Tempe is a fairly liberal place, being a college town albeit surrounded by conservative areas such as Scottsdale and Mesa. A mere three days after the election, graffiti was left in a bathroom stall at ASU (where I teach). The response to this from the administration was tepid (and that’s an understatement), essentially saying “ASU is diverse and we value diversity”. Yeah, but you know, a forceful condemnation would have been more of a signal that the actions of certain Trump supporters should not be acceptable at this university. Yesterday, we heard that white nationalist fliers were found on campus, One wonders whether the administration will take another bold stance?
And then this happened to a colleague:
So I just got road harassed by a couple of Trump supporters while I was returning from the zoo with [my daughter], presumably because I have a Clinton-Kaine bumper sticker on my car. Guys in two trucks cornered me, one in front and one to my left, who then slowed to a crawl and proceeded to hang a Confederate flag out one window and a tattered Trump-Pence sign out the other, upon which something was scrawled in black ink that I couldn’t make out. Their coordination and signs suggest this isn’t the first time they’ve done this. [My daughter] kept asking, “what are these men yelling about? What are those signs about?” I’m still shaking. Tell me again about how these people voted for the goddamn economy? Looks to me like they voted for the right to hate, openly and freely. Like they voted for the right to harass women openly and freely. To make us afraid to simply drive down the street in the middle of the afternoon with our children.
This is the country we now live in. Where the ugly side of white America can shamelessly beat its chest and roar. Where the mere display of an opponents sign somehow justifies harassment. Where minorities are fearful and new incidents of harassment get reported every day.
And all the while, the President-elect has nothing to say but a perfunctory “stop it”. Spare me your claim that he should be “given a chance”. Here was his chance to act presidential, to back up the unity bullshit he pushed in his acceptance speech. We are judged by our actions, and Trump has so far failed to act. And not just Trump; the silence of the millions of (I assume) good, decent Americans who voted for him is deafening.
So here’s a message to any Trump supporter who may stumble across this: either publicly denounce these behaviors and work to get Trump to stop this, or own it, and admit that you are the racist, misogynistic, homophobe some suspect you to be.
Over the past few days it has become obvious that the election of Trump has emboldened bad people to do hateful things to minorities and those they disagree with. The Southern Poverty Law Center has counted over 200 incidents since election day and Buzzfeed has been keeping a running tab as well. Many Twitter users have been appalled by what Shaun King has been documenting countrywide. Frankly, the true danger of Trumpism may not be any policies enacted by his administration but the actions of his supporters; actions, he, his family, and the GOP have yet to condemn.
As a first post back, I want to highlight a piece by Nathaniel Comfort in Nature. The overall piece involved a bunch of folks thinking about what scientists should worry about given the new regime. Here’s Nathaniel’s contribution in full:
Trump’s success is the crescendo of a long devaluation of the Enlightenment idea that facts are the rightful basis of action. Reason itself is under fire. This mistrust of expertise is a serious threat to the sciences and the humanities.
Science is in the business of making knowledge. History is founded on the principle that informed reflection is superior to ignorance. Devaluing evidence and manufacturing doubt can be a powerful strategy — as climate-change deniers and the tobacco industry have shown. Their push for short-term gain threatens our health and environment.
The history of science, broadly construed, must shoulder some of the blame. Perhaps the central insight of my field in the past 40 years is that facts are socially constructed. Truth has a social history. But even the most extreme social constructionists still value expertise; they are not the ones trying to destroy the fabric of reality. This subtlety has been lost on the wider public, and to some extent on scientists. The rift between the arts and sciences — the pillars of the university — now threatens all who value reason.
The sciences and humanities must join forces and push back. We must reinstate Enlightenment values — modulated now by an appreciation of their social nature — in politics and culture. Together we can restore trust in expertise, by re-enrolling non-experts in our projects. Make the public once again feel invested in knowledge. Speak truth to power.
I was trained as a scientist and (for various reasons) ended up as a humanist. So this resonates with me. I think what’s in play here is the value of intellectual life in general, whether we are talking about science, humanities, fine arts, whatever.
Next semester I begin my freshman seminar with Kant’s plea to “dare to know” (sapere aude). It’s going to be a long hard struggle.
I began writing online back in the early years of the Bush administration purely to talk about political issues. I gave it up in August 2010 when all was relatively quiet and I was losing my edge. And here we are, six years later, with an existential threat to American democracy. So, for what it’s worth, I’m going to resume blogging. I won’t be writing on creationism and suchlike because, frankly, that no longer interests me. There are bigger fish to fry.
I have been blogging since January 2004 but of late my heart hasn’t been in it. So I’m taking the opportunity of a new school year to hang up my shield and move on. I may return someday, either here or elsewhere, but for the foreseeable future, you can consider me a non-blogger. Best wishes and good luck to all the readers and bloggers I have met over the years.
John Wilkins is reporting that the noted philosopher of biology, David Hull, has passed away. I first read Hull’s Science as a Process (1988) as a break from writing up my zoology PhD in 1993 and it opened me up to the world of history and philosophy of science. Indeed, it left me cursing the fact that I wasn’t able to study HPS (in hindsight, I think it would have been my career choice for various reasons). Years later, I met David at an ISHPSSB meeting and I coyly introduced myself. David was delighted to hear that a biologist had read and enjoyed his work. He was a gentleman and will be missed.
Update (8/12): I forgot to mention that ASU houses the David L. Hull Collection (actually the collection sat in my office for a few months). And via Wilkins – obits from the Chicago Sun-Times and Northwestern.