After an absolutely searing U.S. election season, Donald Trump has won. This result has defied everything we thought we knew in political science, from how parties manage themselves and their candidates to how likely voters will make selections. It also laid bare things that we’re going to have to figure out as Americans. I’ll just give a few overarching takes on a few topics, since it’s all rather early days and I think everyone, on both sides of the aisle, are disoriented and exhausted.
What will Trump do? This is by far the question that most animates my fear and anger over this election. Fundamentally, I don’t know what Trump will do policy-wise. And it’s not just culture-war issues – I’m deeply concerned about how Trump will manage the boring but elemental aspects of public policy. Would he allow bondholders to take a haircut on their Treasury bonds? This is the kind of boring, in-the-background policy issue that could irreparably wreck the global economy and for the first time I see a president-elect who I don’t fundamentally trust to handle these decisions. I could have my mind changed (I don’t think he’s not smart enough to handle them), but in terms of temperament and outlook I have yet to be convinced.
What does this mean for political science? I saw a Twitter post the other day that I responded to:
Maybe political scientists studying US politics should leave their computers and do more ethnographic work in middle America.
— William Lafi Youmans (@wyoumans) November 9, 2016
My response was that at times political science feels like it has increased its focus on quantitative methods and experiments, especially econometric and regression techniques, and is engaging in methodological navel gazing. Daniel Drezner, a Tufts professor who is one of the most active academics at engaging with people through non-academic media, has also lamented what he’s seen as a retreat form theorization in political science. I like doing quant research as much as the next person who likes doing quant research, but I also think much of the debate in political science is being stunted by an increasing lack of qualitative research. I’ll write another post about what I saw missing in the models and survey techniques used during this cycle, but for research that I think speaks to what I think really animated this election I would suggest reading Matthew Desmond’s ethnographic work on poverty in the United States. It’s my hope that this election cycle jolts political science out of its quantitative gravity well, reinvigorates the demand for good qualitative and mixed-method research, and increased theorization.
What’s a bizarre way Trump could be a good president? I’ve read a few things basically saying he might be a functional president. I can’t disagree with those, but I also think there’s something else at work here. I don’t get the sense that Trump has a personal political center of gravity – my perception, having watched him, is that he’s a performer that reflects and acts on what he sees and picks up on from audiences. If the loudest of the audience members are the KKK and white nationalists, that’s what he reflects (which is terrifying). If the loudest though are the people who voted for him and aren’t racists/misogynists/anti-semites etc, people who have fundamental and valid fears about being left behind who were willing to ignore all the terrible things the candidate animated, and they demand that he rebuke the worst of his following and actually find ways to mend bridges he might reflect it. This might actually lead to some progress. Alternatively, I might have totally misjudged him (wouldn’t be the first time this cycle a political scientist was wrong) and he’s actually a dedicated fascist/white nationalist demagogue. *I really hope that’s not the case.*
What’s a surprising way this election has increased my political dialogue? Since the end of the election I have spoken with family members for the first time in months (or years in some cases) about what their political wants and desires are, and been able to articulate my political position to them as well. We actually all listened to each other and while some threads got a bit contentious people were actively keeping it civil. I brought up why an African American, Latino, Female or LGBT voter might be both terrified at the outcome, and could right now be very distrusting of someone they know who is otherwise outwardly decent and voted Trump, and I think this resonated with my more conservative family members. The quid pro quo is that I’m willing to hear them out too. This is corollary to the previous paragraph; most of your friends and family aren’t KKK supporters, Karl Marx incarnate, or the Illuminati. There’s a lot more political overlap between Americans than I think we’re generally led to believe by our Facebook/Twitter echo chambers, so now is as good a time as any to reach out.
In the end, the best I can do is appeal to the best in us. We’re all going to need it.