IFC Seminar Examines “Trumpism”

The St. Olaf College Institute for Freedom and Community hosted a Faculty Development Seminar at the end of July to examine “Trumpism and Its Critics.”

The seminar, which was also supported through funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, brought St. Olaf faculty members together to discuss Trumpism in a setting that encouraged well-informed, wide-ranging discussion and debate.

Prior to the seminar, faculty members read several books provided by the Institute for Freedom and Community: Tears We Cannot Stop by Michael Eric Dyson, The Populist Explosion by John B. Judis, Achieving Our Country by Richard Rorty, and White Working Class by Joan C.Williams. Faculty members also read several articles by renowned experts who have participated in previous Institute events, such as New America fellow Michael Lind, and those who will be on campus this fall, such as political theorists Danielle Allen and Peter Berkowitz.

The questions the seminar addressed included: What do observers mean when they speak of “Trumpism” as a normative or political perspective? What empirical conditions have given rise to Trumpism as a political phenomenon? What are the strengths or weaknesses of Trumpism as a normative perspective?

“Needless to say, these are enormously contentious questions that generate at times more discursive heat than light, but the seminar aimed to address them in a spirit of open-mindedness, mutual respect, and civil exchange,” says St. Olaf Professor of Religion and Philosophy Edmund Santurri, who serves as the Morrison Family Director of the Institute for Freedom and Community.

St. Olaf Assistant Professor of Economics Tom Bernardin participated in the seminar, which he says provided an insightful look into the current political moment.

“We had terrific conversations about the nature of populism, considering both its left and right versions,” he says. “I also particularly enjoyed our discussions of the rise of Trump in the context of competing notions of racial and national identity.”

St. Olaf Instructor in Spanish Molly Tun says reading the seminar book White Working Class: Overcoming Class Cluelessness in America helped her realize that our social terrain cannot be boiled down to politics — left or right, liberal or conservative.

“Oftentimes the tensions and conflicts we face are actually related to our unwillingness to explore realities different from our own, especially socioeconomic differences,” she says. “Being aware of the many ways in which we are different from one another can actually help de-polarize politics, which in turn makes the political process a more effective means of negotiating between one another.”

The seminar continues a communal discussion of “Trumpism” initiated by four Institute for Freedom and Community events during the 2016-17 academic year. These events included an October panel discussion on ‘Who’s in Your Wallet? Hamilton, Jackson, Tubman, and the Presidential Election; a November lecture by Larry Bartels titled Democracy for Realists and the 2016 Presidential Election; a January lecture by Justin Gest on Trump and the White Working Class: The Politics of a New Minority?; and a lecture by Amy E. Black on Evangelicalism and Politics in the Trump Era: Definitions and Debates that was part of the Symposium on Religious and Political Disagreement.

“I enrolled in the seminar because I wanted to know more about what the election of Donald Trump means for political and cultural life in the U.S., and because questions on contemporary politics often arise in my ethics classes,” says St. Olaf Professor of Religion Douglas Schuurman. “The seminar provided varied perspectives and spirited discussion that enriched my understanding of ‘Trumpism and its Critics.’”