For the past few months, I’ve been observing with horror all the cabinet appointments in the incoming Trump administration and the Theresa May government . As someone who originally did a PhD with the intent to become a career diplomat (and yes, I realize there’s a foreign civil service pathway to achieve precisely that goal), to me expertise in top-level agencies was more than a mere technicality: it was a requirement. I wanted a PhD in international relations or political science because I wanted to be knowledgeable about the dynamics of global affairs, diplomacy and state-to-state relationships. Thus, watching Prime Minister May appoint Boris Johnson as foreign secretary and PEOTUS Trump appoint Exxon Mobil chairman Rex Tillerson to the State Department was shocking. To me, these kinds of appointments signal a complete disdain for expertise, career service and the foreign civil service structures and legacies.
Then came embattled Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto with the cherry on top. Peña Nieto has rescued his long-time aide from the depths of scorn and made him Foreign Affairs minister, substituting Claudia Ruiz Massieu (the niece of former Mexican President Carlos Salinas de Gortari). Videgaray was the political operator of Trump’s visit to Mexico, the former finance minister, and was ousted after Peña Nieto was heavily criticized because of his willingness to host Trump and the fact that he extended an invitation to the then Republican candidate. Trump has been openly adversarial toward Mexico and Mexicans from the beginning of his campaign, and has repeatedly said that the US under his leadership would be building a wall and that he’d make Mexico pay for it.
I’ll confess that post-November 8th, 2016, I spent a large amount of time in despair and unable to write anything coherent on the topics I am most interested in contributing here at the Duck of Minerva. It was hard for me to imagine what the global order would look like with someone like He Who Shall Not Be Named at the helm of one of the most powerful nations in the world, and not despair. But throughout the next few weeks after the US election, I have seen numerous colleagues in the IR and (more broadly) political science fields engage with society at large, trying to educate the masses on the implications of a post-truth new global order. This gives me hope.
The entire process that this US election took has, in my view, changed the rules of engagement for academics and shifted the traditional academic norm of remaining “at arms length, as an observer“. Daniel Nexon and Brendan Nyhan, for example, have been regularly writing, tweeting and educating people about the implications of what PEOTUS has been doing (from conflicts of interest to Russian interference to the alarming rise in hate crimes post-election). Oh and thanks for doing this, guys.
— Paul Musgrave (@profmusgrave) December 16, 2016
The situation IS, of course, worrisome for everyone, but I think it is even more important and relevant for us as academics (and in my own case, as a non-US-based professor). Will visiting scholars of various ethnic backgrounds be harassed at the border or denied visas under this new presidency? Will doing fieldwork in the US become dangerous under the presidential helm of a deranged sociopathic man like the current PEOTUS? And what will be the consequences of public engagement by scholars, given the current attack on the higher education system and on scientific research at large (let’s not forget the Coburn-led defunding of political science by the NSF)? These are all questions that need articulation. I don’t actually have an answer for them, but I’ll admit I’m thoroughly enjoying my fellow academics’ tweets and bloggage and increased activism.
Right after the US 2016 election, I tweeted about the importance of changing our models of engagement with the public.
Dear academics, not only political scientists: we need to reconsider our engagement with the average citizen. We NEED to change it.
— Dr Raul Pacheco-Vega (@raulpacheco) November 9, 2016
While my thoughts were still jumbled at the time (and probably still are), I was trying to make the point that we need to better understand the interplay of domestic and global politics with individual decision-making and whether the “regular voter” (however you may want to define it) knows the implications of their voting choices not only in the domestic policy realm, but also in the global arena. I don’t think many “regular people” understand the international implications of a Trump presidency for world peace. As Phil Arena aptly put it, there is probably a not-insignificant risk of a major war now, and I doubt many people get this.
I think many scholars have realized the need for broader engagement and activism. I particularly liked Jennifer N. Victor‘s call to action (her post was specifically on the role of political scientists in public discourse, but I think it applies to every academic discipline!) Obviously, public engagement should be honest, as Julia Azari suggests here (along with a few guidelines on public engagement). I’d also recommend browsing through the World Politics in a Time of Populist Nationalism posts, which I’m thoroughly enjoying (thanks Will Winecoff for launching the initiative!)
Many scholars from other disciplines have also called for engagement, though they forewarn us that there is a risk when engaging publicly (read sociologists’ Tressie McMillan Cottom‘s and Eric Grollman‘s posts here and here) as a marginalized population (this is particularly important for contingent faculty and scholars from minority populations). Still, I echo what strategic management scholar Andy Hoffman mentions in his article on public engagement: we need (as scholars) to “reexamine how we practice our craft, to what purpose and to which audiences“)
An important challenge for all of us who work in the IR and global governance fields.
I’ve been invited to join the cast of guest bloggers here at Duck of Minerva, and as you may have expected, the first thing I thought of was “well, I’ve made it, and… now what am I supposed to blog about?” On my personal (yet research-focused) blog, I write about a very broad range of topics: academic writing, time management, literature reviews, surviving academia, and heck, even my own research! But here at the Duck of Minerva I wondered aloud whether I could bring more attention to research issues I’ve been concerned about that I haven’t seen resolved (don’t you worry, you may get an occasional blog post on tenure dossiers, or avoiding overwork). So here we go…