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Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life

The Ethics of Citizenship in the Trump Era



At our final lunch colloquium of the year, Boisi Center interim director Erik Owens spoke about the oppositional politics at the center of the new ethics of citizenship in the Trump era. Owens sketched two prevailing visions of citizenship that derive from liberal and civic republican political traditions, noting the inclinations of the latter toward protecting individual rights, and the former toward fostering collective self-government.

erik owens

He argued that President Trump is promoting, implicitly and explicitly, an exclusive vision of citizenship driven by the binaries of trust/fear, popular/elite, chaos/control, patriotism/globalism, and that “America First” is a rejection of so-called “global citizenship” that frequently animates conversations work for human rights. Some of the most popular responses to Trump’s civic vision have been satirical or  despairing, and some resistance movements have failed to offer any constructive vision. Owens argued that we ought to nourish the latent strain in oppositional politics that offers a more generative vision of human flourishing and inter-relationality, through conceptions of solidarity and the common good.

The ensuing discussion considered voting, impediments to the common good, political compromise, and the limits of “global citizenship.”


Photos by MTS Photography