“Do you know the movie, ‘The Hunger Games’? That’s kind of the image I think of,” said Prof. Gordon Fellman (SOC) about the possible effects of the Trump administration on Brandeis students. The popular movie was a perfect reference to the rich elite who have come into power.
Students used to say to Fellman that they wished they lived during the 1960s because it was so exciting. “Brandeis was a center of excitement back in those days, but this is more than then, and it’s drawing larger crowds. The biggest demonstration in the ’60s at Boston Common was 100,000 people … the recent Women’s March had 175,000. I mean that’s huge!” Fellman recounted.
Fellman also attended the “No Ban No Wall” demonstration at Copley Square on Jan. 29. He added that the speed of its arrangement was miraculous in terms of the level of technology that we have nowadays, since it could take “weeks or months to plan something like this in the ’60s,” while this demonstration was set up in one day.
His favorite slogans written on posters during the protest were, “No hate, no fear, everyone is welcome here” and another variation that read “No hate, no fear, refugees are welcome here.”
In relation to the effect that the immigration ban could have on students, Fellman shared a story about one of his current students who is from India, whose mother suggested that he does not come home for February break in the fear that he will not be allowed back in.
“I’m guessing this happened to a lot of people … I’m hoping that students who are not threatened [by the ban] will feel empathy for those who are threatened … and will protect them,” Fellman said, hoping to see fellow students come together to support one another, instead of just feeling secure in their own safety.
Last semester, he led an exercise in class in which one student was designated as Muslim and other students were assigned the role of police officers coming to take the student away. The question posed to the class was: What can we do to prevent this from happening?
One student suggested to gather the class to act as a barrier around the student and link arms. Fellman also explained that another form of civil disobedience in this case could be to tell the police that the all of the students in the class are Muslim as well, because these strategies are nonviolent and could prove to be effective.
Fellman mentioned the forms of civil disobedience happening in sanctuary cities all over the U.S. who are staying firm in response to the threat of losing federal funding. “Boston has been fantastic, saying we’re not going to turn over these people … if you say [to the government], ‘I will not yield to intimidation,’ … what are they going to do?”
Suggesting a solution for how to face the growing concerns about the next four years under the Trump administration, Fellman said, “Those of us, the millions, who are concerned have to be supple enough to invent or recreate forms of resistance.” The approach that has been most commonly used recently is massive demonstrations, as they are fun to attend and easy to organize using social media, but Fellman stressed that they are not enough.
One of the classes that Fellman is teaching this semester is Masculinities, which studies concepts, literature and phenomenology of many framings of masculinity, according to its course description. Fellman talked about the four gigantic movements that have occurred in both his and Trump’s lifetime—the Civil Rights movement, the anti-Vietnam War protesting, the women’s rights movement and the movement for LGBTQ rights, and how “all of these were challenges to normative masculinity.”
Fellman theorized that many heteronormative men found the growth and strength of these movements to be extremely threatening, thereby spurring the popularity of Trump’s campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again,” which could also be translated to “Make America Masculine Again.”
Fellman also spoke to the way that Trump presents himself as the “super-macho guy” who can assault and make fun of women, lie and bully as his symptoms of normative masculinity. The professor explained that men are often taught that “people are out to get them” and so they must act in a tough and defensive way, when in reality this fake normative male confidence is simply a way to hide the actual lack of confidence. Fellman said he thinks that Trump managed to connect with a population who shares these traits and “is relieved to have somebody express it for them.”
These factors boil down to a simpler idea. “All of this is fear, and the fear is opportunistic, but also based on real fears inside the people promoting these fears,” he said. In relation to the immigration ban, “the genius from the far right is making people afraid,” Fellman said. He mentioned that Islam, like all major religions, has a majority of people who use it as a value system to guide their lives, while there is a small minority who use it for violent, hateful acts.
However, Fellman explained that “Trump takes the worst possible option, which is to demonize Islam … When white men do mass killings, the media calls them ‘disturbed,’ not that it reflects their culture or their family or how they understand their religion to work … It’s an example of displacement.”
In summary, Fellman described the strategy of the Trump administration as, “They keep people ignorant, if you can’t get people to support you because you don’t have anything they want, then you make them afraid. And once you make them afraid, you have them.”
“The optimistic part of me thinks that the changes in the last 50 years are unstoppable—you can try to hold the weight back and you can, for five minutes, but it’ll sweep over you anyway,” he said. Fellman then quoted British historian Arnold Toynbee, “History is a series of challenges and responses,” and added, “The challenge now is how to hold a society together, and it’s up to us to respond.”