Sociology teach-in on Trump at UC-Merced

Faculty allies at UC Merced (with Cheetos.)
Faculty allies at UC Merced (with Cheetos.)

By Zulema Valdez

In the aftermath of a polarizing election where the President-Elect won the electoral vote (Trump: 306; Clinton: 232) but a majority of voters cast their ballot for his opponent (Clinton: 62,523,126; Trump: 61,201,031), some are jubilant, but others are understandably anxious. This anxiety, sometimes mixed with fear and anger, stems largely from the claims and tweets made by the President-Elect in the run-up to the election. These include: building a wall between the United States and Mexico; repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act, also known as ObamaCare, with “something terrific”; “rounding up” and deporting 12 million undocumented immigrants; revamping the Muslim Registry; and opposing marriage equality. Others have decided to take a “wait and see” approach, hoping that President Trump will begin to soften on some of his more extreme positions. Trump’s cabinet and administration picks thus far, however, do not inspire confidence in such an outcome. His selections include a retired marine corps general for Secretary of Defense, a retired marine corps general for Homeland Security, a retired US army general for National Security Advisor, a congressman from Kansas who does not condemn CIA torture techniques and believes that Edward Snowden should be sentenced to death, a former Goldman Sachs executive for Treasury, a billionaire investor for Commerce, an Alabama senator with a history of making racist remarks for Attorney General, a restaurant executive who opposes minimum wage laws for Labor, a staunchly anti-choice congressman for secretary of Health and Human Services, a climate change denier for Environmental Protection Agency, a billionaire proponent of school vouchers and charter schools for Education Secretary, former chairman of the White supremacist, nationalist “alt-right” website, Breibart News, for Chief Strategist, and Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson for Secretary of State. A host of memes have erupted on Twitter and Facebook suggesting other potential picks, including a fox for Henhouse Protection Agency and “El Chapo” to run the D.E.A. On balance, a healthy dose of skepticism (or outright concern) seems warranted.

Faculty at University of California, Merced, a Hispanic-Serving Institute with an undergraduate student population that is 60 percent first-generation college student, 60 percent working-class, and 5 percent undocumented, demonstrated their support to students earlier this month with two actions. First, a diverse set of faculty participated in a tabling event on campus for one week, where two or three “Faculty Allies” on a rotating-basis held informal chats on the election with any student who stopped by the table, over a snack of Cheetos. Second, faculty organized a teach-in to address student questions, provide support, and encourage productive student engagement. They agreed to share the content of their remarks here for Contexts.

Zulema Valdez is in the sociology department at the University of California, Merced.

Whitney Laster Pirtle


Comparing the U.S. healthcare system to other wealthy, Western democracies reveals that our system is exceptional—exceptionally problematic, that is. We have the highest rate of health care expenditures, but we rank among the lowest in terms of health and wellness outcomes.

It comes as no surprise then, that health has been a priority for U.S. presidents for some time. Roosevelt, Truman, and Clinton all attempted to create some national healthcare system but were not successful against large, industry-led, resistance. This makes President Obama’s Affordable Care Act (ACA), which was passed in 2010 and enacted in 2013, a historic feat. Yet, despite its conservative nature, many Republicans, including our President-elect have spoken out against the ACA.

The Affordable Care Act

Before I discuss the proposed healthcare changes under a Trump presidency, I want to briefly overview what the ACA does. Most prominently, the ACA has expanded coverage to 22 million+ Americans, by requiring purchase of coverage (and offering tax subsidies for the poor who have to purchase it). Two other prominent features included prohibiting insurance companies to deny of coverage based on preexisting conditions and guaranteeing coverage for adult children until age 26. In addition, the ACA has, among other things, increased coverage preventive health services; provided tax credits to small employers as incentive to provide coverage; offered monetary enticement for physicians to enter primary care rather than specializing; and created incentives for hospitals to decrease medical errors and readmission.

There are many valid critiques of the ACA, namely that many remain uninsured, individuals still incur high out-of-pocket costs, and its neglect of the out-of-control pharmaceutical industry. But, on the whole, there have been clear benefits to the ACA in terms of costs and access for individuals.

My mother is one such individual that has benefited. She is not the ideal client for insurance companies; she is a breast cancer survivor, and doctors are continuing to monitor her to make sure the potential cancer in her thyroid is not spreading. As a continuously underemployed social worker, she has also not had employer-provided health insurance for the last five years. The ACA has guaranteed that she could receive healthcare. On the downside, her premiums are high; though she makes significantly less money than I do, her monthly premium remains higher than the one I pay to cover myself and my dependents. She does not love the ACA, but she was committed to voting for the candidate that would preserve it, and, in effect, help preserve her health.

Trump’s Promises on Healthcare

While campaigning, Donald Trump repeatedly said he would completely repeal “Obamacare” on Day 1 in office. He has also proposed to: change the tax code to allow individuals to fully deduct all health insurance premiums; allow insurance plans to be sold across state lines, presumably increasing competition; ensure price transparency for medical procedures and other health care costs; expand access to health savings accounts that are tax free; turn Medicaid into block grants for states; and allow medications to be imported, creating more competition in drug pricing.

Considering the lack of details, we can only speculate what this means for healthcare. For instance, creating more tax deductions for health expenses and expanding health savings accounts does help lessen the financial burden of healthcare, but it would primarily only benefit those with high incomes. We aren’t quite sure how the FDA would respond to imported medications. And block grants for Medicaid could potentially reduce the number of recipients because it would no longer have to cover everyone who qualified.

Limits to Trump’s Promises

Despite what was said while campaigning, it is unlikely that Trump will repeal the ACA in its entirety. Doing so would leave 22 million uninsured and even a Republican-majority Congress does not want to leave that many Americans in the wind until a new, comprehensive plan is introduced.

In addition, since being elected, Trump has gone on record for saying he would keep at least two provisions of the ACA: children up to age 26 will be allowed to stay on their parents’ plan and insurance companies will be prevented from denying coverage because of preexisting conditions. Just these two post-election changes actually reveal how little we know, or how little Trump’s administration knows, about what will happen to healthcare. Leaving in place the mandate for insurance companies to cover people with pre-existing conditions, while getting rid of the individual mandate isn’t feasible. Without plans covering the necessary mix of healthy people and people with pre-existing health problems, premiums would rise substantially.

Rather than appealing the ACA, however, it is reasonable to think Congress might pass reconciliation bills to change just parts of the law. Piecemeal changes would likely cause a lot of instability because the ACA is built on interlocking provisions. Perhaps allowing the system to die a slow, complicated death is what they are banking on.

What can we do?

On an individual level, you might want to examine current coverage and think about securing any medicine or procedures sooner rather than later. For instance, more women have considered IUDs because contraceptive care is currently covered by insurance. Preventative health care services, like free diabetes and STD screenings, are also currently covered. If you are factoring in health insurance to the state you live in, it is suggested to do research on what states have historically had good healthcare (like Massachusetts).

As a collective, we might think about adding his nomination for his Secretary of Health and Human Services, Tom Price (a supporter of a full ACA repeal), to list of cabinet positions we would like to block.

Finally, on the ideological level, sociologists have argued that pushback against universal healthcare is related to bias toward taxes, or more specifically, biased against social services geared toward helping the poor and people of color. If we can continue to call out and address biases- implicit or otherwise- we might be able to address healthcare at a structural level.

Whitney Laster Pirtle is in the sociology department at the University of California, Merced

Tanya Golash-Boza

Immigration policy

With the election of Donald J. Trump to the Presidency of the United States, many immigrants and their family members are concerned about their future in this country. How much worse will the United States get with a Trump Presidency?

We have limited information on what Trump will do as President, but we can look at some of his recent proposals to see how likely or feasible they are.

  1. Trump has promised to “build a wall.”

There is already a 700-mile wall/fence along the border. Much of the remaining area where there is not a wall is impassable. Building more walls or fencing is possible, but will have little effect other than being a colossal waste of funds.

  1. Trump has not said he will deport all undocumented immigrants. Instead, he has promised to deport all immigrants with criminal convictions.

It is unclear how he will do this. He could follow Obama’s practices, which have led to an all-time high of deportations of immigrants with criminal convictions. If he does this, we can expect much of the same. Under Obama, most deportations were carried out through cooperation between local police and immigration agents.

An alternative would be for Trump to try and deport immigrants directly, using ICE and Border Patrol agents, instead of or in addition to the police. Trump has promised to triple the number of ICE agents. That would bring them from 5,000 to 15,000 agents. That will take time, but could significantly impact the number of deportations once we have 15,000 ICE agents.

  1. Trump has promised to “end sanctuary cities.”

Trump could threaten to take away federal funding from sanctuary cities, which would likely lead to massive protests. Some cities have already doubled down their efforts to remain sanctuaries in anticipation.

  1. Trump has promised to immediately terminate the Deferred Action to Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

He can, and likely will do this. The most likely scenario is that DACA permits will expire and there will be no avenue to renew them.

  1. Trump has promised to “reform legal immigration to serve the best interests of America and its workers, keeping immigration levels within historic norms.”

It is up to Congress – not the President – to pass laws regarding the number of immigrants that we let into this country. A Republican-controlled Congress could re-haul immigration policy to reduce the number of visas that we issue annually, or change the nature of those visas from family-based to skills-based visas. Immigration reform has been stalled in Congress for the entirety of the Obama administration. The last major overhaul of the legal immigration system happened 50 years ago – in 1965 – so it is probably time for a change.

 Trump has promised to suspend the issuance of visas to any place where adequate screening cannot occur.

This could affect the admission of international students. It is possible for a President to order Consulates to stop issuing visas in certain countries.

  1. Trump has promised to start a program that will register and track people from certain high-risk countries, such as Iran, Syria and Afghanistan.

This could involve the revival of NSEERS – a post 9/11 program where all men over the age of 16 from 25 countries were obliged to register. The program involved the registration of 93,000 Muslim, Arab, and South Asian immigrant men. Although 13,000 were deported after having been found to lack proper immigration papers, not a single one of them was convicted of terrorism. The program failed, bigly.

President Obama will have deported about 3 million people during his administration and it will be challenging for Trump to exceed those numbers. If Trump does exceed those numbers, he will do so by building on the massive deportation machine that President Obama has built. This effort will require a massive expansion in the number of ICE agents, the number of detention beds, and the number of immigration judges – an extremely costly endeavor. If Trump decided to follow through on his proposals, it will be up to Congress to decide whether or not they are willing to appropriate the billions of

Tanya Golash-Boza is in the sociology department at the University of California, Merced. 


Nella Van Dyke

LGBT rights

President Obama and his administration helped advance the rights of LGBT people, both through Executive Orders and through policies at different government agencies, and it is very likely that this progress will be reversed by the Trump administration. Every Trump cabinet pick so far is anti-LGBT, and they are not only somewhat anti-LGBT, they are extremely opposed to LGBT rights. They oppose same sex marriage; legal protections for gay, lesbian, and transgender individuals; and actively support laws that legalize discrimination against gays.

Mike Pence, the incoming Vice President, signed Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which gives businesses the right to discriminate against gay people in the name of religious freedom. He stated recently on a conservative radio show that the Trump administration will roll back the LGBT rights affirmed by the Obama administration. Trump’s pick for the head of Health and Human Services, Tom Price, is a co-sponsor of the federal level version of Indiana’s bill, the First Amendment Defense Act. Proposed Attorney General, Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions, is one of the most conservative and anti-LGBT members of Congress. He has actively opposed same sex marriage and anti-discrimination protections for LGBT people. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and her family donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to anti-same sex marriage efforts. With this cabinet, it is highly likely that LGBT citizens will lose rights over the next four years.

There are a number of ways the Trump administration can reverse protections for LGBT people, and the first two will probably happen fairly quickly. Others are less certain.

  1. Trump will likely reverse President Obama’s Executive Order protecting LGBT people from discrimination in federal jobs or with contractors that work with the federal government. This Order protects LGBT people from getting fired or discriminated against because of their sexuality or gender, and also protects transgender people from differential treatment and lets them use the bathroom they choose.
  2. He will likely reverse policy assuring transgender students equal access and equal protections, so that they have access to bathrooms, locker rooms and other facilities, consistent with their gender, and also so they are protected from violence and have equal access to education.
  3. Trump could reinstate a ban on transgender military service (and a ban on gay people in the military, though this is less likely).
  4. Trump may repeal health care regulations that help LGBT people. Part of the Affordable Care Act protects LGBT discrimination by a health care provider, insurer, or agency involved in the program.
  5. Trump could reverse a rule protecting LGBT people from discrimination in federal housing. Under the Obama administration, Housing and Urban Development policy was changed to explicitly state that LGBT individuals cannot be denied access to HUD-assisted or FHA insured housing on the basis of their sexual orientation, gender identity or marital status.
  6. Congress will try to pass the First Amendment Defense Act, a law that make it legal to discriminate against gays on religious grounds. There is little question that the House will pass it, and President-elect Trump has declared that he will sign it. However, a Democrat filibuster in the Senate could prevent it from getting to Trump’s desk.
  7. What about same sex marriage, you may wonder. Trump believes that same sex marriage should be left to the states, and has said that he will appoint judges to the Supreme Court who oppose same sex marriage. His first appointment will replace Justice Scalia, who opposed same sex marriage, so only additional appointments could alter the Court’s opinion.

We all need to take care of ourselves and stay safe, but this is no time to hide or bury our heads in the sand. We need to speak out as often as we can because we can make a difference. After the passage of Proposition 8 in California, banning same sex marriage, the LGBT rights movement realized they had made a strategic error by using messages that stressed equality and fairness, rather than emphasizing the impact of marriage discrimination on individuals and families. The movement consciously altered strategy to focus on changing public opinion by having LGBT people share their personal stories. This new strategy resulted in a rapid and remarkable change in public opinion – the Pew Research Center reports that we went from the majority of Americans opposing same sex marriage in 2005, to a majority supporting it in 2014. Communication and dialogue can touch people’s hearts and change their minds. We all need to act, telling our stories, engaging in dialogue, and taking action in any way we can.

Nella Van Dyke is in the sociology department at the University of California, Merced.

Irenee R. Beattie

Women’s rights

I regularly teach courses on gender and society, so I was struck by the numerous ways that the 2016 presidential campaign is a “great” teaching tool for demonstrating that misogyny is alive and well in modern America. The Oxford English Dictionary defines Misogyny as “dislike of, contempt for, or ingrained prejudice against women.” Since I don’t have much space, I can barely touch the tip of the iceberg with respect to how this applies to President-Elect Donald Trump. To sum up, he has long talked about women he doesn’t like as “fat,” “ugly,” or “weak.” He also negatively characterizes female biological processes, like menstruation and breastfeeding (which he called “disgusting”). He reduces the women he does like to objects of physical beauty or sexual desire (including his own daughter), such as by rating them on a 1-10 scale. Most troubling, he bragged about how his fame allows him to sexually assault women (the famous “grab them by the pussy” tape), and scores of women came forward both before and after the tape was released to describe the ways that he had assaulted or harassed them.

These statements are important for the culture they create. Like far too many women and men, I am a survivor of sexual assault and workplace sexual harassment. It has been extremely difficult for me (and perhaps some of you too) on a personal level to listen to the hateful language and see that nearly half the voting public was willing to overlook it. For me, this highlights the importance of survivors (and our allies) speaking out against his misogyny (and while we’re at it his racism, xenophobia, homophobia, etc!). We must speak both so that other survivors know that they are not alone and to help create a world where women’s bodies are not routinely objectified and violated by our highest elected official with no recourse. People around us need to understand how damaging his words and actions are to the broader culture: this cannot become the new normal.

Trump has provided relatively limited details on his planned policies, so his perpetuation of a misogynistic culture is an important signal of how is presidency will affect women’s rights. His most clearly stated policy goals involve curtailing women’s reproductive freedoms. Trump proposes ending federal funding for Planned Parenthood, which in many communities is the only source of many services like breast cancer screenings, STI tests, and affordable contraception. Although his position on abortion has changed dramatically over time, Trump now expresses strong opposition to abortion, and he promises to make legislative changes that restrict abortion access. He has also pledged to appoint Supreme Court justices committed to ending legal abortion. Ironically, many health care changes he proposes are likely to increase unintended pregnancies and the demand for abortion by making birth control less available and affordable especially for poor women.

Working women and parents are unlikely to see much forward progress on issues that affect their daily lives under Trump. The United States is the only developed country without paid family leave after a child’s birth or adoption. Trump has called pregnancy “an inconvenience for business” but nonetheless proposes 6 weeks of maternity leave at substantially reduced pay. Certainly, this would be an improvement over the status quo, but it excludes fathers and is far shorter than most countries. This policy may face an uphill battle in the Republican-controlled congress. Trump does not favor government involvement in child care funding (he advocates tax breaks and incentives for businesses to provide it), and he does not support universal pre-Kindergarten. With respect to the persistent gender pay gap, Trump does not favor federal policies but instead urges individual women to “do as good a job” as men in order to be paid fairly, ignoring the structural basis of this problem.

Finally, many of the policies Trump has proposed that are not explicitly related to women’s rights—such as turning Medicare into a voucher program or ending the “Head of Household” tax filing status—will likely have a disproportionately negative effect on women, especially those who are poor. We must critically examine all of the policies his administration puts forth and communicate how they will affect real people, especially poor women. At the same time, we must vehemently resist the culture of misogyny he helps perpetuate. We must speak out using both our factual knowledge and the emotional power of our personal experiences to counteract his narrative and reduce his damage to people’s lives.

Irenee R. Beattie is in the sociology department at the University of California, Merced.

Final Thoughts

A progressive social movement, or groups of individuals working collectively for a common purpose, can affect change by disrupting business as usual and forcing powerful people – on the left or the right — to respond to calls for equality and justice. If you were unhappy with the results of the election and the blatant racism, sexism and homophobia that it exposed, then we encourage you to take action. Whether it’s by writing an Op Ed or painting a mural, challenging the racist in line at the grocery store, calling your Senator, donating to an organization, or taking the next step and organizing a protest in your community, we can all do something. As Aldon Morris finds in his study of the civil rights movement in Birmingham, Alabama, and as recent protests at Standing Rock against the Dakota Access Pipeline (#NoDAPL) demonstrate, when individuals organize into social movements and take action using a range of strategies, they can achieve success. –ZV

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