On Wednesday, October 26, the Tang Teaching Museum and the Skidmore Republicans hosted Teaching Trump, a faculty-led panel in which five Skidmore professors tackled Donald Trump’s candidacy and its place in the classroom. Professors Jennifer Delton of the History department, Andrew Linder of the Sociology department, Christopher Mann of the Political Science department, and Sheldon Solomon of the Psychology department made up the panelists, while Pat Oles of the Social work department, served as the moderators.
The panel started off with Professor Oles asking each professor how they view Trump’s candidacy. Delton commented on how her colleges would declare Ronald Reagan insane, irrational, and dangerous, similar to some of the concerns that Trump’s critics raise. Delton brought up the idea of the forgotten man, which in today’s world refers to the white working class and is described as poor, struggling and hard working in a world that is changing and leaving them behind. They have become Trump’s main constituency because of how Trump’s campaign promises to improve conditions for them, similar to how the campaigns of Andrew Jackson, Franklin Roosevelt, and William Jennings Bryan made similar promises to their voters.
Professor Linder brought two perspectives to Teaching Trump. As an educator, Linder believes that courses should reflect a professor’s teaching and students should trust the faculty to be intellectually honest. When it comes to opinions, Linder describes them as overrated and believes that by analyzing the situation, a professor is doing their job well. Teaching Trump is described as a challenge because of his character, bravado, and ego. On the other hand, as a sociologist, Linder agrees with Delton in the fact that the Trump campaign brings attention to the forgotten man. To Linder, Trump’s anti-immigration rhetoric combines with the forgotten man’s broken American dream. By imagining the American dream as a reward at the end of a long line that the white working class stood in line for while immigrants are cutting that line and pushing the white working class back, Linder explains why Trump appeals to the white working class.
Professor Mann focused on how Trump’s campaign is unconventional, in terms of his campaign funding and media strategies. However, Professor Mann also emphasized Trump’s sexism. The fact that it is constantly brought up in the form of accusations of sexual misconduct against Trump is troubling, especially when it is considered that Trump’s supporters do not find his rhetoric alarming.
Professor Solomon based his argument on the idea that in times of historical conflict, people are more attractive to charismatic leaders. His research on mortality has raised questions about the psychological conditions that are conducive to Trump’s support. In a study conducted in 2004 by Solomon, voters who were reminded of their own mortality were more supportive of President Bush’s policies. Similarly, whenever their own mortality was brought up, people grew more supportive of Trump. Additionally, people became more hostile towards an indicated out-group and more supportive of the policies they feel would make them safe.
After introducing each of their own perspectives on the election, Oles proceeded to ask the panelists questions. Trump’s use of Twitter was discussed; the panelists believe his use of this media form causes people to accept his ideas as the truth. Alternatively, devoting attention, cognitive resources, and motivation can be ways to debunk these ‘truths.’ Trump’s frequent use of Twitter prevents fact checking due to the rate at which he posts.
Professor Oles then allowed students to ask questions. When asked if Trump’s rhetoric normalizes negative behaviors, Professor Linder stated that the increased antagonism of these campaigns brings focus to racial and cultural dynamics. Similarly, Professor Delton stated that in the context of race, people understand that there is a problem and are now forced to take sides. Professor Solomon mentioned climate change, explaining that it should cause more concern among voters that neither candidate has addressed it in full.
Teaching Trump was a conversation that reflected the current political climate. Regardless of whether or not Donald Trump wins the upcoming presidential elections, his unconventional candidacy reflects America’s division on a variety of topics. Although the panel could have been a bit longer, it served as a necessary part of the conversation that needs to continue because it may not be the last time someone with similar ideology to Trump could run for public office.