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In the United States, neoliberalism triumphantly ascended to power with the presidency of Ronald Reagan, who forged a new coalition of corporate interests and the evangelical right that was organized around a vision of the market as a sacred institution of American freedom. Latin America served both as a site where communist totalitarianism threatened (the Sandinista revolution and Cuban influence) but also as the launching pad for a marketized globe built upon Free Trade Agreements (beginning in 1994 with NAFTA). Yet the US populist reaction that began with Ross Perot in 1992 and now culminates in the Trump presidency, adopts a radically different vision. Today the border zones with Latin America are multiply blamed for undoing American greatness: for the “browning” of American culture, for the loss of jobs among “deserving” Americans, for growing trade deficits, for violent crime, and even for Islamic terrorism.

Our key questions will be:

  • How did neoliberalism reshape the politics of race and social identity in the United States during the 1990s and 2000s?
  • What relationship did these changes bear to the populist turn?
  • How and why did political rhetoric concerning America’s southern border with Latin American change so decisively within American conservatism?
  • How have the successes of Latin American left populisms affected North America?
  • How did US neoliberalism reconcile the individualist economic rationality that it requires with the conservative nationalism that has become dominant in the Trump era?
  • To what extent were post-2008 movements like the Tea Party (pitted against “corrupt elites”) and the Occupy movement (defending the 99% against the 1%) already incipiently populist, and what role does left populism play today in the US political imaginary (from Bernie Sanders to the “resistance” movement)?
  • What practices have community organizations undertaken to address the material and affective implications of these changes in political rhetoric?