Political science experts analyze Trump’s agenda

Chip Lauterbach, Contributing Writer

This year’s State of the Union Address has been marked with controversy over issues including border wall funding and the recent government shutdown that caused the speech to be rescheduled.

In President Donald Trump’s third year in office, many are looking to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to strongly oppose Trump’s off-the-cuff leadership style.

The CT asked political science professors Alex Keena and Andrea Simonelli to break down the address and Trump’s agenda moving forward.


What do you make of Trump’s call for unity? Do you feel bipartisan cooperation is possible at this point in his presidency?

Andrea Simonelli. Photo courtesy of Department of Political Science

Andrea Simonelli: Bipartisan cooperation is much more possible if the president allows congressional Republicans to negotiate without his interference. His calls for unity in this speech ring hollow when you consider how often he has changed his mind over the last two years. The Democratic leadership haven’t forgotten the whiplash they suffered over the DACA turnabout, which happened over the span of a day.

Alex Keena: In this era of partisan politics, it’s become normal for the president to make appeals for bipartisanship and compromise during the State of the Union, so I am not surprised that President Trump made similar appeals. However, one of problems is that Trump’s central issue — “the wall” — is inherently polarizing. If you had asked me a few months ago after the midterm elections whether bipartisan cooperation was possible, I would have said “yes,” but in areas where both parties have overlapping interests, like infrastructure investment.


What does Trump’s insistence on building the border wall mean for the future of his presidency?

Simonelli: Trump’s insistence on “the wall” is painting him into a political corner. No one in Congress wants to see another government shutdown after the longest one in U.S. history. But the biggest issue is the potential rift in the Republican Party if the Senate Republicans have to face overriding a presidential veto.

Keena: I think that he is doubling down on “the wall” because he sees it as central to his success as president. Building a wall and having Mexico pay for it was one of his central campaign pledges. He wants very much to claim victory. However, I’m not sure that the wall really has much impact, either on his legacy or policy outcomes, beyond its power as a symbol of “greatness.”


What are your thoughts about Trump’s statements about the U.S. now being No. 1 in oil and energy production?  

Simonelli: It signals to other countries that are currently literally feeling the unnatural heat of climate change or increasing intensity of storm systems that the world’s second-largest carbon emitter does not care about their increasing struggle.

Alex Keena. Photo courtesy of Department of Political Science

Keena: I think it shows how differently the Republican Party and its supporters view the problem of “energy.” … From Trump’s perspective, it makes sense that being the biggest producer of oil is a worthy goal for the United States. Of course, for the Democrats, and most everyone else in the world, this goal is not constructive in reducing carbon emissions.


Will criminal justice reform remain as one of the only bipartisan successes of the Trump presidency? Will these gains spread from the federal level down to the states?

Simonelli: It very well may be, unless Trump is willing to fade into the background and allow Congress to work without his interference on other issues. I wouldn’t expect major changes at the state level because those vary by state and are determined in each state’s own unique political context.    

Keena: I think this is a bipartisan success story because it saves the federal government money. Locking up nonviolent offenders for years on drug charges is very expensive, not to mention ineffective in terms rehabilitation … So I wouldn’t expect dramatic reforms unless there are many more “winners” than “losers.”

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