What can we expect from Donald Trump as he is hours away from being sworn in as the 45th president of the United States? On Tuesday, five experts based in Paris and Toronto shared their thoughts on the U.S. election results and talked about what’s to come under a Trump presidency during a roundtable discussion organized by the Munk School’s Centre for the Study of the United States (CSUS) and Sciences Po.

For Ronald Pruessen, professor of history at the University of Toronto and CSUS-affiliated faculty, the outcome of the 2016 election showed how “dysfunctional” the U.S. political system has become. From his perspective, the real question is whether such a system will be able to restrain the president’s actions, given the Republicans’ complete control over all three branches of government.

Mario Del Pero, professor of international history at Sciences Po, noted that the election results were proof of the disturbing degradation of political discourses and the lack of faith among American voters. “Trump is the product of a growing disenchantment with discredited politics,” he said. Clifford Orwin, professor of political science, classics and Jewish studies at the University of Toronto, agreed. “This might be precisely the reason why Trump triumphed: he was more attuned to the electorate, and in this sense, he compelled political parties to renew themselves – particularly the Democratic Party after it lost.”

Bart Gordon, former U.S. Representative for Tennessee’s 6th congressional district and former chairman of the House Committee on Science and Technology, insisted that economic fears stemming from the Great Recession led to voter confidence in Trump. “The fact the 1% still has the money and banks have been saved despite their own failures created the impression that the system is rigged and that there is an urgent need for change.”

“Coping with the feeling that you’ve lost something, that you’re getting weaker and you need to change, is something that’s hard to swallow for American voters,” added Pruessen. Trump embodied that change. But how will his “theatrical campaign,” as Orwin describes it, translate into policy? He might be able to deliver with regards to infrastructure, suggested James Kent Syler, assistant professor of political science at Middle Tennessee State University. “Trump has credibility when it comes to building things. It remains to be seen whether he will be able to provide massive investments in infrastructure as he promised, all the while cutting taxes.”

On the foreign policy front, there are many challenges awaiting Trump. Del Pero thinks the biggest challenge for the Trump administration will be how to deal with China. “The relationship between the United States and China is intense, contradictory and immensely fragile. There are multiple forms of interdependence today; it’s not a zero-sum game.”

Will Trump make good on his more unorthodox campaign promises? Citing a recent article in The Atlantic, Gordon urged the audience to understand Trump at a symbolic level, not literally, if we want to take him seriously. “When Trump promises to bomb the hell out of ISIS, or to build a wall and make Mexico pay for it,” he said, “we shouldn’t necessarily take his rhetoric at face value.”

January 20, 2017