It has already been one year since CCLP partnered with the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics to host a screening of the inauguration of President Donald Trump. In that year, the Trump administration has passed major legislation overhauling the tax system, appointed a Supreme Court judge, confronted one government shutdown, and alienated much of the American public. In an effort to digest and analyze President Trump’s historic and dramatic first year in office, CCLP and the Unruh Institute gathered four experts together for a panel in Wallis Annenberg Hall on the night of Tuesday, January 20.
The panel featured Adam Nagourney, the Los Angeles Bureau Chief for the New York Times; Francis Wilkinson, a journalist for Bloomberg View; Lynn Vavreck, a professor of political science at UCLA; and James Lacy, a conservative commentator and author. It was moderated by CCLP Senior Fellow Jessica Yellin, the former Chief White House Correspondent for CNN. The panel discussion preceded a viewing of the State of the Union (SOTU) address on the media screen of the forum.
The commentary of the panelists on the first year of the Trump presidency was much like the reviews of journalists, academics, and politicians at the national level: very mixed and contrasting. The night started with a discussion of the significance of the SOTU address, as the panelists sparred off on whether or not the speech Donald Trump gave would change the actions by or the opinions of the Trump White House.
Nagourney described the historical significance of the SOTU, including the role of the first televised and radiocast addresses. He explained that he did not think Donald Trump “could do anything [in his address] to change the public perception of him.” Yellin concurred that the SOTU held little policy significance, stating that when she attended a SOTU address by President Obama, it was obvious that the SOTU “became a night of theatricality…everyone knew that [they were] being observed.”
Lacy, on the other hand, in response to Yellin’s question about whether or not Trump should do anything to change his low approval ratings, believed that Trump should not do anything. “Russia may not go away, but it will be further away. And the economy will continue to approve,” claimed Lacy in his explanation of why the Trump administration did not need to worry about the ratings.
The conversation quickly shifted to discuss the surge of the Democratic party since the election of Trump. Wilkinson kicked off the discussion by saying, “Hundreds of thousands of people came out to the streets to protest the Trump presidency…I keep looking at the Democratic enthusiasm and the activism we see on the Democratic side.” He also touched on the “ridiculous number” of Democratic candidates currently running for office, stating that he thought it was due to the visceral rage of the Democratic base and a feeling among party leadership that 2018 will be a winning year.
After spending some time debating the achievements of the past year for Trump and Congress, including the work at the Department of Veterans Affairs and very low unemployment, the panelists started to look to the next year. “Infrastructure could be his one area, where he has a successful moment for his presidency and a successful moment bringing both parties together,” noted Vavreck about potential projects for the President and Trump in 2018. Everyone agreed that the theme of immigration, and of DACA, would present a challenge for the administration, especially given the impending deadline for Congress to approve a budget just the week after the SOTU.
In closing remarks, Yellin steered the panelists to a discussion of the lasting consequences and impact of Trump’s first year. Wilkinson concluded that, “The White House created a culture where people are afraid to talk to Trump,” leading to discord and animosity. Vavreck described her concern that the President has “not been a defender of civil liberties” and Nagourney lamented about the instability of the democratic institutions in Washington. Although Nagourney and Wilkinson applauded the work of the press, Lacy was more critical, citing statistics that said the President has faced 91% negative coverage of his presidency. Most panelists seem to agree that the divisiveness and partisanship was not irreversible, maybe one of the biggest silving linings of the night.
After questions from the audience, including a statement from Unruh Institute Director Bob Shrum that he disagreed with the panelists on the importance of the SOTU address, the night shifted to a screening of the address on CNN, Fox, and CSPAN. Don’t forget to attend CCLP’s next event with the Unruh Institute, on February 13, which will be a conversation with Gray Davis.