Young Americans and How the Trump Years Changed Them

May 25, 2024

In speaking with kids who identified as liberal and conservative—and were from different racial groups—she found similarities in the ideas they expressed. But I think what makes the Trump moment different is that his election completely disrupted many people’s sense of racial progress in the US. These were children who had grown up with a really loud narrative of racial progress. This was quite different from the research I conducted with kids during the Obama era—I interviewed kids between 2011 and 2013. Some of them thought that it was still a problem in the US and some of the kids thought that racism was over.

For her new NYU Press book, Children of a Troubled Time: Growing Up with Racism in Trump's America, Hagerman interviewed 10- to 13-year-old children in two contrasting political landscapes: ruby-red Mississippi and deep-blue Massachusetts. In speaking with kids who identified as liberal and conservative—and were from different racial groups—she found similarities in the ideas they expressed.

NYU News spoke with Hagerman about the work—as well as her previous NYU Press book—and why recognizing, in the words of David Bowie, that children are “quite aware of what they’re going through” is crucial for our democracy.

You write that adults “at almost every place I have visited have told me stories about the impact that politics has had on their local community.” This could apply to many periods in history. What’s different now?

Certainly 2016 was not the only politically explosive moment in history. But I think what makes the Trump moment different is that his election completely disrupted many people’s sense of racial progress in the US. Before his election, even if people didn't agree about how much progress has been made and what still needs to happen, I think that there was still an overwhelming commitment to [Martin Luther King, Jr.’s idea] that the arc of the moral universe bends towards justice and that things were getting better—and even if it takes a long time, we’re making progress.

Despite former President Trump’s claims that he’s the least racist person in the entire world and no matter what you think about him, you cannot deny his long-standing use of racist words or his actions. And so I think this was at least part of why some people were so shocked when he won the election.

I saw evidence of this when I spoke to the children that are the focus of this research. These were children who had grown up with a really loud narrative of racial progress. This 12-year-old student named Paige, who lives in Mississippi and identifies as White, told me that her teacher asked them to draw a picture, the day after the election, of what they thought the future with President Trump would look like.

She said that she drew Trump behind a wall of fire and told me “I just felt like we were making so much progress with Obama—like on everything, on women’s rights, gay rights, racism…global warming. Now we have the new president—it’s, like, a million steps backwards…he will just burn it all down.”

So I think that what made this moment different was new awareness of, wow, maybe the United States still has a lot of racism to deal with.

How did these findings vary from what you’d encountered in your previous work?

This was quite different from the research I conducted with kids during the Obama era—I interviewed kids between 2011 and 2013. All of those children, regardless of how they felt about Obama, thought that racism was bad. Some of them thought that it was still a problem in the US and some of the kids thought that racism was over. But regardless of what they thought, they all believed that racism was bad—a social problem.

The source of this news is from New York University

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