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USAPP Managing Editor, Chris Gilson looks at the best of the week’s political blogging from academics and think-tanks. Don’t see a blog referenced here that you think we should be reading? Let us know what we’ve missed out and we’ll try to include it next week. 

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President-elect Trump and the Republican Party 

On Saturday, OUP blog looks at how the right is labelled at the time of Trump’s ascendancy. They write that in the public conversation, people have difficulty labelling those like Trump’s advisor (and ex-Breitbart news CEO) Steve Bannon, and when they do label him and his ilk as “neofascists” this implies that their views are beyond the pale and are therefore underserving of serious consideration. Princeton Election Consortium gives a checklist of ten things to look for to see if the US’ institutions are collapsing in the wake of Trumps inauguration, such as the detention of journalists, defying the orders of courts, and the persecution of ethnic or religious minorities.

On Friday, Donald Trump will be inaugurated as 45th President of the United States. Immigration Prof blog reports Sunday that ahead of the big day, thousands have rallied in Washington D.C. to show their opposition to Trump’s social justice and immigration agendas. Ahead of the inauguration, FiveThirtyEight writes that a president’s first 100 days really do matter; by his 100th day, FDR had already begun to reshape the government’s role in the US economy and passed 76 laws. They comment that Trump’s first 100 days may be like Obama’s with a number of bills and executive orders being signed which highlight the new administrations’ differences with the previous one. Despite the apparent importance of the first weeks of the presidency, it turns out that Donald Trump is planning to take the first weekend as president off. Outside the Beltway reports that Trump has stated in a new interview that he won’t be getting down to business until Monday morning. Trump made a huge number of promises to his supporters over the course of his election campaign and since he won the presidency. Monkey Cage comments that he will need to deliver on his promises – such as his guarantees about jobs, economic growth and to destroy Islamic State – or he will face a backlash.


Credit: Michael Vadon (Flickr, CC-BY-2.0)

Writing at The Society Pages, thickculture wonders if Trump’s obsessive tweeting habit is an addiction or part of some kind of strategy. Will Trump be a “President Mayhem”? Balkinization says that Trump’s administration is very likely to produce mayhem on two fronts – scandals based on his financial interests, and by potentially taking a different line on the War Powers Resolution by challenging its constitutionality.

On Monday, Marginal Revolution says that as a thinker, Donald Trump is underrated in some ways in that he is willing to think things through from scratch compared to other politicians. Outside the Beltway meanwhile asks if Donald Trump will be a “legitimate” president, after Representative (and civil rights era activist) John Lewis (D-GA) stated that he would not be. They disagree with Lewis’ assessment, arguing that Trump was legally elected president, and he will not be rejected in any way that matters. Lawyers, Guns and Money writes on Thursday that Trump’s proposed budget has shown that he is a “bog-standard Republican” which would privatize the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and eliminate the National Endowments for the Arts and the Humanities.

Sabato’s Crystal Ball says that this week marks the end of the beginning, referring to Donald Trump’s transition to the presidency. Looking into past presidential transitions, there have been many which have been far less amicable than the present one has appeared to be.

The Democratic Party and President Obama

On Friday, Lawyers, Guns & Money wonders: “where do the Democrats go”? They say that between President Obama’s poor record of building up state and local parties, a lack of party leaders and gerrymandering, the Democrats are now facing some incredible challenges.

On Saturday, The Volokh Conspiracy says that President Obama’s reversal of the “wet foot, dry foot” policy towards Cuban refugees last week is a “cruel reversal”. They comment that there is absolutely no justification for Obama’s new policy and that it is “gratuitously cruel” towards Cuban refugees, and does not create any meaningful benefits.

As might be expected, this week saw a number of comment pieces reflecting on President Obama’s two terms and legacy. FiveThirtyEight considers how Obama will be judged by history, suggesting that his relatively high approval rating upon leaving office would tend to indicate the he will be well thought of in the future. From the right, American Power writes that Obama led the US in endless wars, after being the most antiwar Senator in 2007. Angry Bear, meanwhile calls Obama a “noble failure” in reference to his “firehose” of money aimed at the financial sector, and his failures at basic administration such as not having candidates confirmed across the government and the judiciary. Duck of Minerva, writes Thursday that Barack Obama has been an “unprecedented president”, with his gifted discourse (which they call “the poetry…of leadership”) and many domestic and foreign policy achievements. Mischiefs of Faction meanwhile comments on what we’ve learned from Obama’s presidency – with one big takeaway being that campaigning is not governing. Missing Obama already? So is Nicholas Kristof, who says that “America and the world will soon be craving that Obama Cool again”.

One thing that Obama has done right – at least according to Lawyers, Guns and Money is to commute Chelsea Manning’s 35-year prison sentence for leaking US diplomatic information. FiveThirtyEight gives context to Obama’s move, writing that the 44th president has granted clemency more often (1,715 times) than any other president in history.

The House and Senate 

Vox’s Polyarchy writes this week that Trump’s historic unpopularity means that Congressional Republicans should be able to challenge him without fear of Trump inspiring primary challengers.

On Wednesday, FiveThirtyEight reports on what we learned (and what we didn’t) about Donald Trump’s pick for Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, at her confirmation hearing; that she would encourage states to create voucher programs, but not try to impose them, that decisions about guns in schools were best left to schools and states to decide, and that she wasn’t not sure how student progress should be measured.

Sabato’s Crystal Ball comments that of the current Congress, 77 percent of Republicans and 52 percent of Democrats have never served under a Republican president. Looking at Trump’s Cabinet, only 50 percent have government experience and none have PhDs, compared to 91 and 23 percent in Obama’s administration.

Elections and American democracy 

Much has been made of the apparent unreliability of political polling in the past year. Org Theory writes this week that the national polls actually did better than expected this year, being only 1.2 percentage points off. The state polls were another matter though. They sucked. Similarly, Statistical Modelling… reminds us that since most of the election polling was relatively accurate, there is no big reason to doubt the current opinion polling which shows Donald Trump as having a low approval rating.

Fake news has been in the news a great deal recently – many believe that it played an important role in Donald Trump’s election. OUPblog says that fake news has always had a presence in the US, and even Benjamin Franklin partook in the practice. That said, since Franklin’s time the ‘barriers to entry’ for fake news have decreased significantly, and the ease of producing such content via the Internet makes it a very attractive proposition to produce outrageous content and to therefore attract more advertising revenues.

On Tuesday, Princeton Election Consortium announces a new project on partisan gerrymandering, which will apply statistical analysis to Congress and to state legislatures to identify which states and parties benefitted from gerrymandering.

Vox’s Mischiefs of Faction this week looks at what the politics of presidential term limits teaches us about violating norms – and how a system of informal limits can be replaced by a more formal one, as was the case with the 22nd Amendment which limited presidents to two terms.

OxPol talks the Electoral College on Thursday, arguing that the US needs a proportional system which would see candidates receive a proportion of electoral votes for each state which were equivalent to the popular vote that they gained during the election. The new system would also include a state-specific popular vote threshold for a candidate to receive electoral votes.

The Government, Beltway and the Supreme Court 

On Wednesday, Immigration Prof blog has the news that the priority family case backlog for the Immigration Court has now surpassed 100,000 out of over 530,000 total cases.

Outside the Beltway says that the Supreme Court was this week due to hear oral arguments in a case which would determine the government’s ability to bar “offensive speech” in the case of copyrights and trademarks. Still on SCOTUS, Balkinization reckons that it and Donald Trump are not off to a great start, after the Chief Justice, John Roberts does not seem to have extended his traditional invitation for the president-elect Donald Trump to pay him a visit prior to his inauguration. The Volokh Conspiracy on Friday looks at how President Trump might shape the federal courts, given that there are 114 pending vacancies in the federal courts – over 12 percent of the judiciary.

Foreign policy, defense and trade 

On Sunday, Duck of Minerva wonders how International Relations theorists should respond to Donald Trump. While traditional IR theory suggests that institutions matter more than individuals, Trump’s election was a “black swan” event which means that that the role of individuals may become more of a focus in IR teaching. Lawyers, Guns & Money meanwhile argues that, in calling NATO ‘obsolete, and predicting that the UK’s exit from the European Union will be a success, Donald Trump is endorsing “American geopolitical suicide”. Political Violence at a Glance reckons that we should relax, because “NATO isn’t going anywhere”. We should remember, they say, that we’ve been here before such as when in 2011 Secretary of Defense Robert Gates stated that European allies had failed to devote the necessary resources needed for their own defense.

Monkey Cage says on Thursday that new research shows that in spite of partisan differences, Americans support retaliation against Russia for that country’s interference in the US 2016 election.

Obamacare and health policy 

On Saturday, Angry Bear argues that comments the effect that “millions are uninsured” under Obamacare are “garbage”. Why? These statistics include those in states which have blocked the expansion of Medicaid, undocumented immigrants, those eligible for employees sponsored insurance, among others.

This week, Donald Trump’s pick to be Secretary of Health and Human Services, Tom Price was questioned by a Senate committee. Beat the Press wonders Wednesday if  given Price’s resentment for government intervention into medicine means that he is opposed to the current protectionism for doctors which prohibits foreign doctors from working in the US unless they complete a US residency, or to government granted drug patent monopolies.

Mischiefs of Faction writes Wednesday that when presidents try to touch healthcare, they are inevitably punished by voters. With his plans to change health care, Donald Trump will likely be no different to Barack Obama or Bill Clinton who faced a similar punishment for voters for their efforts at healthcare reform. But will Trump and Congressional Republicans actually be able to repeal Obamacare? Monkey Cage says that hundreds of forecasters say that there is a 65 percent probability of repeal – certainly not a ringing endorsement. Lawyers, Guns & Money meanwhile argues that if the Affordable Care Act were to be repealed, then that would represent a “massive upward distribution of wealth.”

The economy, society and criminal justice 

On Sunday, Angry Bear looks at the relationship between minimum wages and productivity, commenting that higher wages are a real incentive for firms to increase productivity. Noahopinion meanwhile talks on unemployment insurance and the Permanent Income Hypothesis. He says that a new paper shows why we can’t just be satisfied with the idea that theories work sometimes and not others. Contexts, meanwhile, argues that the neglect of the working class by those in power helped lead to the rise and popularity of Donald Trump.

Political Violence @ a Glance says that on the eve of Donald Trump’s presidential inauguration, many Muslims have reason to fear. They write that the real-world practice of counter-radicalization has done little to distinguish radical Islam from the daily practices of Muslim Americans who lead normal lives.

Monkey Cage writes Thursday that John Kerry – the now former Secretary of State – accomplished something unprecedented on January 9th; he apologized for the persecution of State Department and Foreign Service officers who were gay in response to a request from a Democratic Senator.

Finally, Big Think reports on a new study which has found that gun violence spreads like an infectious disease, and concludes that it should be treated similarly to a public health epidemic and not just a policing problem.

Featured image credit: The White House (Flickr, US Government work)

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Note:  This article gives the views of the author, and not the position of USAPP– American Politics and Policy, nor of the London School of Economics. 

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