Daniel Traber is a professor of English at Texas A & M University at Galveston. His work focuses on the intersection of culture and politics, with a particular emphasis on musical subcultures like punk and ska (a favorite Nostalgia Trap subject). In this conversation, he talks about getting into punk as a white suburban teen in Galveston, Texas in the 1980s, and how expressions of subversive identity are entangled with the forces of capitalism and fascism from which they emerged. From “God Save the Queen” to “conservative is the new punk,” we explore the malleability of our cultural signifiers in the age of Trump.
Matthew Stanley is a historian and professor whose latest book, The Loyal West: Civil War and Reunion in Middle America explores how the politics of the Civil War moved through the regions of the Lower Middle West. His work shows us how ideologies evolve through space and time, and how the Civil War in particular has served as a container for American social and political attitudes well into the 21st century. With Confederate monuments being toppled by activists and organizers around the country, to the shock and outrage of white supremacists and “traditional” (wink) Americans everywhere, Stanley points out some vital historical context:
“People talk about preserving history. But the best argument against keeping these monuments in public places IS the historical argument. Most of these were not erected by Confederate veterans, they weren’t erected during the Civil War or even Reconstruction. They were erected during the Jim Crow era, and many of them explicitly re-encode the racial order through monumentation. So they’re designed to be a political statement. You can’t depoliticize a monument. A monument is inherently political.”
Micah Uetricht is managing editor at Jacobin Magazine and the author of Strike for America: Chicago Teachers Against Austerity. Like many of us, he’s watching with a combination of delight and disbelief as left-of-liberal ideas enjoy a rare moment in the mainstream spotlight, from the 1950s-style red-baiting of Fox News to Stephen Colbert’s recent declaration that “God is a socialist.” Even the ladies of The View are getting in on it, sitting down with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez for a friendly little chat about democratic socialism. To Uetricht, these moments are further evidence that the time is ripe for a return to the working class politics that defined the Democratic Party in past eras.
In this conversation, Uetricht tells how his early experiences as a union organizer influenced his ideas, what he sees as the future for labor in America, and why he thinks it’s so critical for the left to wrest power from the neoliberals who control the Democratic Party:
“It really is a kind of socialism or barbarism moment. We can either offer something to people, or someone like Trump can. This is why we do have this responsibility, because obviously what is on offer by the Democratic Party, by the tepid centrist liberalism, is just going to continue to play right into the hands of people like Trump. And so our responsibility is to create an alternative that can actually speak to these very understandable and real and rational feelings that a huge chunk, if not the majority, of the population are feeling right now.”
Maximillian Alvarez is a writer and academic whose work often explores the intersections of changing technological environments and the production of radical political philosophy. In this conversation, he talks about being surrounded by conservatives in Southern California during the 1990s, how the discovery of Russian literature expanded his political and intellectual worldview, and why it’s vital for academics to bridge the gap between the university and the wider public. Reflecting on Trump’s rise and the increasingly overt fascism of his troglodytic supporters, Alvarez invites us to consider the dark implications of social media’s powerful grip on the American mind:
“We are seeing and experiencing first-hand how the changing media environment in the 21st century shapes politics . . . When we’re writing the history of the beginning of the Trump era, we’re going to have plenty of work to do to figure out how his brand of populist ethnonationalism came to resonate with people, how the backlash to Obama materialized, the shifts on the right, etc. But we’re also going to have to ask other questions that are incredibly difficult.
What, for instance, are the political ramifications of a country’s increasingly pervasive loss of long term memory? [We’re] plugged into this hyperspeed of the immediate that social media and the digital news flow attunes [us] to, and I think this is having a very significant impact. The politics of resentment has found a place to flourish in a social media economy where the dopamine hits come from the responses of other people, that you get to see on your phone.”