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Donald Trump "through a scholarly lens"
Savannah State University professor Dr. Robert Smith offers one of the nation’s first courses on the controversial candidate
Dr. Robert Smith, professor of Political Science and Public Affairs at Savannah State University

DONALD TRUMP’S effect on American politics is taking shape before our eyes, in a political and media phenomenon the likes of which this country hasn’t seen in modern times.

No true political scientist or politics junkie would miss an opportunity to delve further into this controversial but fascinating topic, and Dr. Bob Smith, professor of Political Science and Public Affairs at Savannah State University, walks the walk.

His new course offering this summer, “The Trump Factor in American Politics,” is one of, if not the first, such course offered in the U.S. We spoke to Dr. Smith last week.

I told people many months ago that Trump would get more support than anyone thought, but they said I was nuts. When did you realize the Trump candidacy wasn’t going away?

Dr. Bob Smith: Like a lot of people, I was late to the game in terms of foreseeing the longer term impact of the Trump candidacy, especially in terms of his ability to navigate the many nuances of the nominating process. There are lots of bells and whistles to that, and any candidate perceived as an outsider will ordinarily have quite an uphill battle.

Many of us underestimated his ability to really resonate with what is essentially a populist message. It’s a message tailored carefully to appeal to certain segments.

For example, middle aged white males disgruntled with a variety of circumstances. There is appeal to another set within the Republican Party that feel they haven’t been able to realize the change they thought would come by electing a certain brand of conservatives.

Then of course there is overall, wide discontent in terms of people who just feel their dollar isn’t going far enough. They see that after the great recession there isn’t full recovery for everybody. Some have recovered quite nicely, but not everyone.

Trump has managed to articulate all that in a way that has proven successful to his candidacy. And now it appears that he will likely carry the day in terms of being his party’s standard bearer.

There are a lot of threads that have been building for some while. Trump has channeled the whole celebrity/media/politician/business tycoon persona, and in doing so has redefined our politics.

So much of the Trump phenomenon can be traced to the disgust of the Republican grassroots at their last two presidential candidates, McCain and Romney. Tea Partiers are saying, let us choose the candidate this time.

I concur, and many political scientists are wondering if this in fact a realignment for Republicans, in the support for a candidate like Trump who advances a message that the party needs to let the rank and file be the spokespersons for the party, not just the party elite.

A silver lining of all the debates and all the talk about the nomination process has been shining a light, letting in some sunshine, on the mechanics of how that process works. And also more recognition about the whole superdelegate process on the Democratic side.

The common wisdom, at least in the mainstream media, seems to be that Trump is a racist. Savannah State is an HBCU, and most of your students will be persons of color. Will you approach the class with the premise that Trump is a racist or appeals to racists?

I try to always avoid the use of labels in my courses, and I’ll avoid the use of that label here. I’d like to look at it in the most neutral or objective way possible.

My goal will be helping students to understand the threads that have led things to this point, and to allow students to react.

The media has certainly portrayed much of Trump’s rhetoric and his positions as racist. And I would definitely say my students currently taking American Government share that very negative view.

Trump will say things like, 84 percent of white people who are murdered are killed by black individuals. And it turned out the number is closer to something like 14 percent. But I see that more as Trump being footloose and fancy free with his facts across the board.

I don’t want so sugarcoat anything. But I’d like my students to reach their own conclusions through a more objective analysis. Certainly students will have a very strong opinion one way or another, and my goal is to offer some objectivity.

We will look through a scholarly lens to examine the Trump phenomenon, and what are some ramifications if he moves on into the general election.

Any way to predict how a Trump vs. Clinton race will pan out? We’ve never seen anything like it. Their debates will be the most-watched TV shows in history other than a Super Bowl.

We’ll certainly see all the gloves come off, in ways we’ve never seen before.

The Democrats will see an opportunity to gain seats in the House and Senate. That’s what conventional wisdom holds, anyway. It will be interesting to see how the Trump effect functions in down-ticket races, as Republican candidates either embrace or reject Trump on the campaign trail, as they see fit.

The intensity of it all might serve to raise awareness to get people to get out and vote. But then again I always look for the silver lining in these things!