The Chronicle Review

Trump 101

June 19, 2016

This course will explore the phenomenon that is Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. We will take an interdisciplinary approach, gathering insights from history, literature, philosophy, political science, psychology, and beyond. The course will be taught by Jeremy Adelman, Elizabeth Anderson, Jennifer Burns, Robert Greene II, Hans Hansell, Steven F. Hayward, Marc Hetherington, Philip Jenkins, Michael Kazin, Jill Lepore, Harvey Mansfield, Kevin Mattson, Dan McAdams, Wilfred M. McClay, Kim Phillips-Fein, Nancy Rosenblum, Michael Tesler, and Alan Wolfe.



Plato, Republic, Book 8; Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War; Aristotle, Politics, Books 4, 5, 6. These authors consider demagogues to be not accidental evils in democracy but endemic to it. They raise the interesting question of who is to be blamed: the demagogue or the people who elect him. They tend to say the latter. (HM)

The Federalist Papers, 9, 10, 14, 15, 51 (1787-88); Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, Vol. 1, Book 1, chap. 5 (1835). One chief aim of America’s founders was to frustrate the democratic impulse to favor demagogues. With separation of powers and federalism, one demagogue cannot govern alone. (HM)

Edmund Morgan, Inventing the People: The Rise of Popular Sovereignty in England and America (1988). The always searingly brilliant Morgan explains the extraordinary process by which the fiction of the divine right of kings was replaced by the fiction that the people are sovereign, which, as he so nicely puts it, is our fiction, "and it accordingly seems less fictional to us.” (JL)


Carl Schmitt, The Concept of the Political (1927). Schmitt, a law professor in Weimar Germany who joined the Nazi party, argues that the key to politics is to distinguish friends of the people from their enemies. He contends that authoritarian rulers are necessary to defend the people from their enemies, and are justified in disregarding the rule of law in their defense. (EA)

Theodor W. Adorno et al., The Authoritarian Personality (1950). The classic study reveals less about Trump himself than about his supporters, many of whom see him as a savior who will keep them secure in the face of threats from various out-groups — ISIS, immigrants, the forces of modernity. (DM)

Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951). While it quickly became a Cold War must-read, it runs deeper as an excavation of how empire, racial thinking, and nativism cleared the way for scientific brutality and the annihilation of politics — and draws attention to the close links between inequality and antidemocratic movements. (JA)


Philip Roth, The Plot Against America (2004). Roth is often quoted as saying that one cannot write good satire in America because reality will always outdo it. With Trump it has. (AW)

Sinclair Lewis, It Can’t Happen Here (1935). Lewis portrays the rise of an American fascism. It’s certainly not what Trump exemplifies — he is the reverse of ideological — but the book does give a wonderful sense of how discontents find a focus in one individual. (PJ)


Alan Brinkley, Voices of Protest: Huey Long, Father Coughlin, and the Great Depression (1982). Tells the story of two Depression-era figures who stoked the fires of populist outrage and economic crisis to mount a formidable challenge to Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal coalition, and how Roosevelt managed the political threat. One is Louisiana Governor Huey Long, who used a political machine in his home state to mount a bid for national power; the second is Father Coughlin, the famous “radio priest” who showed how a new media technology — syndicated radio — could be used to build a mass political following. (JB)

Robert Penn Warren, All the King’s Men (1946). The story of the populist governor Willie Stark, modeled after Louisiana’s Huey Long. Though the setting is Southern machine politics, not New York celebrity, the charismatic personality, the meat and potatoes of populism — excitement, threats, promises — are vivid. (NR)

Augusto Roa Bastos, I, the Supreme (1974). An allegorical novel about a 19th-century Paraguayan strongman, and a beautifully written meditation on the psychology of absolute power and its limits. (JA)




Michael Kazin, The Populist Persuasion: An American History (1988). Trump is hardly a populist in the mode of William Jennings Bryan or, for that matter, Bernie Sanders. But his put-downs of political and business elites (in which he does not include himself) are in the grand populist tradition. (MK)

Jeffrey A. Bell, Populism and Elitism: Politics in the Age of Equality (1992). A two-time Republican candidate for Senate and longtime conservative activist, Bell predicted that the conflict between left and right would be displaced by a conflict between populists of both wings and elites of both parties. (SH)

Christopher Lasch, The Revolt of the Elites (1995). Wrong about a lot of things, but right about an uncanny number of them, Lasch predicted a democratic crisis resulting from the fact that "elites speak only to themselves," partly because of "the absence of institutions that promote general conversations across class lines." (JL)


Dan T. Carter, The Politics of Rage (1995). The story of George Wallace, a rabid segregationist who became a hero to the Northern white working class in 1968. His political rallies, juiced up on violent rhetoric, had lingering aftereffects. (KM)

Richard Hofstadter, Anti-Intellectualism in American Life (1963). A classic, and an incisive analysis of the deep roots of America’s general resistance to complexity in public life. (KM)

Susan Faludi, Stiffed: The Betrayal of the American Man (1999). Sympathetically explores the disharmony between the masculine ideals of the postwar era and the diminishing prospects for working-class men in the current era. Many of those she writes about could be Trump supporters. (WM)


Jonathan Rieder, Canarsie: The Jews and Italians of Brooklyn Against Liberalism (1985). Charts the rise of a sneering, nasty, anti-liberal politics built around blaming a racial other for the desperation of working-class life in a Brooklyn neighborhood in the 1970s. This is the milieu out of which Trump emerged. (KPF)

Edward G. Carmines and James A. Stimson, Issue Evolution (1989). Demonstrates the roots of the politics that have brought us to Trump. It redefines the major dividing line between the two parties from the size and activism of government to the civil-rights movement — a change that reordered political conflict. (MH)

Daniel T. Rodgers, Age of Fracture (2011). Donald Trump has taken advantage of a fiercely polarized age, which has its origins in the 1960s and 1970s. Rodgers’s book is one of the best to turn to in order to understand the intellectual “fracturing” of America. (RG)


Donald R. Kinder and Cindy D. Kam, Us Against Them (2009). Details our natural tendencies toward ethnocentric thinking and goes on to document its importance in shaping American opinion on a number of issues, including foreign policy and immigration. Each chapter reads like a case study in understanding Trump. (MT)

Charles Murray, Coming Apart (2012); Robert Putnam, Our Kids (2015). Both Murray and Putnam point toward the comprehensive loss of a common life and the heartbreakingly diminished prospects of those born on the wrong side of the socioeconomic gulf. (WM)




Henrik Ibsen, The Master Builder (1893). Halvard Solness is a vain, controlling, and competitive architect and builder — today we might call him a developer. It is all here: sex, fear, madness, jealousy, revenge — just about every dark emotion stirred by Trump’s quest for victory over others. (AW)

Jack Newfield and Wayne Barrett, City For Sale: Ed Koch and the Betrayal of New York (1988). The classic study of the world of cynical deal-making that made Trump. If you want to understand Trump, understand New York City in the era of Big Hair. (PJ)

Leo Braudy, The Frenzy of Renown: Fame and Its History (1986). A classic history of fame and celebrity, the most fitting context for Trump's rise and self-regard. (MK)

Christopher Lasch, The Culture of Narcissism: American Life in an Age of Diminishing Expectations (1979). Lasch traced the roots of America’s propensity for self-absorption to the 1960s and the succeeding decade.  In his own way, Trump is a product of that time. But his narcissism has consequences for our public life that Lasch could never imagine. (AW)


Stephen Watts, The People’s Tycoon (2005). A biography of Henry Ford, another businessman with controversial politics, a knack for the quotable phrase, and a name known to just about every American. (MK)

Elizabeth A. Fones-Wolf, Selling Free Enterprise (1994). Mainstream Republicans and many Fortune 500 types reject Trump as an embarrassment. But for decades, they’ve been selling Americans on the idea that executives — "job creators" — know best what the nation needs. (KPF)

Miriam Greenberg, Branding New York: How a City in Crisis Was Sold to the World (2008). Looks at the transformation of New York City's image after the fiscal crisis of the 1970s and the ways that business executives and business needs were given prime place as the city struggled to rebuild. This is the moment when Trump won his first famous deal (the renovation of the Commodore Hotel), and it's the time when he emerges as a power in city politics; his rise against the backdrop of the troubled city is probably partly what gives him the sense that he might be a savior of the nation now. (KPF)

H. Ross Perot, United We Stand: How We Can Take Back Our Country (1992). The businessman enters politics. Perot’s chaotic campaign of 1992, full of stops and starts, was based on the idea that a successful man who opposed free trade (remember that "giant sucking sound" from Mexico?) could just get into government and "fix" things. (KM)


Marty Cohen, David Karol, Hans Noel, and John Zaller, The Party Decides (2008). The starting point for understanding commentary about the 2016 election. The book provides good background on the nomination process. (HH)

David Menefee-Libey, The Triumph of Campaign- Centered Politics (2000); Robin Kolodny, Pursuing Majorities (1998). Both books provide good detail about the change of party organizations over time in reaction to changes in the electoral system and the nationalization of elections. (HH)


Geoffrey Kabaservice, Rule and Ruin: The Downfall of Moderation and the Destruction of the Republican Party, From Eisenhower to the Tea Party (2011). Understanding Trump means understanding what happened to the once-powerful moderate wing of the GOP. A fascinating history of the collapse of the center in the Republican Party. (RG)

Sarah Palin, Going Rogue (2009). Yes, that’s right, it’s time to treat Sarah Palin as history. The cultivation of celebrity, a tendency to make statements out of impulsiveness rather than reflection, and a fervid populism — these things came together in Sarah Palin’s vice-presidential candidacy in 2008. (KM)

Editor’s Note: We apologize for the absence of works by scholars of color and other marginalized groups. We recognize that these omissions are offensive. Responsibility rests solely with The Chronicle, not the scholars who offered suggestions for the syllabus. We have and will continue to cover issues of race, and we’d like to hear from you. Please write to us at or leave a comment.