Scholar. Athlete. Mentor. Volunteer.
Students arrive at the University of Notre Dame with a number of titles, but author typically is not one of them.
Not so for Avery Gahler.
A first-year political science and economics major from St. Paul, Minnesota, Gahler is co-author, along with David Schultz, of “Trumpism: American Politics in the Age of Politainment.”
Released in November, the 132-page book unfolds as a series of 10 rules for understanding American electoral politics and political leadership, such as “Politics is Like Selling a Beer” and “It’s a bar fight.”
Gahler, for her part, is still adjusting to life as an author.
“I Googled myself and the first thing that popped up was the (book’s) Amazon page,” Gahler said. “It was weird. It didn’t feel real.”
Schultz is a distinguished professor of political science at Hamline University, as well as a visiting professor at the University of Minnesota Law School, where he specializes in election law, professional ethics, state constitutional law and eminent domain and land use law. He has written 45 books and more than 200 articles.
“She gave great pop culture references, things like that, and she was extremely helpful in framing a lot of what I wanted to talk about in (a more contemporary) way."
The two met when Schultz gave a talk at Gahler’s high school in Maplewood, Minnesota.
“I talked about American politics,” Schultz said, “and as I oftentimes do, when I finished I said to the students, ‘Anyone who wants to follow up, send me an email, ask me any questions,’ etc., etc. Ninety-nine out of 100 times nobody follows up, but about a week later, Avery sends an email saying, ‘I really enjoyed what you were talking about. I’m thinking about majoring in political science in college but I don’t know a lot about what political scientists do. Do you mind if I work with you?’”
According to Gahler, “I knew I was interested in political science, but I hadn’t had much real-world experience with it. So initially, I wanted to just chat with someone in the field.”
The two started meeting regularly to talk about politics, which led to discussion of the book too.
“I said, ‘I have a draft manuscript of this, but I want it to appeal to younger people, like college-level,’” Schultz recalls. “‘I want it to have pop cultural references or language or a tone that appeals to 18-year-olds, college students, something like that.’ And Avery said, ‘That sounds like a really interesting thing that I want to work with you on.’”
Gahler read the manuscript and traded drafts with Schultz, suggesting edits aimed at increasing its appeal to younger readers.
“She gave great pop culture references, things like that, and she was extremely helpful in framing a lot of what I wanted to talk about in (a more contemporary) way,” Schultz said. “For example, I’m not a Taylor Swift fan, but she was able to incorporate some references to Taylor Swift and her song lyrics in the same way that a baby boomer might quote The Beatles or The Who until the cows come home.”
For instance, Rule No. 3 in the book is, “Taylor Swift is right.”
“It used to be some song reference,” Gahler said, “but a song from like the ’50s or ’60s. I’d never heard the song in my life.”
Gahler was also able to add context around candidates’ use of TikTok and other social media as more authentic forms of outreach to young voters.
Still, she said she never expected a co-author credit for the book.
“Throughout the process I mentioned (to Schultz) something like, ‘I’m excited to have my name as editor or contributor or something,’ and he was like, ‘No, you’re co-author.’ So that was kind of flattering,” she said.
But it was never a question for Schultz.
“I was just incredibly impressed with her seriousness, her interest in the topic,” he said of Gahler. “She really was very helpful in helping to put the final text together in terms of what the book was saying and how it was saying it.”
Back in St. Paul, the two met up for coffee over winter break to catch up on politics and other topics and talk about the future.
“The next thing I want to do is get more hands-on experience with politics,” Gahler said. “So I’m on the hunt for internships and experiences of that sort.”
“There’s something unique about Avery, and maybe this speaks to students at (Notre Dame), but it really does pay for people at the end of the day to raise their hand and show up and show initiative. There are so few people who do that, so few people in general, let alone students, who say, ‘I’ll step forward.’”
She cited “misinformation on social media” as the most pressing political issue for her generation, which has come of age in a so-called “post-truth” world, shaped less by objective facts than by personal belief and emotion.
“Lots of kids I know — less so at Notre Dame, but more so back home — form very extreme views without necessarily understanding why they’re saying the things they’re saying or the reasoning behind it, or what the other side is saying,” she said.
She pointed to Schultz as someone who approaches politics with an appropriate degree of both distance and skepticism.
“My favorite part of (working) with David and talking about all of these different topics is that David is a very moderate political person,” she said. “He’s able to explain things objectively and say each side did this well and each side did this poorly.”
Schultz returned the compliment.
“There’s something unique about Avery, and maybe this speaks to students at (Notre Dame), but it really does pay for people at the end of the day to raise their hand and show up and show initiative,” he said. “There are so few people who do that, so few people in general, let alone students, who say, ‘I’ll step forward.’”