What the Trump presidency tells us about American politics

In virtual Harper Lecture, Prof. John Mark Hansen reexamines 2016 election

As we head into the 2020 election, Prof. John Mark Hansen looks back to understand the election that gave us the Trump presidency—and looks ahead to the elections that will determine its legacy.

One of the nation’s leading scholars of American politics, Hansen offers—and defends—several claims in his virtual Harper Lecture. First, the most surprising thing about the 2016 election was how utterly normal it was. Second, the 2016 election and the Trump presidency have accelerated rather than reversed existing trends in the American electorate. Finally, the trends in the electorate point to a future that is challenging for the Democrats, but trouble for the Republicans.

“Donald Trump did not defy gravity in winning the election in 2016,” said Hansen, who delivered his lecture in August. “He is also currently not defying gravity. That is, there are these larger structural forces. I think the 2016 campaign, and what we’ve seen of his presidency, indicates that he’s been subject to those same forces as every other president in our recent political history.”

The Charles L. Hutchinson Distinguished Service Professor in the Department of Political Science and the College, Hansen is the author of two books: Gaining Access: Congress and the Farm Lobby, 1919–1981, published in 1991; and Mobilization, Participation, and Democracy in America, co-authored with Steven Rosenstone and published in 1993.

Hansen was elected a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2003.