This is a guest post from Rob Blair and Jeff Colgan of Brown University.
Since Donald Trump was elected last November, there has been no shortage of commentary warning that he represents a unique threat to the quality and longevity of democracy in America. (For just a few examples, see recent articles in the New Yorker, Atlantic, New York Times, and NPR.) Like many scholars and concerned citizens, we have been asking ourselves what we can or ought to do to help prevent this threat from materializing.
Although we do not wish to professionally engage in partisan politics, as scholars we are alarmed by Trump’s willingness to transgress long-standing norms of democracy, tolerance and civility. We find reflections on defending democracy by fellow social scientists Josh Busby, Timothy Snyder, and Erica Chenoweth and Maria Stepan very helpful.
We want to push a little bit further, especially as we think about our obligations in the classroom as political scientists. We have noticed historians and scholars from other disciplines creating mock syllabi, including Trump 101 or Trump Syllabus 2.0. We applaud these efforts, but believe political science has something distinctive to offer.
For us, the ball got rolling when Jeff publicly shared a reading list he was developing to inform himself about democratic erosion. Rob suggested that we teach an actual course on the topic, collaborating with scholars at other universities who were interested in doing the same. We brainstormed about how to design the course and make it happen, and Rob is now leading the effort. His work has begun to gather steam, with over a dozen (tentatively) participating institutions so far, including Brown, Penn, Stanford, Boston University, American University and UCLA, among others. Our initial syllabus, still a draft at this stage, is posted here, and the version Rob submitted to Brown (before the collaboration took shape) is here.
We are very excited about this fantastic group of institutions. We are also hoping to recruit a few more, which is why we are writing now. We include more details on the course below; please contact us if you are interested in joining. (Most of the participating faculty are comparativists, which makes sense given the nature of the course, but we strongly encourage faculty from other subfields to join.) We also provide some resources on democratic erosion that professors can incorporate into their own courses, regardless of whether or not they participate in the collaboration. Continue reading