The French Review of American Studies (RFEA)
CFP – RFEA special issue – early 2020
Greatness and Liberties in Critical States
This collection of theme-based papers entitled “America’s Choice: Greatness and Liberties in Critical States”proposes to examine and assess the Trump doctrine “America first: restoring and preserving its greatness” at the mid-term of the Trump administration. We will base our analysis on the results of the November 2018 by-elections and mid-term elections. Based on this data and the study of certain more specific fields, the impact of the organized dismantling of the Voting Rights Act (1965) will be assessed, together with the consequences of the redrawing of the boundaries of certain constituencies. How will the questioning of the right to vote and the readjustment of constituencies—to take account of demographic change—affect turnout, and particularly that of minorities, which is always lower at mid-term than for the presidential election? Will the Republican Party suffer a historic rout? Is it not caught between the omnipresence of the President and the hostility displayed by some of the majority’s elected representatives towards his ultra-nationalistic line and his leadership? What campaign strategy will the Trump administration opt for to enable it to keep hold of its majority in Congress? What conclusions will the Grand Old Party draw from the election results, both nationally and in key states, for the presidential election? Our thematic analysis will also aim to (re-)define and articulate the notions of “greatness” and of “freedom” to determine how Donald Trump’s presidency has revived the threat of social upheaval with the emergence of new modes of citizen protest and engagement (#ProtectTransTroops, #MeToo, #NeverAgain, #MarchForOurLives). To what extent may it be said that the restoration of the greatness of America is achieved to the detriment of the demands and the progress made by certain minority groups? In reviving the blatant strategies of erasure and invisibilisation, Donald Trump’s presidential method inevitably rests on chaos and distraction (Jean-Éric Branaa, Trumpland : Portrait d’une Amérique divisée, p.125), aimed in particular at undermining his predecessor’s political legacy.
The greatness and elevation of the presidential function as embodied by Trump have undeniably been clouded by his refusal to stick to “political correctness” by contravening more or less flagrantly the unifying principles of civil religion. In his official tributes to veterans, Trump constructs his presidential image by alternating barely overdone, respectable dignity and sincerity, and venomous verbal jousting to attack his detractors at the slightest opportunity. John McCain, the Khan family and the widow of the black sergeant David Johnson have all thus incurred Donald Trump’s wrath. His lack of compassion did not go unnoticed either when he threw toilet rolls at the inhabitants of Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria. The body language used by the president is the subject of numerous comments, particularly on the web, which oscillate between mockery, tension, interrogation and indignation. Contributions in the field of semiology will be particularly welcome.
As an unpredictable, much-parodied president, Trump masters the art of arrogance, staging and hence the strings of “show” politics so as to deliberately become undecodable by anyone resorting to the traditional communication channels used in the different circles of power. By injecting codes borrowed from reality TV (“You’re fired!”) and by his exclusive use of Twitter, he strategically occupies the media stage to dictate the agenda and impose a frenetic pace both on his staff and on journalists. He manages to deny the slowing down of certain reforms by resorting to artificial accelerations to divert attention and does not hesitate to expose himself publicly in dismissing his collaborators, constantly making shock announcements and rejecting outright the accusations he is subjected to in his various “affairs”. Trump tries to pass himself off as a victim of the system through an emotional approach to communication in order to elicit outrage among his followers and thus consolidate his electoral base. To what extent is Trump taking over and reinventing the cult of personality by deliberately lowering himself to the level of the anonymous masses in their relationship to conflict? How have lobbyists adapted to his style of communication so to be able to keep weighing on the political agenda?
There are also bodily issues, latent as they are, that have marked the beginnings of this administration. In The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump, prominent psychiatrists and psychologists claim that the President may be suffering from mental illness. His mode of government is claimed to be dictated by his impulsiveness, recklessness and paranoia, which are in danger of compromising national and international security. It is in this very specific context that Donald Trump’s critics are attempting to have him pronounced as “mentally unfit” by appealing to the 25th amendment (section 4) to get him removed from office. This approach is unlikely to succeed, but it has the merit of raising questions about the paradoxical relationship between presidential greatness marked by outrageousness, and the principle of instability and uncertainty (Branaa, p.244).
In their essay How Democracies Die (2018), Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt (political scientists and professors at Harvard) warn us about the potential threat posed to American democracy by this presidency, on the basis of a number of identification criteria that they claim corroborate the thesis that Trump is a danger for a whole system. We will cite just two of them: the legitimacy of any opposition (“mutual tolerance”) and the non-respect of democratic norms in the exercise of power (“forbearance”). As regards Robert Mueller’s investigation into suspicions of collusion with Russia and James Comey’s resounding revelations, can the (guilty?) resistance / silence on the part of the Republican-dominated Congress be accounted for solely by blind opportunism with respect to long-term ideological stakes concerning the republican identity? To what extent has the President’s style of leadership reinvented itself and adapted to the institutional constraints of the system of checks and balances, faced as he is with the predictability of the Congress on the one hand and with the unpredictability of the Supreme Court on the other? It should be noted that the last conservative judge Trump appointed, Neil Gorsuch, clearly opposed the president’s migration policy by joining forces with some of the progressive judges. It should also be remembered that the president has personally engaged in a sensation-seeking crusade against what he calls “fake news”, thereby questioning the freedom of the press and the reliability of journalistic investigations. His untimely accusations against the “committed” media and the two majority parties also demonstrate the president’s difficulty in accepting the criticism and contradiction that lie at the heart of the democratic pact. These all-out attacks are also symptomatic of his presidential style and his hallmark as if he were seeking to destroy bipartisanship. In this context, how then does “greatness” allow the president to show a certain form of authoritarianism or, conversely, how does the greatness of democracy cause him to suffer a number of setbacks? We will try to pay particular attention to the militaristic culture of the South and the way in which the Sovereignty Movement (“the Tenther Movement”) has positioned itself under the Trump presidency through the mediatization of its Southern muses. In this hyper masculine presidency, what place do Melania and Ivanka Trump, the “first two” ladies in the White House, occupy?
In the face of this resurgence of conservatism, contributors should seek to question the durability of the economic and social successes achieved by the President. To what extent has he restored the dignity and freedom of speech of a fringe of his betrayed and weakened voters? The latter have constantly denounced the excesses of capitalism, the moral decadence of society and the untimely meddling of Washington DC. Can any credible political alternatives be envisaged to somehow reconcile a deeply fractured America?
Submissions may include case studies and specific examples or may adopt a comparative approach addressing the following areas:
– Electoral campaigns
– Cultural Studies
– Civil rights and protest movements
– Advocacy / activism
– Free press / media
– Religion(s) and religious freedom
– Democracy and culture wars
– Justice and/or checks and balances
– Regression and/or progress for women’s equality / minority rights
– Feminism and/or women’s quest for power
– Liberalism and economic freedom
– White nationalism
– Foreign policy and/or « America first »
Special issue guest editor:
Anthony Castet, Université de Tours
A 500-word abstract in English along with a short biographical notice should be sent to Anthony Castet () by August 2, 2018.
Notification of acceptance will be given by September 30, 2018.
The selected articles should be turned in by July 1, 2019 and should not exceed 30,000 signs (inclusive of footnotes and spaces). They will then go through the peer-reviewing process before publication (January 2020).
Organizer: Anthony Castet