TrumPhD

Dear AnthroVice: I recently had a conversation with a PhD student (who is in an anthropology department) who, to my surprise, suggested that he had some strong feelings of support for the Trump agenda, even now. After my head exploded and I stopped throwing things, I got to thinking there might be a better way to handle this. Any suggestions?

Dear Snowflake,

Are you melting under the heat of a thousand conservative talking heads? Are the chilly walls of the ivory tower insufficient to protect you from the angry hordes that seethe outside the gates of your illustrious institution? Are you so confirmed in your own virtue that you are incapable of recognizing the limitations of the left’s political agenda?

Snowflake, darling, let’s be real. Liberalism has its problems. It demands self-abnegation, self-denial, radical alliance with people who may not be radically allied with you, and an uncomfortable realism about history and the present that makes everything from speech to sex difficult and uncomfortable. There are many reasons to stake out an alternative position.

I gently advise that you get a grip. Is there really nothing about the PhD student that warrants engagement? Are you complicit in advancing a Gramsci-esque hegemonic ideology that represses alternative narratives?

You have a professional responsibility to engage, cultivate, and support the graduate student in your department through his coursework, research, and graduation. Take a tip from fieldwork in this regard: How would you deal with profound moral and ideological conflicts in the field? Would you snub the polygamist next door, and refuse to have your laundry washed by his third wife? Would you betray the confidences of a corrupt bureaucrat who is a key informant? Would you turn up your nose at an offering of an unwanted gift offered in the ritual exchange that precedes the exchange of confidences? I daresay you would not. I would not. I would make friends. And I was the world’s worst field researcher.

In AnthroVice’s humble opinion (which does not reflect the position of the American Anthropological Association or its constituent groups), Trump is woman-hating, environment-destroying, anti-family, anti-immigrant, anti-poor, anti-minority, anti-education, and corrupt. But he’s the president of the United States. So, take a good hard look at yourself, and ask yourself if you truly believe in democracy, freedom of expression, and multiculturalism, or if your political views are democratic pretensions.

Yours truly,
AnthroVice

Cite as: AnthroVice. 2018. “TrumPhD.” Anthropology News website, March 12, 2018. DOI: 10.1111/AN.798

Comments

I would ask the student to prove his/her argument anthropologically. The Art of the Deal, the ghosted Trump Biography from the 1980s, carries a chapter 2 which outline the “art of the deal” in 11 steps. This is the outline of the Trumpian methodology even today. Thus, I would ask the student, using the comparative method, to compare and contrast the effectiveness of the Art of the Deal with examples from the ethnographic record. How well do these principles hold, what context is best served by them — e.g. political or business context? The private firm or stockholder owned corporation? Non-profit or profit based organization? A democracy or dictatorship?

I believe you will find that there are structural limits to the Art of Deal. Applying an anthropological test would be learning experience for both the student and the discipline on objectivity.

Isn’t it fundamental to the anthropological method to get off our high horses and listen to others, however mystifying their views may be to us? Surely this is an excellent opportunity to learn from this student- and teach relativism while you practice it. I think that the actions of most governments (and certainly every US adminstration) would clearly violate the code of anthropological ethics- this certainly not unique to our current administration. I worry that comprising our fundamental relativism and not seeking to understand the views of others- particularly students- will, in the long run, do much more damage to our code of ethics.

I definitely agree with you about getting off any high horses and listening to others. For sure. But this is someone training to be an anthropologist in a PhD program who is stating agreement with the “Trump agenda.” It is true that many governments violate the anthropological code of ethics and we should be disagreeing with those violations. But yes, I do believe in humility and radical listening as fundamental to anthropology.

I readily agree that there is a place to separate the brazenly political from the sphere of the academic. However, if this student in March 2018 expresses support for the “Trump agenda” (and the word agenda is really too generous for whatever it is he wants to do at the moment), then that goes against the official policy statements of the American Anthropological Association on immigration and other matters.

There is now ample evidence that, although Trump is technically presidents of the United States, as Adam Hodges put it in Anthropology News “this is no way to govern a democracy.” Moreover, there are plenty of moderate and conservative voices saying that Trump may very well be an illegitimate president.

We’ll see how this advice ages, but I think in this case this is hardly a case of needing cultural relativism in the face of Gramscian hegemony.

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