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  • Donald Trump’s Evil Mediation
  • Richard A. Grusin (bio)

In this context, to propose the hypothesis of evil media is something of a paradox. If a pervasive sense of dark foreboding is at work today—a sense of foreboding that helps to legitimate simplistic injunctions against malice in all its real or imagined forms—then this foreboding is at least in part due to the operations of mediation that help to propagate it. Not just in the obvious way that forms of media feature narratives of the triumph of light over dark, good over evil, right over wrong (the mediation of evil), but in the more obscure and perhaps more enduringly visceral sense that the material constructions of media ecologies themselves play a critical role in disseminating the very feelings of dread, fear, and foreboding that give rise to preemptive judgments in the first place.

Matthew Fuller and Andrew Goffey1

[Donald Trump] has taken up semipermanent residence on every outlet of any kind, political or not. He is no longer just the message. In many cases, he has become the medium, the ether through which all other stories flow.

Farhad Manjoo2


On June 19, 2016, after Donald Trump had been declared the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, The Chronicle of Higher Education published a 12-week “Trump Syllabus” with readings suggested by a cross-section of scholars to “explore the phenomenon that is Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.” The Chronicle’s syllabus took “an interdisciplinary approach, gathering insights from history, literature, philosophy, political science, psychology, and beyond.” The syllabus was broken into three four-week units—“The Roots of Trumpism,” “The People vs. the Elites,” and “Trump and the Future of Politics”—which focused mainly on Western political philosophy and American social and political history.3

Almost immediately upon publication The Chronicle’s syllabus was greeted with legitimate and important objections that it had failed “to include contributions of scholars of color and address the critical subjects of racism, sexism, and xenophobia on which Trump has built his [End Page 86] candidacy,” thus “whitewashing” Trump and his campaign in more than one sense. On June 21, two days after the release of the Trump Syllabus, scholars from the African American Intellectual History Society sent a public letter to The Chronicle, with almost 350 signatures as of this writing, challenging the syllabus for erasing the work of scholars of color and other marginalized groups and for being “grossly inaccurate and incomprehensive in its avoidance of many central issues relating to the Trump campaign.”4

On June 28, nine days after the publication of the Trump Syllabus, historians N. D. B. Connolly and Keisha N. Blain, the first two signatories and lead authors of the AAIHS public letter, published “Trump Syllabus 2.0.” The aim of their course was to explain “Donald Trump’s rise as a product of the American lineage of racism, sexism, nativism, and imperialism. It offers an introduction to the deep currents of American political culture that produced what many simply call ‘Trumpism’: personal and political gain marred by intolerance, derived from wealth, and rooted in the history of segregation, sexism, and exploitation.”5

Trump Syllabus 2.0 was an absolutely essential corrective to the whitewashing of the first Trump Syllabus. Bringing together a diverse cross-section of scholarly voices and a broad selection of primary sources, secondary readings, and multimedia artifacts, Trump Syllabus 2.0 added a much more dynamic, capacious, and persuasive explanation of the cultural, historical, and social forces that informed the astonishing rise of a racist, misogynistic, and xenophobic fascist to the Republican nomination, and now to the presidency. Indeed, The Chronicle quickly acknowledged the limitations and lacunae of its own syllabus, adding to the end of its original syllabus this editorial note: “We apologize for the absence of works by scholars of color and other marginalized groups. We recognize that these omissions are offensive. Responsibility rests solely with The Chronicle, not the scholars who offered suggestions for the syllabus. We have and will continue to cover issues of race, and we’d like to hear from you.”6

Together, the two Trump syllabi present a detailed and thorough guide to many...


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pp. 86-99
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