2017 Archives

Donald Trump becomes 45th U.S. president

What to expect from inauguration, first day in office, first 100 days of GOP control


From the Jan. 18, 2017, edition of The Dallas Morning News:

The danger of Trump’s tweets

By Robert J. Howell
SMU Professor of Philosophy

I don't think we should worry too much about Meryl Streep. Her cred can withstand some silly tweets from our President-elect, and she has chosen to live in the public eye. But this recent episode of twitter abuse is merely the tip of the iceberg and we need to think about its implications.

A government should not use intimidation to suppress criticism and dissent. Private citizens are entitled to criticize their leaders without fear that those leaders will retaliate in a manner that jeopardizes their lives. Of all of the checks on governmental power enshrined in democratic institutions, this is perhaps the most important.  

It is easy to recognize traditional methods of suppressing civilian dissent. In Argentina in the 1970s citizens were famously "disappeared" based on their political views. In the former Soviet Union dissidents found themselves freezing in Siberian gulags, and in modern day Russia opponents of Vladimir Putin find themselves arrested on obscure charges with their financial holdings confiscated by the state. During the Mao era, China engaged in public shaming of those who stepped out of line, forcing them to offer "self-criticisms" that left them pariahs.

Contemporary China is subtler. As reported in a recent edition of The Economist, China might be using technology and surveillance to build a "social credit" monitoring system that would undermine the ability of "problematic" citizens to travel and do business. 

I suspect we Americans are wise to this sort of governmental intimidation and are committed enough to the tenets of democratic governance that we will not let such tactics take hold here. But are we aware that we are facing a subtler, but still significant danger in Donald Trump's tweets?

Read the full commentary.

From the Jan. 18, 2017, edition of The Dallas Morning News

Trump’s presidency won’t be unprecedented 

By Jeffrey A. Engel and Aaron S. Crawford
SMU Center for Presidential History

He was an outsider, and he was about to become President. Sedate Washington, D.C., trembled. "Nobody knows what he will do," a leading Senator lamented. "He will bring a breeze with him. Which way it will blow, I cannot tell. He will either go with the party," or else "will be President upon his own strength. My fear is stronger than my hope."

Daniel Webster might just as well have been talking about Donald Trump. But in January 1829, Andrew Jackson was the source of his anxiety as the capitol's chattering class prepared for a new kind of leader with limited government experience: brimming with confidence, yet simultaneously unable to ignore even the slightest hint of criticism.

Trump is unusual in the annals of presidential history, but not unprecedented. Jackson shared many of the same qualities, and his time in office offers insights into what the next four years may hold. No comparison is ever perfect. 

Jackson was a soldier; Trump's battles are waged in the boardroom and twittersphere. But both rode populist waves to victory in contentious elections: both railed against banks and moneyed elites they in truth represented; both championed but did not embody the common man.

Jackson was additionally thin-skinned and uninterested in opinions that contradicted his own, in a way that might seem familiar today. Surrounded by supporters (and sycophants), he "appears always to have meant well," his first and arguably best biographer concluded. "But his ignorance of law, history, politics, science, of everything which he who governs a country out to know, was extreme. ... His ignorance was a wall round about him--high, impenetrable."

Fighting was what Jackson knew best.

"I was born a storm," Jackson told a friend en route to his inauguration, "and a calm does not suit me." If ever there was a president from the past whom, if born into a digital age, would have spent the long dark hours of night venting his spleen in 140 characters, it was this man from Tennessee, and woe be it to the aide who might have tried to pry his phone from his hands. He'd killed men for less. Victor in numerous duels, long after they'd been outlawed and deemed uncivilized by polite society, many a would-be insulter had felt the crash of Jackson's iron-tipped cane.

It was this wholesale inability to let any slight pass that roiled Jackson's presidency, especially when coupled with the premium he placed on personal loyalty. In 1829, for example, he appointed John Henry Eaton as Secretary of War, deeming the younger man "like a son." Political observers looked in vain for any other qualities that might have warranted the appointment.

Read the full commentary.

January 20, 2017

DALLAS (SMU)SMU experts are available for interview on all things related to the presidential inauguration expectations for President Donald Trump’s first 100 days in office. A full list of available faculty and their areas of expertise is available here.



On what a president’s typical first day holds in store, and how Trump’s might be different…

  • “A president's first day in office is typically filled with welcomes from around the world and from his own administration. He might field congratulatory calls from global leaders, friends and potential foes alike, each eager to start a new relationship with the new commander in chief out on the best footing possible.

On how the national situation Trump inherits compares to that of past presidents…

  • “Historians will likely note that a man elected president in 2016 on the basis of lamenting America's fate inherited one of the strongest positions of any American leader in history.

Engel is director of the SMU Center for Presidential History

Jeffrey A. Engel


On what an unsuccessful inauguration speech looks like…

  • “One thing he wants to avoid is looking unprepared or, particularly for Trump, who started his campaign by dividing people, he doesn’t want to say anything divisive.

Salinas is SMU’s director of public discourse in the Division of Communication Studies.



On what evangelicals who supported Trump are expecting in return…

  • “First of all, they’re looking for a friendly Supreme Court appointment. That’s probably the single most important thing, a justice who will be supportive to pro-life and religious issues. Second, they will be looking for Trump to undo what they see as some religiously unfriendly mandates of federal agencies.

On the most intriguing looming struggle of Trump’s first 100 days…

  • “I think the confirmation hearings for Trump’s cabinet picks will be very interesting, some more than others.
  • “The GOP, if it wants, can confirm these nominations pretty quick, because Democrats got rid of the filibuster.

Wilson is an SMU associate professor of Political Science

 Matthew Wilson


On what can Trump learn from George W. Bush’s speech…

  • “Trump doesn’t really need to, and he shouldn’t, be super specific about policy. Instead, he should appeal to the history of the nation and the future of politics.

On the greatest challenge of healing a country after winning without the popular vote…

  • It’s now a very complex media world. The internet allows us to view politics through shattered glass. It doesn’t matter what Trump says so much because it will be mediated by countless interpreters and each of us can view it through whichever shard of glass we choose.

Voth is SMU’s director of debate and an associate professor of corporate communications and public affairs

Ben Voth




On Trump’s reliance on Twitter as opposed to traditional press conferences…

  • “It’s certainly more interesting that Trump has Twitter, but there’s been a lot of concern these past few weeks about how Trump can use Twitter as a one-way megaphone to define the day’s news agenda and distract from other things he’d rather the press not pay attention to.

On Trump’s continued antagonism of traditional media…

  • “It’s not clear that he has shifted from campaign mode to governing mode.

Batsell is an SMU associate professor of Journalism and a social media specialist.

Jake Batsell



More commentary from these experts.

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Kenny Ryan
SMU News & Communications



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