With the inauguration of Donald J. Trump, a unique figure has made his way to the United States’ highest office: a political outsider and billionaire with long years of experience in business, but none in government. The Vanguard asked two professors at the University of North Georgia’s Gainesville campus for their thoughts on Trump and his fledgling administration.
There are “three main factors for presidential success,” said Dr. Glen Smith, professor of political science. According to the political science literature, these are: public approval, congressional support and experience; the most interesting of these in regards to Trump is the latter. The president must “translate” his long business experience to “running the massive federal bureaucracy,” Smith said.
Smith described Trump’s public persona as a “showman” making use of “stream of consciousness,” which implies that “at the business table” Trump is able to put the showmanship behind him.
If this is true, and his private persona is distinct from how he acts in public, the president could still negotiate effectively with Congress and with his fellow world leaders, even while making erratic public statements through social media. If not, and Trump acts in the same manner in private that he does in public, Smith believes that the alienation of world leaders and deep opposition with Congress is likely.
Dr. Douglas Young, professor of political science and adviser to the nonpartisan Politically Incorrect Club on the Gainesville campus, is inclined to agree.
“His public bark may be worse than his private bite, so to speak,” Young said. His entertaining performance on the campaign trail could be seen as acting “dumb like a fox.” If he’s savvy about how he acts now that he’s in office, he can drop the bluff and negotiate deals as a dignified president. Now that he’s in the White House, “he doesn’t need that kind of schtick anymore,” Young said.
According to Young, low expectations are a great boon for politicians, with Ronald Reagan as a prime example. In his first term, Reagan gained a lot of political capital simply by being more presidential than was expected of him, and Trump could do the same.
On a domestic level, the public and private personas of the president could greatly affect the political divides in the United States. Americans aren’t polarized on their issue positions, Smith said, but instead “we’re polarizing on how much we hate each other.” The two major parties are center-left and center-right on policy, but act as though their opponents are communists and fascists, respectively, with all of the vitriol that entails. Because of this, if Trump continues the way he has been acting publicly, this polarization “either gets worse or stays the same with him.”
Alternatively, Young believes that through populist policy Trump could create new bridges between traditionally conservative and traditionally liberal Americans and create a more unified populist bloc. He could also blindside the nation by acting as a gentleman and lowering the level of political heat, but “that may be too much to ask.”
No matter how Trump has acted up to this point, his politics and policy decisions could change at the drop of a hat, and the United States will be along for the ride.