Professors Explore Meaning of Trump Win
November 28, 2016
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The election of Donald Trump came as a surprise to many, and professors are considering the reasons for Trump’s unexpected victory and what his presidency will hold.
Irene Wisnieski, professor of political science, said pundits and pollsters did not arrive at accurate conclusions.
“Analysts now suggest myriad reasons for Trump’s surprise victory. Among the reasons given are that many voters are not happy with the direction the country is taking. Areas of concern are a stagnant economy, mounting debt, problems with Obamacare, and the growing threat of terrorism here and abroad,” she said.
She said Trump convinced many Americans that he is the ultimate outsider who will bring true change to correct these problems.
“As he has said, he will ‘Make America Great Again,’” Wisnieski said.
Paul Fetzer, professor of History, said Trump’s win serves as a demonstration of popular sovereignty, and the endurance of democracy. He said many people are upset about the discrepancy between the popular vote and the electoral college results.
“However, the flaws in the system should not undermine the fact that more than 100 million citizens participated in an election to choose the new leader of their country,” Fetzer said. “For most of human history, people did not have that ability and saw their political leadership change based on quite different standards of monarchical succession, dynastic usurpation, military coup, and foreign conquest. Despite the rancor during the campaign, the United States has a long tradition of peaceful transfers of power, and that tradition will continue.”
Christopher Stevens, director of the government, law and national security program and professor of government and history, suggests that one reason for Trump’s popularity is his stance on free trade. He said many Trump backers were not supporters, while many establishment Republicans and the Clinton wing of the Democratic party were in favor.
“But Trump opposed it. He tapped into an America that has been largely hurt by those free trade agreements. Look at the states that went against Hillary Clinton. Many of them are in the Rust Belt, such as Pennsylvania, Ohio and Indiana. The people in those states are the ones who have been disproportionately hurt by free trade,” Stevens said.
Another factor in Trump’s popularity was his method of stirring a sense of nationalism, for better or for worse. Allan Austin, a professor of history, said this is particularly evident in Trump’s stance on immigration.
“One of the concerns I certainly have with the way in which Trump rallied supporters was the way in which he made immigrants sort of the bad guys, in a way, vilifying immigrants in order to gain political power, and unfortunately it’s nothing new in American history. There’s a long history of American nativism that politicians have played on to get political success for themselves at the expense of people being turned into kind of scapegoats for all our problems.”
He added that Trump’s position on immigration is at odds with founding American ideals.
“I think Trump’s idea of building a wall would be incredibly counterproductive and in many ways would run contrary to the ideals upon which our nation was founded.”
Fetzer also took note of Trump’s populist approach.
“The success of Donald Trump has been largely based on a heightened sense of American identity in contrast to foreign immigration, the outsourcing of jobs to other countries, and the anxiety many feel over the United States’ diminishing dominance in the world’s economic and political spheres. I am hesitant to call this nativism, but it bears many of the same attitudes that were expressed in earlier periods of American history when citizens were concerned over immigration, jobs, and changing social values.”
He said the advantages of being part of the world’s growing markets will continue to put pressure on American businesses and workers, “but the desire for social and political uniqueness has taken root in many people’s minds and will be a significant force for the foreseeable future,” he said.
But what will a Trump presidency hold? No one can know for sure, and many are confused or uncertain about where he stands on policy.
Wisnieski said one action he will likely take, and one that will have significant impact on the nation, is his appointment of new Supreme Court Justices.
“With a Republican majority in the House and Senate, he certainly has an advantage in fulfilling many of his promises. Perhaps Trump’s most significant decision will be his nomination of a Supreme Court justice to replace the late Antonin Scalia. That appointment will affect the nation’s history long after Trump’s tenure is over,” she said.
However, Dr. Rebecca Padot, head of the GLNS program and a professor of history and government, does not expect extreme policies to be passed by Congress.
“One of the beautiful aspects of our American Government is that a president must work with Congress and the Senate in order to get money for their proposed policies. This filters out many extreme views from either the president, Congress, or the Senate and forces a compromise if either party wants to make a change on an issue. Going forward, a successful president will be one who chooses to compromise with the elected legislative body,” Padot said.
From a religious standpoint, Glenn Willis, professor of religious studies, hopes some of Trump’s policies will raise concerns about what it means to be generously pro-life.
“When I consider the outcome of the election, pro-life must mean, in my view, that unborn human beings should be given the chance to live full and healthy lives. There is a deep sacredness and value to life that I would like to see us affirm more often than we do. But this commitment will also affirm the value of our imperfect adult lives. Our criminal justice system incarcerates far too many people. People of color are rightly concerned about how their communities are treated by law enforcement. Working class Americans no longer have clear options for economic security, and we face a quiet but real pandemic of painkiller addiction.
Willis said it is important for people to expand the sense of the lives that matter, “admitting, if we are honest, that we do not always see the ways that others matter. This is our fault, not theirs.”
Joe Curran, a professor of religious studies, is especially worried about how people, on opposite sides of the political spectrum, are treating each other.
“I think the deeper issue with this election and going forward is how people who are on different ends of the political spectrum talk to each other and think about each other. I think that’s a really big Christian and religious issue. What I’ve noticed as a liberal Democrat who supported Hillary Clinton is that there’s a certain way that we talk and think about the people who supported Trump on my side of the political spectrum, and there’s a certain way that they talk and think about me and people like me on Trump’s side.”
He said people have leaned toward demonizing each other, and people have been inspired to fear each other.
“I’m not interested in who’s most guilty of this. I’m more interested in trying to find a way forward that doesn’t make fear and anger a starting point,” said Curran.