Many are in shock after the election of Donald Trump as the forty-fifth president of the United States. But the election results are not altogether surprising when one considers the weaknesses in the Hillary Clinton campaign that Bernie Sanders brought into view during the primaries.
Sanders raised issues that resonated with much of the electorate, particularly younger voters. The neoliberal establishment’s forty-year attack on labor and public goods has taken its toll. Unfortunately, in my opinion, many Democrats, including the Clintons and even Barack Obama, have been part of that establishment. While some recent decisions by the National Labor Relations Board and some new regulations on overtime have been favorable to workers, the Democratic Party, as currently constituted, has done little to defend public services, help the labor movement, or reverse increasing inequality and the declining living standards of working people.
It has been open season on public education and teachers’ unions, and in higher education we have seen massive cuts in funding, attacks on tenure and academic freedom, the growing use of faculty on contingent appointments, rising student debt, and the adoption of questionable performance-based funding measures. These facts at least partly explain why some in the “Obama coalition” did not turn out to vote, thus enabling Trump to win key states such as Wisconsin, Ohio, and Michigan. These states have felt the tip of the spear in the attack on public services and organized labor. Many in these states know that the system is rigged, and they feel left behind and disillusioned. Without a genuine progressive agenda for change put forward by a candidate not seen as part of the establishment, many chose not to vote or even fell prey to Trump’s demagoguery.
Now that Trump has been elected, what should we expect?
Trump’s attacks on the First Amendment do not bode well for academic freedom. Indeed, his presidency represents the greatest threat to academic freedom since the McCarthy period. Part-time faculty, whose precarious positions entail no assurance of academic freedom and who have only recently begun organizing, are particularly vulnerable. And Trump’s racist, xenophobic, and misogynistic statements and behavior have emboldened his supporters on campuses to engage in actions threatening the rights and human dignity of minorities, immigrants, and women.
We also know that Trump is no friend of labor. During the first debate, he said, “Wages are too high,” and he and Mike Pence are both supporters of “right-to-work” legislation. Trump’s ability to make Supreme Court appointments will likely lead to the overturning of agency fee, and we face potential legislative and judicial threats to exclusive representation, which could sound the death knell for the US labor movement as we now know it.
The Trump presidency will be neoliberalism on steroids. The transformation of higher education into a highly stratified, for-profit business aimed at serving the interests of the wealthy and America’s corporations will accelerate under the new administration. The goal of creating an educated citizenry will be subordinated to the demands of wealthy and corporate interests, and academic freedom for faculty, students, and researchers will consequently be under attack.
In a recent post on his Remaking the University blog, Christopher Newfield pointed out that Ohio State University is already emphasizing to students, even while they continue to take on more debt, that they should focus on the return on investment of higher education. OSU advises students to attend the most selective institution they can, major in a field that is quantitative or science-related, and then get a job in the area of the major. The evident subtext is that there is no need for art, music, languages, social work, history, English, or similar fields. It is likewise hard to understand why anyone would major in education, where mediocre pay and often poor working conditions will only worsen if the people who advise Trump get their way and destroy public-sector unions. Who needs teachers anyway?
Former Supreme Court justice David Souter said, “Democracy cannot survive too much ignorance.” It is imperative that the AAUP join with other organizations and individuals to build a progressive movement for change and reclaim higher education as a public good. Motivated by these objectives, the AAUP will continue organizing chapters, building state conferences, and developing coalitions with natural allies. Your AAUP chapter and conference and the national organization—and indeed our society—need you to continue to work with us as we build a movement for change.