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A New Holiday

On the fourth Monday of every year, U.S. citizens celebrate President’s Day, but this year many renamed the holiday and participated in ‘Not My President’s Day’ rallies. This ‘not my president’ sentiment has reverberated throughout the nation since Trump’s unexpected win in November, though it is difficult to discern what people mean when they echo the phrase.

The New York Times published an op ed. in January entitled, “Not My President, Not Now, Not Ever”, in which the author wrote: “Mr. Trump isn’t my president. I don’t mean it emotionally; I mean it literally. It’s not sloganeering; it’s observable truth. Mr. Trump has no intention of representing me, my family, the people I care about, or the majority of Americans… It is a stretch to call him anyone’s president but his own.”

Kaylynn Mayo ‘17, however, views the sentiment a bit differently.

“I see it as more of a personal statement,” Mayo said, “in which people are trying to express the idea that everything he says and does shouldn’t represent what the values of the U.S. are.”

Some organizers of the Chicago “Not My President’s Day” rally went on record saying that they do recognize Trump’s legitimacy and that the rally’s intent was to protest his policies.

The statement’s purpose evidently varies for different people, and so do its predicted effects. Those who attended  the rallies appeared to believe in the statement’s efficacy, but some Haverford students are unconvinced.

“[The “Not My President” sentiment] makes things even more divisive than they were beforehand,” said Natalie Jortner ‘18.  “Any sort of activism against Trump or against that ideology is going to be divisive. [However,] it is worth it to be divisive when it’s productive, but if you’re just saying something that is denying the truth I’m not sure it’s helpful.”  

Even though many people do not intend to assert that Trump is actually not the president by using the phrase, Jortner’s concerns point to the power of rhetoric.

This caution regarding the way the statement may be perceived is an issue the co-heads of Alliance of Latin American Students (ALAS) spoke about as well. The three spoke only for themselves, not ALAS as a whole, but they too shared concerns about the effectiveness of the phrase.

One student fears that the phrase “plays into the hands of people who think that liberals have become too sensitive,” said Kerry Rodriguez ‘18.   “I sympathize with the people who say this. I think there are a lot of emotions behind it.”

The co-heads agreed that the phrase made some sense right after the election when emotions were high, and frankly many were in shock, but argue that, in senior Rafael Moreno’s words, “now it’s about figuring out how you deal with what the president is attempting to do.”

Moreno also believes that short, concise phrases, especially in the age of social media, can be really powerful tools to unify large groups and bring their attention to a particular issues, like in the Black Lives Matter movement. However, the particular “not my president phrase” is not cutting it for him and his counterparts.

“I feel excluded by the phrase,” stated Rodriguez. “I need a new phrase.”

Screen Shot 2017-03-28 at 12.09.33 AM
Graphic by Jesse Lamworth

Despite the perceived divisiveness and inadequacy of the phrase, it brought together many across the country on Feb. 20. Mayo alludes to the idea that these types of demonstrations may be exactly what the proponents of the phrase are looking to instigate.

“I think in a way it can unify us. At the Women’s March and other marches I’ve been to, people had so many different cheers and chants that weren’t necessarily connected, but they just showed different issues that people have with Trump,” said Mayo. For her, it has a similar ability to express broad dissatisfaction to bring in many different groups of people.

While the phrase does not unify everyone, and even alienates some, Sergio Diaz ‘17 said that people do tend to find excuses to problematize any type of phrase in an anti-intellectual way.

“It’s an age where people don’t want to know the facts or find the truth in the matter.”

If we are in an age of anti-intellectualism and disregard for the truth, this could mean that activists either need to choose their words very deliberately, or that activists have the liberty of using phrases that capture the concerns of many without worrying about what their opponents think.

“Useful change can only happen when we realize what we’re dealing with,” said Rodriguez.
And perhaps anti-Trump folks do not quite know what they are dealing with, considering we are only a couple months or so into Trump’s presidency. Perhaps only time will tell whether or not rephrasing the issue may bring together more or fewer people.

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