“What’s next? Trump in the White House” – A Roundtable Debate
On Tuesday, 29 November 2016, the Department of International Politics at Aberystwyth University and the David Davies Memorial Institute sponsored a roundtable discussion entitled ‘What’s Next? Trump in the White House’. Head of the Department and current E.H. Carr Professor Richard Beardsworth chaired the debate; the speakers included Ken Booth, Warren Dockter, Patrick Thaddeus Jackson, Jenny Mathers, and Jan Ruzicka. The discussion was wide-ranging, but broadly addressed how Donald Trump won the US presidential election (a result that many, including most pollsters, failed to predict), the future of the Electoral College, and what a Trump presidency might mean for the global order. A large and engaged audience attended the event, and contributed to the lively debate among the participants with a number of thought-provoking questions.
To open the discussion, each speaker offered a brief statement outlining some initial reflections. Warren Dockter began by comparing the Clinton and Trump campaigns. He argued that Hillary Clinton made strategic mistakes, allowing Trump to out-campaign her in the Rust Belt states and to flip Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, three states that historically have leaned Democratic. He also highlighted the ongoing debate surrounding the Electoral College. Since the election, Clinton’s lead in the popular vote has grown to some 2.5 million, although President-elect Trump won the Electoral College. This discrepancy has led to calls for change to the existing system, which was designed to protect an agrarian way of life but which now, some argue, disenfranchises urban voters.
Jan Ruzicka claimed that the victory of President-elect Trump, like Brexit, is a revolution by “the luckiest generation in the history of humankind.” He characterized the unexpected outcome of these two events as a nostalgic, resentment-driven revolution, motivated by a yearning for better, now by-gone times. He warned that the world should anticipate the possibility that the United States, under Trump’s leadership, would act as a revolutionary state with an unpredictable foreign policy.
Patrick Thaddeus Jackson described the results of the election as a resurgence of white nationalist, misogynist, nativist, anti-globalist sentiment consistent with the historical narrative of Manifest Destiny and American exceptionalism. He pushed back on the characterization of the voter as a rational actor, maintaining instead that when voting, people put identities before interests. Accordingly, the 2016 election can be seen as a contest between two competing visions of the kind of country people want to live in, with a vote for a Trump being a vote for an America populated by “white people inhabiting traditional gender roles.”
Jenny Mathers discussed Trump’s professed admiration for Vladimir Putin, and what that might mean for US foreign policy toward Russia. She stated that Putin’s appeal lies in the masculine image he has cultivated, in his apparent ability to act without constraint in pursuing what he sees as Russia’s national interests, and in his popularity within Russia, where he has few critics and where he is able to use the court system to silence his opponents. Jenny Mathers argued that while Russia can do very little or nothing for the United States in a material sense, on a personal level, Putin could bestow upon Trump recognition and approval as a strong leader and a strong man.
Ken Booth closed this portion of the discussion by arguing that Trump is only the most recent in a series of American presidents who have been out of touch with reality (he dated this lineage to the election of Ronald Reagan). He claimed that Trump is a symptom of a world in a deep malaise, pointing out that the rise of nationalism in the United States was leading to an increase in hate crimes, and that the US’s refusal to underpin the global order could have dire consequences.
The Chair then took questions from the audience. The ensuing discussion touched on, among other things, the rise of fake media and its impact on the election, the Electoral College’s role in protecting state identities, the potential for rapprochement between the US and Russia, possible changes to US participation in international trade agreements, and finally, what conclusions can be drawn from this election about politics.