Key issues of the 2016 presidential election : Faculty members' perspectives| Nov 7, 2016
In light of the many contentious issues surrounding civil liberties and social values raised during this election cycle, the Daily Princetonian spoke to various University faculty members with extensive scholarship pertaining to the topics of debate. For each faculty commentary, a thematic question is posed, followed by specific questions about candidate platforms. The commentaries below cover matters ranging from election rhetoric to immigration to definitions of marriage. The views presented here do not reflect the stances of ‘the Prince.’
What has been the impact of this election, both the race and the results, on matters of civil liberty, including immigration, speech, and rights of minority communities?
Stanley N. Katz is a professor of Public and International Affairs and Director of the Center for Arts and Cultural Policy Studies at the Woodrow Wilson School. On November 4th, 2016, he sat down with the Daily Princetonian to give a commentary on the position of the two candidates in Tuesday’s election, specifically their views on civil rights and liberties.
DP: What are both candidates’ abilities to uphold the civil liberties of American were they to be elected as president of the United States?
SNK: It’s really hard to answer. I have a pretty good idea of who Hillary Clinton is and where she would go on issues like this. He [Donald Trump] has no kind of track record, and frankly, I have all kinds of hunches but they are poorly informed based on what I’ve seen in the last six months or so on television. And I’d have to be very worried about it. He seems to be a person who is much more concerned with conformity and order than freedom of expression, except for himself. On the other hand, I’m a little worried about making a judgement; he’s never been called upon to make judgement on these kinds of things. It could be that he would not be as bad as I feared – though he seems to have no understanding of law, let’s start with that. All his talk about throwing Hillary Clinton in jail and so forth is irresponsible and poorly informed. You have to fear the worst for someone like that. On the other hand, he would be advised by people who are better informed and might not be as bad as one hopes. But he certainly hasn’t said anything that leads me to believe that he would have any particular concerns for civil liberties.
DP: Mr. Trump has said many questionable things about immigrants, Muslims, and many other minority groups. Do you think he would be able to follow up on any of his views and claims?
SNK: He has said many terrible things, and I disagree with almost everything that he has ever said. That said, I suspect that were he to be elected, he can’t in fact act upon most of those things, and it is hard to believe that he would be able to appoint people to the Department of Justice or the Federal Bench who would support the extreme things that he has said. Frankly I think there is reason to think that he would behave in a more reasonable way than he speaks. Even on many of the issues you mentioned. He has backtracked quite a lot. We never had someone like him [running] before. So I think it is very hard for anyone to judge what he would actually do. And frankly until the last few days I didn’t take seriously that he would be elected. Now – I still don’t think he would be elected – but now it doesn’t seem completely impossible.
DP: Trump has also mentioned that Hillary Clinton exploits minorities, saying “thank you, see you again in four years”. Do you think Clinton will be able to effectively protect the civil liberties and rights of Americans, especially minorities?
SNK: It’s hard to say, but Clinton has a really long and good track record. Let’s start with the fact that she is a lawyer, and a really good lawyer at that. She was a brilliant law student. She had a legal career before. She had to support her husband’s career, she worked for the Children’s Defense Fund, she’s actually got a track record for looking in and for civil liberties and I don’t have any doubt that she believes that and I don’t doubt that those are kinds of positions that she would support as far as I can tell. Historically Democrats have supported those kinds of views and she strikes me as the traditional Democrat. For instance, I expect her to appoint mainstream slightly left of center people to the supreme court, whereas he [Donald Trump] would appoint people more like Justice Scalia.
DP: How do you think Hillary Clinton will distinguish herself from the Obama Administration on this issue?
SNK: On most issues I would expect her to be pretty much in the same place the Obama administration has been on most issues. Obama has been what I would describe as down the center for a Democrat. He’s been steady in his support for civil rights and liberties and expect Hillary Clinton to do the same. With Trump I would expect a fairly traditional, Republican views on civil liberties.
DP: So you would say that Trump would further backtrack on the extreme remarks he made during his campaign were he to be elected president?
SNK: Yes. It does depend on the people he appoints and I don’t think they’re going to be incompetent people who believe that we shouldn’t take minority groups seriously. That’s a non-starter as a policy. I think he is completely incompetent to be the president of the United States. But if the worst was to come to pass, my guess is that, given the dynamics of institutions, he would be forced to be more reasonable than his extreme and horrible language. Though that may be because of my mentality that the glass is half full. I see Clinton as a middle of the road person. As a Democrat she is to the right of me. I wish she would go further but her position is still fine with me. I think Obama was a centrist on most issues and Clinton will do the same.
In what ways has this election been influenced by changing trends in social and family values?
Robert George, an American legal scholar and political philosopher serves as the University’s McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence, as well as the Director of the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions. On November 7th, 2016 he offered a commentary on how the two major candidates are addressing issues related to family values.
DP: Briefly explain your perspective of prominent candidate stances on social and civil issues, including those that involve definitions of marriage and right to choice/life. Which major party candidate’s platform do you feel is better for the nation?
RG: On marriage I stand where Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama—time and again—claimed firmly to stand until flip flopping for transparently political reasons. On abortion, I stand against the position Donald Trump claimed firmly to hold until flip flopping for equally transparently political reasons. As someone who believes in the sanctity of human life in all stages and conditions and in marriage as the conjugal union of husband and wife, I find neither former Secretary Clinton nor Mr. Trump satisfactory. Clinton has never, to my knowledge, been able to think of a circumstance in which she believes that the right to life of a child in the womb should meaningfully be protected. Trump now claims he supports substantial legal protection for unborn babies, but who can believe him? Infidelity—and not just to his wives—has been the one constant in his life. I trust Donald Trump no more than my friend Cornel West trusts Hillary Clinton. I share Professor West’s belief that neither party has given us a candidate who meets the threshold to be acceptable as the leader of our nation. In the short run, her election might well do greater damage to causes I believe in. In the long run, his election might do greater damage. I cannot in good conscience support either of them.
DP: What specific issues, within the context of family and social values, are of greatest concern to you and to this election? What issues do you believe still need to be addressed that are not currently being discussed and why?
RG: Like people on both sides of the social issues debates, the selection of judges and the future of the Supreme Court are critically important issues for me. I have no doubt that Clinton will be faithful to her supporters in appointing judges and justices who will continue and expand the practice of imposing liberal ideology on the nation under the pretext of giving effect to constitutional guarantees. Trump claims that he will appoint true constitutionalists who will be guided by the text, logic, structure, and original understanding of the Constitution and will not usurp the authority of the people and their elected representatives. He has provided impressive lists of judges he would consider appointing. If he were a person of good character—someone who could be trusted—this would count in his favor with me. But he is not.
DP: How do you believe recent developments related to family and social values have influenced the way the issues are being addressed in this year’s election?
RG: Both candidates are using social issues—especially the future of the Supreme Court—to rally their bases. This is normal and to be expected. The Supreme Court’s decision in the marriage case and, especially, the death of Justice Antonin Scalia have heightened the sense people on both sides have of what may be at stake in the election. The net result will be to further polarize an already polarized country.
Where do issues of reproductive health stand in this election?
James Trussell is the Charles and Marie Robertson Professor of Public and International Affairs, Emeritus and Professor of Economics and Public Affairs, Emeritus in the Woodrow Wilson School. Bradford Wilson is the executive Director of the James Madison Program in the Department of Politics. On November 7th, 2016, both corresponded with the Daily Princetonian to discuss the role female reproductive issues have played in this presidential election cycle.
DP: Please briefly explain your perspective of prominent candidate stances on female reproductive health.
JT: Clinton is firmly pro-choice. She supports repealing the Hyde amendment, which prohibits federal funding of abortion for poor women. Trump has vowed to repeal abortion rights by putting anti-choice justices on the Supreme Court.
BW: Just a clarification: Trump has vowed to appoint Justices who, if given the opportunity, would vote to reverse Roe v. Wade. That would return the abortion controversy to each of the 50 states, who each would determine the scope and limits of the abortion freedom in its jurisdiction. Secretary Clinton has declared in favor of an unlimited right to abort, presumably up until the day before birth.
JT: What nonsense about aborting until the day before birth. If that ever happened, and it does not, it would be only to preserve the life of the pregnant woman.
BW: Well, that was rude. That is Hillary’s position, like it or not. She’s been clear about it. Trump is opposed to late term abortions. He is clear about it, too. We’re talking about candidates’ positions, not our own policy preferences.
JT: Yes, I erroneously assumed you could think. There are many Trump positions. Like wanting to punish women who have abortions.