The Trump presidency is full of unknowns, agreed a panel of politics professors in a discussion on Wednesday.

“As you can guess, we don’t know exactly what to expect,” said Prof. Jill Greenlee (POL). 

Prof. Lucy Goodhart (POL), who specializes in the international political economy, explored the effects of Trump’s populist coalition on the “volatile style” of his policy-making. “That has brought Trump into power, but that means that he’s in office without a governing coalition in Congress, or at least the normal one that would go with being an establishment-type candidate from one of the major parties,” she noted. 

Trump’s lack of political experience is a problem of time and resources: without “drafts of legislation ready to go,” the Republicans will likely have to hold a “triage” on what should be delegated to the legislative branch, she said. “Where the Trump White House feels that that legislative agenda deviates from the desires and preferences of his populist coalition, then Trump is going to step in and try to move the policy agenda.”

Goodhart cited another variable in this equation: Trump’s Twitter account. In a digital twist on an old tactic, the president will continue using @realDonaldTrump as a bully pulpit — a special position from which a politician can promote their agenda. Today, said Goodhart, President Trump can make appeals and threats online “without having to have a legislative agenda, without having to put in the time to craft and create a congressional coalition.”

“That means, I think, that policy and statements may look unpredictable and volatile,” she said. Even so, “the agenda will still be guided by predictable incentives” like financial regulation and trade policy.

With Profs. Robert Art (POL) and Shai Feldman (POL), the topic shifted squarely into foreign policy. 

“There’s nothing startling about a statement that the United States will put its national interests first in its relations with other countries,” said Art, an expert in U.S. foreign policy and national security. “Trump has put it in a way that’s a really in-your-face proposition.”

“I have no idea how Trump’s foreign policy will play out,” Art said. There are several complicating factors, he added, including disagreements with his advisers on NATO and Russia. “It’s hard to figure out whether positions that he’s taken are bargaining ploys or his actual beliefs.” 

Trump does, however, have at least two longstanding claims: that America has been ripped off on trade deals, and that America should stop paying to defend other countries, Art asserted. “I believe that he’s not going to use protectionism simply as a bargaining ploy but that he will try to push it and push it as hard as he can, because he needs to deliver to the white middle class in the heartland of the United States,” he said. “If he doesn’t satisfy that constituency, he’s going to get clobbered in midterm elections and will not run for another four years.”

Yet there’s more to job loss than bad trade deals, Art argued. If anything, automation has done most of the damage.

“There has been a worldwide decline in manufacturing as a percentage of gross domestic product,” he said, pointing out that the decline has taken place in China as well as the United States. “A lot of those jobs are not coming back because there’s no place for them to come.”

“One thing is certain,” Feldman added. “The next four years — if they last a full four years — are not going to be boring.” 

Feldman also discussed Trump’s plan to end the United States’ promotion of human rights and democracy abroad. 

“And that’s why you see around the world, people who have been chastised or criticized by the Obama administration are now, I would say, opening champagne bottles,” he said.

Prof. Jeffrey Lenowitz (POL), quoting Martin Luther King, Jr., added that effective civil disobedience must be “impossible to ignore” and “involve personal sacrifice.” 

“I think that we’ve sufficiently shown that these are scary times,” said Lenowitz, pointing to issues like climate change and inequalities of income, race and gender. 

“Don’t ever underestimate the possibility of this president to organize a counter-resistance and a counter-protest,” Feldman later added. “And that’s not going to be a single tweet. That’s going to be a barrage of tweets.”