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Trump’s Presidency May Be Over. The Effects of Trumpism on Campus are Not

“A convenient liberal interpretation of the recent presidential election would have it that Mr. Trump won in large part because he managed to transform economic disadvantage into racial rage — the ‘whitelash’ thesis,” wrote Lilla, who extended his argument into a book, excerpted for The Chronicle. “This is convenient because it sanctions a conviction of moral superiority and allows liberals to ignore what those voters said were their overriding concerns.”

What enabled Trump’s rise, Lilla argues, was actually the destructive power of “identity liberalism.” By catering to specific groups based on race, ethnicity, and sexual orientation, politicians and academics only reinforce division among identity groups, Lilla wrote.

Like so many political arguments advanced in our dug-in, polarized age, Lilla’s was probably more provocative than persuasive. (The title of a column he wrote this week, “When Will My Fellow Liberals Learn?” would seem to concede as much.)

Diversity programs, LGBTQ organizations, and Black studies are the sorts of higher-education hallmarks that, following Lilla’s argument, could inadvertently empower a politics of division. They are the sorts of things Trump has railed against, as he did with an executive order banning federal-grant recipients from sensitivity training that is “rooted in the pernicious and false belief that America is an irredeemably racist and sexist country.”

It is unlikely, though, that political backlash will prompt higher education to reconsider the efficacy of multicultural curricula or identity-based organizations, which are deeply ingrained in the modern notion of an enlightened collegiate environment. This isn’t political correctness, many professors argue, so much as it is a recognition of how lopsidedly focused higher education has been for much of its history with regard to race, gender, and sexuality.

“For the first 300 years or more of higher education, the only identity politics that operated on campus was white-man identity politics,” said Christopher P. Loss, an associate professor of history and public policy at Vanderbilt University, who is white. “And all the successive permutations that have emerged, especially since the 1960s, have in many ways been in response to that dominant ethos.”

Higher education is “an institution created by white men, for white men, to study the ideas of white men,” Loss said. “Only recently has it begun to change in a profound way. We’re going through the growing pains around that, creating a more representative and equitable institution.”

Read entire article at Chronicle of Higher Education