights, have sat in at airports across the country, have turned out in droves for town halls with their Republican congressmen, and have donated money to political groups in record numbers. Trumps fans have also joined the fray, going to the President’s rally in Florida and amping up their presence on the internet.

Protest is, once again, becoming a way of life in America. An article in Slate recently commented that “Protest is the new Tinder,” and other stories have argued that the spate of confrontational town halls have much more to do with expressing individuality than with attacking elected officials.

This leads to an interesting question: as students, all of you are involved in an active process of self-creation. You’re defining yourselves, determining your values, and investing your money and time in developing your abilities. You are, truly, making yourselves every day. And, as we see so vividly, so is our nation.

How do you feel about this? Do you see this as an opportunity for growth, or are you feeling inclined to hide under the covers? What, if any, issues and stories interest or worry you? Are you getting involved, or do you want to? Do you feel more or less engaged in our country than you did a year ago?

Subject: Who Do You Trust?

Forum: Who Do You Trust?
Who do you trust? Where do you find truth?

I know, I know: these are the sorts of annoying questions that you expect to hear from someone passing out pamphlets in the subway or ringing your door at 9 AM on a Saturday morning. But they're also important: who - or what - do you consider an authority? Do you get your truth from a religious testament? A philosophy text? A newspaper? Do you get your truth from a laboratory experiment or a professor or an elected official? Is truth something that you can prove? Something you feel? Something that you just know?

Over the past few days, these vague, philosophical questions have become incredibly relevant as President Trump and his staff have gone head-to-head with the press and with their own government agencies. Arguing over issues ranging from the size of the inaugural audience to Russian hacking to the feasibility of dismantling Obamacare, the White House has thrown the notion of truth into question. And, as terms like "alternate facts" have entered the national conversation, it's clear that arguments about "truth" are going to become increasingly common over the next few months and years.

Almost 50 years ago, the double whammy of the Watergate break-in and the publication of the Pentagon Papers shook a generation as they realized that a sitting President had authorized a cover-up and that their government had continued to fight the Vietnam war, even after it became clear that it was unwinnable. Decades later, trust in the government remains shaky. And now, as we enter a new phase of widespread distrust in the government, it's clear that truth is going to become something increasingly personal - and divisive.

Your Challenge:

Where do you go for truth? Do you trust the government? Place your faith in scientific studies or peer-reviewed literature? Do you have a handful of trusted news sources or websites that you always check? What are they?

More to the point, why do you trust these sources? Why do you consider them sources of truth? Why do you think they have value?

Subject: The New Identity Politics

Forum: The New Identity Politics
In some ways, this last election was almost a parody of identity politics. On one side, there was Hillary Clinton, the first woman to run for President under the banner of a major political party, and the veteran of four decades of sexist political harassment. On the other side was Donald Trump, whose short political career has been marked by a near-constant stream of attacks against women, minorities, the handicapped, and dozens of other disadvantaged and minority groups.

For millions of people, Trump's election signaled a major setback for disadvantaged groups, and many voters took the results as a sign of a racist, sexist backlash. Or, as one pundit put it, a "whitelash."

But, while there's no doubt that bigotry played a big part in this election, there may be another side to this story. Many of the states that went for Trump are former bastions of organized labor, where unions once ensured huge Democrat returns. However, globalization, union busting, and the loss of manufacturing jobs have crushed unions, and left millions of workers with an uncertain future, both for themselves and their children. For many, there isn't a clear path to the middle class. And for those in the middle class, there's often an uncertainty about how secure their position really is.

It's easy to see this election as the selfish convulsions of a white male electorate, or a rejection of Clinton-era scandals, or an attack on politics as usual. But what if it signals the emergence of something else: an economic underclass that perceives itself as victimized and abandoned by mainstream politics?

Your Challenge:

What are your thoughts on the position of identity in politics after this election? Was Trump's victory an attack on disadvantaged groups? A victory for disadvantaged workers? A warning for mainstream politics? A major reconsideration of what it is to be a victim in the current economy? Does it signal a return to the bad old days or a new page in American culture?

Subject: Is the 2016 Election a Dumpster Fire or a Phoenix?

Forum: Is the 2016 Election a Dumpster Fire or a Phoenix?
It’s easy to see why pundits argue that the 2016 election is among history’s worst: we have two unpopular, scandal-plagued candidates locked in battle, and one of them seems determined to transform the political process into a reality show. But for all its disgust and horror, the public is also engaged, and it made the first Presidential debate the most watched in history.

It’s easy to dismiss this election as a dumpster fire, but what if there’s another reason for its popularity?

For both parties, 2016 has been a gut-check. The Clinton/Sanders primary sometimes felt like a fight between battle-scarred 2016 Hillary and idealistic 1969 Hillary. And, while 2016 Hillary won, Bernie Sanders’s angry, disappointed supporters suggests that many working class and middle class Democrats are wondering if the party still represents their interests.

On the flip side, it’s easy to dismiss Trump’s grotesque behavior, but it’s hard to ignore the link between his outrageous, offensive comments and the subtler “dog whistles” that the Republicans have been sending out using for years. In many ways, this is the year that subtle hidden messages were finally dragged into sunlight.

Your Challenge

My question for you is this: is this election Democracy’s end or its rebirth? Does our first reality TV election signal a loss of hope or a renewal of interest? Will it leave voters disaffected? Energized? Will this signal business-as-usual for the Republicans and Democrats, or will they change their approach? What do you think will happen on November 9, 2016? What about 2020?

Subject: The Most Uninspiring Election

Forum: The Most Uninspiring Election
The Presidential election is five months away, but it's pretty clear who the two major candidates are going to be. And the electorate is...well...pretty apathetic. In fact, some polls have shown that Trump and Clinton are the least-liked major party candidates in US history.

On the Republican side, Trump has inspired legions of new voters to step up in the primaries, but it's not clear if they'll carry to the general election. Meanwhile, many traditional Republican voters are worried that he's turning their party into a circus sideshow and appealing to some of its most unsavory elements. Party leaders are offering their endorsements slowly and grudgingly.

As for Hillary, many voters seem to regard her as politics-as-usual, a traditional candidate who is too secretive, too slippery, and far too likely to compromise on important issues. It's all-but-impossible for Bernie Sanders to clinch the nomination, and his supporters have already begun complaining that Clinton "stole" the nomination with her huge slate of superdelegates. Many claim that they will refuse to support her in November.

Some of these hard feelings will likely evaporate when campaign season begins in earnest, but it doesn't change the fact that many voters will likely be holding their noses when they pull the levers on election day.

Your Challenge

Many of you are millennials, the group of voters who are being most aggressively courted as we go into the upcoming election. As a potential swing vote, what do you think of the candidates? What could they do to gain your trust and support? If you had your choice of any potential candidate, who would you LIKE to see win the Presidency? Why?