College panels will address Trump administration

by Alexandra Steinberg | 1/17/17 2:50am

During the week leading up to the presidential inauguration, the College will host a series of faculty-led panels discussing the opportunities and risks of a Trump administration. From Jan. 17 to Jan. 20, the day of the presidential inauguration, Dartmouth faculty from the College, the Tuck School of Business, the Geisel School of Medicine and the Thayer School of Engineering will cover topics including domestic governance, terrorism, the potential dismantling of the Affordable Care Act and energy and environmental issues.

Economics professor and Rockefeller Center director Andrew Samwick is an organizer and panelist for the conversation regarding domestic issues.

Samwick said that, due to the high levels of uncertainty surrounding the new administration, discussions about domestic issues are a necessity.

“People have some anxiety about this,” he said. “People really don’t know what to think, and our job isn’t to tell them what to think but to help illuminate what we think are the most important parts of these issues that the new administration and Congress will confront.”

Fellow event organizer and Tuck business administration professor Robert Hansen explained that the goal of the panels is to promote discussion.

“I want to have a serious, scholarly, intellectual discussion about the challenges that the country faces, about the state of the current policy and about some of the changes that are being discussed and proposed and what the implications of those challenges might be,” Hansen said.

Hansen initially wanted to organize a panel to specifically discuss the potential impact of the incoming administration’s positions on energy and environmental issues under the guidance of the Irving Institute for Energy and Society.

After talking with director of the Dickey Center for International Understanding Daniel Benjamin and Dean of Tuck Matthew Slaughter, who will moderate the discussion on domestic issues and open the energy and environmental discussion, Hansen expanded the series to the full set of panels. He then proceeded to reach out to Samwick and others to assist in organizing the discussions.

Despite the extensive planning that has gone into this series, Hansen stressed that what is actually discussed during the panel is up to the discretion of the panelists, moderators and audience.

When asked about the significance of hosting the discussions just prior to Friday’s inauguration, Hansen responded that he believes the Trump administration is going to move very quickly, making it important to discuss these issues now. He cited discussions on possibly repealing the Affordable Care Act currently taking place in Congress as evidence of the Trump administration’s speed.

Economics professor Douglas Irwin is one of the featured panelists on the global issues discussion who specializes in U.S. trade policy. When asked how conversations about the new Trump administration differ from those about the Obama administration, Irwin explained that there is increased uncertainty of the specified actions of the Trump administration, such as in international economic and trade issues.

Irwin said that the uncertainty of which of Trump’s policies will actually be implemented has caused a lot of fear in the public.

“Just because there’s been a lot of rhetoric about a trade war doesn’t mean that that’s going to be the reality, so we don’t really know what policies he’ll try to pursue in terms of their specifics,” he said. “A lot of these fears may be overblown. Maybe they are fully justified — we just don’t know.”

Hansen echoed a similar sentiment when he said that speculating about the future is difficult and limited in its utility.

Hansen hopes that these discussions, despite being only an hour and a half in length, will also foster further thinking and conversations that can continue outside of the panels.

Both Hansen and Samwick said that leadership style and communication, while not panel topics, are also relevant.

Samwick, who previously served as Chief Economist on the staff of the President’s Council of Economic advisors during President George W. Bush’s administration, said that Trump’s inexperience with governmental issues could result in problems moving forward.

“The utter lack of familiarity that the president-elect has with working constructively through government channels, which you would presume would have come up in prior experience, but has not, suggests that there are going to be a lot of governance issues,” he said.

Samwick stated he hopes to communicate that problems in Washington lie in the areas of knowledge translation and leadership, rather than knowledge production and dissemination.

“I just don’t have much tolerance for unrealistic proposals,” Samwick added. “I’m all about trying to lay out what good policy would look like, sort of measuring the gap between where we are and what that ideal would be and promote the path of least resistance to closing that gap.”

Hansen emphasized that this series also shows the strengths of Dartmouth’s knowledge base in all of the areas covered, such as research and policy. He added that this series also exemplifies collaboration across the College — the panels are sponsored by ten organizations, including the Rockefeller Center and the Dickey Center.

Samwick and Hansen both noted that it would be appropriate and important to have a follow-up discussion of the Trump administration at the “100-day mark,” a time where the priorities and specific plans of the new administration are likely to be more clear.