Magazine TIME named President-elect Donald Trump the person of the year and wrote: This is the 90th time we have named the person who had the greatest influence, for better or worse, on the events of the year. So which is it this year: Better or worse? The challenge for Donald Trump is how profoundly the country disagrees about the answer. What would be your answer, please? For better or worse, and why?
Kurk Dorsey, Professor of History, University of New Hampshire
My answer is certainly for the worse, both for what he did in the past year and what he has suggested about the future.
Regarding the past, his campaign was based on a series of ridiculous propositions in foreign policy, based on the idea that the United States does not have the respect that it deserves. The evidence for that position came from the bad trade deals that the US has allegedly made and the inability to secure the borders. Of course, those trade deals were the product of give and take with allies and rivals who did not have to sign any agreements, and the border issues are so complex that they can’t be reduced to “I will build the wall and Mexico will pay for it.” The trade deals contributed to some lost jobs but also to world stability and higher standards of living. The whole idea that the United States needed to be made great again suggested an ignorance about the past and the US role in the world that was just exasperating. At the same time, his isolationist tendencies were reinforced by his blindness about Vladimir Putin and the ways in which he berated US generals for not knowing as much about ISIS as Trump did.
Having said that, I always tell my students that there’s nothing like daily intelligence briefings to change a candidate into a president, and there’s nothing like the reality of governing to wreck campaign promises. At this point in 2008, most people assumed that the prison at Guantanamo Bay would be empty in a year and US forces would soon be out of Iraq and Afghanistan. Here we are heading for 2017 and Guantanamo’s status is pretty much the same, fighting continues in Afghanistan, and US forces are more involved in Iraq than in the last few years.
So far in the transition, Trump has done some good things, like appointing General Mattis to the Defense Department and KT McFarland to be Deputy National Security Advisor. He has backed away from the foolish talk about making Mexico pay for a wall and locking up Hillary Clinton. And yet…. The disastrous choice of General Flynn to be the National Security Advisor; Trump’s ill-prepared discussions with leaders from Pakistan, Japan, and Taiwan; the inability to settle on a Secretary of State (which means that all of the undersecretaries and deputy secretaries can’t be chosen yet either); and Trump’s willingness to pick fights with people who are not his equals in terms of power all suggest that there are no adults in charge of US policy.
In 2001, George Bush was unprepared to be president, but at least he surrounded himself with serious people like Colin Powell, Dick Cheney, and Condi Rice. They still messed up the Iraq situation badly. I fear that if Trump is surrounded by people who aren’t really shrewd about foreign policy, it could be even worse than 2003. I sure hope that I am wrong!
Mark Rozell, Dean and Professor of Public Policy, George Mason University
No one knows what to expect with Trump, and that is what is so unsettling to many. He could make some important policy breakthroughs at home with unconventional leadership approaches, or he could offend international leaders and cause major conflicts. The plain fact is we just don’t know what’s going to happen with him leading the country, as he has no experience at what he’s about to be doing. It’s like the country has made a big gamble – a throw of the dice that could produce a number of very different random outcomes.
Darrell West, Vice President and Director of Governance Studies, The Brookings Institution
Trump is the person of the year because he has a huge impact, not because people expect him to do good things. He will rip apart the social safety and give tax cuts to the rich. Neither moves will better the lives of the working class who voted for him. But he will have a profound impact on those individuals.
David Redlawsk, Professor and Chair, Department of Political Science and International Relations, University of Delaware
I can make an argument both ways. For worse, certainly, because of the rise in hate groups and his tacit acceptance of their support, creating a sense of fear among those who are the targets of these groups. His campaign explicitly invited the support of these groups. For better, perhaps, because Trump’s election exposed the fiction that race and ethnicity no longer matters in the US. It may be that an important aftermath of Trump will be a resurgence in the activism necessary to ensure a fair society for all.