Donald Trump is a racist and misogynist, running one of the most successfully racist and misogynist campaigns for national office in US history (perhaps second only to Andrew Jackson, who in 1828 made Indian Removal, a cause he long championed, a major campaign promise). To make sense of Trumpism, and to put Trump in his historical context, The Chronicle of Higher Education asked a mostly white group of scholars to suggest readings for a syllabus for a mock course in Trump Studies. They returned a syllabus that was all-white in composition—not just in that the primary authors of the books selected contained no people of color but the books themselves largely avoided America’s colonial- settler, chattel-slavery, and racist-imperial history.
The response from scholars—many of whom participated in a similar, uncredited project putting together the much more critical “Charleston syllabus” (which is maintained by the African American Intellectual History Society) and “Ferguson syllabus”—has been scathing. As the historian Charles McKinney put it, “An allegorical novel about a 19th-century Paraguayan strongman” made the #TrumpSyllabus. But Cedric Robinson didn’t. Or Angela Davis.” Charles Murray’s 2012 Coming Apart is on the CHE syllabus—not as a primary text that helps illustrate the pervasiveness of racism in American social science but as legitimate book with a reasonable normative standpoint that is supposed to help us explain Trump.
Nathan Connolly, a colleague at NYU, was among the first to raise an objection. Connolly, whose own book, A World More Concrete: Real Estate and the Remaking of Jim Crow South Florida, should be the starting point to grapple with the kind of toxic relationship between development, racism, and property that spawned the likes of Trump, wrote the following in the CHE comment section:
Respectfully, this syllabus offers a disgraceful example of white methodological myopia. 1) There are no books by people of color. 2) The entire syllabus fails to grapple with the actual experience of Trumpism being endured by subalterns. 3) Dan Carter’s work is great, but there’s a broad and rich literature on white popular sovereignty, the racial contract, the dangers presented by non-white political gains (like, y’know, a two-term black president), and the political economy of so-called “backlash” politics and “color-blind” racism, written by historians, anthropologists, literary critics, sociologists AND pundits. The disregard for those catching hell under deportation politics, Islamophobia, racism, and sexism, becomes even more evident through glib references to “big hair” or the elevation of ghost-written works by Palin and H. Ross Perot. At best, these documents are little more than superficial (and arguably cynical) expressions of deeper political and economic transformations that, again, have a literature. At worst such titles serve as filler to pad a syllabus that suffers from profound racial illiteracy. I’ve already been castigated by some of my colleagues and professor-friends for not calling this what it is, so I won’t make the same mistake here. This syllabus is racism. Intended or not, this document offers sad testimony to the ongoing segregation of American political history, and is far less an interrogation of racism than an artifact of racism itself.