Tuesday, November 15, 2016

What Would Gandalf Do?

Eric Grynaviski has a great post at Duck of Minerva using Lord of the Rings to frame the discussion political scientists are having (versus what perhaps we should have) about the election.

Political scientists remind me of Isildur, who refused to throw away the ring when he gained it from Sauron. The political science blogs I regularly read—the Monkey Cage, Political Violence at a Glance, and the Duck of Minerva, for example—have yet to publish any reflections by political scientists about the meaning of the election. The Monkey Cage second post-election post’s “Lesson 1” showed that they forgot they predicted a Trump win but now remember so it’s ok (this is a friendly jab at a colleague who I respect greatly). My bet is there will be a lot of analysis and discussion by political scientists about why Trump won, what he will do and what the effects could be, and how limits on Trump’s use of power might curtail his policy flexibility. At the moment, however, finding ways to make political science relevant by trying to better understand the ring strike me as empty. The first lesson of this election should not be about forecasting.


Instead, political scientists should ask “What would Gandalf do?” One part of the magic of the characters is that they consistently remember their values: Sam and Frodo think about home and hearth, the Dwarves think about their halls of stone, the Elves think about their role in protecting nature and care of the world, and Aragorn remembers a time when the king used a model of rule that relied on autonomy and good government. These reflections on the prospect for a different world with a different politics motivated the characters. 
Political scientists need to think seriously about how to incorporate the study of politics, traditionally conceived as the study about right and justice, into our classrooms, turning them, in part, into fora where we can discuss and debate the justice of mass deportations, sexual violence, racism, policing, and a host of other issues. I also hope the next four years will include more reflection on the nature of political power, the study of electoral reform, and more experimental thinking about alternative ways to think about democratic governance. Using the Trump election as a springboard for inquiry would return us to questions of ethics as central to discussions in political science.

I like this argument, and I am not at all sure I am really doing it. At the moment, I feel like political scientists are focused a lot on who was "wrong" or "right," defined largely in terms of defending one's own predictions. The issue of estimating the Latino vote is downright annoying in this regard, with deep methodological discussions intended solely to prove the other person wrong. It's just academic turf war stuff.

At the same time, thinking about likely futures isn't quite so bad as he says. Latin America is waiting to see what's going to happen, and it makes sense to sort out possible outcomes. I have undocumented students currently protected by DACA, and their lives literally depend on it. So it's not bad to consider what political calculus might be going on.

So let's not ditch consideration of what President Trump might do, but maybe our discussions could break away from the turf wars and include a little more introspection. He's going to make policy that will affect people in very real and sometimes very scary ways, and it should our job to help people understand what's going on. I don't know if that's what Gandalf would do, though we should remember that even he made educated guesses about the future: "But all such places will soon become islands under siege, if things go on as they are going. The Dark Lord is putting forth all his strength.."


  © Blogger templates The Professional Template by Ourblogtemplates.com 2008

Back to TOP