by Rebecca Kukla
I’m extraordinarily proud and excited to present this special issue of the Kennedy Institute of Ethics Journal, which focuses on ethical, social, and political reflections on the 2016 U.S. election and the early days of Donald Trump’s presidency. It is rare for a philosophy journal to take up such a current and pressing topic. When I decided to put together this issue, I was not sure what sort of submissions I would receive, or how many. I was moved and elated to receive dozens of excellent submissions on a wide range of topics. In making difficult choices about which ones to publish, I eliminated any that took an abstract or distanced approach to the material. Plenty of good-quality philosophical work uses this sort of abstract methodology, but I wanted to publish only papers that captured and grappled with the immediacy and the practical enormity of the changes and challenges that this last election posed. I also eliminated papers that were more like op-ed pieces than scholarly articles. I chose only papers that offered rigorous and deep conceptual analysis, as I wanted this issue to continue the journal’s hallmark tradition of combining philosophical sophistication with practical engagement. The submissions that made the final cut – both those that appear in the special issue itself, and those that appear in the supplement to the issue on the journal’s blog – are, in my opinion, more than just examples of excellent and ethically relevant scholarship; they are also brave.
The topics represented in this issue, including the supplement, span a wide range of the controversies raised by Trump’s victory. Some of them concern large-scale political issues such as climate change and immigration policy (see for instance the articles by Frisch, Hedahl and Rieder, and Gotlib). Others explore difficult questions concerning the emergence or at least the uncovering of an angry political climate in the United States, from the specter of authoritarianism to the apparent rise of hate-based political speech and decision-making (Corvino, Reiheld, Pierce). Some of the papers examine the visual and symbolic iconography of the election, including the role that gender and embodiment play in how we respond to political figures (Reiheld, Park). Regina Rini’s paper takes on the important epistemological question of how we should consume and disseminate information in the age of the internet and in the face of the rise of ‘fake news.’ A final group of papers excavates the difficult topic of second-personal communication and relationships between individuals across painful political divides (Golden, Bennett, Wilk).
I tried hard to include a representative span of voices and topics in this special issue. I am delighted with the spread of topics. I am also delighted with the mix of scholars from different career stages and disciplines, and the mix of genders. In two respects, however, I am disappointed.
Although the essays are grounded in different political perspectives and approaches, I was hoping to include at least some contributions that presented a positive message about or view of the election and presidency, so as to achieve a certain kind of broad-strokes political inclusivity. But despite my actively encouraging some likely authors to submit such papers, I received no appropriate submissions that argued in support of Trump’s policies or election.
More pressingly, in my view, I received no submissions appropriate to the journal from people of color. Race is absolutely fundamental to many of the issues that are most at the center of Trump’s election and presidency. His views (and his vocal supporters’ views) on immigration, refugees, the Mexican border, Islam, and policing spring immediately to mind. But his views on climate change, health insurance, public education, and other such topics also have deeply racialized dimensions and repercussions. Global warming and environmental destabilization will have a dramatically disproportionate impact on economically and racially disadvantaged nations and groups. Weakening our public education and insurance infrastructures directly harms socially vulnerable and stigmatized Americans. Our collective ability to think critically and well about Trump’s proposed policies and professed goals in all of these areas essentially requires that we hear from people in the groups most targeted and disadvantaged by them.
For these reasons, as well as because of my general commitment to creating an inclusive forum, I wanted a racially diverse set of perspectives represented in this issue, but I failed to achieve it. I reached out to some scholars of color working on relevant topics and I disseminated the call for papers in places where I thought it would reach diverse scholars. I am sure there are all sorts of ways in which I could have done better, and I take responsibility for this deficit. But also, Sean Valles has been generous enough to write a powerful and emotionally difficult meta-commentary (published here in the blog supplement), which examines the important reasons why scholars of color may be disinclined to submit to an issue such as this. As proud as I am of this issue, I strongly encourage all its readers to think about the challenges that Valles’s essay makes vivid for those of us who want to build a more inclusive philosophical and political community of discourse.