University of Michigan students and faculty gathered Tuesday evening in the Michigan Union to discuss President Donald Trump’s first 100 days in office for the annual Jack L. Walker Conference, hosted by the Undergraduate Political Science Association and sponsored by the Political Science Department.
The conference, named after Jack L. Walker, the late University professor of political science, explores different topics in politics every winter semester with experts and professionals in government and academia.
This year’s conference featured five professors specializing in a wide range of political science subfields, including feminist political theory, international trade and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
LSA sophomore Eve Hillman, a co-president of UPSA, explained holding panels like these allow students to interact with professors in a way they rarely have an opportunity to in class.
“UPSA really focuses on building a relationship between political science students and faculty because so many of the political science classes are really big,” Hillman said. “So if you can get events and get professors to come to events where they’re smaller like this, you can have more personal interaction and you can get your really salient questions about current events answered.”
When asked about Trump’s foreign policy mishaps, Noah Nathan, an assistant professor of political science, said she believes Trump’s team is directionless because of its inexperience and an ideological split between White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon, who is known for his white nationalist views, and more mainstream officials.
“It’s not clear that there is a foreign policy apparatus of bureaucrats, of senior officials from the State Department … who are planning out what the foreign policy strategy is,” Nathan said. “I think (the administration is) just going from crisis to crisis to news event to news event figuring out a plan.”
In a question about who will suffer the most under the Trump administration, Lisa Disch, a professor of political science and women’s studies, answered women, particularly the elderly, will bear the burden of higher health care costs should a Republican replacement to the Affordable Care Act pass the House and Senate.
“It’s a return to the 1920s, when there were many elderly women living in poverty,” Disch said. “We didn’t think that was humane so that’s why we enacted policies that would help them.”
Recent events were also of high interest. Mark Tessler, the Samuel J. Eldersveld Collegiate Professor of Political Science, responded to a question about last week’s missile attack on Syria by stating that though Trump likely did not have a coherent plan when he ordered the strike, it worked favorably for the president’s ratings by deflecting attention away from the ongoing investigation into his presidential campaign’s ties with Russian officials and showing he can do something his predecessor Barack Obama could not do.
“He gained some popularity,” Tessler said. “I hate myself for saying this, but he looked at least somewhat presidential in terms of taking action and standing up for people who are victims and got some credit for that.”
Ken Kollman, the Frederick G. L. Huetwell Professor of Political Science, compared his projection about Trump’s future to other world leaders’ fates — Charles de Gaulle, Silvio Berlusconi, Richard Nixon and Benito Mussolini — saying Trump can turn into any one of these leaders.
“I’m hoping for some blend of, just for the sake of us all, some blend of Berlusconi and Charles de Gaulle,” Kollman said.
When asked what the media can do to regain its credibility among those who distrust them, James Morrow, the A.F.K. Organski Professor of World Politics, said while the right disliking mainstream media is not a new phenomenon, media needs to cultivate a self-critical attitude, telling a story of how The New York Times “went nuts” about the Trump administration after the election.
“One thing I would like to see is for them to think about how is it that such a large portion of the American electorate has gotten to the point where they basically don’t believe anything (the media) say,” Morrow said. “It predates the internet, so it’s not just a recent phenomenon.”
LSA freshman Caitlin Brown said she was intrigued by hearing a variety of perspectives from the professors.
“I thought it was super informational,” Brown said. “I felt already pretty educated about what was going on and then I came here and I was like ‘Wow, there is so much I didn’t know.’”
When asked what mark Trump would make in U.S. history, Disch said she preferred he leaves no mark because any mark would not be a good one. She warned that in the worst-case scenario, Trump will change the course of history like how George W. Bush redefined war through his actions after the Sept. 11 attacks.
“I would love it if history doesn’t remember him; I would love it if they remembered Alec Baldwin,” she said.