Professors from across fields discuss future of country, world under Trump presidency

Associate Professor of Political Science Kelly Greenhill speaks during a faculty panel on President-elect Donald Trump's proposed policies in the Terrace Room on Dec. 1. (Nicholas Pfosi / The Tufts Daily)

Approximately 40 students gathered last night in the Terrace Room to attend a panel event entitled “What to Expect from a Trump Presidency,” sponsored by the Department of Political Science, Experimental College and the International Relations Program. 

The panel was led by Chair of the Political Science Department Deborah Schildkraut and included Professor of Sociology Keith Maddox, Professor of Political Science Kelly Greenhill, Professor of Sociology Helen Marrow, Professor of Community Health Alecia McGregor, Professor of Political Science Malik Mufti, Professor of Political Science Oxana Shevel and Professor of Economics Enrico Spolaore.

Schildkraut opened the event noting that the event was inspired by questions that the panelists had been receiving from students in classes that they felt that they were not always able to answer on their own.

Maddox spoke first and centered his talk on social psychology and President-elect Donald Trump’s rhetoric during the campaign, which he said was disconcerting to him, as was the fact that so many Americans voted for Trump in spite of his language.

“But what I’m trying to remember is that there are other people out there who didn’t have that reaction and what I’m also trying to do is not overreact and suggest that that means they are sexist, that they are all racist,” he said. “To try to characterize all those individuals as being monolithic would be to make the same kind of mistakes that we try to avoid when we try to study stereotyping and prejudice.”

Maddox said that as a result of the campaign and election, many people felt more comfortable expressing biases that they may have kept to themselves previously, but that there was still a silver lining to the election outcome.

“There were a lot more people who were not just sort of disappointed or thought it would go the other way, but people who were outraged and I think in some ways that strong affective reaction, it is something that feeds into peoples’ motivation to move forward, to be more activist, if you will,” he said.

Spolaore titled his portion of the event “Trumponomics 101” in an attempt to unpack Trump’s economic policy. However, he said that Trump’s policies lacked specifics and were often contradictory, making predictions about growth, distribution and equality difficult.

Spolaore explained the classic and common understanding of free trade, saying that right now the United States had open trade with China, and that if Trump were to impede trade, that would lead China to retaliate, sparking a trade war.

Using the matrix of the prisoner’s dilemma, Spolaore said Trump did not consider many countries to have truly open trade policies with the United States and that Trump believes these countries are taking advantage of the United States. It was for that reason he threatened tariffs on the campaign trail, Spolaore said.

Next, Greenhill highlighted key issues that might occur under Trump within her field of study, while also noting and possible points of optimism with regard to his presidency. She said that Trump will likely take more moderate stances on issues following his taking office.

She referenced former President John F. Kennedy with regard to his stance on building up a defense budget based upon the Soviet-American missile gap and former President George W. Bush on his running on being less interventionalist, which Greenhill noted as contrary to what would later occur under his leadership.

“Running is not ruling,” she said. “All sorts of things are said on the campaign trail. This has historically been the case, it’s not new to say one thing while running and to embrace a more reflective and deliberative behavior once candidates take office.”

The next speaker on the panel was Shevel, whose focus is the post-Soviet region, specifically Russia. She said it is necessary for American citizens to be watchful for Trump appointing positions, purely out of self interest, to individuals who might hold a more honorary role due to their inexperience in the field of focus, and therefore taking on advisors who might hold more radical interests.

“It’s going to be very important to see if these appointed positions are going to be the location of power, or if the power might shift to more informal positions, individuals, institutions and mechanisms, which has been the case in less democratic countries where presidents often exercise power not through normal mechanisms, but they sort of side step the constitution … to fit their preferences,” she said.

Mufti began his portion of the event by discussing reports to the BBC from a Trump advisor stating that the Iranian nuclear deal would be revised rather than thrown out. Mufti then discussed how Trump’s appointed National Security Advisor, Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, believes Turkey will be America’s strongest ally in the fight against ISIS.

Mufti also mentioned Trump’s various opinions on Israel, first expressing strong support for Israel but then suggesting that he wants to broker an Arab-Israeli peace.

“So we’re really left with gigantic question marks across the board,” Mufti said of Trump and his course of action upon assuming the presidency.

He went on to discuss how Iran would expand its sphere of influence over Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and Yemen. Regarding increased U.S. disengagement in the Middle East, Mufti believes Israel is likely to increase settlement expansion, which further decreases the likelihood of a two-state solution between it and Palestine. But Mufti did express optimism in claiming the best case scenario would be the United States surviving without major setbacks after Trump’s administration comes to an end.

Following Mufti, McGregor spoke about the possible repeal of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), through the use of “budget reconciliation” measures that will not require the use of a supermajority in Senate.

McGregor noted that it is likely that Trump will allow for certain provisions of the ACA to remain in place. For instance, it is likely that young adults will be allowed to stay on their parents’ medical insurance plan through to the age of 26, and insurance could not refuse clients with pre-existing conditions. Further, McGregor noted that the ACA would almost certainly not be repealed overnight, and would likely allow a two year window in which clients would be able to find new coverage under the likely conservative replacement for the ACA.

“To summarize these proposals, they amount to a more conservative brand of healthcare coverage which is characterized by a greater role of personal responsibility and a greater role of the market in healthcare … at the risk of exposing more vulnerable people, including seniors and low-income Americans, to financial risk,” McGregor said.

Marrow, who spoke last, said there was a significant level of alienation and fear within undocumented immigration as a result of the election, as well as stigmatization and scapegoating as a result of white, rural, working class people’s perception of a loss in status.

“By the way, I’m from an area in rural North Carolina. I grew up among this group, I’m very familiar with this group … but I think you should also recognize the economic anxiety is not solely economic anxiety,” she said. “It’s also about loss of prior privilege and status and it’s also about either conscious or unconscious racism.”

Through the deportations and detentions Trump promised on the campaign trail may never come to fruition, the fear it has instilled will have negative consequences, Marrow said.

“I think it’s going to come at high public cost … I think we’re going to get all of the bad that’s come before and very little of the good,” she said.