Just two days after midterm elections, a panel of Penn history department members were able to share their opinions on the Trump presidency so far and how to move forward.
Held on Nov. 8 in the Van Pelt Library and moderated by history professor Beth Wenger, the panel featured Penn professors Mary Frances Berry, Benjamin Nathans, Kathy Peiss, Alex Chase-Levenson, and Ann Farnsworth-Alvear. Each panel member provided his or her perspective on Trump’s presidency before opening the discussion to the audience.
Farnsworth-Alvear punctuated the panel with a strong call to action, urging Democrats to create or support legislation against the administration’s treatment of immigration. In light of the midterm election results, she said Democrats should adopt a “fix-it” mentality and propose concrete alternatives rather than simply oppose actions they deem unjust.
Berry said despite increased voter turnout during the midterm elections, there is still plenty of work to be done after the voting process. She said citizens must follow up by consistently contacting politicians and advocating for change outside of voting season.
“The history of these movements teaches us that voting by itself isn’t enough. The hard work starts after you vote. The hard work is leaning on the people we elected to make them do the right thing,” she said.
“That is what social movements are about. Pick an issue that you can easily explain to people and organize to push that issue. It’s work, but you can win," she added. "You have to make it necessary for politicians to think that if they don’t do what you’re talking about, they won’t become re-elected.”
While discussing the national shift towards gender activism since Trump's election, Peiss applauded the younger generation’s proactive participation in events such as the Women’s March, which involved a “consciousness of intersectionality” that had not been as prevalent in past women’s advocacy efforts.
Although she sees the “value of women’s rage,” Peiss said, she added that this sentiment must be channeled into something fruitful, and that society must navigate many challenges in the coming years that cannot be solved through blind anger.
Another topic was the 2016 presidential election itself. Chase-Levenson discussed how the 2016 election made an international spectacle — European countries have compared the United States to “Germany or Italy in the 20s or 30s,” he said, a rather “depressing” depiction of America's current political climate that Chase-Levenson said he does not agree with.
College freshman Eden Vance said “each of [the faculty members] had a unique outlook” and area of expertise that made for a well-rounded discussion. However, he said he felt that the panel’s discussion, which brought up Trump and Putin’s relationship while supporting Democratic legislation, was too one-sided.
“It also shocked me that there isn’t a single Republican historian [at Penn],” Vance continued, in reference to Nathans’ disclaimer at the beginning of the event that there were no “Trump supporters” present on the panel that day, though it “was not for lack of trying.”
“It would have been interesting to have [those] perspectives, because you don’t really get that a lot at Penn,” College freshman Christine Somerville agreed.
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