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Students and Political Scientists Tackle 2016 Election Recap

Submitted by Renea Goddard on November 23, 2016 – 1:38 amNo Comment

On Nov. 10 three UALR professors from the Department of Political Science meet with students and staff to discuss the results of this year’s presidential election. The election recap, organized by the School of Public Affairs, included speakers Christopher Williams, former post-doctoral researcher at the University of Mannheim with a recent focus on the European Union, Joseph Giammo, associate professor and interim director of UALR’s Department of Political Science, and Eric Wiebelhaus-Brahm, assistant professor of political science at UALR with a specialization in international relations. At least 20 to 30students and faculty members attend the recap.

The discussion, which involves topics such as the feasibility of Donald Trump’s proposed policies, the shift in administration from Democratic to Republican, and the future of the United States’ social climate and economic status post-election, drew questions and challenges from students and faculty members alike.

Called a “surprise” win by journalists at The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, USA Today and countless other media outlets, Donald Trump’s victory in the 2016 presidential election indeed left many communities in a state of shock. Wiebelhaus-Brahm, however, discusses how changes in power in the United States’ two-party system follow a predictable pattern that he likens to a pendulum. According to Wiebelhaus-Brahm, it is no surprise that eight years of Democratic control of the White House resulted in an increase in reactionary opposition from the right, and ultimately, a Republican Party victory. In this way “the pendulum swings back and forth,” he said.

“One reason why I say it’s an odd event [was that] Trump was in a very unique position as someone with universal name recognition and no political experience,” explained Wiebelhaus-Braum.

Williams, whose research has recently focused on the changing political environment of the European Union, explains how an increase in right-wing ideologies have been occurring in foreign democracies—another early predictor of Trump’s victory in the election.

“We’ve seen a rising tide of populism. We’ve seen it throughout Europe,” he said. He explained that increasing globalization and national governments that fail to efficiently adapt to this changing environment has resulted in a nationalist, populist reaction in many western nations. Some examples include the recent increase in power of the National Front in France, the UK Independence Party in the United Kingdom, and United States’ far-right conservative parties.

Though Trump snagged the majority of the electoral votes, his loss of the popular vote has resulted in backlash from Democrats, Clinton voters and marginalized communities who are standing in solidarity against Trump’s ideologies. In light of this, discussions on social media about abolishing the electoral college have appeared in abundance. Giammo and Williams broke down the electoral college at the recap, with Giammo saying that it is indeed an outdated system that over-represents smaller states. However, Williams explained that abolishing the electoral college and saving the popular vote is a long-term process that requires compliance from ¾ of the states, something that is unlikely to happen.

Other topics brought up by students and faculty members include the controversial ideologies that Trump’s campaign embodied and the social implications of the election results. Akshaya Garimalla, an international studies major and facilitator of UALR’s social activism organization A.W.A.R.E (Advocating for the Wellbeing And Respect of Everyone), asked about the issue of conversion therapy and LGBTQ rights under a Trump administration. Giammo responded by describing Trump’s views on the LGBTQ community as “liberal” and even mentioned a quote from Donald Trump last April in which Trump stated that if Caitlyn Jenner were to ever come to Trump Tower, she’d be allowed to use whatever bathroom she wanted.

Regardless of the implications of this off-hand statement, Trump selected Mike Pence, governor of Indiana and famously known as a supporter of conversion therapy, to be his vice president. Pence’s policies as governor, as well as his own personal views, have been described as anti-gay/anti-LGBT extremism by many major media outlets, including MSNBC and The Huffington Post. In spite of this, however, the political scientists’ commentary on this topic proved limited. Giammo stated that Anthony Kennedy, an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, would never allow the passing of legislation supporting conversion therapy, and cited Kennedy’s Libertarian views as evidence, before quickly moving on.

Trump’s upcoming court cases and the effect they will have his on presidency were also discussed in the recap. Donald Trump will be standing trial for fraud due to allegations against his for-profit education company Trump University. He had also faced a trial for the rape of a 13 year-old girl; however the victim dropped the civil case following Trump’s victory in the election.

“If he lost both of those [cases], his approval rating would be pretty low,” Williams explained. “We would have a sitting president who has committed fraud and raped a child.”
When asked if Trump could be impeached for this, Williams said, “Will Congress impeach a president of their own party? Well, it all comes down to incentives.”

However, fellow professor of political science Daryl Rice disagrees from the audience. “But that’s optimistic, isn’t it?” he challenged Williams at the recap. “Why do you assume that his approval ratings would fall if he lost the civil case? Why would it be different than [the reaction to] any other revelation about him that has come out?”

Williams also discusses likely changes in the U.S economy and national debt following this year’s election. Trump’s proposals, including increasing military spending and deporting immigrants, would be very costly for the economy, according to Williams. So would building a wall, but the likelihood of that happening is low, he explained.

“There’s gonna be debt,” he said. “There’s gonna be a lot of added debt.” In addition, Trump has left his companies and assets to his children to take over while he is in office. Williams said that this is unconventional, as most presidents keep their assets in a blind trust so that it doesn’t conflict with their position in office. Trump’s decision means that while he is president, he will have knowledge and possible access to these assets through his children, presenting a conflict of interest.

“Say what you want about Donald Trump, but the man knows how to work a crowd,” said Williams on Donald Trump’s strategic use of divisive rhetoric early in his campaign, to focusing more on unity in his recent acceptance speech. “You can’t govern when only 43.7% of the population wants you to be president, and the rest feasibly wants you out of office.”

The recap closed with a final discussion on the forces that resulted in this election outcome, with Wiebelhaus-Brahm pointing out how the right’s growing dissatisfaction with the eight-year Obama administration had such a significant impact on the election.

“The thing that affected this election more than anything else is the desire for change,” said Williams.

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