Professors from five disciplines discuss politics, international affairs

Eight Princeton professors across five disciplines gathered Nov. 28 for a campus discussion of the impact that a Trump presidency will have on the world, and from that discussion emerged one common thread: uncertainty.  

Whether approaching the issue from a historical, political, sociological, or anthropological perspective, the panelists had few answers to the many lingering questions. 

“Are we in the midst of a crisis, or are these growing pains of globalization and interdependence?” asked Jeremy Adelman, a professor of history. As the American hegemony comes under challenge, he said, the question now is whether the United States will respond by turning inward, or by beginning to explore “how to ... [adapt] the system of global interdependence to the 21st-century order.” 

For Carolyn Rouse, a professor of anthropology, the election of Trump is a call to fundamentally rethink how we study humanity. 

“I hope that this is a moment not just for us to think about our democracy, but to think about our social science,” Rouse said. The election has laid bare the failures of opinion research, she said, criticizing it for unrealistically taking people to be rational actors. 

“People can trust Trump because he was completely committed to his lies,” Rouse said. “... Hillary Clinton, not so much.” 

What polls completely miss, she added, is “how humans respond to ideas of security and trust on a very emotional and symbolic level” – and this type of information can be gleaned only from doing fieldwork.   

Trump’s victory has also cast doubt on the entire system of democracy, panelists said. 

“Frankly speaking, democracy promotion is dead,” said Mark Beissinger, a professor of politics and the director of the Princeton Institute for International and Regional Studies, which organized the roundtable discussion. 

Beissinger added that the election of Trump “may come to be considered to be the most significant foreign policy victory that the Kremlin has ever achieved.” 

READ MORE After the Election: The Campus Responds

China also stands to benefit from Trump’s victory, said Yu Xie, a professor of sociology.

The Chinese state can now point to democracy as a dangerous tool, he said, and a Trump presidency also gives China the opportunity to exert leadership now that it sees the United States as “weak, vulnerable, and polarized.” 

Much is stake, too, in the Middle East, said Bernard Haykel, a professor in the Near Eastern studies department. 

“We’re in a period of great flux,” Haykel said. “Both [Saudi Arabia and Iran] are hoping that Trump will end up siding with them. If he does, it will mean much more bloodshed and war, and therefore many more refugees.” 

The many questions and uncertainties surrounding a Trump presidency provide an opportunity for academics to do “interesting work” in the years to come, said Deborah Yashar, a professor of politics. But for now, there are no clear answers. 

“It’s time to buckle up,” Beissinger said.

The panel was held on a day when Trump met with retired general and former CIA director David Petraeus *85 *87 in New York, with news reports saying that Petraeus was a candidate for secretary of state. Petraeus was not mentioned during the Princeton panel discussion.