As public policy scholars, all of us are interested in the efforts of political leaders to change policies. The current American administration represents a sharp break with the preceding one, and therefore policy process theories can both inform — and be informed by — what is taking place in Washington. With that in mind, Sam Workman and I have initiated a blog space on the PSJ Yearbook webpage for articulation of theoretically informed hypotheses and expectations about how the transition from the Obama Administration to that of Donald Trump has affected public policy processes, modes of governance, and policy outcomes. We particularly want to stimulate timely (and civil) engagement among public policy scholars and practitioners about the implications of those changes for our theories and expectations about public policy change.
Here you can find our initial post, a reply from researchers Jessica Andrepont and Michael Jones, and an opportunity to engage in this discussion.
Please comment on posted essays — or send us a short essay of your own on the topic and we will post it. Note that all contributions will be reviewed for basic civility (an unfortunate sign of our times) and verification of authors identity. Sadly, unlike the New York Times, we cannot post pieces by “Anonymous”.
Co-Editor, PSJ Yearbook
Hank C. Jenkins-Smith and Samuel Workman
By design, transitions between presidential administrations alter the course of public policy, and therefore, they are of significant interest for policy scholars and citizens alike. The Trump administration has evidenced a stark break with the substantive agenda of President Obama, and a management style unique in modern presidential transitions and governance. In particular, an array of “outsider” appointees promised to reconfigure the resources, constraints and opportunities within policy subsystems. All of this calls into question the resiliency of political institutions, policy systems, and governance systems.
Jessica A. Andrepont & Michael D. Jones
It is hardly a controversial thing to say that Donald Trump is a controversial President. Trump has a growing list of labels including fascist, narcissist, incompetent, child-like, and a destroyer, among others. His lack of regard for women, the disabled, communities of color, and grammar add onion-like layers to his controversy. Putting aside the name calling for a moment, when we distill these criticisms we find two themes that seem to stand above normal partisan insults. Trump is criticized for playing fast and loose with the truth and for his contempt for American institutions. Charged with these qualities, his critics have argued that he is a threat to democratic governance, with some going so far as to label him an extinction-level event. Others, more hopeful, argue that American institutions are resilient and that President Trump will be little more than an embarrassing chapter in American history.
Teaching and research are closely related, but politics and policy in the current era are raising challenges for each, and for the relationship between the two. We tend to teach based on the concepts, models, and frameworks that we learned in graduate school or find useful in our research, and sometimes our research is affected by the way our teaching exposes shortcomings in those basic perspectives. To those of us able to reflect on the 60’s (Vietnam, civil rights, assassinations), 70’s (Watergate), 80’s (Iran-Contra), 90’s (impeachment), and 00’s (9/11, Iraq), the Trump era seems familiar in some ways, but quite different in others. As with preceding national crises that went to the heart of our political and policy processes, policy scholars and teachers are challenged by the decisions and behavior of the Trump administration and the polarization that both caused it and resulted from it.
I think the Trump phenomena should be considered within the global perspective of humanity in transition. Even if we leave aside the radical possibilities of a phase shift into an Epoch of “Singularity” (Kurzweil, 2005; Eden et. al., eds., 2012), it seems reasonable to view the world as moving into a period of radical transformation. The history of the 20th century (Parker, 2014) can somewhat serve as an analogue. As I stated in another context “It is absurd to believe that everything is going to change, but politics will and can remain the same” (Dror, 2014:30).
Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign was run on an agenda of bold policy changes that he claims will “drain the swamp.” These promises, including withdrawing from international trade agreements, repealing and replacing Obamacare, tax code reform, extensive enforcement of illegal immigration laws, and the erection of a wall on the border with Mexico, all represent major shifts in policy from previous administrations, both Democratic and Republican, and will require both significant attention and mobilization of resources within government to effect. If Republicans and the Trump administration hope to enact these changes, we should expect a significant uptick in policy attention within government. Institutional rules, such as the reconciliation process, and the common nature of limited attention mean that this agenda will stretch over time, which in turn would require significant political momentum. Can we expect policymaking will function similarly under the new “normal” of the Trump era, or will information be disregarded in the interest of political gain?