What I saw in Washington, D.C.

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I will be writing about my perspective on the political implications of the November, 2016 election in other outlets, but the shift in the country is having many personal impacts that I will be writing about in the coming months.  I have been dismayed by the racism, xenophobia, misogyny and anti-lgbtq sentiment on display in the last few months, the blatant use of power by ICE and CBP agents, stopping individuals from places like Australia and even the former Prime Minister of Denmark at airports (not that these types of stops are new). The weekend that the first executive order on immigration was released I barely slept – but quickly realized that I couldn’t keep up that kind of pace. We are in a marathon not a sprint. I’ll have to pick my battles carefully and not get caught up in every issue where I have some expertise.

My last trip to D.C. was in 2013 for Barack Obama’s second inauguration. Since then, the country has, of course, gone through some major changes that I could not have foreseen at that time. I expected a very different place when I took a quick trip to Washington D.C. in late February. This trip was for a meeting at the American Political Science Association, and I was curious to see what the atmosphere would be like under the new administration.

I arrived early evening to my hotel and immediately headed to one of my favorite restaurants near Dupont Circle for some dinner. I rarely watch TV news, I tend to listen to NPR, but CNN seemed much more relevant as I sat at the restaurant bar in our nation’s capital. CNN was reporting on the breaking news that Reince Priebus had asked the FBI to discount the reports that Trump’s campaign had contacts with Russian officials. As I sat enjoying my meal, I couldn’t help but overhear a group of twenty-somethings discussing the political situation.  I chatted with them for a bit, sharing our interest in politics, and the need to understand populism and racism in the current climate.

The next day I made my way to the White House and was surprised to find it surrounded by fencing and no trespassing signs.

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The obstructions are there ostensibly because of the inauguration, but this is the longest it has ever taken to tear down the stands and construction after the inauguration. It also conveniently keeps protestors away from the White House. I did find the peace protestors who have had a long-standing presence near the White House and they explained the situation – the Park Service has been accommodating, but they are subject to the dictates of the White House. It does not feel like the people’s house anymore. I’m glad I was able to visit with my boys while Obama was still President.

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Later I met with friends who talked about how the helicopters used by Trump and Pence would “buzz” the bike paths and I even noticed how the helicopters would fly low over residential areas – under Obama the helicopters would do their best to fly over the Potomac and avoid residential areas and the park. Friends who work in government agencies are concerned that they still don’t have agency heads, don’t know what will happen to their funding, and are concerned that programs that provide a lot of bang for the buck will no longer be funded, hurting the U.S,’s standing in the world.

These are the small changes that don’t get into the news – but they have great impact on those who work and live in DC, and ultimately, the way our government functions. We need to pay attention to all of these changes.

Awakening the giant…

On November 6, 2012, my friend Dean Lofton and I decided we’d had enough of the war on women and we wanted to start a group that would encourage women of all political persuasions to get involved in politics.  Thus “Austin Women for Political Action” was born on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/pages/Austin-Women-for-Political-Action/114614922031858?ref=hl).  Little did we know that this would become the summer of women’s discontent in Austin.  The legislature avoided issues related to abortion (although not women’s health) during the regular session, but then came the special session.  The stories of the first special session have been well documented by people like Jessica Luther in this article: http://www.theatlantic.com/sexes/archive/13/07/use-your-voice/277481/  Wendy Davis’ filibuster helped to mobilize a group of women, including many in our own organization, that had stood on the sidelines while the Texas legislature passed laws during the last session, like the one requiring sonograms before an abortion.  Many of these women had never been involved in a political protest or rally before.  I was in Europe for a conference that fateful day, but I followed the events as closely as I could and many of my friends were tweeting and posting the latest details on facebook, so in many ways I felt like I was a part of the action. Those who participated were encouraged to wear orange, and the rallying cry began as “Stand with Wendy” and has morphed into “Stand With Texas Women” (#SWTW on twitter).

I returned to Austin last Thursday and got caught up on the latest, including the fact that Governor Perry had called a second special session. I was able to join the large protest at the capitol on Monday, July 1st.  It’s very likely that the abortion bill will pass but the most exciting part of all of this has been the energy that has been created.  This is about much more than a law that will limit abortions.  It’s about women’s access to healthcare, which has already been limited by Texas’ decision to turn down federal funds.  This will impact women across large parts of Texas.  It’s also about the democratic process, and allowing women’s voices to be heard.  Referred to as an “unruly mob” this is much more than that.  In what can only be described as a nearly spontaneous outpouring of frustration, Texas women have finally said “we’ve had enough!”  Here are a few images from Monday’s rally:

Euro Crisis — end of the social contract?

The focus of much of my research is European politics, although as an American political scientist and activist, I follow my local, state and national politics very closely.  It is often difficult to see the linkages between the U.S. and Europe beyond NATO and foreign policy, but there are very good reasons for Americans to be concerned about the ongoing fiscal crisis in Europe.

I post news regularly on my Europe blog (http://givenseurope.blogspot.com), but for this post I want to focus less on the news and more on my personal observations of the impact of Europe.  In the U.S. we tend to focus on China, given its size and relative economic strength as it grows into a market economy.  However, our most important trading partner continues to be Europe.  It’s where we sell most of our goods, and where we still get many of our more important imports.  If Europe crashes, it will take the U.S. and much of the rest of the world with it. The European Union has been a critical development for peace and growth in post-war Europe and regardless of what happens to the Euro zone, will continue to be a major player in world trade.  However,it is important that we as Americans understand the implications of what is happening in Europe now.  For example, youth unemployment is at least 50% in countries like Spain and Greece.

The spring of 2012 has been a season of protests and riots in Greece, Spain and Italy in the wake of fiscal austerity measures which are only another step in a process that began in the early 1990s.  The end of the Cold War was the beginning of the end of Europe’s social contract, a promise that each generation would live better, have better benefits, health, and a shorter working career than the previous generation.  European countries had entered into this contract at the end of World War II, when the war-torn countries faced the massive task of rebuilding.  The U.S. saw the benefit in helping these countries rebuild, thus creating markets for our own goods.  The Cold War with the Soviet Union also gave the U.S. incentive to go beyond the Marshall plan and provide for Europe’s defense via NATO and the maintenance of bases in Europe, which could also act as forward operations bases for action in other parts of the world, like the Middle East. All of these measures by the U.S. allowed Europe to focus on rebuilding, and focus its economy on manufacturing, education, etc…and not on defense.

When the fiscal crisis hit the U.S. in 2007-2008, initially Europe appeared to escape much of the upheaval.  The crisis switched into high gear in the Fall of 2009 when the newly elected Greek government admitted that much of the data related to the country’s debt had been manufactured.  The country was, in fact, nearly bankrupt.  It soon became clear that Greece was not alone – Ireland and Portugal were the next shoes to drop.  When Spain and Italy began to show signs of strain, it was clear that the crisis would be neither short-lived nor easy to resolve.

In the long run, Europe as a continent has shown its ability to adjust and rebound from major upheavals, whether it be war, disease or cultural shifts (e.g., 1968).  However, this time it’s a much more long term shift that is leading to major cultural impacts.  Discontent is likely to rise, as people realize that the cuts and changes in benefits are not merely temporary measures, but part of a major shift that is the end of the era of the strong welfare state. It is not clear to me yet what the implications of these developments might be for welfare spending in the U.S., but it certainly signals a shift.  If the U.S. is negatively impacted by events in Europe, then the push for more cuts to our own social safety net, and critical areas like education, will continue, negatively impacting all youth, but in particular our growing Latino populations and other marginalized minority groups.