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Faculty panel discusses expectations of Trump presidency

A faculty panel comprising six faculty members discussed the expectations and possibilities coming in the presidency of Donald J. Trump, who takes the oath of office Jan. 20.Wait and see.

Along with a clear picture of what the coming presidency of Donald J. Trump has promised, a panel convened at Creighton University on the eve of the Jan. 20 Inauguration agreed that it’s been difficult to project how many of those promises will look in practice. The panel, comprising six faculty members from the College of Arts and Sciences, the Heider College of Business and the School of Law spoke for about two hours to an audience of about 150 students, faculty, staff and members of the community.

Up front, Scott Hendrickson, PhD, a professor in the Department of Political Science, said he hoped the event would serve as an occasion to dispassionately discuss the coming realities of the Trump Administration.

“Whether you were happy or unhappy with the election, those emotions aren’t our focus tonight,” he said. “It’s my hope that as you leave tonight, each of you will be able to take away something that will help you better understand what’s happening in the media and in our nation.”

And overwhelmingly, the conversation remained polite but discerning, occasionally sparking some sentiment and a few calls to action, while also maintaining an optimistic impression about the direction of the nation, if acknowledging that challenges will exist.

In addition to a new president, the election — several faculty members said — has also brought about new angles to longstanding conversations in the U.S.

“This election felt different to me,” said Palma Strand, a professor of law, recounting meeting with her classes the morning after the Nov. 8 election. “A question had been called as to who we are as a country. It put some issues and questions on the table that are really important for us to be thinking about. They have to do with race, they have to do with gender, they have to do with immigration. Having those things on the table are necessary for moving forward. If you ask me what the silver lining of this election is, that’s the silver lining.”

Hopes were expressed there might be a studied, measured approach to governance and a backing away from some of the more incendiary proposals that emerged in a contentious election season.

As Trump’s approval rating prior to taking office closes on a nadir of 40 percent, the panel said this might be a signal that things will go better for the new administration, both with Congress and the citizenry, if more olive branches were extended.

“A popular president will find it easier to work with Congress; an unpopular president will find it less easy to work with Congress,” said Richard Witmer, PhD, of the Department of Political Science. “We’ll have to wait and see what the response will be.”

Trump’s economic plans, his views on the courts — especially with the current, yearlong Supreme Court vacancy — and his provocative statements on China and immigration were largely the focus of the panel.

Economically, Ernie Goss, PhD, and Kristie Briggs, PhD, both professors in the Department of Economics and Finance, addressed how Trump could stimulate growth or impede it by various policies he proposed during the campaign.

Goss said the country’s economy over the last 10 years has grown at its slowest rate in nearly three-quarters of a century, and Trump has proposed policies Goss qualified as “good, bad and ugly,” which could address the stagnation or deepen it.

The good, he said, would be cutting the corporate income tax and repatriating earnings that linger in overseas bank accounts. The bad, Goss said, includes Trump’s much-touted pledge to bring back manufacturing. And the ugly revolved around Trump’s statements on trade and immigration. In all cases, Goss said, he is hopeful cooler heads might prevail.

“I think he understands that it’s not a good idea to wall off our country from trade, wall off our country from immigration, but he may be bound to those as campaign promises,” Goss said. “Unfortunately, as I listen to the individuals up for confirmation, I see this uber-nationalism. This sovereignty saying no to NATO, no to the U.N., all these organizations we are members of, to which we pay dues. That’s not policy. And I do believe Mr. Trump knows better, but those who have elected him, that’s what they want and so that’s what you may get.”

Briggs said Trump’s stated desire to bring about tariffs, typically imposed to deter countries from bad-faith trade practices, could certainly cut both ways. China’s reputed currency manipulation, which she noted ended in 2014, might not be quite the inciting act some in the Trump Administration think.

“If this is a reason to impose a tariff on China, there isn’t a lot of evidence to (impose it),” she said. “What if we put a tariff in place, anyway? China could retaliate. We are a very close second as an importer to China, after South Korea. Their retaliation is something we need to be cognizant of if we go forward with this.”

Erika Moreno, PhD, a professor in the Department of Political Science, said those trade issues may have their loudest echo with the nation’s closest neighbors — Central and South America. There, she said, the U.S. is the hegemon, but China has been developing a cozier relationship with the Americas, and Trump’s opening and persistently caustic statements on Mexico have soured feelings.

“Renegotiating NAFTA is probably the only area where I see a potential cooperation with the Americas and the Trump Administration,” she said. “What that will look like is hard to tell, but from the perspective across the Mexican border after the election, they certainly don’t feel they were the winners here.”

Domestically, Strand called attention to the efforts already underway in California and New York City to resist some of Trump’s most controversial and potentially deleterious policies on immigration and the creation of a registry for Muslims living in the country.

She said a new strain of states’ rights — this one with a progressive bent — may be the upshot, and the coming showdown on the Supreme Court nominee to replace Justice Antonin Scalia will likely continue to play on a theme: that the Court, over time, has largely reflected the will and opinion of the people.

“I see a disconnect between the political leadership and constituents within the Trump Administration and the direction of the nation, overall,” she said. “Over time, the Supreme Court aligns with the sentiments of the U.S. population. We’ve seen that in a woman’s right to choose, we’ve seen it in same-sex marriage. Sometimes the Court is ahead of the country, but sometimes the country is ahead of the Court. I expect to see conflict during the coming administration as the demographics of the country march on. States and cities will be moving as a counterweight to the Trump Administration.”

Hendrickson said the nation prepares to sail into uncharted waters in one regard: the election, finally, of a businessperson to run the government.

“One hypothesis we’re about to test in the next four years is: Can a businessperson run government better?” he said. “That’s the premise Romney ran on, that’s the promise that Ross Perot ran on, that’s the promise Steve Forbes ran on. Now we’ve elected a businessperson. So we’ll see.”

Ultimately, several panelists agreed that the election has brought about fresh opportunities for dialogue and debate, and they encouraged those present, especially students, wherever they land on the political spectrum, to take a hand in those opportunities.

“More than anything, there are opportunities for everybody to get involved,” Witmer told one student asking what the next steps could be for her generation. “Just as the Tea Party emerged after Obama’s election, take advantage of those opportunities. Find ways to get involved. Contact members of Congress because they’re going to be dealing with Trump over the next two years. Find something that you can do to put your voice out there.”

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