How can social science help make sense of the current conjuncture? More precisely, what insights from sociology, political science, and economics are most important for understanding contemporary US politics and the rise of Trump? Last summer, Connolly and Blain posted the “Trump Syllabus 2.0” at Public Books, a wonderful resource for understanding the roots of Trump’s victory in the GOP. That list focused primarily, though not exclusively, on history and historical social science and covered essential topics from the white power movement to the links between violence, authoritarianism, and masculinity. My goal here is to offer a kind of sequel to that syllabus, one that focuses on works of recent social science that shed the most light on the cultural, economic, and political transformations that collectively constitute our present predicament. Any such list is necessarily partial and eclectic, especially when I venture far from my own areas of expertise, so I welcome suggestions for additional topics and specific readings in the comments.
Week 1: How surprising was a GOP win? How surprising was Trump’s win?
This week has short overviews of what actually happened in the 2016 election, and how well it mapped onto social scientists’ preexisting beliefs about American politics.
- David Roberts. 2016. “Everything Mattered: Lessons from 2016’s Bizarre Presidential Election.”
- Brendan Nyhan. 2016. “The 2016 Election: What Political Science and the Data Can Tell Us So Far.”
- Fabio Rojas. 2016. “social science did ok with the 2016 election but not great.”
- Andrew Gelman. “19 Things We Learned from the 2016 Election.”
- Andrew Gelman. “5 More Things I Learned from the 2016 Election.”
- Julia Azari. 2016. “Women Also Know Stuff about the 2016 election.”
Week 2: Why did Trump win the primary? Who was Trump’s base?
In understanding what happened in 2016, it’s important to distinguish what happened in the GOP primary (and by extension, what’s happening with the GOP base) from what happened in the general election. This week focuses on Hochschild’s blockbuster ethnography of hardcore Trump supporters in Louisiana and complements it with short articles on the demography of Trump’s primary voters, and Isaac Martin’s review of the “empathy for the white working class” genre.
- Arlie Hochschild. 2016. Strangers in Our Own Land.
- Nate Silver. 2016. “The Mythology of Trump’s ‘Working Class’ Support.”
- Michael Tesler. 2016. “Trump is the first modern Republican to win the nomination based on racial prejudice.”
- Isaac Martin. 2016. “Deplorable, yourself.”
Week 3: Wait, isn’t big business supposed to be in charge of the GOP?
One conventional narrative about America politics is that the right is the party of big business. But big business seems to be increasingly incapable of controlling the Republican party, and especially its primary voters. What happened to the American corporate elite? Mark Mizrurchi tells the story of how big business in the US won major victories in the 1980s and then, having defeated its opposition, lost control of the political scene.
- Mark Mizruchi. 2013. The Fracturing of the American Corporate Elite.
Week 4: If big business isn’t running the GOP, who is?
The GOP has been taken over by activists. Who are these activists and how did this takeover occur? Skocpol and Williamson tell the story of the rise of the Tea Party. Josh Pacewicz offers a historical ethnographic take that links Mizruchi’s story about transformation in big business to Skocpol and Williamson’s story about the rise of right-wing activists. As local businesses merged into national corporations, and those national corporations moved their headquarters out of medium-sized cities, the GOP lost its “natural” leaders. Without local business elites, ideological activists stepped in to run the show.
- Theda Skocpol and Vanessa Williamson. 2012. The Tea Party and the Remaking of Republican Conservatism.
- Josh Pacewicz. 2016. Partisans and Partners: The Politics of the Post-Keynesian Society.
- Josh Pacewicz. 2016. “Here’s the real reason Rust Belt cities and towns voted for Trump.”
Week 5: The Rural-Urban Divide
There are lots of ways to characterize political divides in the US. One of the most important in this election might be “rural vs. urban”. Katherine Cramer explores this tension in Wisconsin, trying to understand Scott Walker’s political success. Wisconsin seems like a plausible model for how the nation as a whole might fare under the new administration, from attacking public sector employees to attacking professors for teaching about race. Read Cramer to understand what happened there.
- Katherine Cramer. 2016. The Politics of Resentment: Rural Consciousness in Wisconsin and the Rise of Scott Walker.
Week 6: Why did the GOP come home for Trump? Or, Partisanship Uber Alles
One of the main findings from recent political science has been the increasing importance of partisanship. Most people vote party line. Some commenters either missed that fact, or thought it wouldn’t hold given the ways that Trump in particular deviated from GOP orthodoxies. The political science research was right. The GOP came home (as did Democrats). These pieces cover some of the main findings on polarization and rising partisanship.
- Delia Baldasarri and Andrew Gelman. 2008. “Partisans without Constraint: Political Polarization and Trends in American Public Opinion.” American Journal of Sociology.
- Delia Baldasarri and Amir Goldberg. 2014. “Neither Ideologues nor Agnostics: Alternative Voters’ Belief System in an Age of Partisan Politics.” American Journal of Sociology.
- John Sides and Daniel Hopkins, eds. 2015. Political Polarization in American Politics.
- Andrew Gelman, Sharad Goel, Douglas Rivers, and David Rothschild. 2016. “The Mythical Swing Voter.” Summarized and linked here.
Week 7: How Could People Vote for an Obviously Racist Sexual Predator?
Review the “Trump Syllabus 2.0” for the history of American racism and sexism. This history – combined with the partisanship discussed in the previous week – helps to explain why Trump’s louder-than-usual dog whistles and overt sexism failed to lose him many (any?) votes. And/or read:
- Eduardo Bonilla-Silva. 2006. Racism Without Racists: Color-Blind Racism and the Persistence of Racial Inequality in the United States.
- Joe Feagin. 2006. Systemic Racism.
- Ian Haney-Lopez. 2014. Dog Whistle Politics How Coded Racial Appeals Have Reinvented Racism and Wrecked the Middle Class.
- C.J. Pascoe. 2007. Dude, You’re a Fag.
On 2016 in particular, read:
- C.J. Pascoe. 2016. “Some Thoughts on ‘Locker Room Talk.’”
- Tressie Mcmillan Cottom. 2016.“Racism With No Racists: The President Trump Conundrum.”
- Brian Schaffner, Matthew MacWilliams, and Tatishe Nteta. “Explaining White Polarization in the 2016 Vote for President: The Sobering Role of Racism and Sexism.”
Week 8: Populism and Nationalism in the USA
The terms “populism” and “nationalism” have been thrown around an awful lot in the past few months, and especially since Trump won. Is he a populist? How can a populist run on a platform that’s all about giving money to the rich? Bart Bonikowski (with coauthors) offers both conceptual clarity and relevant data on the meanings of populism and nationalism. He, and other sociologists, define populism in terms of a style of campaigning and a kind of rhetoric, both of which Trump exhibited in spades. Bonikowski also shows how American nationalism takes different forms, depending on how inclusively or restrictively one defines the boundaries of the nation and how much pride you have in the nation.
- Bart Bonikowski and Noam Gidron. 2015. “The Populist Style in American Campaign Discourse, 1952-1996.” Social Forces.
- Bart Bonikowski and Noam Gidron. 2016. “Trump and Sanders aren’t blazing new trails. Populism has run through U.S. politics for a very long time.”
- Bart Bonikowski and Paul DiMaggio. 2016. “Varieties of American Popular Nationalism.” American Sociological Review.
Week 9: Fear and Extremism in American Politics
The politics of fear were on display from Trump’s very first campaign speech. His rhetoric connects directly to extremist movements, especially white nationalists and the so-called “alt-right”. How does fear work in contemporary American politics? How especially do politicians and fringe organizations mobilize racial and religious fears?
- Chris Bail. 2014. Terrified: How Anti-Muslim Fringe Organizations Became Mainstream.
- Bethany Albertson and Shana Kushner Gadarian. 2015. Anxious Politics: Democratic Citizenship in a Threatening World.
- Aja Romano. 2016. “How the alt-right’s sexism lures men into white supremacy.”
- Kelly Baker. 2016. “White-Collar Supremacy.”
Week 10: What happened to the media?
Seriously, what happened? This week’s readings explore both the fragmentation of traditional media viewerships and the rise of outrage-based media (continuing the previous week’s theme on emotions and politics).
- Natalie Jomini Stroud. 2011. Niche News: The Politics of News Choice.
- Jeffrey Berry and Sarah Sobieraj. 2014. The Outrage Industry: Political Opinion Media and the New Incivility.
- Sarah Sobieraj. 2016. “With a Snarl, Trump Ratifies His Supporters’ Rage.”
- Jonathan M. Ladd. 2016. “Trump’s only significant campaign skill is manipulating the media. But he’s great at it.”
- danah boyd. 2016. “Why America is Self-Segregating.”
Week 11: What’s up with social media?
The story for social media is related to, but distinct from, the transformations in cable, broadcast, and print journalism. This week’s readings focus on the politics of attention and the role of algorithms and curators in shaping attention.
- Zyenep Tufekci. 2013. “‘Not This One’ Social Movements, the Attention Economy, and Microcelebrity Networked Activism.” American Behavioral Scientist.
- Zeynep Tufekci. 2014. “Engineering the Public: Big data, surveillance, and computational politics.” First Monday.
- David Karpf. 2016. “The Clickbait Candidate.”
- danah boyd. 2017. “Hacking the Attention Economy.”
Week 12: Conspiracy Theories and the Facts on Fact Checks
The transformation of our media diets is only one piece of the puzzle in understanding how partisans live in different informational worlds. This week’s readings address conspiracy theories and (the failures of) fact checks, including tips for how to better present information.
- Brendan Nyhan. 2010. “Why the ‘Death Panel’ Myth Wouldn’t Die: Misinformation in the Health Care Reform Debate.” The Forum.
- D.J. Flynn, Brendan Nyhan, and Jason Reifler. 2016. “The Nature and Origins of Misperceptions: Understanding False and Unsupported Beliefs about Politics.” Working Paper.
- danah boyd. 2017. “Did Media Literacy Backfire?”
Week 13: The GOP War on Science
While misinformation and conspiracy theories are too prevalent in general, the rise in distrust of science is decidedly asymmetric. Conservatives no longer trust science, especially around climate change (other issues exhibit somewhat different patterns, though the general trend is that conservatives have lower levels of trust). In addition to public opinion research demonstrating these trends, I’ve included Oreskes and Conway’s work on how particular industries mobilized to create some of this distrust.
- Gordon Gauchat. 2012. “Politicization of Science in the Public Sphere: A Study of Public Trust in the United States, 1974 to 2010.” American Sociological Review.
- Aaron McWright and Riley Dunlap. 2011. “The politicization of climate change and polarization in the American public’s views of global warming, 2001–2010.” The Sociological Quarterly.
- Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway. 2010. Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming.
Week 14: The Economics and Politics of Trade
There are many other intersections of trade, technology, inequality, and politics that could go here. That could, in fact, fill an entire class. I think the GOP’s shifts on trade policy are particularly interesting and so have chosen to highlight them, alongside new evidence from economists on how the most recent round of increased trade with China has likely had a significant effect on labor markets (much more so than NAFTA or other previous deals). The case also shows how attitudes, even towards highly politicized issues, are not immutable and hints at the power of party leaders to reshape those attitudes.
- David Autor, David Dorn, and Gordon Hanson. 2016. “The China Shock: Learning from Labor-Market Adjustment to Large Changes in Trade.” Annual Review of Economics.
- Bob Davis and Jon Hilsenrath. 2016. “How the China Shock, Deep and Swift, Spurred the Rise of Trump.”
- Eric Levitz. 2016. “Donald Trump Has Transformed the Way Republicans View ‘Free Trade’.”
- Malcolm Fairbrother. 2016. “What Will Trump Do About NAFTA?”
Week 15: Where Do We Go From Here?
Your guess is as good as mine. Here are some readings that have helped me both try to understand what’s coming and to stay sane.
- Daniel Nexon. 2016. “In Domestic and Foreign Affairs, ‘It’s the Institutions, Stupid’.”
- Masha Gessen. 2016. “Autocracy: Rules for Survival.”
- Jesse Singal. 2016. “Why Some Protests Succeed While Others Fail.”
- “Indivisible: A Practical Guide for Resisting the Trump Agenda.”
- Timothy Snyder. 2016. “20-point guide to defending democracy under a Trump presidency.”
- Theda Skocpol. 2017. “A guide to rebuilding the Democratic Party, from the ground up.”
- Christopher Uggen. 2016. “The 2016 Election and the Vocation of Social Science.”
- John Scalzi. 2017. “John Scalzi’s 10-point plan for getting creative work done in the age of Trump.”