Professor Roche offers new class to better understand Trump

Brandon Bell
Contributing Writer

Next semester, Jeff Roche of the history department will teach a seminar focusing on the politics of Donald Trump and the history of the electorate that supported him.

The course, “The Creation of Trump’s America,” draws inspiration from a mock syllabus that 100 historians developed online in June. The syllabus, known as Trump Syllabus 2.0, focuses on investigating the “racism, sexism and xenophobia” that head authors N.D.B. Connolly and Keisha Blain saw as significant forces in Trump’s presidential campaign.

When he imagined a course at Wooster, Roche hoped to investigate what drove voters to support Trump, both through an examination of the forces described in Trump Syllabus 2.0 and the history of the right wing in America.

“I had originally planned to teach this course solely on the Trump voter,” Professor Roche said, noting that the current rise of so-called ‘Trumpism” and the Tea Party in 2010 had spawned academic interest in American conservatism. “Scholars haven’t paid this much attention to these sorts of voters since the 1970s.”

However, the fact that Trump is now President-elect has changed his plans for the course — and he believes it will continue to do so. For example, Professor Roche now believes Trump himself deserves attention as he moves into the White House and sets up his administration.

“Whether he meant them or not, his campaign has unleashed a vitriol and anger that has already had such a damaging impact on public life in the United States,” Roche said. “How this plays out over the next few months might necessarily require constant readjustments to the syllabus.”

Roche usually teaches an upper-level history seminar on a topic from American politics. With this course in particular, though, he wanted to have what he called a more “democratic” experience. With Trump’s presidency evolving in real time with the course, he hopes to upset the traditional model of a professor deciding on topics and moving between them in a seminar class.

“There will be many weeks when I will be reading most of the sources for the first time, right along with the students,” Roche said.

The assignments from Trump 2.0 Syllabus, which Roche may draw from, are listed online on the intellectual web community Public Books and in an article on the African-American Intellectual History Society’s website. Assignments on the mock syllabus include an analysis of Trump’s campaign speeches and policy proposals. In addition to traditional primary and secondary sources, the course also incorporates multimedia materials — including Trump’s video interviews, campaign ads, documentaries and online news articles.

As his plans for the course continually evolve, Roche believes next semester’s course will be an excellent opportunity for students interested in applying historical skills to analyze current events.

“The goal of any history course is to help make sense of the world we live in,” he said. “This particular course only makes it more obvious.”