CAS Lecture Analyzes Trump

There has been frequent discussion about President Trump here on-campus.

On Feb. 6, English professor Todd McGowan had the honor of giving this year’s CAS Dean’s Lecture, which he titled “Citizen Trump.”

President Trump’s favorite film, “Citizen Kane,” inspired the title of his lecture, McGowan said.

“Citizen Kane,” a 1941 movie directed by Orson Welles, follows the life of character Charles Foster Kane. Kane started his career in media, like Trump, and then ran for governor of New York. AMC called it “the world’s most famous and highly-rated film.”

However, his life is filled with loneliness despite the success he appears to have. His dying words are “Rosebud,” the name of a sled he played with as a child before he was uprooted from his family and left in the world alone, McGowan explained.

“The sled stands for loss,” McGowan said. “The sled embodies what Kane doesn’t have.”

Trump was elected because he was able to give his supporters this image of the sled, he said.

Trump played with the relationship between excess and lack during his campaign to show his supporters that now, they are lacking, but they could indulge in pure excess if he were to become their president, McGowan said.

“As a huge fan of the film “Citizen Kane” and a huge hater of Donald Trump, I was interested in how professor McGowan was going to connect the two,” first-year Camellia Parsa said.

In McGowan’s lecture, he painted Trump as a kind of “archetypal capitalist.”

“We’re beings of absences constantly trying to find some presence,” he said.

Trump also uses an idea of “others,” such as Mexican criminals and radical Islamists, to plant paranoia in the minds of his supporters, McGowan said.

“Paranoia is a satisfying physic position because it attacks the other who stole our excess,” McGowan said.

Yet despite the apparent mind games McGowan sees Trump playing, he is not sure Trump even has a coherent political philosophy, he said.

“I think that he’s able to be manipulated by the most powerful person around him,” McGowan said.

This worries first-year Alex Mahaney, he said.

“I think it’s scary that a man with so little knowledge holds so much power,” Mahaney said.  

McGowan said he chose the topic to educate others and that he believes there is hope in the future.

“I’m upset, but that’s not what motivated the talk,” McGowan said. “I thought I saw something that could help people, and myself even, understand what Trump was doing and why that appeal was effective.”