History, government professors hold panel, attempt to unravel “Trump Phenomenon”

By Ellie Gavin || Campus Life Editor 

This Wednesday, professors from the Government and History departments hosted a panel discussing what they deemed “the Trump phenomenon”– that is, presidential candidate Donald Trump’s surprising and enduring campaign success– and its effect on the upcoming presidential election. The panel included Chair of the History Department Van Gosse, Professor of History and Chair of Africana studies Maria Mitchell, Professor of Government Stephen Medvic, and Professor of Government Kerry Whiteside. The panel was hosted from 4:30 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. in the Lisa Bonchek Adams Auditorium and was open to the whole F&M community and the public.

The panel began with each panelist answering a different question about Trump, based on their particular discipline of study. Mitchell began the talk by offering her opinion on whether or not Donald Trump could be fairly called a fascist.

“Every news outlet has entertained this question,” Mitchell said.

She went on to say that about half of all Americans believe that Trump’s campaign exhibits fascism. Mitchell mentioned that Trump’s “cult of personality,” encouragement of violence and violent rhetoric, and endorsement of torture, especially with regard to the terrorist attacks in Brussels, resonate with many as seemingly fascist.

However, Mitchell disagreed, and said that Trump can not be accurately called a fascist.

“The scholarly consensus, with which I would concur, is no,” Mitchell said. “He has not proposed in any serious way invading other countries, overthrowing American democracy, or scraping the constitution. He does not have a paramilitary organization.”

Mitchell stressed that it is important to use the term “fascist,” as well as comparisons to Mussolini and other fascist leaders, judiciously in honor of those who have been victimized by fascist and fascist leaders who started wars and enacted systematic genocides.

Next, Whiteside addressed the rhetoric of Donald Trump, and whether or not it undermines democracy.

“People who don’t like Donald Trump tend to hate him,” Whiteside said. However, Whiteside stated that whether or not individuals agree with Trump’s ideology, there is danger in simply “writing him off” or claiming that Trump undermines American democracy.

“Democracy isn’t always pretty. It’s not always what I want,” Whiteside said.

He mentioned that the quality of the arguments of democratic candidates has rarely ever been the deciding factor of democratic debate.

“It’s the mobilization of passions and interests,” Whiteside said. “The objective of marches and banners and oratorical appeals is always to demonstrate personal intensity and numerical strength.”

“I would argue that democracy is more than mobilizing more people,” he said. “Democracy has certain values and certain premises that are used to make it work.”

Whiteside said these values include equality and good communication. In his opinion, Trump does not bolster these values. 

“I think he uses a type of rhetoric that too frequently relies on the insult,” Whiteside said. “In a country built by immigrants, he engages in gross negative generalizations about people who are criminals or rapists as a group.”

Whiteside continued by saying that Trump’s objectification of women and exclusion of Muslims further undermines the democratic value of equality that he has identified.

“I think he has single-handedly ratcheted down the quality of civil debate in this country, and especially in this debate, on ways that I have never seen in a Presidential debate in my lifetime,” Whiteside said.

Next, Gosse addressed whether or not Donald Trump’s success is unique to American Politics, and how new “Trumpism” really is.

“There is a habit of lawless contempt for government in our history mixed up with advocacy violence which Trump strokes.”

Gosse touched on comparisons of Trump to Andrew Jackson, who was accused of “Ceasarism” back in 1818.

However, Gosse points out that this comparison is limited.

“There’s nothing military about Trump at all. He’s a playboy,” Gosse said.

Finally, Medvic discussed the types of voters who are most attracted to Trump’s campaign. In other words, who are Trump’s supporters and why do they support him?

“In some ways, he doesn’t appeal to many people,” Medvic said, mentioning that Trump only has 37 percent of the Republican vote as the frontrunner in that race and only 31 percent of the vote nationwide, and is losing to Clinton head to head in every poll.

Medvic pointed to a “vacuum” left by the Republican party’s inability to rally around any other candidate.

Medvic mentioned that there is widespread anti-political sentiment sweeping the country, and that many Trump supporters say that they like him simply because he is not a career politician, which Medvic called dangerous and contradictory.

“Trump is, in a way, a caricature of a politician on steroids,” Medvic said.

Medvic noted that Trump fulfills many of the qualities that people say they do not like about politicians, including dishonestly, egotism, negative campaign strategies, and empty promises.

  Additionally, he mentioned that most Trump supporters find him appealing because they are suffering from economic distress, and believe that as a successful business man, Trump may be good for the economy.

Medvic said that there is a portion of Trump’s supporters who are attracted to his exclusionary rhetoric, as there is a dangerous growing phenomenon of “racial resentment”  in the country. Although, he stresses that he does not believe that all Trump supporters are racists.

Following the panelists opening talks, the panelists took questions from the audience. If you are interested in hearing more about the “Trump Phenomenon” or the presidential race in general, consider attending a discussion on the Pennsylvania Primaries hosted by Ware College House on Wednesday, April 13th.

Sophomore Ellie Gavin is the Campus Life Editor. Her email is fgavin@fandm.edu.

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