Opinion-Policy Nexus

Take a deep breath. The world is not going to end on inauguration day.
 
There is no question that Donald Trump’s victory was jarring, shocking, and even disturbing. Despite the conciliatory messages offered by Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, commentators and citizens and Canada are freaking out. 
 
Protestors across the United States, for instance, are marching to express their outrage at the presidential election results. They are wondering how their fellow citizens could have elected a President who is hateful, racist, homophobic, and misogynist. Similarly, many experts on television and radio have expressed grief through tears, disgust through nausea, and anger through harsh words for Trump and his supporters. 
 
Are these individuals justified in their strong reactions to Trump’s victory?
 
Maybe, but only if Trump the President behaves similarly to Trump the candidate. 
 
Will that be the case? 
 
The answer is likely no. As political scientists, we analyze most political events by focusing on three factors: interests, institutions, and ideas.
 
What do we know about Donald Trump’s interests?
 
Trump has spent almost his entire life in the private sector building a reputation and legacy around his business pursuits. His goal was to achieve a certain brand with his last name; the word “Trump” was supposed to evoke wealth, power, but also respect.
 
In the political world, democratic leaders strive for some of the same goals. American presidents in particular, are highly attuned to the legacies and reputations that they leave once their tenure is complete. The ultimate “brand” that a President can aspire to achieve is to be labeled a “statesman.” That title evokes a leader who governed above the fray, served his country first and foremost, and made life better for all Americans.
 
There’s every reason to believe that Trump aspires to achieve this title and if so, then the kinds of policies and rhetoric associated with his Presidency might be quite different from those associated with his candidacy.
 
What effect will institutions have on Trump?
 
Institutions have a powerful effect on people. In Canada, despite the diverse individuals that we elect as members of parliament, research by David Docherty and others have found that new MPs are quickly socialized into the accepted norms and behaviours of the House. Similarly, research by Emmett Macfarlane has found that many of the ideological and personality differences that judges bring with them to the Supreme Court are tempered by long-standing traditions, practices, and expectations within that institution. 
 
So although Trump is maybe an outsider and a champion of the anti-establishment, he will face powerful incentives, in the form of symbols, presidential staff, and the traditions and history of the office, to behave like a conventional president.
 
Finally, what effect will ideas relating to the Presidency have on Donald Trump?
 
Governing successfully in any democracy requires fostering legitimacy. Although Trump has a mandate to radically change American policy, he still must do so in ways that resonate with those citizens who did note vote for him. This is especially true because the popular vote was so close. 
 
We have already seen ample evidence that Trump the President may be quite different from Trump the candidate. The tone and contents of his victory speech and his meetings with outgoing and incoming political leaders have already been much more conciliatory and mainstream than what people expected.
 
These trends are likely to continue as he transitions into and gains experience holding the office of the President. 

Posted

Tuesday, November 22, 2016 - 11:30

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