This Viral Trump Syllabus Will Help You Understand How the Mess Was Made

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Photo: Steve Pope/Getty Images

Here’s a sentence that would seem absurd four years ago: On January 20, 2017, Donald Trump will become the president of the United States. Given that this is our actual reality, Americans need to come to grips with it. To do that, it helps to have context. And that’s where a syllabus (yes, a syllabus!) that’s bouncing around the Internet comes in.

Compiled by historians N. D. B. Connolly and Keisha N. Blain, Trump Syllabus 2.0 was published back on Public Books in June, as a corrective to a mock college class syllabus in Chronicle of Higher Education that omitted, in the author’s eyes, “the critical subjects of racism, sexism, and xenophobia on which Trump has built his candidacy.” It’s currently the most-read post on Public Books, so much so that it’s bringing down the site. There’s good reason: Just reading over the syllabus itself clues you into the broad cultural forces that Trump harnessed to bum-rush the GOP and then seize the presidency. (For what it’s worth, I spotted it on the Twitter of Eric Klinenberg, the NYU sociologist who wrote Modern Romance with Aziz Ansari).

The 15-week course traces the many lines of Trump As Phenomenon, starting with “‘Trumpism’s’ Antecedents,” venturing into “Misogyny, Sexism, and Shaming the Female Body,” “Violence, Authoritarianism, and Masculinity,” and ending with “History in Trump’s America” (required reading: The Way We Never Were: American Families and the Nostalgia Trap, Basic Books, 1992). The primary sources, like Barry Goldwater’s “Extremism in the Defense of Liberty Is No Vice” speech from the Republican National Convention in 1964, are illuminating; as are the multimedia selections like Ken Burns’s The Central Park Five documentary and American History X. Each section featured an epigraph courtesy of the man himself: “Blood coming out of her … wherever,”I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and not lose any voters,” and “The Republicans … have to get tougher. This is too tough to do it alone. But … I think I’m going to be forced to.” Taken together, reading the syllabus is like getting an aerial view of Trumpland.

It’s reassuring, in a time like this, to see scholarship laid out with such thoughtful thoroughness, and it underscores that, yes, Trump is one powerful man, riding great currents of history. So head to Public Books for the full thing.