An Introduction to Trumpology

We need to study Donald Trump with the same precision that European and American Orientalists have studied their Orient.

Republican US presidential candidate Donald Trump [Reuters]
Republican US presidential candidate Donald Trump [Reuters]

A couple of weeks ago while visiting a local bookstore on Columbia University campus in New York I ran into a book on the front counter of the otherwise perfectly respectable establishment with a strange title:  Assholes: A Theory of Donald Trump (2016). 

After some hesitation, I picked up the book and sat on a small chair in the corner of the bookstore and began thumbing through it. I learned that the author of the book, Professor Aaron James, is a proper philosopher who teaches at the University of California in Irvine. He has studied at Harvard, and before publishing this book had in fact written another that he had called Assholes: A Theory (2012).

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I subsequently learned that even before James, another major theorist of the matter, Geoffrey Nunberg, had published his Ascent of the A-Word: Assholism, the First Sixty Years (2012). So the appearance of Donald Trump seems to have offered the experts of the issue with a major breakthrough in the field of – believe it or not – “Assholology”.

Then I remembered a while ago another distinguished American philosopher, Harry Gordon Frankfurt, had also written a similarly strange book, “On Bullshit” (2005). 

As I habitually do on such occasions, I first translated the title of the book in my mind into Persian, Arabic, Turkish, or any other language in their neighbourhood and wondered if any other philosopher anywhere in the world other than the US would think of such a poignant topic. I concluded not really.

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This particular branch of philosophy does not translate into any non-American context. They are leading experts and world authorities on these two rather interrelated subjects of Assholology and Bullshitting.

Perhaps calling Trump names and throwing obscenities at him might make you feel better or even make a buck and sell a book or two but the phenomenon they are facing deserves a much more serious attention worldwide.


Trumpology 101

The fact that seminal American philosophers have turned to such dark and quite dingy aspects of their political culture made me think that they really do need some help from their colleagues elsewhere in the world to help them to understand such creatures as Donald Trump to which they have willy-nilly given birth. They are obviously not quite up to the task of figuring out the nature of the monster they have created – but hurl insults at them, as Muslims do at “the stoning of the devil” ritual during their Haj Pilgrimage. 

Perhaps calling Trump names and throwing obscenities at him might make you feel better or even make a buck and sell a book or two, but the phenomenon they are facing deserves much more serious attention worldwide.

I am not suggesting American philosophers should stop investigating further into their newly discovered field of Assholology and Bullshitting.  They are, I must admit, quite good at it. But I believe they need help from another disciplinary perspective too. 

It is in that spirit of collegiality that I propose the idea of “Trumpology” as a bona fide subject to be closely studied through an interdisciplinary programme in institutions of higher learning around the world, particularly in countries and cultures at the mercy of US militarism upon which may soon preside Donald Trump himself – the very definition of the condition of Trumposis.    

Look at any other maniac who has ruled anywhere else in the world:  How many books and learned articles and essays do we have on Genghis Khan, Attila the Hun, Mao Zedong, Stalin, Hitler, Mussolini, and ask yourself if we do not need to produce a similar body of work on Donald Trump.

Republican US presidential candidate Donald Trump [Reuters]
Republican US presidential candidate Donald Trump [Reuters]

Here I must introduce a rather important stipulation: The subject I propose needs to be studied almost exclusively by non-Americans. The citizens of the US and, I daresay, Canada, are too close to this creature that has emerged from their midst to understand it properly.

We do need a bit of critical distance from the subject to comprehend it properly.     

Qualifications to Detect Trumposis

We need to study Trump with almost the same analytical precision that old-fashioned European and American Orientalists and anthropologists have studied their Orient and the remotest tribes from their university campuses.

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Trump and his ardent supporters, I daresay, pose a new challenge to the discipline of Anthropology were it not to have so totally exhausted itself by ignoring the US and Europe and laser-beaming on other people’s peculiarities.


Having spent generations of their scholarship in studying other people’s cultures, alienating them from themselves, turning them into objects of their tenure-track curiosities, these anthropologists are methodologically and theoretically ill-equipped to offer us any significant insight into Trumpology. 

For generations American and European anthropologists have studied Arabs, Muslims, Africans, Asians and Latin Americans, as if we were strange tribes here to entertain their anthropological theories.

It is time we reverse the gaze and collectively start studying Trumpology as the singular achievement of what they call “Western Civilisation”. 

Today in the US and Europe we have experts who introduce themselves as “assistant research professor at the Institute for National Security and Counterterrorism (INSCT)”. Right?

Well, I believe Trump is the single most dangerous symptom of the threat that the US poses to the security of the world at large and critical thinkers from Asia, Africa, and Latin America must start studying this threat to their national existence and develop counterterrorism strategies on to how to deal with it. 

Admirable as the endeavours of American philosophers might be in opting for such analytical tools as Assholism and Bullshitology, I am afraid these novice conceptualisations are not sufficient for understanding the widespread pandemic of Trumposis in dire need of Trumpology.

Establishing a discipline of Trumpology might not prevent Americans from electing him as their next president, even if they opt to vote for Hillary Clinton who manifests slightly different symptoms of the same disease.

But as I have already argued, Donald Trump is a symptom, not the disease. 

Understanding this peculiarly North American disease is as urgent, if not more so, than understanding the deadly pandemic viruses such as HIV, SARS, or Zika. In the case of such diseases, health officials at the border can stop an infected person and put him or her in a quarantine to protect the public. But Trump might soon have the power of flying his fighter jets and drones, as well as dispatching his aircraft carriers and nuclear submarines anywhere and everywhere around the globe without being even detected, let alone stopped.

This preliminary outline is simply to announce the urgency of the field of Trumpology. Other colleagues from around the world now need to expand upon this outline from their own vantage point as the victims of US militarism so we can collectively come together and understand this malady, perhaps beginning with a conference in New York City, which seems to be the epicentre of this disease. 

Hamid Dabashi is Hagop Kevorkian Professor of Iranian Studies and Comparative Literature at Columbia University in New York.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.