Do We Act Now?
For many MIT faculty, staff, and students, the election and inauguration of Donald Trump as the 45th President of the United States is cause for alarm. The words and actions of the President have for us animated a real fear: that this administration may undo the gains that have pressed the United States to become an increasingly just and equitable society for everyone, regardless of race, ethnicity, identity, gender, sexuality, religion, ability, or class. Many of us are afraid that normalizing the actions of this administration will erode concern for the suffering of others and undermine aspirational American commitments to human rights and dignity for all people. As MIT faculty, we are particularly troubled by this President’s blatant disregard for the scientific method and by his administration’s attempts to gaslight the American public with the presentation of “alternative facts,” a dangerous absurdity that threatens the tenets of empiricism, the rigor of rational argument, and the judgments that might follow from reasoned debate. Democracy and the rule of law depend upon facts. We cannot cede these.
Protests, petitions, and calls to action here on campus as well as around the world have demonstrated that there is wide worry about the direction in which President Trump seeks to lead the nation. We believe that collective acts of resistance are necessary.
For us as members of the faculty of MIT it is not enough to add our individual voices in protest. We need to harness the power of our identity as faculty of MIT to meet the challenge we face. The first step is clearly to name the situation before us. Many of us believe that Trump is moving toward authoritarianism, and we believe that this represents an attack on democracy. Those of us who have studied the history of fascism believe Trump’s administration represents a significant step in this direction.
We have seen in American history the failure of academics to actively oppose and resist the continuing oppression of African Americans – after Reconstruction, in the days of civil rights, and today in the era of Black Lives Matter. We have seen our male colleagues accept the exclusion of women from advancement within the academy and without. We have heard the silence of academics during the McCarthy period, when many intellectuals were targeted in an anti-Communist witch hunt.
We understand that naming what is happening now as the first steps toward authoritarian government or even fascism does not sit well with many of our colleagues. Many faculty will consider such a characterization to be premature or extreme. But the history of the rise of fascism in Italy, in Germany, in Spain, and in Romania shows us the peril of refusing to recognize fascism in its infancy. It is perhaps better to err on the side of overstatement now, than to try to temper our concerns for too long.
Indeed, as academics we are often more comfortable creating the conditions to individually debate back and forth than collectively to act. This is particularly true given our dedication to having the academy be a place for the free and open exchange of ideas. And as journalist Rachel Shabi wrote in a recent Al Jazeera Op-Ed,
“. . . we are caught somewhere between not wanting to belittle history, nor make
Trump presents us not with business as usual. We need to prepare for effective responses – every day, short and long term – to any steps taken by the Trump administration that would undermine the democratic processes, or that would slow progress towards a more just and equitable society in America. We must insist on facts not propaganda. We must oppose the dissemination of lies. Propaganda is a primary tool of undemocratic regimes. We can best prepare together if we are clear that we are a collective of faculty united in our commitment.
Let us call ourselves Faculty for Democracy and at the same time put forth before the MIT faculty a resolution recognizing the danger of the rise of an authoritarian regime in America and declaring our dedication to collectively fight, as faculty of MIT, and with faculty of other institutions of higher education, to ensure that the root of fascism does not take hold in this country.
Editor's Note: For an up-to-date list of signees or to add your name to the list, see: faculty4democracy.org.
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Cherie Miot Abbanat
Colin Carew (PI Media Lab)
Gabriella Y. Carolini, PhD
Michael M. J. Fischer
Ezra Haber Glenn
Jeffrey C. Grossman
Wesley L. Harris
Jean E. Jackson
Erica C. James
Jonathan Alan King
Helen Elaine Lee
Julia H. Ortony
Jeffrey S. Ravel
Anne Whiston Spirn
C. Cem Tasan
J. Phillip Thompson
Clarence G. Williams, PhD
Elizabeth A. Wood