What Made Me Curious? Professor René Lindstädt
Professor René Lindstädt joined the University in September 2016, as Head of the School of Law and Politics.
An expert in American politics with a particular interest in Congress, he spoke to Dr Stephen Cushion, Reader and Director of MA Political Communication in the University’s School of Journalism, Media and Cultural Studies about what sparked his curiosity in the subject.
Stephen Cushion: What sparked your curiosity in American politics?
René Lindstädt: I spent a year in the United States, in a small town in Alabama, when I was in high school. It was in 1993-1994, right at the beginning of the Clinton administration. I was absolutely fascinated by the political climate and political dynamics, and started really getting into studying American politics and history. I never looked back, and ended up making a career out of it.
Why the particular interest in Congress?
The big three institutions in American politics are Congress, the Presidency and the Supreme Court. So when I started graduate school, I had a choice to make about how to specialise. I was very fortunate to work with one of the pre-eminent US Supreme Court scholars, Professor Lee Epstein, at my alma mater, Washington University in St. Louis, which is why my early work was on the Supreme Court.
Eventually, I started to develop an interest in legislative processes and in particular the rules that govern legislative politics. Yet I have kept a keen interest in the US Supreme Court, and I’m in slowly getting back to working on studying courts now that I’m working at the School of Law and Politics.
How do you think Trump has changed US politics? Do you think he will be re-elected?
No, I don’t think he will be re-elected. In fact, and I will probably regret later having made a prediction, I don’t think he will finish the four-year term he was elected to last year.
What were the main reasons for Trump’s election, and what role did the media play?
I believe that the research community is only just starting to come to grips with this question. In some respects, the election of Trump is part of a larger phenomenon that can, to a large extent, be traced back to the fact that globalisation has not generated benefits for all parts of society. As a result, we have seen more protest voting and elections that have produced winners that are not part of the mainstream.
As to the specific case of Trump, there are many different reasons that conspired to produce this outcome: a large field of Republican primary candidates; a divided Democratic Party; the alleged Russian meddling in the electoral process; ideological polarisation in the electorate; and many more. I also believe that the media has found it difficult to adjust to the unconventional and erratic style of Trump the Candidate and Trump the President.
Do you think we live in an era of post-truth politics? Do you see similarities between Brexit and Trump’s election victory?
We are at risk of sliding into an era of post-truth politics, which is why it is so important to have a strong, independent media. I do believe that there are some similarities between what brought about Brexit and the election of Trump, i.e. what I said earlier about globalisation, but I believe that there are also many more differences.
Read the full interview
This is a shortened version of the full interview that features in the summer 2017 issue of Challenge Cardiff, our research magazine.