At Inauguration Watch Party, Faculty and Students Share Ideas of the Way Forward

For all the things that were unusual and even unprecedented about Friday’s inauguration of President Donald Trump, there was one most important way where it continued a distinguished tradition of American politics.

“It’s a peaceful transition of an incredible power,” said Peter Feaver, professor of political science and public policy. “And that is a rare thing in this world today.”

Feaver, was one of four panelists at the inauguration watch brunch in the Sanford School of Public Policy Friday.

Attended by students, faculty, staff, and guests, the event was an installment in a series called “The Purple Project” headed by Duke’s Center for Political Leadership, Innovation, and Service (POLIS), which highlights bipartisan work and possibilities in our increasingly partisan political climate. Panelists echoed Feaver’s appreciation for the meaning of the event, but President Trump’s speech claiming the return of power to the American people and national greatness struck different chords with the participants.

Sophomore political science student Madison Laton, who’s vice president of Duke College Republicans, said the speech presented “an optimistic version of what the American people will be” and “offered hope, an optimistic vision for the future.” While she agreed with other panelists that the speech was directed toward his supporters, she also said his speech approached the country’s concerns as a whole.

In response, policy science major Zach Gorwitz, the co-editor of Duke Political Review, mentioned that while there was “more of an emphasis on unity than expected,” he was skeptical over whether Trump’s rhetoric will match his actions given his present choice of cabinet members.

Deondra Rose, assistant professor of public policy and author of Citizens by Degree, a book outlining landmark educational policies, discussed expectations for the upcoming term: “We’re at a new normal; the goalposts have moved,” Rose said. She also spoke to the rhetorical significance of the speech and how Trump spoke to themes of “restoration, return, rightful ownership” which “emphasized his political role.”

Feaver, who also serves as director of the Triangle Institute for Security Studies and Duke Program in American Grand Strategy (AGS), acknowledged that this political role will largely be defined by Trump’s response to foreign policy, where ultimately “competence on policy will be the final measure of his presidency.”

The discussion ended with POLIS director and panel moderator Fritz Mayer emphasizing the need for discourse across party lines to bridge the empathy gap. Only then, Mayer said, will we “regain a sense of common purpose as a nation.”