By Tim Webber
It’s hard to believe that we’re more than halfway through our Washington, D.C. experience. We’ve packed so much into the last seven days that at times it can seem like a blur.
Fortunately, we’ve had a weekend of free time to relax and reflect on what we’ve learned over the first week. As I thought back on the speakers and site visits, I noticed a common thread: What’s going to change over the next four years, and what should President-Elect Donald Trump do to put America in the best position in each situation?
I thought I’d condense each of the topics we’ve covered so far into quick paragraphs on what the experts expect to see happen over the next four years.
ON THE ELECTION
The panel that spoke Tuesday morning, especially John Hudak of the Brookings Institution, expect Trump to claim a mandate from the election, even though it will be tough to justify. Hudak said that this election was not a change election, noting that 90 percent of incumbents at the federal level were reelected and that progressive ballot measures passed, even in some traditionally conservative states.
The panel also thought Trump would struggle because of some of the key attributes that powered his win. Trump made a large number of promises in his campaign, and some will be difficult to keep. His outsider appeal, which certainly helped him get elected, will work against him in Washington. One member of the panel said that the worst thing that he could do is “drain the swamp,” as that could actually make it hard for Trump to enact his policies. Instead, the panel thought Trump should build his cabinet around establishment politicians.
Neither speaker on Wednesday morning — Michael Eric Dyson and Greg Carr — spoke at length about Trump. Dyson did note that “people who dismiss Donald Trump don’t really understand” the power of charisma, and that that charisma could be used effectively to cover up his most destructive policies.
Some discussion did focus on the confirmation hearings of attorney general nominee Jeff Sessions, who has had a checkered past on race. Dyson suggested that the relative lack of opposition towards his appointment was a further extension of what he called “the unanimity of whiteness.”
While both speakers (almost surprisingly) expressed disappointment in President Barack Obama’s lack of action on racial issues during his two terms, neither expected improvement in Trump’s administration.
At the Brookings Institution, Sarah Binder noted the uphill battle Trump will face in enacting his policies. In general, the current Congress is not set up for success. She first pointed out that inherited laws — what she called the “policyscape” — are tough to chip away. Further, the increased polarization of both parties makes compromise tougher, as moderate factions continue to erode.
While the unified control currently enjoyed by the Republican party means something, it’s not worth as much as we’d think. For example, Republicans still need eight votes from across the aisle to pass legislation in the Senate. In addition, there’s inklings that the control isn’t truly “unified,” as Trump conflicts with traditional Republican views on several issues. And while there’s no single model for how presidents form a relationship with Congress, Binder said that Trump’s “Art of the Deal” approach will struggle in Washington.
ON FOREIGN POLICY
Barbara Slavin of the Atlantic Council opened her remarks by pointing out that Trump’s foreign policy will likely be closer to Obama’s than people may think — with a few key exceptions. Trump will be less likely to go after human rights abusers and could view Russia as an important ally in the fight against ISIS.
And speaking of ISIS, the terrorist group will likely be Trump’s top priority. Lawrence Korb of the Center of American Progress actually ranked Russia as the top threat in his lecture, followed by China, Iran and North Korea. ISIS came fifth. Korb also made a point to note that ISIS can’t be defeated militarily — it represents an idea that must be defeated. Will Trump heed that warning?
There’s not a whole lot to mention here, as agriculture was obviously not a key part of Trump’s platform. But after meeting with representatives from the Department of Agriculture, I began to think that maybe it should have been. The USDA handles a ton of areas that you wouldn’t normally consider. Outside of trade policy, Trump’s unlikely to influence much of this department.
And maybe that’s a good thing, because their cafeteria is top-notch.
AND IN GENERAL…
We noted in a class meeting tonight that nobody really has much of an idea how Trump’s presidency will go. Even people who have studied political science for decades are frustrated with his unpredictability. All we can do is fasten our seat belts. We’ll learn a lot more about Trump and what his presidency looks like next week.