UMSL political scientists share insights on President Donald Trump’s first 100 days
Robert O. Davis has seen a shift in the way his fellow University of Missouri–St. Louis students engage in politics since President Donald Trump’s surprising victory last November.
“That’s one good thing about the whole Trump election, no matter your political ideology or which party you follow – it has engendered more political spirit, political debate,” said Davis, who completed his bachelor’s degree in political science in December and is entering the doctoral program. “Everywhere I go on campus, people are discussing the Trump presidency or the newest executive order or ‘What is he doing?’ or the Muslim travel ban or the immigration ban. Everyone is a little bit interested, and that’s a good thing for democracy.”
The interest level in what’s happening in Washington is surely one reason the Political Science Graduate Student Association last week convened a panel of UMSL political scientists to discuss Trump’s first 100 days in office – a milestone he will reach on Saturday.
Professor David Kimball served as the moderator for the discussion. Colleagues Marty Rochester, Dave Robertson, Adriano Udani and Barbara Graham and an audience that included dozens of students joined him over lunch last Thursday in Century Room B at the Millennium Student Center.
Each professor shared insight on Trump’s accomplishments – and in some cases, lack thereof – in a different policy area.
Rochester, an international relations specialist who has written 10 books on such topics as international law, organizations and politics, began by talking about Trump’s early decisions in the realm of foreign policy, including abandoning the Trans-Pacific Partnership and more recent dealings with Syria and North Korea.
In Rochester’s view, he at times has aligned himself with the same unilateralist, neoconservative school of foreign policy thinkers as did George W. Bush and Dick Cheney. They believe the United States should take an active role around the globe but prefer unilateral action and are skeptical of organizations such as the United Nations.
But during the campaign and since, Trump also has espoused neo-isolationist beliefs that America pull back somewhat from global engagement and do more to address issues at home.
“It’s going to be very interesting to see how he manages these tensions and contradictions,” Rochester said. “In case you haven’t noticed, not surprisingly, he’s flip-flopping and waffling all over the place.”
The president has been far more consistent on environmental issues, as Robertson, the department chair, described. Like the Republican Party he represents in the White House, he has aligned himself with the interest of the fossil fuel industry and is seeking to roll back environmental regulations he views as stymying economic growth.
“Trump promised action on the environment, and he has so far been able to deliver where he could,” Robertson said. “His appointments to important positions and his budget proposals very much changed the direction of environmental policy in the United States.”
Immigration could reasonably be considered Trump’s signature campaign issue, and his proposals – including the building of a wall along the southern border with Mexico – had a polarizing effect on the electorate.
He has made little effort to bridge that divide over immigration since taking office, as Udani, who researches political attitudes toward immigrant groups, explained.
“No matter what you think of him, he is doing what any modern-day president would want to do,” Udani said. “He is trying to fulfill campaign promises but also trying to reorient the entire political system to be responsive to his political agenda.”
He’s tried to take unilateral action through a series of executive orders to bring about that change, but he has met resistance in court where judges blocked two attempts to institute a travel ban restricting people from specified predominantly Muslim countries from entering the United States.
Graham, who specialized in law and politics, noted that the judicial branch is where Trump might well have scored his biggest political victory of his first 100 days.
“On Day 12, January 31 of this year, President Trump nominated U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, and he was confirmed on Day 81, April 10,” she said.
But Graham also offered a qualifier on that victory, noting that it was Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell who set the stage for Gorsuch’s appointment by not moving on the confirmation of Merrick Garland, whom Barack Obama last year nominated for the seat previously held by the late Antonin Scalia.
The panel convened last week, but there has been more activity since in the lead-up to Trump’s 100-day mark. This week, another judge blocked the administration from enforcing part of another executive order that threatened to take away funds from so-called “sanctuary cities.” And Trump’s administration also unveiled a broad plan to cut taxes.
Those issues and more will remain subjects for discussion in the next 100 days and beyond. Davis is hoping UMSL political scientists will convene future panels to examine them too.
“Come up with the latest, what’s in the news, what’s in Washington, what’s on the agenda,” he said. “Bring professors together with students, and they can start to ask questions.”
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