By Emily Holland and Hadas Aron
“You can take the baby and rip the baby out of the womb on the ninth month on the final day.” Donald Trump’s visceral characterization of abortion during the most recent presidential debate elicited strong emotions from both pro-life and pro-choice supporters. Since the 1970s the American religious right has strategically mobilized political support around abortion. Evangelical leaders discovered the potential political power of abortion as salient issue after Roe v. Wade in 1973 and turned it into their central message. The issue quickly became extremely divisive, eliciting strong reactions from Christians who believe that life begins at conception and those, mostly women, who believe in a woman’s right to make her own health care decisions.
The latest phase of abortion mobilization has again been getting strong reactions across the globe. In Poland, tens of thousands of women took to the streets of Warsaw to protest against a proposed law that would entirely criminalize and penalize abortion at any stage, for any reason. The right wing populist government was forced to pull back the legislation. Poland is a highly Catholic country and already has the strictest laws on abortion in Europe. Mobilization on religious issues has a long record of success in Poland, but this last attempt was a step too far for women. A popular rallying cry at the protests called, “Save women, not a step further.”
Poland is a country that is torn between the liberal project and long-standing religious traditions promoted by populist politicians. Sound familiar? There is no comparison between Poland’s short democratic experience and America’s 240 years of peaceful transition of power, so far. But the strong reactions against the politicization of abortion are not that different. After Trump’s horrific remarks, women, young and old, felt personally attacked and offended. For younger women, many who have taken for granted the right to choose, Trump’s words diminished personal experiences and those of friends and family who had to go through difficult and often traumatic experiences. Late term abortion is a choice made for medical reasons, when the life of the fetus or the mother is in danger. It is the most difficult and personal decision leading to prolonged grief. Presenting it as frivolous or even murderous was shocking and enraging to many women familiar with the situation. For older women who remember the time before Roe v. Wade, Trump’s words were a threat to turn back the clock on all the achievements they have seen for women throughout their lives. Hillary Clinton’s response was spot on: “Well, that is not what happens in these cases and using that kind of scare rhetoric is just terribly unfortunate.”
This issue has been a salient one in politics since 1973 for both sides. But it seems that in today’s current political climate, populists are advocating a “nasty” rollback of women’s rights. This has not gone unnoticed by women voters. The hatred toward women coming from populist leaders is not only political. It shows that when feeling threatened, hegemonic men would do and say anything to preserve the dominant role of masculinity in western societies. It is difficult in modern western society to find overt discrimination against women, which is why the tangible wage gap has become such a salient issue even though there are many others. The populist rhetoric is making inequality politically tangible for women voters and that is probably its only silver lining. In the interest of being bi-partisan, we leave you with the words of Dr. Condoleeza Rice, “Can’t wait until November 9!”
By Hadas Aron and Emily Holland
Those of us currently on the academic job market while trying to finish dissertations could comfortably be classified as suffering from high levels of stress. Our day-to-day consists of writing, applying, paying Interfolio, and banging our heads against computer keyboards. For the authors of this piece, our main source of relief comes in the form of the best Pilates class in the world. Every Thursday morning we lie down and work on our cores amongst the elderly ladies of the Upper West Side. Recently, our instructor, a former Broadway dancer, said in her magnificent husky voice: “Choose your own stretch ladies, this is a democratic Pilates” to which one of our class compatriots replied: “It’s safe to be democratic here, it’s the Upper West Side!”
Given the current political climate in American politics, with Donald Trump threatening to jail Hillary Clinton for example, the notion that it is unsafe to let “the masses” decide has become more prevalent. Sadly, it is not unique to these elections and has had appeal for certain actors on several occasions in history. This elite sense of entitlement is objectionable, unproductive and even dangerous. First, no one group in society has the power to grant suffrage. Wealthy and educated urban elites are no longer suffrage gatekeepers, and when they were, US politics was certainly not better or even necessarily more liberal.
Donald Trump characterizes inner cities as “hell”, and liberal elites often imagine Middle America as rural church-goers with limited access to dental care. Both characterizations are misinformed and offensive. If liberals want to include minorities in the American story, they cannot pick and choose only those minorities they find easiest to co-opt. That is not how multiculturalism works. Instead, the process requires including those groups you find most challenging to engage with. Over the Jewish Yom Kippur holiday several rabbis expressed disgust from these presidential elections, and admitted they felt dirty by participating in the political discussion. Many congregation members nodded in agreement. The current political discourse left many feeling sullied. But while Trump alone is responsible for the dirty words and deeds, he does not have a monopoly over dirty sentiments.
The type of exclusive liberalism that has surfaced during these elections is quite common in Europe, and is failing badly. Across Europe, urban elites are increasingly losing their hold on political power to the rise of populist parties. Amidst the challenges of globalization and immigration, liberals have not yet come up with convincing solutions. Populists do not have the answers either, but at the very least they tend not to patronize those who feel most threatened by a changing world. It is impossible to fight populism with elitism.. There were moments in this campaign that Hillary Clinton managed to reach out to those beyond her base. Her supporters and media should to do the same.
Anti-democratic ideas have been tossed around with alarming prevalence during this campaign. The most recent example is of course Trump’s gross threat to lock-up his opponent if he wins the election, but there is a pervasive perception that the other side, Democrat or Republican, is fundamentally un-American, and perhaps not deserving of a voice. This discourse is dangerous and damaging to American democracy. We live in an anti-democratic time with regimes around the world curtailing once-common liberal rights. Politically correct discourse has been abandoned in favor of hate speech. Democracy needs to be protected, not by limiting rights and restricting suffrage (or even lamenting universal suffrage), but by an honest attempt to increase social ties across groups and cleavages. Even on the Upper West Side.
By Emily Holland and Hadas Aron
We spent Friday surrounded by giant flames, confetti falling from the sky, fireworks, water, flashing lights, and so much more. Yes, we went to the Beyoncé concert and yes, it was epic. Being the dedicated political scientists we are, even while watching the spectacle in awe, the political implications of the event did not escape us. Let us share with you the Political Scientist’s Guide to Beyoncé’s “Formation” Tour.
1. Okay Ladies Now Lets Get in Formation: Much has been written about Beyoncé’s new-found feminism (though we do argue that Beyoncé has always been a feminist, but in less obvious ways). Her “Formation” Tour is visceral feminist experience. The opening act, DJ Khaled, brought on stage many leading rappers from the last two decades including TI, Ja Rule, DMX, Jadakiss and others. The crowd was enthusiastic, but it was clear that while the men were on stage, everyone was waiting for the main act: Beyoncé. Traditionally, rap is hyper-masculine, so it was interesting that the powerhouse of the evening was so unapologetically and powerfully female. Just as the rappers wrapped-up their performance, an orchid repeatedly opened and closed on giant screens. This was a blatant message, and we all got it loud and clear. The entire show was a feminist experience. Beyoncé performs with an entirely female, mostly black, group of dancers, backup singers and band. This is unheard of in the world of popular music, especially for a female pop artist. Men did make an appearance (both Jay-Z and Kendrick Lamar literally rose from the stage in Beyoncé’s silver throne) but they were there under the sponsorship of Beyoncé. In particular, Jay-Z, on stage for no more than two minutes, was introduced by Beyoncé only as “my man”. Echoing her visual album Lemonade, feminist images repeatedly appeared on screen including flowers coming out of her mouth, a triangle between Beyoncé’s legs, and words like “diva” “boss” and “feminist”. Beyond the visual images, the entire message of the show was one of female empowerment. Beyoncé encouraged the crowd to take what is theirs without shame or inhibition.
2. I Might Just Be a Black Bill Gates in the Making: You may have noticed that this is a particularly divisive period in American politics. We can’t even agree on Tic Tacs and Skittles. All we have left is Beyoncé, and a quick informal survey of her crowd showed that she crosses class, race and regional divisions (we did not say gender here, although there were a few men in the crowd). Beyoncé’s Lemonade had a powerful black empowerment message, which resonated in the black community and did not alienate fans of other races. This is a unique quality of Beyoncé. There are certainly artists (including Beyoncé’s sister Solange) that are more openly activist in Black Lives Matter and other causes. But what is unique about Beyoncé is her ability to send a powerful message from the very center of the mainstream. She remains Queen Bey to white suburban fans even as she preaches black empowerment. That is a brave and admirable statement, particularly on the mainstream stages on which she performs like the Super Bowl Halftime Show.
3. I Dream It, I Work Hard, I Grind ‘Til I Own It: Industry and hard work have always been themes in Beyoncé’s music, and throughout the Lemonade experience she references the American dream, of which she is a shining example. In these troubled times which have seen real incomes stagnate and poverty become entrenched along racial lines, Beyoncé’s message, while inspiring, is at odds with the prevailing sense of economic pessimism, particularly amongst her Gen X and Y fans. Beyoncé has a personal fortune of around $450 million and continues to sing about how “hustling” and “grinding” means that she can now buy her own diamonds and buy her own rings. While we appreciate the feminist implications of her message, the fact is that social mobility in America is pretty much stuck and no matter how hard one works, it is hard to escape deeply entrenched institutional and social constraints. That said, the American dream has always been aspirational, and Beyoncé is an example of how hard work (and talent and luck) can pay off in exceptional circumstances.
4. Stacking Money Money Everywhere She Goes: Beyoncé is awfully rich. At the concert we thought about how Blue Ivy has a billion dollars and decided that is too much money for one baby. The show is obviously a huge moneymaker for Beyoncé, and if that’s not enough, before the show began, the screens blasted commercials for her new clothing line, Ivy Park. As impartial political scientists, we should note that Beyoncé’s commercial interests obviously align with her message, which indicates that this a moment in time where both feminism and black power sell to the masses. We don’t think this is a bad thing, but one that should be acknowledged in any case.
5. And She Worth Every Dollar, She Worth Every Dollar: Obviously the concert was amazing and worth the $235 per ticket we paid even though we are poor graduate students.