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Is America Really a Democracy?

in Columns/Opinions/The Fan Letter by

Despite one’s political leanings, President Trump’s election is a phenomenon in need of an explanation. How did Donald Trump, a businessman of no experience with public policy, become the leader of the free world? More specifically, how did he lie his way to the presidency?

Some, as exemplified by Kellyanne Conway’s justification of “alternative facts,” attempt to rationalize Trump’s apparent lies by attacking the “elitist liberal establishment” that holds conservatives to an impossible standard. Others contend that Trump’s claims are not meant to be taken literally. Cornell University Professor Anna Katharine Mansfield, for example, recently argued in the Washington Post that Trump is delivering a different kind of truth: “emotional truth” that captures the frustration many Trump supporters feel. She claimed this kind of truth cannot be discredited by facts and evidence.

Instead of treating Trump’s lies as just another form of democratic discourse, why can’t we admit that American democracy is broken? What is a democracy when its participants cannot observe the basic laws of logic and reason, when slogan shouting has replaced thoughtful deliberation?

As a citizen of China, manipulation of facts and logic is not foreign to me. Our history is replete with examples where defiance of reason has led to spectacular policy failures. The Great Leap Forward, a Mao-initiated campaign that aimed to “reach Britain and surpass America” (Ganying Chaomei) in domestic production within 20 years, led to the most devastating famine in human history. According to the University of Hong Kong historian Frank Dikötter, the death toll of 45 million people was almost comparable to that of the Second World War.

My grandmother was a survivor. She used to tell me that in order to reach Mao’s goal of doubling steel production, her fellow villagers would set up “backyard furnaces” and melt cooking pots, thinking that somehow low-quality iron could thus be transformed into high-quality steel. Villages competed to grow and harvest unrealistic quantities of crops, sometimes by fraudulently combining crops from several different fields. When the famine hit, food was much more difficult to come by for a big family like hers. Malnutrition was pervasive; some were so starved that their bodies started to bloat, like balloon animals filled with body fluid. I was 10 when she told me that story. It is a gruesome reminder that grand designs must always be grounded in reality. Otherwise, people die.

Is America really a democracy? Philosopher Elizabeth Anderson argues that democracy is not equivalent to “majority rule,” where even the basest of desires and prejudices deserve satisfaction when enough people have them. Instead, democracy has to be deliberative, which can only happen when citizens and their representatives come together and converse on the basis of reason and facts.

Trump’s popularity stems partly from his many outlandish promises that, not unlike Mao’s, he has no chance of fulfilling. His racist and xenophobic messages represent not the exception but the rule of American politics, which rewards manipulation of emotion more than honest discussion of what’s best for the people. Instead of offering realistic solutions to the problems his supporters face, Trump the politician does what most before him did: concoct the perfect lie and hope everyone believes it is the truth.

Letter to the Editor: Help us reclaim our country

in Letter to the Editor/Opinions by

Dear class of 2017:

When my Class of 1967 was getting ready to graduate, we paid no attention to the class of 1917, which was then celebrating its 50th reunion. To the extent we thought about them at all, they were just old farts. But if we had asked, they could have told us about Woodrow Wilson’s presidency, progressive in every way but race, the horrors of World War I, or the post-war Red Scare, courtesy of our own A. Mitchell Palmer (class of 1891).

You probably think we’re old farts too, although, perhaps, you imagine the ‘60s as a rush of revolution fueled by sex, drugs, and rock & roll. In fact, we’re not very different than you. We came to Swarthmore in September 1963, shortly after the March on Washington at the end of August, which some of us attended. The campus buzzed with civil rights our first year. Scores of students went to jail in Chester in the first northern demonstrations. Later, there was a debate between two seniors – Carl Wittman (dead these many years) and Jed Rakoff (now a Federal judge in New York) – over the proper role, if any, of violence in the movement.

Schools outdid one another in sponsoring civil rights conferences. In one, at Connecticut College in New London, senior Mike Meeropol showed up with his guitar, belting out songs. I didn’t know anything about him at the time but remember his saying, “I’m from Swarthmore, and I’m proud of it.” 

Back then, we had Collection every Thursday in Clothier, and students were required to attend. A speaker one Thursday was a South African official (perhaps the country’s UN representative). We loathed apartheid, but it didn’t even occur to us to demand that he be barred from speaking. Instead, we demonstrated outside Clothier, so he would be sure to see us when he was going in. One of the signs said, “Free Speech Yes/Apartheid No.”

Yes, things swirled. One Friday in November, though, everything stopped. On November 22, I was talking to upperclassman Jack Riggs in his room in Wharton when Mickey Herbert, a friend from high school, burst in and yelled “The President’s been shot!” My parents remembered where they were when they heard of the attack on Pearl Harbor, and your generation probably remembers where you were on 9/11. The assassination of JFK was our 9/11.

The war in Vietnam began under President Kennedy, and he may – or may not – have ended the war had he lived. Certainly Lyndon Johnson didn’t, and thousands of Americans and Vietnamese were dying. And unlike the wars you have known, many of our casualties had been drafted. So, men in college had a special reason to be skeptical, and men and women protested the war.

But we weren’t always marching. We listened – and danced— to  great music. The Beatles were on Ed Sullivan our first year, and “Satisfaction” hit the summer of ’65. Early on, Swarthmore had a folk festival, but it was supplanted by one featuring rock, and the Jefferson Airplane appeared at the rock festival on the group’s first East Coast tour. Finally, on the eve of our graduation, “Sergeant Pepper” came out.

There was no “Saturday Night Live” in our era. But the Smothers Brothers made their debut early in ’67, lampooning pomposity and resolutely anti-war. Blacklisted for 15 years, Pete Seeger came on to sing “Big Muddy” (“we were neck deep in the Big Muddy, and the big fool said to push on”). We knew who he was singing about.

Perhaps the class of 2017 has already been asked to decide on a class gift, maybe an oak to be planted or a bench to sit on. Our class gift was a protest. In our time, the college still had what was called the “sex rule,” a seldom enforced edict that forbade coupling by students on pain of expulsion. The rarity of its invocation did not make it any less troubling.

So we decided that our class gift would be the abolition of the sex rule. Of course, we lacked the power actually to abolish it, and then we left. But if you never heard of the sex rule, maybe you should thank the old farts in the class of ‘67.

I’m writing this in early March, just after President Trump’s first address to Congress. It’s too early to see how bad things will be – for example, whether the Republicans will fulfill their pledge to gut Obamacare, which brought healthcare to millions, or whether deportations will skyrocket. But it’s certainly not too early to fight to reclaim our country. We geezers are going to spend our retirement doing that, and we’d appreciate some help from you younger folks.


Doug Huron ‘67

Jews must stand with Muslims

in Campus Journal by

On March 6, President Trump signed his second executive order pertaining to a travel ban, which bars migrants from Iran, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, and Sudan from entering the United States. Iraq was removed from the first travel ban, prior to its overturning those traveling from there will still be subjected to supplementary security procedures before permitted entry.

Although this ban was frozen just last night by a federal judge in Hawaii, the fact that it is the second ban targeting predominately Muslim countries is just one reflection of underlying prejudices the oval office unfairly perpetuates. This, coupled with the pre-existing culture of ignorance surrounding the Muslim faith has normalized a set of behaviors that directly contradicts the ideals of non-discriminatory freedoms for which basic human kindness should stand.  

The hijab has become a target for violence and racial slurs, mosques are routinely defaced, and peaceful Americans are continuously classified as terrorists. In 2016, the year that saw Trump’s rise to political influence, anti-Muslim hate crimes surged 67 percent, reaching an unprecedented level of violence not seen since the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.

Along with the spike in Islamophobia, anti-Semitic acts have recently been making headlines. According to the Jewish Community Center Association of North America, the first two months of 2017 saw over 100 bomb threats against Jewish community centers, schools, and other institutions. This frightening statistic, combined with the recent desecrations of Jewish gravestones, proves that anti-Semitism is alive and well in the United States.

Our president may claim to be a friend to the Jews, but the faction of extremists he has emboldened through his candidacy are clearly not. Additionally, members of Trump’s cabinet have openly expressed frightening anti-semitic views on multiple occasions.   

Last Monday alone, the JCC reported that 31 more threats were reported against Jewish-affiliated centers, and a gunshot was fired through the window of an Indiana synagogue during a Hebrew school class.

The reaction to these events was a slew of tweets from Muslim Americans showing their support for the Jewish people, condemning the violence, and offering their services in protection of our synagogues and graveyards. One such tweet came from Tayyid Rashid, a former member of the Marine Corps who vowed to “stand guard” at Jewish institutions if necessary, proclaiming that “Islam requires it.”  

Although these acts of violence are horrifying, this outpouring of support from Muslims for the Jewish community exemplifies this country’s best attributes: the ability for people to reach across lines that traditionally divide us to help each other, and to view each other as friends despite our differences.

In light of the travel bans, it is imperative that we as Jews stand with Muslims against this onslaught of religion-based discrimination that we know all too well.

In the context of the Israel-Palestine conflict, Jews and Muslims in the Middle East are programed to hate each other, taught to see each other as the enemy.  However, in America, we are bound together by a shared endurance of persecution based on religion and a common understanding of fear. It is for these reasons that we should be each other’s greatest allies and the first to step in when injustices arise. College campuses can function well as incubators for generating this alliance.

The Holocaust began with words, words that evolved over a ten-year period from hostility to statelessness to violence to mass murder. I do not pretend to predict the future and have no idea how far this discriminatory behavior will go, but regardless, it is imperative that we put a stop to it before the potential for the unfathomable becomes a reality once more. Morally obtrusive words cannot seep into our policies without detection and immediate protest.

American Jews, starting with those of us at Swarthmore, have an obligation to stand up to this Muslim ban because we know the horrors that stem from complicity. We have a responsibility to hold those in power accountable for their actions, because we know the horrors that stem from silence. Sitting idly by and watching horrific promises to persecute people on the basis of religion has never been an option for us. Just because we are not the ones personally affected by the ban does not permit us to be passive. Being on the front lines of this fight isn’t an option — it’s a necessity.

Recent executive actions create campus uncertainties

in Around Campus/News by


After President Trump’s Jan. 27 executive orders halted travel to and from seven Muslim-majority countries, members of the campus community responded. President Valerie Smith and administrative deans reasserted the college’s vow to protect all students and faculty by standing in firm opposition to the anti-immigration and anti-Muslim policies. International and Muslim students affected by the orders have sought advice from administration, and have had to alter plans and make new ones in response to the travel restrictions.

Muslim Students Association board member Yusuf Qaddura ’20 had planned on returning to his home in Lebanon over the summer. But following the orders, Qaddura realized this might not be possible. He said that with the heightened risk of traveling to the Middle East on a nonimmigrant visa, he will likely have to stay in the United States.

“I’m okay with not going back to my home country,” he expressed. “I’ll get used to it … even if it comes to not going back in the next three years.”

With the question of whether he will be able to go home at the end of the semester looming over him, Qaddura has had to apply to summer internships and jobs late in the application season.

“I’m now stressed because I have all sorts of applications over my head,” he expressed.

The anti-immigration orders, according to the New York Times, affect people who are currently in the U.S. on temporary visas and would normally be able to travel back home and re-enter the country. The order entails a 90-day suspension of immigrant and nonimmigrant admission from Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Syria, Libya, Somalia and Yemen into the U.S. Although a federal judge in Seattle ruled to suspend the orders on Jan. 31, President Trump has since appealed the decision, according to reports by CNN. This means an uncertain future for students like Qaddura.

“We’re concerned about whether the ban is going to be extended after three months, or if it’s going to be extended into more countries,” Qaddura said.

In an official statement emailed to staff and students on Jan. 30, President Valerie Smith affirmed the college’s commitment to ensuring the safety of all members of the community in times of increased threat. She outlined a series of measures the college has taken, led by the Office of International Student Services, to reach out to affected students and faculty.

International students services director Jennifer Marks-Gold summarized these measures over email. According to Marks-Gold, OISS has investigated student lists to determine if any students are in the banned countries. At this time, there are no incoming or enrolled students either residing or studying abroad in the seven countries.

“OISS has and will continue to advise and support students about staying safe,” Marks-Gold stated.

She also affirmed that OISS will work to provide housing for students who cannot go home over breaks and during the summer as one initiative to support students affected by the ban.

“While [these students] are barred from travel, we encourage them to keep in contact with their family and friends back home and if we can help them do that in anyway, our office will provide these services,” Marks-Gold continued.

Qaddura hopes that the administration will do more to assist the unique situations of international students in the coming months.

“From what I’ve heard, I’m just being treated like any other student trying to get housing this summer,” he said.

Marks-Gold reasserted the college’s pledge to be a sanctuary for all members of the community.

She affirmed that the college will not disclose the immigration status of students and faculty members.

“We do not have to release information unless a warrant/subpoena is issued. We will continue to protect our students at all times,” Marks-Gold stated.

Colleges and universities across the country have come out with similar statements, reassuring campus members that they will refuse to disclose such information. The University of Michigan, for example, made headlines on Jan. 28 when it announced its intention to maintain the privacy of this information.

On the evening of Thursday, Feb. 2, students and faculty packed into the Intercultural Center for a panel discussion for Swatties affected by the anti-immigration orders. The panel was one initiative of the college to support members of the community affected by the orders.

The panel, composed of Muslim student advisor Umar Abdul Rahman, associate professor of sociology Lee Smithey, and Philadelphia area immigration attorney John Vandenberg, addressed a number of issues on a spectrum from technical to personal, covering topics such as H-1B sponsorship and the impact of the orders on the Muslim community.

Vandenberg urged international students to contact OISS with concerns, and remarked on the climate of unease surrounding their situations.

“I can’t tell you not to be anxious … If I were in the shoes of international students, I’d think, ‘why now?’,” he said.

At the discussion, Vandenberg briefed attendees on the ban and the subsequent judicial decision to block it. He also overviewed the process of obtaining an H-1B visa for non-immigrant students hoping to work in the United States. He explained that immigration law changes faster than any other area of law, so he predicts that there will likely be changes to the H-1B program during the Trump administration. He urged international students to speak with Marks-Gold to ensure that they apply for employment authorization and visas on time.

“It’s kind of a brave new world we’re living in now,” Vandenberg said, acknowledging the partisan overtones of the ban, which have stemmed from a major shift in the political agenda under a new administration.

Smithey expressed a similar view.

“We really don’t know where we’re at in this moment on the technical side of things and on political, racial, and ethnic fronts,” he remarked.

Even so, Smithey urged students to protest. He cited a statistic from Dr. Erica Chenoweth and Dr. Maria J. Stephan’s book, “Why Civil Resistance” Works that claims only three and a half percent of a population engaged in nonviolent civil resistance is required to overthrow a regime, a figure equivalent to 11 million Americans. In his opinion, one important route to opposing the executive orders is through large-scale peaceful protest.

“This is a mobilization and organization problem,” Smithey said, arguing that an authoritarian administration can be reined in through strategic nonviolent resistance.

Rahman elaborated on the new administration’s treatment of Muslims and immigrants.

“What’s really troublesome is the rhetoric,” he observed, referring to President Trump’s comments about Islam.

Rahman spoke on the parallels between Muslim oppression and other forms of oppression throughout American history, encouraging attendees to read Martin Luther King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.”

“There can be some discriminatory policies…equal protection doesn’t apply to immigrants,” Rahman noted, arguing that the nature of immigration policy in the U.S. has allowed for implicit discrimination against Muslims in this most recent policy.

Vandenberg echoed this sentiment.

“I do feel comfortable calling it a Muslim ban,” he said with regards to the executive order.

Qaddura believes the ban is a symptom of a broader misconception of Islam.

“These terrorists groups are not representing the true essence of the Islamic religion,” he stated, noting the widespread misunderstanding of the Islamic practice of jihad. “The Islamic religion tries to spread peace and love.”

Qaddura has found a space through the Muslim Students Association to gather with others in this tumultuous time.

“MSA is like a home for Muslim students on campus … we speak with each other, calm each other emotionally,” he said.

Smithey noted the psychological function of large protests and gatherings for building confidence and mitigating anxiety through collective action.

“Figuring out ways to manage our fear is going to be immensely important,” he stressed.

For many, the difficulty of returning home will come at too great a risk. In an official statement, Smith advised community members from the seven designated countries to suspend plans for international travel. Marks-Gold advised students from these countries who are traveling within the U.S. to bring all identification papers with them. Vandenberg recommended that international students and students enrolled under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program speak to an experienced immigration attorney before traveling abroad. He also urged caution to DACA students with plans to study abroad due to the risk of Advance Parole being suspended while they are spending a semester in a study abroad program. Advance Parole permits those without a valid immigrant visa to re-enter the country after travelling abroad.

“DACA students know that any day it could be over. These students are highly motivated, and they know the risk,” Vandenberg said of the work ethic of DACA students amidst an uncertain future for the program.

Rahman described reading an email from a local mosque that warned any Muslim person who is not a U.S. citizen, including those who are legal permanent residents, against traveling under the current orders. This applies to Muslim non-citizens who are not from the seven banned countries as well.

“It’s really something unprecedented,” he expressed.

Smithey share a similar outlook.

“We’re two weeks in, and it’s going to be a long road,” he said.

Smith concluded her email statement with an affirmation of the values of social justice and diversity core to Swarthmore.

“As a nation and as a campus community, we are in unchartered waters with the new administration,” Smith wrote. “The stakes have never been higher, and our commitment to these values has never been more resolute.”

The future remains uncertain for international and Muslim students and for faculty affected by the ban. Yet the campus community is undivided in its commitment to upholding social justice and protecting each member of the community as the country heads into turbulent waters.

Coping with Trump’s presidency

in Op-Eds/Opinions by

We unlocked the door with our twisted imagination. Beyond it was a dimension with sounds, sights, and perspectives that we had never seen before it. Shadows descended upon our senses and judgment to nullify any real substance, and since November of last year we’ve been living in a 21st century Twilight Zone. Most people on this campus didn’t expect Trump to win the presidency. I was one of them; in my mind, I was convinced that the America that I knew growing up, despite its contentious and problematic history, always strove for progress and inclusion. The country wouldn’t, in the span of an election, voluntarily decide to go back to the America of the 1950s. Although in retrospect, I shouldn’t have been as surprised as I was with the outcome. Racism, sexism, homophobia, and xenophobia are the daughters of bigotry and hatred. They’ve been woven into the fabric of America since its tortured beginning. I knew this already, so I don’t understand why I’ve been so infuriated by Trump’s presidency.

It’s been about two-and-a-half weeks since his inauguration, but each day feels like an eternity. Each day he (or maybe Steve Bannon at this point) declares a new executive order from his little box of horrors. From reinstating the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines to instructing federal agencies to weaken Obamacare, he’s already shown complete disregard for the communities that are most vulnerable. Since his inauguration, he’s signed more than twenty executive actions. While he’s been busy turning D.C. on its head, I’ve been trying to ignore him but to no avail. Whether it be on TV or on the internet, I’m frequently stressed out as the consequences of his actions loom over me like the clouds did the day after he won the election.

With the prospect of declaring my major relatively soon, applying for research and study abroad opportunities, and dealing with back-to-back 8:30 classes for a heavy course load, Swarthmore has been difficult for me. Maintaining mental health takes just as much work as maintaining physical health and the last thing I needed was to get enraged over something which I have no control over. There’s a limit to how much you can react angrily on Facebook. Besides, at this point nothing that he says or does really surprises me.

That changed about a week ago when I20 hosted the Immigration Panel Discussion regarding the possible repercussions as a result of his executive orders changing the H1B/H1B1/work visa programs. As a natural-born citizen, I was privileged about not having to worry about this, so I didn’t go to the Immigration Panel Discussion. In retrospect, I’m ashamed that I didn’t go since shortly afterwards I realized for every problem that didn’t directly affect me, it would affect someone I knew. He/She/They would have to carry that burden with them, only for the cycle of fear and anxiety to repeat itself each day. There’s a difference between dedicating time to yourself and being selfish, and I’ve erred on the wrong side for too long.

Of course, Swatties already know about the multiple ways to resist Trump’s fascism: protest, call your senators, donate to the ACLU, Planned Parenthood, etc. and yes those are all wonderful courses of action to take. However, there’s something else that I want to suggest for those who are currently afraid of our increasingly uncertain future.

I asked a good friend of mine how he was going to live through Trump’s presidency and his response stunned me. Even though he firmly believes everyone should have and should continue to fight for equal rights, we can’t expect to live the same life as those with privilege do and we have to reconcile with that. My grandparents who witnessed the Civil Rights Movement believed that one day we’d live in a more equitable and just society. They carried that hope with them until they passed away, gave that same hope to my parents who in turn passed it on to me. Whenever all feels lost, through this hope I find the strength to persevere. Hopefully, someday my future children and grandchildren can find the same solace. Regardless for now, I suggest that there are two actions you should perform:

Find Joy. It doesn’t matter how but this is important. Whether it be through your friends and family or socializing, making it a priority to find joy in your life is one of the greatest acts of self-love that you can do for yourself.

Be content in who you are and live your life. No matter what Trump does, he can’t determine how far you go or the dreams you make for yourself. The fact that you exist and there can be no other human being like you is proof of your uniqueness. Just by doing what you already do on a daily basis is the ultimate form of resistance and signals how powerful and indomitable you already are.

The next four years will be difficult for sure, but that doesn’t mean your life has to be made any worse. Whatever you decide to do, I hope that you can find your own peace and happiness.

Let’s Give a Damn: Trump Game

in Campus Journal by


We’ve all probably freaked out a little about climate change and President Donald Trump’s outright denial of it. It seems like President Trump has hand-picked a team that will happily sign off the future of our planet to build walls. Or something. And everyone’s playing the Trump Game like, “oh, can he do this?” Can he rip up the Paris Agreement? Can he actually increase coal mining? It’s almost as if I can hear a collective wailing and lamenting about Trump’s EPA picks, and what seems like his personal vendetta against environmental agencies and regulating companies that can be heard all night and day.

So I decided to talk to a couple of different people who have been doing environmental work to see how Trump’s administration might impact their work.

Laura Rigell is a recent Swarthmore alumna who does environmental justice work in Philadelphia, primarily with Serenity Soular. Khai Dao and Roberta Riccio both work in the Environmental Protection Agency. Dao is an engineer working with the RCRA Corrective Action Program, which works in collaboration with facilities with hazardous waste to perform cleanups. Riccio has worked with the EPA for 27 years, most recently with the Water Protection Division to enforce the Safe Drinking Water Act. She works with states and oversees public drinking water systems, ensuring they’re doing the right testing and treatment. Mike Ewall is the founder and director of Energy Justice Network. Full disclosure, I did not actually get a chance to interview Mike Ewall. However, I did meet him last year at a conference, and he wrote something that is relevant and will be quoted.


It was clear that this article had the potential to become very bleak, and so I wanted to start by stating that after my conversation with Rigell, Dao, and Riccio, I am reassured (and you should be too) by all of the great work and people who will continue doing what they believe in no matter what. They’re out there, and they’re fighting! Basically, the apocalypse won’t happen, like, tomorrow.

Rigell, who is driven not only by the reality of climate change, but also by the desire to bring about more racial and economic justice, works with Serenity Soular and seems sure that the local project she is working on is not fazed by the uncertain future.

Serenity Soular is a project based in a place called Serenity House, a community center in North Philadelphia. It started out as a gardening project but has since become a project about creating jobs in the community. Since 2014, Serenity Soular has been focusing on training and helping members of the community find employment at a solar installation company. The training is done by Solar State and in fact, a lot of Swatties have been involved with the project, and you can learn about it through the Lang Center or on Swarthmore websites.

“I want to help us shift to a more just society, one with the focus on climate justice,” Rigell said.

The one concrete thing that Trump’s administration can do that concerns Rigell is the changing of the solar investment tax credit. The tax credit is a 30 percent tax credit for solar systems for residential and commercial use. It is one of the most important federal policy mechanisms to support the deployment of solar energy in the United States and was just recently renewed to continue until 2021.

“If congress retracted it, the solar industry might really crash. It could have a very negative impact unless the cost of solar comes down a lot,” Rigell said.

When I called Dao and Riccio, I had this in mind and hoped to hear more about the policy changes that concerned them. However, at the start of the interview they professionally and politely told me that there were some restrictions that couldn’t allow them to disclose certain information.

“I guess we have to come out with the process for this interview because the current administration…” trailed off Dao.

“We have certain restrictions about what we can talk about. And there’s a lot that we don’t know about too,” interjected Riccio.

Both of them continuously reassured me that although they were initially shocked, they realize that with any change in administration there are protocols for federal agencies.

“I think it was a shock to everybody in general in how Trump took over the government and how it trickles down to EPA too. One of the first things was the limitations to what we could discuss with the media and also postponing decisions on regulations, so that the administration and their people can review what we’re planning to do in terms of our approach and our regulations, the works,” said Dao, “But, that’s common.”

“In retrospect that’s common when administrations change,” chimed Riccio, “That’s to be expected in the beginning. If something is in the works, they would want the opportunity to review it all.”

However, they were definitely shocked about the change in some of the initiatives and missions that they both hold onto dearly.


“I think the biggest shock right off the bat was when it was announced to the media and then confirmed with the EPA that they took out some initiatives that we thought were pretty commonly accepted within EPA, such as climate change,” said Dao.

From what Dao and Riccio were able to share, it seems that everyone is continuing their jobs as usual with their current budgets, but new proposals or initiatives are on pause or slowed down. Within the EPA, there are no more additional hirings or decisions about new managers. However, Riccio believes that managerial positions will be implemented after there is a new regional administrator. As I spoke with them, it was clear that there was a lot of uncertainty, and almost a defeated laughter accompanying it all.

“Honestly, we don’t know what exactly is going to happen yet. I want to say we’re nervous,” Roberta said.

“Right now,” Dao added, “We’re just following the typical protocols with a change of administration.”

Both Dao and Riccio expressed concerns about how certain protocols can definitely set the agency back, undermining a lot of good work that they and their agency have been doing for a while. How exactly that might look however, no one is sure.

“In general, from what we’ve heard from the Trump administration is outside homeland security and the military, the entire federal government is alert,” said Dao. “For us being scientists and engineers, we really hope the administration continues to use data and science to make the decisions — not just politics.”

Dao and Riccio were both hopeful, however, that smaller local organizations or states can rise up and take more of a lead. Dao laughed and called out California, expressing hope that they will take the lead in regulating what is right for their state. Riccio pointed out that local organizations that are not funded by federal agencies, such as Serenity Soular, can and are definitely going to make a big impact.

Rigell from Serenity Soular and Riccio also both commented on the mass public support and protests that have become more and more commonplace. Both are amazed and inspired by the great activism that is occurring on the local level.

“On some levels, I think this is pushing people back to the question: ‘what do I believe in?,’” Riccio said.

“The left gets more organized under Republican presidents, even when facing the same things that they often ignore under Democratic Party presidents,” Ewall reflected. Ewall’s article is definitely much more hopeful than the interview I had with Dao and Riccio. In fact, he points out that Barack Obama and Bill Clinton have both promoted fracking, which “is worse for the climate than coal.”

Ewall writes that resource depletion has more of a say with what energy resource is being used than a president, and thus Trump’s incessant threat about promoting coal is impossible.

“Coal production, in terms of energy value, peaked in 2002 in the U.S. The affordable half of the coal is already used up, and the rest will mostly stay underground, economically unreachable,” he writes. “It’s geology, not a Democratic president, that has a war on coal.”

The EJN have also continued to fight against incinerators in rural Pennsylvania, with two victories in December and January. The EJN is definitely one of the local organizations that can make a huge impact when it comes to bringing environmental justice to local communities.


“We’re hopeful,” ends Khai. “I think common sense and doing the right thing will eventually prevail. I think people in the agency and in the government are going to move forward, and do the right thing, and do their best.”


And no one, not even the President, can stop the people fighting for what is right.

The Musings of Mariani

in Columns/Opinions by

In these pleasant suburban surroundings we are forced to keep ourselves busy just like the Swarthmore commuters, filling every moment with distractions or tedium or predetermined socializing or total spontaneous and meaningless chatter with a stranger. The commuters take the train to Philadelphia while we get to sleep in and sit all day amidst our books, dreaming about the world we construct with our preferred abstractions, be they mathematical or sociological. Perhaps Swarthmore has lost its old bohemian character, but it remains monastic. We work hard and quietly and alone.

While we work, the world burns— or rather, it is simply getting hotter. What makes our most grave problems so difficult is that they are seemingly not very grave. It is scary how un-frightening they are. The universalization of the knowledge of our society’s worst injustices and outrages means that any impending problem, no matter how significant, does not strike us as anything new. The spread of recreational drugs, junk food, exercise equipment, and the advent of the smartphone have vastly increased the degree to which the average person can satiate themselves and tranquilize any anxiety or pain. This has occurred simultaneously with a vast increase in the anxiety and pain people experience as society decays.

At Swarthmore we have the apotheosis of this societal phenomenon. The world requires us to work intensely, so we do and are forced to avail ourselves of the various stimulants and depressants our society gives to the emotionally troubled, a category that is being expanded all the time to include larger and larger swathes of the population. We sit in our comfortable libraries and walk around our verdant campus, occasionally dining in the picturesque town that shares our college’s name, and we despair that the world is falling apart.

While I know that many people here are truly driven by a deep devotion to justice arising from a miraculous inner-well of compassion (I truly believe this and say it unironically), I do sometimes detect, at least within myself, a certain histrionic character to the rantings and ravings against the injustices of the world we are all prone to, which sabotages the honest efforts I and others do make to improve our world. I find within myself, and I see in others, a tendency to give up our commitment to changing the world as soon as we have to get up from our proverbial armchair. Once I see my pursuit of justice taking me down paths which will force me to abandon my dearest comforts and pleasures, I suddenly become paralyzed with indecision, hopelessly struggling against the ambiguity of the world. I then begin to read the news, and am outraged by the latest injustice, perpetuated  by the selfish and complacent elite who run the world, horrified that they could be so complacent when confronted with grave moral problems.

The challenging thing about the times we live in is the extent to which we all have to be willing to make personal sacrifices in order to improve our society and the world. This requires a degree of moral integrity and endurance, which many inspiring people at Swarthmore and around the world have, but which I know I lack. I suspect that some of my peers do as well. We compose and enact the society we are so hasty to critique; in fact, we are elite members of it. Obviously, we operate within institutions that need reform, but we continuously take actions which we know contribute society’s ills, and excuse ourselves through rationalization.

Speaking personally, what horrified me most about Trump was how recognizable and understandable he was to me. Growing up I played a lot of golf and met a lot of obnoxious, narcissistic, alpha-male types who I privately idolized for what I perceived to be their strength. A large part of my education at Swarthmore has the effort to eradicate this idolization within myself. Yet Trump is only the most recent and horrible product of the processes of oppression which have been tearing our society apart for centuries now. These processes are implemented with the machinery of our society, of which I, and we, find ourselves in command.

What we put out into the world through our actions can only be a reflection of the moral courage we have inside us. Fear of pain and fear of failure sap our drive, and dastardly men are free to cause pandemonium in our world. The United States of America is being led by a man who wanted to achieve the presidency for unambiguously masturbatory reasons. But our problem is not Donald Trump. Evil, prideful men have been with us for all of history. The conditions of our society created a situation Trump could exploit. We as individuals makeup our society and our actions in part gave rise to these conditions; therefore we are responsible for Trump. Even if his rise to power is not our fault, the responsibility to defeat him is. But it is well within our power to defeat him, and to fight against the injustices from which he draws his terrible power.

Trump and the violent, enraged Muslim ‘other’

in Op-Eds/Opinions by

Much has been said about the implications of the executive order signed by President Donald Trump that bans immigration from seven Muslim-majority nations, indefinitely ends the acceptance of Syrian refugees into the United States, and suspends the U.S. refugee program at large for a 120-day period. Even amongst friends who generally align with Trump’s charades, it has been difficult to find a single individual that takes no issue with the order: if not with the policy itself, then with its heedless execution. Arguments ranging from the impacts on the U.S. economy, historical parallels to the horrendous 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, and a compromise of fundamental American values are all issues that have been rightfully raised.

Similarly, there is a general consensus by opponents of this order that, by far, its most destructive immediate impact applies to displaced populations who will perish as they attempt to seek refuge and asylum in a world that ferociously denies their very existence. I completely agree. However, it is also necessary to call attention to the “race branding” of Muslim populations, of which this order is the manifestation par excellence. This is no novel phenomenon. United States politicians have always struggled to speak of Muslims as anything other than products of a cultural milieu, or Islam as anything other than a manifest political ideological project. Politicians across the spectrum have always encouraged Muslim communities to seek out the “Bad Muslims” amongst their ranks. This feeds well into the narrative of an imaginary cultural war against an enlightened western world and the other half that ostensibly “lives in the dark.”

To begin, othering Muslim populations is no novel concept. Western academic discourse has a tradition of granting Muslims subaltern status as an extension of a larger imperialist project. One need not travel far to read the words of the Guardian article by Princeton’s Bernard Lewis, “The Roots of Muslim Rage,” in which he explicates, “why so many Muslims deeply resent the West, and why their bitterness will not easily be mollified.” Lewis’s essentialist speculative discourse defines a “Muslim subject” that possesses little volition of their own who is programmed by an external political ideology that replaces their blood with violence and rage directed, of course, against the enlightened peace-loving west. Similar orientalist and imperialist predilections carry through future works such as Huntington’s “clash of civilizations,” in which he predicts cultural wars under the assumption of western cultural superiority and its right to establish global hegemony. These orientalist renditions of enraged Muslims, their supposed ideological predilections, and their imagined ontological inferiority are what inspire the policies of Trump and his cabinet appointees.  

In the context of this stream of orientalist thought, Trump’s campaign rhetoric against Muslims is not all that surprising, yet its incorporation into mainstream presidential rhetoric is all the more alarming. In a December 2015 rally in Charleston, South Carolina, he boisterously shouted, “Donald J. Trump is calling for a complete and total shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what the hell is going on.”  Here, Trump searches for the means by which “Lewisian enraged Muslim subjects” are being mass produced.

Further testament to Trump’s staunch commitment to target Muslims is seen in his cabinet picks. Newt Gingrich, a top Trump ally, claims, “We should frankly test every person here who is of a Muslim background, and if they believe in Sharia, they should be deported.” Furthermore, Michael Flynn, Trump’s National Security Advisor, proudly exclaims, “Islam is a political ideology masked behind a religion, using religion as an advantage against us.” This fabricated imagination is sadly Trump’s and his advisors’ shared reality, yet it is not an entirely newly held belief. Rather, it is a continuation of a time honored tradition, tracing back to Lewis and Huntington, that is now being further normalized, popularized, systematized, and operationalized. The parallels between these efforts and the underpinnings of past examples of ethnic cleansing and genocide are unnerving.

The use of the word “mask” by Flynn captures the scrutiny under which Muslims are continually placed by governments and citizens alike. According to Flynn and his cronies, Muslims are always concealing and conspiring under the guise of a religion, Islam, which makes claims for peace, but in reality is an ideological project that plans to undermine global peace. Such suspicion of Muslim communities crosses traditional party lines. Democratic Presidential Nominee Hillary Clinton in one presidential debate stated, “Donald has consistently insulted Muslims abroad, Muslims at home, when we need to be cooperating with Muslim nations and with the American Muslim community. They’re on the front lines, they can provide information to us that we might not get anywhere else.” As to what lines the American Muslim community occupies and what information they possess is unclear, but the suspicion of communally shared secrets hidden behind an Islamic veil is certainly not a novel phenomenon.

This suspicion is further manifested in the ubiquitously practiced post 9-11 “Good Muslim” “Bad Muslim” litmus test by which Muslims are tirelessly scrutinized in order to determine their degree of “radicalization” or supposed commitment to extremist doctrinal commitments. What politicians fail to recognize is that, sadly, the screening of Muslims is not only a governmental procedure. Muslims are being constantly vetted, even within their own communities. The ideal ‘Moderate Muslim’ that has just the right horizon of attachment and detachment to Islamic principles, however, can only be defined by the outside objective eye. The visual nature of many traditionally practiced Muslim aesthetics becomes a direct target of this screening. Trump’s rhetoric only strengthens these screening practices and provides them with institutional endorsement from the highest echelons of civil government. In doing so, many Muslims are constantly forced to live an increasingly apologetic existence. The social pressures placed upon Muslims to meet this imagined standard are suffocating and aim at producing groups of docile acquiescent subjects that constantly aim for outsider propriety rather than individual expression.

Trump goes to great lengths to differentiate between Christians and Muslims in the countries in his ban, and deems Muslims from these countries as ontologically inferior in his new foreign policy. He tweets in clear prose that refugee Arab Christians should be given preference over refugee Arab Muslims for admission in the United States. While he would be right to give voice to the unique pressures and struggles of Christian minority communities throughout Muslim-majority counties, Trump’s benign appearance relies less on affirming the struggles of Christian minority groups, and more on negating the suffering of both minority and majority Muslim communities throughout the region. This is clearly expressed in his move to release statements about allowing Christian admissibility in the United States directly following his statement about banning all immigrants from the seven Muslim majority countries. University of California’s Professor of Religion Reza Aslan encapsulates the bigotry embodied in Trump’s sentiment in his statement, “A Christian fleeing discrimination in Yemen would be given entry, but a Shia facing death and starvation would not.” Additionally, such statements only exacerbate existing fraught relationships and antagonisms between Muslim and Christian communities in these countries and compromises existing examples of solidarity and peaceful coexistence.

Trump’s new obsession with popularizing the adage ‘radical Islamic terrorism’ is tied up in the aforementioned power-relations. This is yet another clear attempt from Trump to ‘other’ Muslims and view them as a single collective unit rather than self-determining individuals. The adjectival use of the word ‘Islam,’ sandwiched between the words radical and terrorism is also a clear ‘race branding’ practice. This aims to permanently associate the words radical and terrorism with Islam in the public conscious. In essence, its use posits that Muslims only exist for Trump’s team as a collective herd that are constantly susceptible to alien forces that are attempting to push them towards ‘radical behavior.’ This, of course, implies that this is an inherent aspiration of Islamic discourse that must be actively combatted and resisted. Rather than citing dogmatism as an inherent human potential or a feature of globalized discourses, this phrasing localizes such critique on one such body of knowledge and in turn makes its practice stigmatized and taboo. This also completely disregards the dynamic exegetic practices of classical religious texts practiced by almost all religious communities. One must ask why such factors are being intentionally overlooked.

One of the most insidious effects of the current executive order is it role in promoting a typological study of Muslim subjects as solely products of a culture. Treating Islam as a culture radically opposed to western liberal democracies further creates antagonisms in areas where such tensions need not exist. This study of cultural conflicts also dismisses the roles of history, socio-economic factors, and other forms of western intervention that might have influenced the birth of the current political climate. Such a lens of study also undermines self-agency and individualism. This does not absolve local forces that spur acts of violence in these regions of blame, but rather, serves as a necessary contextualization that can help us better understand their rise.

As Trump continues to issue Islamophobic platitudes through both his Twitter and national speeches, we should be critical, wary, and alert of his regime. Such blatant race branding and scapegoating practices almost always carry underlying political motives. In service of such, we should recognize the origins of these sentiments and recognize the harmful effects of their global normalization in public discourse.

One of the most worrisome things I faced while writing this piece was a phone call from my aunt and, soon after, one from my mother. My aunt saw a Facebook post in which I mentioned Trump, admittedly one of perhaps too many, and out of worry called me to say, “You cannot say such things, we cannot, we’re Muslims—we are not safe.” Word travels quickly in my family, and soon after my mother was on the phone telling me, “they’ll take us away and no one will realize, we are in such small numbers.” I don’t know why I took their words so seriously. I generally don’t when it comes to these matters. However, I think their sentiment captures the fear and anxiety faced by first generation immigrants particularly well. Writing, however, is a strong form of resistance. In face of such injustice, it is important that our ink does not dry.

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