cw: Sexist Language
by Madeline Brown
Recently, the University of Puget Sound chapter of fraternity Phi Delta Theta has produced a new series of apparel for its members. One t-shirt design in particular includes the phrase, “Make UPS Great Again”, a reference to the Donald Trump presidential campaign slogan. Upon hearing of this t-shirt design I was initially stunned and confused. I was confused because I tend to assume that most people on the UPS campus have similar political leanings as myself. And also because I assume that, being a socially progressive community, everyone is equally conscious of the offensive and oppressive nature of Trump’s political platform. Whether the shirt is meant as joke or a serious political statement, I would like to inform the fraternity, since they clearly do not see it for themselves, what “Make America Great Again” means for someone other than the white middle-class heterosexual male. Further, the purpose of this post is to inform the fraternity of how supporting Trump, either as a joke or political stance, creates a threatening atmosphere within the UPS campus community. This is not intended to condemn their actions, but to support a dialogue surrounding the issue.
Though I will address how Trump’s dialogue can be threatening for both non-white and LGTBQ communities, this post will predominantly focus on his sexist discourse due to my personal experience as a white functionally heterosexual female and inability, therefore, to speak to other experiences of oppression. The most recent example of Trump’s racist attitude presented itself during this year’s first presidential debate. While attempting to respond to the question of how to improve race relations, Trump came out in full support of the stop and frisk policy implemented in New York City: “stop-and-frisk had a tremendous impact on the safety of New York City. Tremendous beyond belief. So when you say it has no impact, it really did. It had a very, very big impact.” Not only did Trump ultimately deny that the policy was declared unconstitutional when questioned. He also denied that stop-and-frisk functioned as a method of racial profiling that targeted African American and Hispanic men. Further, by supporting this unconstitutional measure, Trump is in essence supporting institutional racism.
Similar to supporting racist policy, Trump is also quoted supporting measures that would discriminate against the LGBTQ community. Specifically, Trump has pledged to support the First Amendment Defense Act (FADA): “If Congress considers the First Amendment Defense Act a priority, then I will do all I can to make sure it comes to my desk for signatures and enactment…” Presented as an act supporting religious liberty, FADA would “effectively legalize anti-LGBTQ discrimination across the board, including among employers, businesses, landlords and healthcare providers, as long as they claim to be motivated by a firmly held religious beliefs.” (Jeff Taylor, LGBTQ Nation). Moreover, Trump’s political platform is both offensive and threatening to communities that are already counted among oppressed demographics, as the policies he supports would retract the rights of millions of non-white and non-cis/hetero individuals. In addition, Trump’s slogan “Make America Great Again,” being symbolic of his presidential campaign, is also representative of his platform and policies.
Therefore, Phi Delt, using the slogan on fraternity shirts, in effect demonstrates support for the racist, homophobic, and transphobic policies the slogan stands for. It is also worth noting that even if the use of the slogan on t-shirts is meant as a joke, and not done in support of the discrimination of oppressed populations, the fraternity is then dismissing the oppression people are experiencing by ignoring the policies the slogan represents.
In addition to his blatant racism and discrimination of LGBTQ individuals, Trump’s statements and policy are also threatening towards women. Specifically acknowledging Trump’s blatant sexism in both his conduct and policy, the following is a relatively small compilation of sexist remarks made by Trump during his time on the public stage:
“You know, it doesn’t really matter what [the media] writes as long as you’ve got a young and beautiful piece of ass.” — From an interview with Esquire in 1991. (Rappeport, The New York Times)
“Can you imagine that, the face of our next president?! I mean, she’s a woman, and I’m not supposed to say bad things, but really, folks, come on. Are we serious?”— From an interview with Rolling Stone in 2015. (Paul Solotaroff, Rolling Stone)
“There has to be some form of punishment,” he told MSNBC, referring to women who would seek to defy the abortion ban. (“Hardball with Chris Matthews,” MSNBC)
“It’s certainly not groundbreaking news that the early victories by the women on ‘The Apprentice’ were, to a very large extent, dependent on their sex appeal.” — How To Get Rich, 2004
“26,000 unreported sexual assaults in the military, only 238 convictions. What did these geniuses expect when they put men & women together?” (@realDonaldTrump, Twitter)
Given the nature of the above quotes, they reveal that Trump is not a supporter of gender equality. What is especially striking, even amidst his disheartening objectification of the female body and discredit of female accomplishment, is his complete disregard of sexual violence in the final quote. As it stands, public spaces are already gendered in a manner that oppresses women. The threat of sexual violence at night in outdoor public areas continues to be a very real experience for women. As he demonstrates in the above quote, Trump believes that sexual violence is a natural consequence of male/female interaction and proximity. By wearing the t-shirts, Phi Delt either also support Trump’s position on sexual violence, or (if joking) they are, by making light of the issue, dismissing the experience of victims of sexual violence. This is an especially concerning issue considering 1 in 5 women are raped during their four years in undergraduate universities (National Sexual Violence Resource Center, 2015). Though they have the right to freely express their political perspectives, Phi Delta Theta seems indifferent to the fact that, at least in terms of the University of Puget Sound, sexual violence is a serious offence that continues to occur in this community. In addition, considering the reputation fraternities hold nationwide as perpetrators of sexual violence and harassment, Phi Delta Theta should be particularly wary to support any dialogue that defends such acts, as Trump’s campaign slogan does.
I would like to reiterate that this post is not intended to condemn the actions of Phi Delta Theta, but support a dialogue surrounding the message of the phrase “Make UPS Great Again”. My purpose was also to inform the fraternity of how the use of Trump’s slogan, either as a joke or political stance, creates a threatening atmosphere within the UPS campus community. I do not believe that Phi Delta Theta means to support discriminatory policies. However, through theparody of Trump’s slogan, the fraternity creates an atmosphere that is hostile to the non-white, non-male, and non-cis/hetero individuals on the UPS campus. By informing the fraternity of this perspective, I ultimately hope to encourage a dialogue of awareness and inclusivity that I believe is better representative of the university as a whole.