By Thomas Finn
With various groups reporting fear, concern, or anger in the wake of 2016’s presidential election, UCSD literature grad student Soraya Abuelhiga hosted a Global Forum last week to address this very topic. A five-person panel built for diversity of academic perspectives on the next four years convened to discuss their predictions on what the immediate future holds. Abuelhiga first broached the subject of foreign policy, given recent events like Britain’s exit from the European Union.
Dr. Thad Kousser from our Department of Political Science admits that since the president has more unilateral influence in the realm of foreign policy, and many of Trump’s appointees have experience in business rather than the state department, his effect abroad remains harder to predict than past administrations. Dr. Zoltan Hajnal, from the same department at UCSD, contends that neither the best nor worst projections will come to pass, but foreign policy will remain status quo. However, he also notes that Trump’s Supreme Court appointment could have important implications, and that international views of America have changed dramatically, seeing this country as a more nationalistic nation turning inward and away from direct intervention abroad.
Dr. Dennis Childs, from a background in literature and ethnic studies, advises that we balance the valid feeling of impending precarity with a knowledge that the next four years actually seem far less exceptional in the grand scheme of the last 500. We necessarily build this country’s present on a long history of imperialist practices, including encroachment on Native lands, the Chinese Exclusion Act, and genocidal tactics in Vietnam.
According to Childs, policies like the North American Free Trade Agreement have led to a $4.8 billion transfer from Latin America to the US, unprecedented in history, with migrants following this flow of capital. Even if Trump renegotiates it, as intended, Mexico has already developed one of the widest wealth gaps in the world, one that has grown in parallel to the military-industrial complex burgeoning on the US-Mexico border for sixty years, as well as the ongoing War on Drugs (or War on People of Color as Childs calls it) that continues to tear families apart and destabilize Mexico. US annual defense-related spending has recently reached about $1 trillion and functions to enforce neocolonial economic hegemony in the world.
In this sense, maintenance of the status quo would really manifest as an escalation of aggression, because contrary to popular belief, Obama’s status-quo foreign policy meant killing civilians on a regular basis. His status quo involved funding what Dr. Childs and Desmond Tutu, both having visited Palestine, liken to Israeli apartheid in Gaza, and which Childs as an expert in prison studies likens to an open-air prison. Obama’s status quo included deporting 2.5 million undocumented people, adding up to the deportations of all presidents of the 20th century combined. Like Obama, Trump’s “status quo” could also very well entail the continuation and expansion of problematic trends like these.
Ashley Rodriguez, development coordinator from the Center on Policy Initiatives, notes that Trump will likely cut foreign aid, and attitudes abroad may make some countries, like those in Southeast Asia, less receptive to US-based non-profits and NGOs. On a more local scale, we have numerous municipalities responding to anti-migrant sentiments by becoming safe zones, and by fighting increased voter suppression of racial minorities. Rodriguez calls for more support to organizations like Planned Parenthood and the San Diego Immigrant Rights Consortium, which can help ensure that growing prosperity as a nation advances everyone at the same time, instead of leaving minorities behind and worsening inequality.
Dr. Nancy Kwak from the Department of History offers a brief explanation of how home ownership has led to current racial inequalities that Trump’s administration may exacerbate. Since homes serve as the biggest investment most people make, encompassing so much of their economic life, starting in 1933 the federal government started supporting home ownership. This began with explicitly racial policies, mapping every city to decide who should live where and to control risk-ratings that determine credit.
The government established high-risk areas, especially African American or Asian-majority areas, where people had lower credit. We now call this redlining, and even though the 1968 Fair Housing Act sought to fix it, areas like La Jolla still have a racial character due to white roots left over from decades of redlining. Longtime residents interviewed by the LA Times and La Jolla Light have attested to “white only” covenants for property ownership in La Jolla Shores before the 1960s, for example. According to Kwak, we still don’t have protected classes to ensure fair housing, and thus housing remains unfair and de facto racially segregated.
Trump’s nominee for US Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Dr. Ben Carson, finds it undesirable to attempt urban desegregation, referring to anti-redlining policies as “social engineering.” As such, he opposes addressing these so-called “inner-city problems,” which Kwak instead calls fair-housing problems. On top of this, young people now buy fewer homes, creating uncertainty regarding the implications of this on the legacy of redlining still present in San Diego and cities across America.
Dr. Kwak also suggests that policies against immigrants rely on narratives that accredit certain groups with building this country, like the founding fathers via their own genius, while marginalizing others, for example by inadequately teaching the effects of racist policies like the 3/5 Compromise on the early political structure of this nation. Narrative differences have become divisive, and seem especially evident in recent popular culture, like the play Hamilton. This can have real-world consequences, for example affecting whether Americans support ideas like the DREAM Act, or ideas like English-only public schools.
Dr. Childs adds that the racist graffiti we have seen on campus likewise reflects this division, and shows that some groups of students have the privilege of feeling further from the border than others, or disconnected from the reality of our proximity to it. Trump’s narratives could not work if there were not a preexisting structure of white supremacy in our culture to build on. Though many politicians continue to rely on coded language and dog-whistle rhetoric to propagate discriminatory narratives, like attacking welfare by associating it with poor blacks, many voters admired Trump for voicing these narratives outright.
22 years ago, a similar kind of explicit support for reactionary policies ended up passing Proposition 187 to establish screening systems in California that prevent undocumented immigrants from accessing healthcare, education, and other services. Trump’s status as a “law and order” candidate also suggests he will stick to the status quo of militarizing US police culture, likely worsening the brutality inherent in our current criminal justice system. Childs goes on to discuss how East San Diego has always had a climate of unease due to police presence, with “to protect and serve” on every police car becoming an ironic joke to many black residents.
Majority-black schools face increasing militarization, and Dr. Childs claims that Ku Klux Klan violence has dropped at an inverse proportional rate to state execution of black people, effectively replacing extrajudicial violence with judicial violence. 2.4 million people currently live in cages, costing 70 billion dollars per year, not executed but condemned to “living death.” Pelican Bay State Prison on the California-Oregon border has the most solitary confinement on the planet for gang affiliation.
30,000 inmates went on a hunger strike in 2013 against indefinite solitary confinement. To highlight the lack of oversight, Childs points out that the California watchlist for gang affiliation includes dozens of children under the age of one who supposedly admitted their crime to law enforcement. 33 black San Diego locals were arrested under Penal Code 182.5 for gang affiliation, two of whom, Aaron Harvey and Brandon Duncan, personally came to UC San Diego in February 2016 to describe the ridiculously loose and often racist criteria for gang affiliation. One man was put in jail for months, despite never having joined a gang, solely based on a Facebook photo in which he appeared alongside another convicted gang affiliate.
These individuals lose employment opportunities, perpetuating structural poverty cycles and hurting the economy. Prisons appear in county, state, and federal budgets, meaning our taxes support the prison-industrial complex at every level, and Dr. Childs expects expansion under Trump. He posits that although black Americans may have fought for abolition in the Civil War, the 13th Amendment has allowed the state to take the place of plantation master, since all black Americans live under the threat of reenslavement, and this does not change, regardless of the party in power.
Democrats may have increased the black middle class, but black poverty has expanded under either party. Obama also directly played a part in arming local police forces, like San Diego’s force with a literal tank. Only after Trayvon Martin’s death did Obama even feel the national discourse forced him to address police violence as a mainstream issue, and until then had blamed black men for their own situations and called on them to act as better fathers, a tactic shared by Republicans.
Re-entry programs remain minimal and ineffective for former prisoners, so with over 5 million people permanently disenfranchised from a felony conviction, their subsequent inability to find jobs often pressures them to turn back to crime. 148 women were also forcibly sterilized in two California institutions as recently as the last decade. Childs argues that injustices like these, alongside incredible recidivism, prove a failure of the justice system, but a success of capitalism.
The prison-industrial complex profits off construction, telecommunications, and other industries that prisoners must interact with, utilize, or consume at inelastic prices while in prison. Childs concludes that the promised philanthropy of “black capitalism” ignores the horrors caused by capitalism in the first place, and indeed, perpetuates them. He personally calls on students to structurally analyze not only macro-scale historical trends, but also what role UCSD trains us for as individuals in this dangerous status quo.
He remarks that whether a Republican or Democrat wins the presidency, this would remain true, and we all have a responsibility for analysis. With stark barriers to changing America’s foreign policy, immigration law, racial inequalities, or prison-industrial complex at the federal level, students should still pursue change on other levels, like state, county, or city, in addition to forming coalitions to achieve goals beyond the often-futile endeavor of electoral politics. With Trump’s administration poised to continue an unsustainable status quo, it remains up to us to take matters into our own hands.
Photo by Gage Skidmore