After a contentious election season, we have a new administration at the federal level. What can we expect from this new administration, and how much can it realistically get done over the next four years?

Five faculty experts from the College of Liberal Arts spoke about economics, race, gender, the media, international relations and the Supreme Court (and answer your questions). The conversation was moderated by the dean of the college, Benjamin C. Withers.

Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2021
7 – 8:15 p.m.

Watch the Zoom recording.

Faculty Panelists

Questions from the audience ranged from “what is the future of our increasing polarizing politics?” to “what might be this administration’s policies in the Middle East?” and “how will Biden attend to both the progressive and moderate concerns of the party?”
Our panelists – who come from political science, economics, communication studies, and journalism – spoke to these questions and many more. For a full look at the conversation between these experts, watch the recording.

Kari Anderson, professor, Communication Studies, expects gender to play a heavy role in this administration, with high expectations from the left and backlash on the right. “There is lots of pent up demand from those who want the rights that were rolled back [during the Trump administration] to be made up,” she says. As it relates to a focus on gender, Biden has named eight women of color to his cabinet, has nominated an openly transgender woman, and his spouse will keep her day job as a professor, while Harris’ husband has left his job in order to support her role as VP.

An important note is that women voters – who were a critical element of this campaign – are not a unified group. “Political affiliation influences voting more than gender does,” says Anderson. And a record-breaking number of Republican women were elected during this cycle.

Tori Arthur is an assistant professor of journalism and a former member of the White House press corp, covering the first George W. Bush administration. She’s looking at how this administration will craft messages related to racial equity initiatives. “Biden has signed several executive orders – reversing the Muslim ban, promoting diversity training, focusing on Native American tribal sovereignty – but details on how to approach such ‘bold legislation’ related to racial equity have not been illuminated,” she says. She will be watching for how the White House uses the podium and the press to address long-term issues. “The press and the public will ask deeper ‘how’ questions. Many activists are taking to social media to hold the administration accountable for its promises,” she says.

Eric Fattor is an instructor of political science. He says that Biden’s foreign policy will focus on one broad theme as Biden wrote in Foreign Affairs in March 2020: “rescuing foreign policy from Donald Trump.” Fattor says that Biden will go to our allies and to the world and say, ‘forget about the past four years; we’re going back to the way things used to be,’ which will include arguing for the U.S.’s place at ‘the head of the table’ – a position the US has held since WWII. “But the big question is will everyone else around the world accept that? Do they want us at the head of the table?,” says Fattor.

Additionally, Biden needs to state more clearly his approach to China: “will he take a more confrontational approach, or will we recognize that’s a sphere of influence in that region and we can’t insist on realizing all of our interests there?,” asks Fattor.

Matt Hitt, associate professor of political science, has been watching Biden’s use of the executive order – an effort of unilateral action – to reverse many things from the previous administration. “The executive order is effective as a tool to undo what a previous president has done (or not done). But there are concerns about the durability of these orders,” says Hitt. “Durable policy change happens through Congress,” says Hitt. “Any major legislation needs to get the support of all 50 Democratic senators and the VP.”

With COVID-19 being sudden and immediate, legislation must be swift, “but it will be interesting to see what the Biden administration is interested in doing with longer term conversations,” says Hitt.

Daniele Tavani, associate professor of economics, spoke about the COVID-19, the Great Recession, and the warning signs we’ve had for years about stagnation and wealth inequality. “The Great Recession is small potatoes compared to COVID-19. In the short to medium run, we need to get out of this – we need to get the virus under control for health and economic reasons,” he says. “Since the 1980s there has been a rise in wealth inequality. These warning trends pre-date COVID and the Great Recession, and this poses long-term challenges to the Biden administration.”

In addition to the checks that people received from the government in April and December, there will be additional temporary expansion of unemployment help. “We need to look for direct federal relief to state budgets. Absent that, I see a fiscal crisis in all 50 states,” says Tavani.

The panel discussion ended with predictions/thoughts from each of the faculty members:

Anderson: With a critical mass of women and people of color in decision making positions, we’ll see how that changes our policy proposals and governance overall.

Arthur: We are going to see more women and people of color in leadership positions who will be spokespeople for this administration and who will lead efforts to create the coalitions necessary to pass legislation.

Fattor: Relations with Russia will remain cold, and we will get an arms reduction treaty in two years.

Hitt: The miracle of representative democracy is how we’ve devised meaningful conflict and change without resorting to violence. It is difficult but the alternative is so much worse. Congress bickers so that we continue to have a government with principles.

Tavani: The Biden administration will aim to get COVID-19 under control. Will it be enough is anyone’s guess because it’s a global issue. I’d like to see this administration address systemic inequalities that have existed for many years.