At Public Seminar, we continue to get strange text messages from the President. “Do you not stand with President Trump?” he wrote to us last Wednesday. “He needs you to join his Impeachment Defense Team. Don’t let him down.” Our campaign gift, we are told, will be “2X MATCHED.” Several days later, the President “noticed you didn’t order a Trump 2020 Calendar,” something that was particularly hurtful because “Melania HAND-SELECTED each BEAUTIFUL photo!” We get these text messages constantly, assured that if we respond, our name will be on a list that will be “handed to the President IN ONE HOUR.” Sometimes we are told that Trump wants our “input,” and even that he has “asked about” us, personally.
We admit that we have neglected the President, and we will continue to do so – despite Melania’s BEAUTIFUL photos.
But if we were to text the President back, it would be with the good news that Public Seminar has, once again, curated a weekly issue that encourages him to think more deeply about the pressing issues of his time. We begin with Mobilities, one of our favourite topics, a series of articles written and edited by scholars convened by the Zolberg Institute on Migration and Mobility at The New School. Danial Calzadillas-Rodriguez introduces the series by asking a series of essential questions: How does the word “refugee” come to describe people who are in motion for so many different reasons? What does it mean to set oneself into motion voluntarily? And what constitutes a legitimate claim for asylum in the context of eroding international human rights standards? Simon Behrman follows with a discussion of “grassroots asylum,” sacred spaces where the laws that criminalize refugees do not apply; while Shikha Silliman Bhattacharjee examines the conditions of those who migrate for employment within a single country, India, workers situated in both a local and a global economy that profits from their exploitation.
In our many text messages to the occupant of the Oval Office, we would ask the President to stop being so angry and think about hope and missed political opportunities. Polish journalist and activist Adam Michnik leads off our cluster on Democracy with his memories of the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. He recounts the wave of joy that swept over Europe as the Soviet Union and its client states stood down, allowing millions of souls to realize their own political destinies — and the decidedly mixed results of that moment. We would encourage the President to think about whistle blowers a little differently than he does. An excerpt from Tim Schwartz’s new book argues that whistleblowing is not “TREASON,” but rather a public service that allows society to debate, not just illegal, but unethical, practices. And finally, we would ask the President to go back in time with us, to before he was elected, and before poor Melania had to spend her days picking out calendar pictures, and listen to a conversation between Andrew Arato and Nancy Fraser about how the stage was set for his victory.
Finally, we would engage the Leader of the Free World in a conversation about work in America. Senior editor Natalia Petrzela starts us off with an essay about fitness professionals, or “fitpros,” who cater to the wealthy in well-appointed clubs, doing work that they are personally committed to – and who are among the most economically precarious workers among us. We follow with an essay by choreographer, writer and performer Stuart Hodes about why dancing is work; and close with Patrick Sheehan’ assertion that the current low unemployment rate – and all employment statistics – are a form of magical thinking.
If we texted the President we would tell him all these things: maybe we would use ALL CAPS, Maybe we would tell him that we were missing his donation to the best little magazine in Greenwich Village, and that it made us SAD. But mostly we would urge him to take a break and read Public Seminar. He might even learn something.
Claire Potter is co-executive editor of Public Seminar and Professor of History at The New School for Social Research. You can tweet with her @TenuredRadical.