i was one of the keynote speakers at a conference on “our divided nation: political polarization in the USA,” where we were supposed to discuss why there’s polarization, how problematic it is, and how do we fix it. i started by clarifying the terms of the debate and reframing “divisions” as the re-advent of fascism (or proto-fascism) and the resistance that it has provoked.
i showed a short video on the definition of fascism and then connected the dots to our present political context – in the US, but also in europe, india, israel and brazil. i explained how making america great again (white again, pure again) comes with fascist otherization and paraphernalia: ejecting POCs from trump rallies, banning muslims and other black and brown people from entering the country, the erasure of trans people because they don’t subscribe to a heteronormal gender binary, as well as the confederate flags, shields with nazi symbols and antisemitic chants that were on display at the charlottesville white nationalist rally.
i talked about totalitarianism, capitalism, the military industrial complex, and trump’s distaste for political free speech and the press. i quoted from tayari jones’s excellent essay “there’s nothing virtuous about finding common ground” and also reminded the audience that ideas of equality and human rights are in fact embraced by a majority of the american public, not some kind of liberal takeover of universities or political correctness gone wild. finally, i urged everyone to organize and revolutionize our political system not only to impede trump but to make sure that any subsequent govt is held accountable.
my opponent was the head of the political science dept, a french guy who’s been living in the US for a while. before he took the trouble to read his notes, he responded to me and warned that my views on fascism were dangerous. the US is not nazi germany, the free press and courts will save us. all we need to do is trust our institutions and remember to vote.
in the Q&A, i responded by talking about the corporatization of and infotainment provided by msm, the racist partisan nature of our judiciary going all the way up to the supreme court, and how one’s views might be more establishment and trusting of our institutions, if one is white, middle class, and living in the suburbs.
i also reminded the audience that even if voting were an effective tool for social change, one must remember voter suppression (stacey abrams’s bid for governor in georgia) and the felony disenfranchisement of large swathes of people of color.
it was simply mind-boggling that the head of the political science dept was arguing that money in politics is not an issue, that americans have access to complete information thru a free press, that american courts and institutions are fair and will protect us from fascism, and that all we need to do is vote. perhaps it’s the french instinct not to name racism in order to be in denial or perhaps it’s american reverence for those in power – not sure.
best question from a student: a young black woman who asked my opponent, specifically, if he thought the courts and institutions he so believes in actually represent people like her. when he mumbled a few words and said he could talk to her later in private, she said: i am not represented in this room. shouldn’t u talk to me publicly, in this forum, so others can hear and learn from the discussion?
what a beautiful, and righteous, way to end the Q&A!