Faculty Panelists Offer Insight on President-Elect

Annie McDonough

Two days after America elected Donald Trump as its next president, faculty and staff at Colgate poured into Love Auditorium, hoping to get an idea of what the businessman and unexperienced politician would be like as president. In the auditorium, a faculty panel convened to discuss the implications of a Trump presidency and address the circumstances under which Trump was elected.

The panel consisted of Assistant Professor of Sociology Alicia Simmons, Charles A. Dana Professor of Political Science Tim Byrnes and Professor of Sociology and Africana & Latin American Studies (ALST) Jonathan Hyslop.

Junior Leslie Subaldo said she came to the panel discussion to hear professors talk about some of the issues she’d only talked about with friends and seen on social media.

“I wanted a glimpse of these actual academic professors and their perspectives on how to handle this post-election time,” Subaldo said.

Senior Jason Alexander said that, immediately following the election, it was crucial for him to know where faculty stand on the issue, and to have a conversation about how to move forward.

“Essentially, all my thoughts on it are negative, and from this, I am coming from a position that is relatively better off and privileged,” Alexander said. “Even though it impacts everyone globally, especially my friends and family who are hurting from this, it is essential for me to join and do my part to figure it out.”

Each of the professors expressed some degree of concern regarding president-elect Trump, not veering far from the general sentiments vocalized by many students after the election results came out.

To begin, Byrnes discussed the powers inherent to the Executive Office, delineating the possible actions the president-elect could immediately undertake upon being sworn in, and going into detail about where Trump could meet some obstacles from the nation’s countervailing institutions, such as Congress.

“The only unchecked power the president has is the power of pardon,” he said. “The president doesn’t really do any of the things presidents talk about – ‘I’m going to raise taxes, I’m going to do this or that’ – well, presidents don’t do that. Those are legislative actions.”

Byrnes said that there are some things that president-elect Trump will be able to achieve early on, however, if he chooses to do so.

“There are a lot of things that presidents can do without legislative approval,” he said. “The Iran Nuclear Deal could be cancelled by President Trump, the United States could pull out of NAFTA [North American Free Trade Agreement], we certainly won’t join the Trans-Pacific Partnership.”

Byrnes also noted, however, that the ability of the country’s countervailing institutions to check the president’s power will depend on their willingness to do so.

“Any hope among Democrats that the nation’s policies, domestic and foreign, are not going to turn in a dramatically right direction – those are vain hopes,” he said. “They are going to turn in a dramatically right direction. The question is what happens when that occurs.”

Junior Katie Jean Colman attended the panel to hear the opinions of faculty members who are experts in their fields.

“Just the fact that we have a president who doesn’t believe in climate change, and a president who is so prejudiced against those who do not conform to his idea of the white American – I just see those lasting consequences being much longer than just four years,” Colman said.

In response to the eruption of hateful rhetoric and violence waged against minorities in some parts of the country following Trump’s election, Byrnes highlighted the high irregularity of a president or president-elect being the cause of that kind of social unrest, rather than having an ameliorative response to it.

“I don’t know what [Trump] will do in response to [the social unrest],” Byrnes said. “I am convinced that some of that is emboldened by the hostility of his campaign, so I don’t expect him to act in any sort of way to [diminish it]. But if he doesn’t in any way, then I would just point to that as an unusual thing in American politics.”

Simmons gave a short presentation about the different social groups that made up the electorate in this election, looking to initial exit poll data to find where predictions went so wrong and which groups made the difference in electing Trump.

“Given the October surprise of the Access Hollywood tapes, there was a lot of talk about how Trump can’t get women. We see this isn’t the case – he does have women,” she said, citing CNN data that showed 42 percent of all women voters voted for Trump.

She also highlighted the strength of Trump’s base of white voters, echoing the widely discussed data from the same CNN exit polls that showed 53 percent of white women voted for Trump, while all other female racial minorities voted for Hillary Clinton.

Simmons explored the economic reasons that some voters gave for choosing Trump, suggesting that some of his voters elected him despite his often racist and bigoted rhetoric and promised actions, not because of it.

“We’re talking about people who are having very different experiences in the world. There are different worlds out there,” Colman said, citing 2016 data from the Pew Research Center. 

Colman also acknowledged the greater effort required to employ understanding of the other side over name-calling.

“I think Professor Simmons pointed out something that I wasn’t being more aware of, and that was the fact that these people who voted for Trump have their fears, and they have issues of their own,” Colman said. “I think she made a good point that we’re not going to get anywhere by showing hatred and saying ‘how dare you,’ instead of getting somewhere by being empathetic and listening.”

Hyslop approached the situation from a historical standpoint, finding inspiration in the ways in which writer E.P. Thompson and other great thinkers approached challenges like World War II and nuclear proliferation.

“I know people are very cast down at the moment. People feel that the world is in a terrible state, and indeed it is,” Hyslop said. “But, history has handed us a challenge, and we must accept this challenge with both hands.”

Simmons advocated the need for greater understanding of the legitimate reasons of why Trump appealed to so many voters. Simmons provided that he has also shown every sign of making minorities in this country less safe and effectively worse-off.

“We know that some people are bigots. Trump, no doubt, has those supporters. Trump has been endorsed by the Klan,” she said. “We are living in that world, people. When your non-white, people of color friends are looking at you and they’re afraid – they should be. I know I am.”

Subaldo said her reaction to the election resulted in a lot of different feelings, not the least of which was a call to action. She expressed that she felt inspired by the shocking election, and motivated to act on said feelings.

“A lot of emotions ranging from anger, to confusion, to being upset, to not being surprised at all, considering how America was built, and the system that it was built on,” she said, describing her immediate reaction to Tuesday night’s results. “But we’ve got a lot of work to do.”