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The academic Trumpists: American professors who support the Trump presidency


The Trump presidency has been remarkable in its attacks on many mainstream institutions. It has tapped populist sentiment that reflects little confidence in the key decision-making centers in American society. Higher education has not escaped this attack. Indeed, criticism of the academy has gone well beyond the debated policies of affirmative action and political correctness to the very status of expert knowledge itself, questioning what is legitimate knowledge. Claims of “false data” and “alternative facts” parade in the public arena without the benefit of reasoned scholarship that might separate fact from fiction. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the attack on science, particularly scientific research focusing on environmental issues and climate change. Nonetheless, a small number of academicians—supposed arbiters of truth—advocate for Trump. How does one explain this apparent anomaly? Why would scholars support a president and populist movement that attack the very foundations of their professional life: knowledge and expertise? I have identified 103 such professors who offer their public support of Trump through blogs, essays, op-ed pieces, public lectures, tweets, YouTube videos, and even a couple of trade books. These are public intellectuals who intervene beyond the classroom and laboratory to promote a political agenda that is supportive of Trump. They are public advocates for Trump: academic Trumpists. Who are these individuals? Where do they teach? What do they teach? What kinds of connections external to the academy do they cultivate? How do they justify their support of Trump? This article offers some answers to these questions. It draws inspiration from Bourdieu’s field analysis of the politics of higher education and the sociology of conservative intellectuals.

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  1. In his presidential campaign Trump attacked not only high tuitions and university endowments, but also questioned certain types of academic knowledge. As a candidate, Trump famously dismissed climate change as a “hoax”: “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.” (The Editors, “Trump’s Views on Science are Shockingly Ignorant.” Scientific American, November 1, 2016). The attack by Trump on the America academy is of course not new. Conservative thinkers and political leaders have targeted the liberal and secular university for some time. One thinks, for example, of William F. Buckley’s 1951 attack in his book God and Men at Yale (1951).

  2. The most visible expression of this increased politicization is in the Trump Administration’s sidelining scientific researchers, including academics, from the EPA and its Science Advisory Board, often replaced by former lobbyists connected to the very industries the EPA is supposed to oversee.

  3. By “field heteronomy,” Bourdieu has in mind the distorting effects on professional knowledge caused when actors try to gain status and advantage within a cultural field by drawing on economic, political, religious, media, or other power resources external to the field. Brint (2018, p. 358/11844) explores a non-Bourdieusian version, though there is overlap, of the “heteronomy-autonomy puzzle” that explores the tensions between universities following their traditional knowledge production and transmission function and the growing influence of corporations, government, and philanthropies on that mission. Ladd and Lipset (1976) discuss these tensions in great detail.

  4. I am thinking in particular of conferences I have attended over the last four years of the American Sociological Association, Eastern Sociological Association, the European Consortium for Political Research, the International Studies Association, the Council for European Studies, and the Political Sociology Network of the European Sociological Association. Not one panel of papers has been devoted to conservative professors and their support of populist politics despite the attention given to populism and the rightward political shift in many advanced countries.

  5. Bourdieu’s concept of the field of power covers the dominant classes in modern stratified societies. It is that arena of struggle among different forms of power (or capitals) for the right to dominate throughout the social order. Modern capitalist societies are bifurcated by those fields where economic capital dominates, such as business and finance, and those fields where cultural capital dominates, such as the arts and universities. This same chiasmatic structure of economic capital versus cultural capital internally differentiates cultural fields, such as the university, opposing, for example, those faculty members dependent on external funding and those who are not.

  6. Bourdieu’s claims for a greater critical disposition among natural scientists toward the status quo invites historical and cross-national comparisons. By contrast and in their earlier review of several surveys of the American professorate, Ladd and Lipset (1976, p.72) find that “all the natural sciences … are significantly more conservative politically than the social sciences.” In the United States strong business/corporate interests influence funding and research in the natural sciences—one thinks for example of the pharmaceutical industry—and thereby introduce, in Bourdieu’s terminology, more “heteronomy” in the natural scientific field. Yet, among the natural sciences there is important variation; Ladd and Lipset find physics to be more liberal politically than the applied sciences, such as engineering and chemistry. This contrasts with findings that natural scientists in the former Soviet Union were notably more free and universalistic in views than the social scientists who were more committed to sustaining the regime (p. 73). Gross (Gross 2013; Gross and Fosse 2012) finds that American professors in general tend to be more liberal than the general American population and social scientists to be the most liberal of all. Drawing on survey evidence Brint (1994, pp. 154–155) previously reported that professorial political attitudes, while generally more liberal on social issues than the larger society, vary by historical period. Relying on the Hamilton and Hargens (1993) study, he notes that already by the 1980s self-described liberals were declining whereas self-described conservatives were increasing.

  7. However, this is not a test of field theory. We draw selectively from Bourdieu’s approach rather than trying to replicate fully his methodology.

  8. We employ the US News and World Report (USNWR) college and university rankings as a measure of field location ( The USNWR is a quite imperfect measure of the multiple factors to be taken into account when measuring the positions individual colleges and universities hold in the various hierarchies characterizing American higher education. We rely on a seasoned observer’s assessment of the ranking as justification for using it as a measure of academic field position albeit an imperfect one. Philip G. Altbach writes: “Widely criticized in the United States for the constant changes in methodology, over-reliance on reputational indicators, and oversimplifying complex reality, it is nonetheless widely used and highly influential. Colleges and universities that score well, even if they grumble about methodological shortcomings, publicize their ranks. At least, USNWR differentiates institutions by categories—national universities, liberal arts colleges, regional institutions, and so on. This recognizes variations in mission and purpose and that not all universities are competing with Harvard and Berkeley” (International Higher Education, Number 62; Winter 2011, pp. 2–5). The USNWR ranking is also used in identifying higher education pathways for elites (Brint et al. 2020; Brint and Yoshikawa 2017). In Bourdieusian terms, institutional ranking can be considered as a measure of symbolic capital. The USNWR rankings aggregate numerous factors that a strict Bourdieusian field analysis would explore as separate forms of power that combine and differentiate in distinct configurations. For example, the rankings tend to be correlated with size of endowment as well as the research renown of faculty.

  9. Outside of the United States, other intellectual typologies exist. For example, in her study of French literary figures during World War II, Sapiro (2013) identified the following four types of political engagement: extreme-right, collaboration, resistance, and resistance sympathizers.

  10. For example, Blee and Creasap (2010, p. 270) make the following distinctions among conservative, right-wing, and rightist movements: “We use conservative for movements that support patriotism, free enterprise capitalism, and/or a traditional moral order and for which violence is not a frequent tactic or goal. We use right-wing for movements that focus specifically on race/ethnicity and/or that promote violence as a primary tactic or goal. We use rightist as a generic category.”

  11. Gross (2013, pp. 62–64) finds from national survey data on professors and politics that conservatives divide into two groups: economic conservatives (free market, anti-regulation but liberal on social issues) represent about 4% of his 2006 sample and strong conservatives (including evangelical Protestants) on social and national security represent about 23%. Eighty-eight percent of the strongly conservative are within the Republican camp (p. 64).

  12. We are not alone in taking this position in studying an expression of American conservatism. In their study of conservative academics, Shields and Dunn (2016, pp. 10–11) stake out a similar position: “Because American conservatism is best understood as a diverse coalition against modern liberalism—one that includes social conservatives, libertarians, and foreign policy hawks—it made little sense to define conservatism in a way that required our subjects to share a common set of philosophical or policy views.” The authors use “right-wing” interchangeably with “conservative” (p. 12). Because they used “ideological sources” to initiate their sample, they consider that their professors “are probably somewhat more conservative than the typical professor on the right.” (p. 12). By comparison, our sample of Trumpists could probably be considered as “far-right.” Indeed, some would willingly embrace something like that political label; Paul Gottfried, one of our Trumpists, self-identifies as a “paleo conservative” and claims original ownership of the “alt-right” designation. and

  13. Walter E. Block, professor at the J.A. Butt School of Business at Loyola University New Orleans, organized a group of libertarians for Trump.

  14. The degree of support for Trump of course varies, ranging from those who are quite media visible with frequent supporting statements to those who have just signed lists of support. For example, Steven C. Michael, professor of business at the University of Illinois-Urbana, only signed the 2016 support list and appears not to have made subsequent media statements in support. By contrast, Victor Davis Hanson (professor emeritus of classics at California State University-Fresno, visiting professor at Hillsdale College, and Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution) has vigorously lent his public support culminating in the 2019 publication of his book The Case for Trump (2019). Most in our sample are individuals like Hanson, though few have written books on Trump. This does not mean that individuals like Michael are not vocal in their support of Trump in ways not picked up by the internet or social media. Since our data come largely from what can be gleaned from the internet, they likely underestimate the amount of support for Trump offered by these individuals.

  15. The unity statement can be found at

  16. By these criteria, a signer like the politician Newt Gingrich and his wife Callista did not make it into our sample even though he claims to be an historian with a Ph.D. from Tulane University. Nor did Roger Kimball, a widely regarded conservative writer (author of the controversial book Tenured Radicals) (1990) and signer of the 2016 list, but not someone who has pursued a scholarly career in the academy. Stephen H. Balch is not included either—he started his career as an academic but in 1987 founded and became president of the conservative National Association of Scholars. Balch is clearly a public intellectual who supports Trump, but one who has spent the bulk of his career leading a professional association and writing largely journalistic essays in a variety of publications, many of them conservative, but not in academic peer reviewed outlets. See Gross (2013, pp. 271–274) for a brief description of Balch’s shift from a teaching position at John Jay College in New York early in his career to founding and leading the National Association of Scholars.

  17. We limit our biographical data to education and career. Unfortunately, we currently lack sufficient educational and occupational information on the parents of over half of the 103 individuals.

  18. Extensive use of the Wayback Machine ( helped us gather academic information on many professors, find links to their CVs, and dig through old news articles documenting their affiliations and viewpoints.

  19. Two who died during the course of the study are nevertheless included because of their public support of Trump during his campaign and first years of his presidency. A couple of professors have recently moved to other institutional positions but are included because of their long careers in the academy.

  20. Ten are located in the top fifty national research universities and eight within the top twenty-five. Only three are located with the top fifty liberal arts colleges.

  21. This would be a variation on Bourdieu’s (1984, pp. 417–418; 1993) argument and empirical demonstration that it takes cultural and symbolic capital to voice a political opinion. Examining nonresponse rates on French surveys, Bourdieu finds that responses depend on political competence (knowledge of political issues) and socially recognized authority (the status right to hold a political opinion), which vary by social class, education, and gender. (Bourdieu’s finding is well established among political scientists who have long documented that people with higher levels of education are more likely to take sides politically (Gross 2013, p. 214)). In our case, it is the capital of institutional prestige that facilitates the expression of political opinions through the written and internet media. It is not surprising that opinion leaders among faculty are more likely to be found in the more prestigious sectors of higher education. Brint (1994, p. 163), for example, finds in a content analysis of several leading periodicals that the “proportion of writers from Ivy League settings was comparatively high.”

  22. Thanks to David Karen for calling this to my attention. While it is possible for an individual anywhere within the academic field to play a public intellectual role, the probability of doing so varies considerably by institutional location. Coser’s (1965) classic work, Men of Ideas, reminds us of the particular institutional conditions that make possible public intellectual roles.

  23. While some may argue that professors supporting Trump might be more closeted at elite universities because of the strongly prevailing liberal culture in those institutions, that argument loses strength in the case of elite Catholic schools since the official position of the Catholic Church opposing abortion gives faculty a source of legitimate authority to support publicly a candidate aligned with the Church’s position regardless of the degree of elite status of the school. (Also see note 51 on Trump and abortion.)

  24. Drawing on national survey data Gross (2013, p. 62) finds that “economic and strong conservatives [on social issues and national security] are underrepresented at elite, PhD-granting institutions and liberal arts colleges; strong conservatives are underrepresented as well at nonelite, PhD-granting schools and over represented in community colleges.”

  25. Rothman and Lichter (2009) find that socially conservative professors tend to work at lower-ranked institutions than their publication records would predict. We are currently gathering additional data that would permit us to explore that hypothesis in the case of the Trumpists.

  26. See Kersch (2019) for an interesting take on how Jaffa-influenced Straussians offer their support for Trump for essentially moral reasons in spite of Trump’s own personal immorality. Their moral reasoning involves a kind of civic religion rooted in natural law and human rights and their willingness to embrace a strong leader to force a return to those founding values (embedded in the opening lines of the Declaration of Independence) of the Republic.

  27. The fifteen teaching business and economics suggests preferences for traditional Republican values: free markets and limited government regulation. We anticipated finding more economists among the Trump supporters. While very few economists appear on the October 2016 list, a list of 101 economists supporting Trump’s economic policy agenda, specifically the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, appeared on May 11, 2018 (“Economists for Trump”—accessed 8/1/2018). However, their support is for policies of reduced corporate taxes, some tax cuts for individuals, and increasing free trade through reduced tariffs; it does not embrace the Trump presidency in general or speak to other contentious issues, such as immigration or relations with Russia. Many of those economists would oppose the trade protectionist policies Trump embraces. There is very little overlap between the two lists. Moreover, one could imagine strong opposition to Trump’s proposal for imposing tariffs on Chinese imports. The Peter Navarro book, Death by China: Confronting the Dragon—A Global Call to Action (2011), was not well-received by most economists even though Navarro currently holds a position as an economic advisor in Trump’s White House. Many conservative and libertarian economists support specific policies pursued by the Trump administration but do not advocate support for Trump in general. Therefore, we have not added these 101 economists to our list.

  28. While our list of supporters includes a disproportionate number of law professors specializing in constitutional law, again this does not mean that constitutional law professors as a whole or even a majority of them support Trump. Indeed, many who identify with a conservative orientation in legal matters, went public opposing Trump (“Originalists Against Trump” found at, accessed 12/3/2019). Also see Josh Blackman’s Blog “Right-of-Center Law Professors Stand Up Against Trump” June 4, 2016 at (accessed 12/3/2019). Kersch (2019) claims that many “originalists” at the country’s top law schools steer clear of explicit support for Trump.

  29. However, it is noteworthy from the Shields and Dunn (2016, p. 20) study of 153 conservative professors that several report first coming to their conservative views from exposure to undergraduate coursework, notably in economics courses. Drawing on national survey data on politics of professors, Gross (2013, p. 62) finds that “conservatives tend to cluster in fields like accounting, management information, marketing, and electrical engineering, while economics contains a higher proportion of strong conservatives than do social science fields such as sociology and psychology.”

  30. This would be particularly true for the kind of populism represented by many of the core supporters of Trump. Here it is important to distinguish varieties of conservatism and note that not all conservatives support Trump. (A comparison of conservatives who oppose Trump and those who support him is the object of a subsequent paper.) On the other hand, social scientific capital does not automatically translate into progressive political stances. Consider the case of Jordan Peterson, the Canadian psychologist who employs social media to rage against forms of identity politics and political correctness, as most US conservatives do. I specify “contemporary” social sciences since this has not always been the case. Social Darwinism dominated American sociology during the time of William G. Sumner (1840–1910). (I am indebted to Steven Brint for calling this to my attention.) Moreover, an early ASA president (1914–1915) Edward R. Ross advocated for legalized euthanasia.

  31. This is a minimal estimate based on data available from the internet. There are likely to be other formal as well as informal ties that we have been unable to document.

  32. The rankings are from The rankings are based on the popularity of a think tank’s official website, average yearly revenue, average number of print media references per year according to and Nexis, and the number of categories in which a think tank was ranked by the Lauder Institute at the University of Pennsylvania.

  33. These affiliations occurred at some point during the 2016–2019 time period. They may not be active at the time of this publication.

  34. Compared to both recent Democratic and Republican administrations, academics are strikingly absent from the Trump team. Peter Navarro is the only academic who holds a high ranking position within the administration. Thus the academic capital accumulated by the Trumpists has not translated into political capital within the Trump administration with rare exceptions. The arrival of Trump in the White House did not provide a spring board for our sample of academic Trumpists to become counselors to the prince—a cherished dream of many public intellectuals. Rather their ongoing support of Trump has largely found expression outside of official administrative roles. Indeed, one of the most visible public intellectuals inside the Trump administration for a short period was Steve Bannon and he came from the universe of corporate finance and right-wing advocacy groups rather than the university.

  35. “Amherst Against Homophobia.” Amherst College Archives,

  36. Some of the reasons offered for supporting Trump reflect a sharp divide among conservatives themselves. Here Buckley is criticizing fellow conservatives who did not support Trump. Appearing also in 2016 was a list of “never Trump” conservatives. Sharp differences between the two camps emerged around issues of Trump’s lifestyle (whether he can be trusted or whether personally he is fit for the office) and foreign policy to mention but two (“List of Republicans who opposed the 2016 Donald Trump presidential campaign—Wikipedia accessed 7/24/2019). We will take up this debate among conservatives in a future paper.

  37. Charles R. Kesler, “The Republican Trump,” Claremont Review of Books, xvii, 1, Winter 2016/17.



  40. Steven Lukes (2017), for example, systematically compares Trump’s appeal to voters as a charismatic type of authority as defined by Max Weber (1978).


  42. While scholars disagree over exact definitions of both conservatism and populism, they generally note key differences. Bonikowski (2016), for example, defines populism as “a discursive strategy selectively employed by political outsiders on both the left and right extremes of the political spectrum to challenge the political status quo.” There can be left as well as right populism. Moreover, populism presents a problem at least for economic conservatives, as Gross (2013:16) notes: “... populism, by its nature, requires a bashing of elites—some group with power said to be lording it over the people’—and this has always presented a dilemma for conservatives, since conservatism, at least in its economic tenets, is congruent with the interest of the rich and often has their backing.”


  44. Michael Moore assesses this anti-system sentiment among Trump supporters in these terms: “as the human Molotov cocktail they get to throw into the system” (Wang 2016). This reflects the key feature of Weber’s (1978) charismatic figure, the individual who disrupts the social order by breaking with traditional and rational norms and expectations.


  46. The charge that bureaucratization stifles human creativity and initiative is of course not unique to these conservative scholars. One recalls that Max Weber (1978) offered a more probing critique of bureaucratic rationalism that led him to posit a corrective role for the charismatic leader. (Though see Joosse & Willey (2020), who qualify this commonly held view of Weber’s charisma.) Robert Michels (1962) elaborated that criticism with his “iron law of oligarchy” leading him to give up on representative democracy for checking the power of elites and eventually throwing his support to Mussolini the strong man and Italian fascism. Several Trumpists offer their critique of the administrative state in the name of an earlier period of democratic life they think was more operative in the first years of the American Republic. Yet ironically, they appear to embrace the efforts of a strong man to usher in a return to that democratic ideal.

  47. The “Flight 93” text originally published online on the America Greatness website gained overnight popularity when Rush Limbaugh read it on the air.

  48. Bauerlein in “What We Still Have to Lose,” February 10, 2019, on the American Greatness website.


  50. I specify “conservative” evangelicals since not all pro-life evangelicals are politically conservative, much less supportive of Trump. I think of Jim Wallis and supporters around Sojourners magazine.

  51. Trump held a pro-choice position earlier in his career but came out against abortion to help secure Catholic and Protestant evangelical support in the 2016 election (Orr 2020).


  53. Glendon refused to accept the University of Notre Dame’s 2009 Laetare Metal in protest against that school’s decision to host Barack Obama as a commencement speaker and bestow upon him an honorary degree in spite of his support for pro-choice policies. Glendon contended that Catholic institutions should not give “awards, honors, or platforms” to “those who act in defiance of [Catholic] fundamental moral principles” (quotes are from



  56. The “wall/web” opposition Miller makes draws inspiration from the distinction the New York Time columnist Thomas Friedman made between “Wall People” and “Web People” in understanding the 2016 election. In Miller’s words, “Wall People attempt to quiet the winds of change by isolating themselves from everything that they believe is threatening to their way of life—immigrants, globalization, climate change and so on. In contrast, Web People embrace change and strive to work in a borderless world that acknowledges the technological innovations that are driving globalization and other challenges to the status quo.”

  57., accessed 1/27/202. Rasmussen does not specify the meaning of the accusation of “mass pimping” and “debauchery” against Obama he has in mind. But in this and other online opinions Rasmussen rails against homosexuality, feminism, abortion, marijuana, and any other Christian who does not support his theological dogmatism on these issues. Here Rasmussen speaks as a conservative Protestant Fundamentalist who holds a distinctly separatist worldview that is sharply critical of all other Christians who lack his “purity” of faith.




  61. The League of the South identifies as a “Southern Nationalist organization” and describes itself as the “educational arm of the Southern independence movement” but is classified since 2000 by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a hate group. The Abbeville Institute is “an association of scholars in higher education devoted to a critical study of what is true and valuable in the Southern tradition.” The Institute is named for the town of Abbeville, South Carolina, the birthplace of John C. Calhoun, the pro-slavery former Vice President, and is often regarded as the birthplace of the Confederacy. The H. L. Mencken Club came into existence in 2008 as an organization for “independent-minded intellectuals and academics of the Right.” Six are also affiliated with the Ludwig Von Mises Institute devoted to advocating for the Austrian school of economics and libertarian political theory.




  65. Gross (2013) reports from interview data that many conservatives view the academy as a conforming universe for liberal ideas. This is certainly the view of the Trumpists. Prior to the Trump presidential candidacy many were already on record sharply criticizing political correctness of colleges and universities. Moreover, many depicted themselves as cultural minorities swimming against the tide of liberal conformity. However, Brint (1994, p. 154), drawing on the study of Hamilton and Hargens (1993), notes that already in the 1980s there was a shift toward more conservatism and a decline in the proportion of liberals among faculty. This suggests that the unitary image of the liberally dominated universities found among many of the Trumpists to be a bit of an exaggeration.

  66. “The Rise of Political Correctness,” Claremont Review of Books Vol. XVI, no. 4, Fall 2016. Political correctness in its various forms became a hot campus issue from the 1980s on, as more and more institutions moved to shape and regulate campus speech and behaviors to reduce insensitivities to women and minorities. Some of those efforts took on highly contested forms and became media lightning rods, particularly in the conservative media and most noticeably after the 2016 presidential election. During the presidential electoral campaign, Donald Trump himself singled out the issue by noting that “a big problem this country has is being political correct” (quoted in Brint 2018, pp. 7127/11844). In a review of the evidence, Brint (see chapter 9, “Quandaries of Campus Speech,” Brint 2018, pp. 7105–7370/11844) reports that “you did not need to be a political conservative to find aspects of campus speech culture problematic.” He found evidence that the climate for speech became somewhat more restrictive during the period when there were numerous efforts by both the political left and right to disinvite speakers. Yet the problem was not as acute as conservatives alleged and they were the ones to jump on the issue more than others. See also (Zimmerman 2016) for a good resource on the topic and Maranto, et al. (2009) for some conservative perspectives.



  69. Title IX became Federal law in 1972 and prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in any federally funded education program or activity. Subsequent legislation and court rulings have expanded the scope of Title IX much to the consternation of many conservatives.

  70. “This is What It’s Like to Be the Only Trump Fan at Thanksgiving Dinner” (Politico, November 22, 2017).

  71. The last sentence of the Bauerlein quotation suggests a stance echoed among many of the Trumpists: the individual hero, the conservative David standing up against the Goliath of political correctness. They are on a mission to roll back all that limits individual freedom of expression as a natural right.

  72. The turmoil of the sixties on many college campuses also played a role. Many conservative professors, indeed many liberal ones as well, strongly objected to the disruptive effects of the student protests as Ladd and Lipset (1976) report from their data (Gross 2013, pp. 287–288). Indeed, Lipset himself, like some of his liberal colleagues, shifted toward a more conservative posture in response to the student protests of the sixties.

  73. To illustrate further the relative importance of campus culture issues over national political issues for the Trumpists, consider the view of Paul Edward Gottfried, humanities professor at Elizabethtown College. Gottfried (2018) argues against those Republicans who are trying to depict the Democrats as attempting to impose socialism. He sees little economic socialism in their program, including that of the candidate Elizabeth Warren. What he fears in Warren is growing state regulated political correctness, enforcement of politically correct speech. Moreover, Gottfried sees the GOP as moving to the left on gay rights and feminism. If the attacks by conservative voices against political correctness began to lose energy by the mid-1990s as Gross (2013, p. 299) suggests, this did not occur among the Trumpists. It continued to animate their critical energies well into the Trump era.

  74. While many libertarian economists would support free markets, tax cuts, and limited government regulation advocated by Trump, they recoil at his policies of erecting tariff barriers and provoking a trade war with China.

  75. Fulton Brown became enmeshed in a controversy among medievalists over white supremacy in that field of studies. She rejects any such criticism.






  81. This view is echoed by several of the 153 conservative professors in the Shields and Dunn (2016) study, although in general these faculty also find the academy (albeit a liberal setting) a congenial place to work—especially with tenure.

  82. Fox News frequently and selectively features individuals, including students, who recount how difficult it is to be a conservative in the liberal campus culture.

  83. In criticism of the “bizarre and anachronistic macroeconomic theories underlying” Trump’s trade war with China, Robert Barro, Professor of Economics at Harvard, remarks: “I hope that Navarro did not learn his international macroeconomics while getting a PhD at Harvard University in the early 1980s under Richard Caves, who had very different ideas.” (Robert J. Barro, Robert J. 2019, “Trump’s Mercantilist Mess,” Project Syndicate. September 5.)

  84. As Alan P. Brinton (2016) wrote in response to Bonevac explaining what it was like being a Trump-supporting professor at a major university: “I would like to have seen him make a case for why he, AS A PHILOSOPHY PROFESSOR, is supporting Trump, rather than just trotting out the usual talking points.”

  85. We expanded the sample through internet searches by looking for additional academics associated with conservative think tanks identified through the public engagements of the initial sixty-nine subjects. We also checked names referenced in conservative or pro-Trump pieces appearing in various mass and social media outlets.

  86. Shields and Dunn (2016) identify political science and especially economics as relatively “safe spaces” for conservatives and call literature, modern American history, and particularly sociology “unsafe spaces” (Dunn interviewed by Richard Grunch, May 17, 2016 Law and Liberty website).

  87. Bourdieu (1988, pp. xvii-xviii) argues that “it is not, as is usually thought, political stances which determine people’s stances on things academic, but their position in the academic field which inform the stances that they adopt on political issues in general as well as on academic problems.”

  88. Or more anecdotally, the pattern offers support to the familiar quip by the former Democratic leader of the House of Representatives, Tip O’Neill: “all politics are local.” Two qualifications of that thesis, however, are in order. First, the American academic field has not enjoyed the degree of autonomy from external forces to the extent that has traditionally been the case in Europe. The boundaries between the academic field and the political and economic fields are more porous here. Second political correctness concerns did not arise strictly from indigenous campus concerns. They have also been fueled by external forces as well. The National Association of Scholars was founded in 1987 for the expressed purpose of lobbying against diversity issues on campus. Several of Trumpists belong to the NAS or other conservative organizations such as the Intercollegiate Studies Institute that have made their presence on campuses. Moreover, publicity given by conservative media to selected incidents helped create the image of colleges and universities as imposing a liberal agenda on students. So these external bodies to campuses have nonetheless been influential in shaping the ideological climate in which the Trumpists operate. However, from a Bourdieusian field standpoint such organizations as the NAS, though dependent on private funding, can be considered part of the academic field since their fundamental purpose is to shape the ideological climate on campus. They have helped turn campus diversity into a contentious issue.

  89. Brint (2018, pp. 7494/11844) reports from Pew Research Center data that by 2017 “only 36% of Republicans said college had a positive effect on the country, a 20% drop over two years. Older and college-educated Republicans were the most negative demographic groups, suggesting that working-class resentment was not the principal factor driving these poll results. Instead, the rise of cultural populism in the 2016 presidential campaign pushed Republican opinion in a distrusting direction across a wide range of issues. In the case of higher education, the populist reaction built on the long history of anti-intellectualism among religious and business-oriented conservatives and the publicity given by conservative media to incidents that made colleges appear overly responsive to the identity politics of liberal professors and students.”

  90. This is an interesting variation on Gouldner’s (1957) classic “locals/cosmopolitans” distinction. By and large, the Trumpists are locally concerned: campus culture and national identity, not global affairs. (My thanks to David Karen for suggesting this.)

  91. Despite the more alarming claims of certain Trumpists decrying the “problems” of American higher education—political correctness, affirmative action, limitations faced by controversial speakers, etc.—Brint (2018) argues that American higher education “as an institution” has never been better. Perhaps it is precisely because of the expanding success of this institution that many Trumpists are sounding the alarm just as they are about the expanding regulatory powers of government more generally.

  92. At least half of those writers are now on the record making supportive comments about the president (see Jeremy W. Peters, “The Never Trump Coalition That Decided Eh, Never Mind, He’s Fine,” The New York Times, October 6, 2019, section A, page 15.)


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This article expands substantially the preliminary findings reported at previous conferences of the American Sociological Association and the European Consortium for Political Research (Swartz 2018a, b, 2019). The early findings were also presented in the following talks: Department of Sociology, Boston University (October 15 2018), the Theory Workshop in the Department of Sociology, University of Toront,o and “Neil’s Salon” Toronto, Canada (September 28, 2018). I want to acknowledge the important contributions by three research assistants: Nicholas Rodelo, Jill Smith, and Sara Snitselaar. Each has been very helpful in assembling the data at various stages of this ongoing research project. Nicholas played a particularly important role in assembling and verifying data for this article. I also want to acknowledge the generous support from the following colleagues who read and offered comments on previous texts reporting some earlier findings: Steven Brint, Kevin Dougherty, Neil Gross, David Karen, Karen Lucas, Kristin Luker, Neil McLaughlin, Sebastien Parker, Gisèle Sapiro, Judith Taylor, and Rhys Williams. I am particularly grateful to Neil McLaughlin for numerous conversations regarding this research project.

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Swartz, D.L. The academic Trumpists: American professors who support the Trump presidency. Theor Soc 49, 493–531 (2020).

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  • Conservatism in American higher education
  • Field analysis of conservative American professors
  • Heteronomy in the American academy
  • Populist politics in American higher education
  • Public intellectuals for Trump
  • Radical right in US colleges