Co-authored by N.D.B. Connolly and Keisha N. Blain*
On June 19th, the Chronicle of Higher Education ran a web version of a mock college syllabus its editors called “Trump 101.” In light of its needed revision, we have elected to call it “Trump Syllabus 1.0.”
With Trump 1.0, the Chronicle’s editors and its contributors sought to explore the deep historical, political, and even psychological roots of Donald Trump’s political success during the 2016 Presidential campaign. It borrowed its form– a public syllabus–from #Fergusonsyllabus, #Charlestonsyllabus, and #Blkwomensyllabus (to name just a few), which each pulled from a broad audience on social media and marshaled the thought-work of scholars to help mobilize political and intellectual responses to contemporary challenges, such as police brutality, racial terrorism, or sexism and racism directed at black women. Unlike these earlier crowd-sourced syllabi, the Chronicle’s Trump Syllabus was not intended to mobilize a political or intellectual response. And, rather than drawing from a broad web-based audience, it drew its contributors from a narrow crowd of pre-selected experts.
The results were predictably unacceptable. Trump Syllabus 1.0 suffered from a number of egregious omissions and inaccuracies. Not a single of the recommended readings explored the contemporary racial and gender inequalities the Trump campaign has exploited. The syllabus failed to include the works of any scholars of color, LGBTQ intellectuals, or other marginalized groups. And given racism’s relationship to capitalism, contributors, in ignoring the work of scholars of color, also ignored the broad political economy that gave rise to “Trumpism.”
Perhaps most surprisingly, Trump Syllabus 1.0 failed even to acknowledge its indebtedness as a form to earlier efforts at crowd-sourced, politically mindful pedagogy. Most fundamentally, black intellectual labor created the crowd-sourced mock course; it thus stood responsible for Trump 101’s very existence as a syllabus. There was also #Trumpsyllabus, started by the Miller Center’s Nicole Hemmer, which took off in March 2016. The point of that exercise was to interrogate explicitly the historical roots of Trump’s popularity among white voters. Robin Morris created a subsequent website, highlighting some of the key reading suggestions, further advancing the reach of scholars to make sense of and contextualize Donald Trump’s political successes. Each of these forbearers to Trump 101 went unacknowledged in the Chronicle’s feature, however.
By erasing the history of non-white scholarship, non-white political commentary on Trump, and its own history as a form meant for teaching, the “Trump 101” syllabus failed to contextualize Donald Trump’s rising political influence and became instead an extension of the racism that has come to define much about Trump’s presidential campaign.
Within 24 hours of its online publication, we joined countless others – scholars and teachers – who began protesting the release of Trump 101. We worked together with Chad Williams, Stephen G. Hall, and Leah Wright Rigueur to create a public response letter to the Chronicle (June 23, 2016). Immediately following the release of the letter, we extended a public call to scholars to help construct a revamped Trump Syllabus (“Trump Syllabus 2.0”) that more accurately explains, in the words of the Chronicle’s piece, the “phenomenon of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.” As evidence of scholars’ initial outrage and their subsequent commitment to Trump Syllabus 2.0, over 300 people signed the open letter to the Chronicle and over 100 scholars offered recommendations for the new syllabus.
While we could not possibly include every suggestion, we selected what represents some of the best works that we believe shed light on Donald Trump’s political ascendancy as a product of American racism, sexism, nativism, and imperialism. In Trump Syllabus 2.0, educators and members of the general public will find a wealth of readings and resources to better understand the past and present conditions that allowed Trump to seize electoral control of a major American political party.