Panel discusses how Trump has affected the liberal movement

In a room packed to capacity, three distinguished panelists discussed “The Future of Liberalism in the Age of Trump.” The event, which took place February 3 in the Oak Room of South Dining Hall, was hosted by the Potenziani Program, the Constitutional Studies Minor, the Department of Africana Studies, and the College Democrats.

Former Indiana Congressman and former U.S. Ambassador to China Tim Roemer spoke first, claiming American democracy is in crisis. To back up his claim, Roemer outlined three distinct proofs. The first evidence he provided was polling showing all-time lows in trust of institutions, particularly the government. Roemer explained that people believe politicians listen to big money, lobbyists, and other interest groups before they listen to their constituents.

“… all the polling across the system shows that people don’t trust the government, they don’t believe it is working for them, and they want change,” Roemer said.  

The other two reasons Roemer provided were the extreme polarization occurring amongst a variety of American populations and recent changes in the ranking of American democracy. The polarization not only exists between Republicans and Democrats, he explained, but also between the rich and poor, rural and urban communities, the so-called elites and the working class, and other populations. Additionally, Roemer referenced the Economist Intelligence Unit which recently downgraded American democracy from a “full democracy” to a “flawed democracy.”

Looking forward, he proposed, Democrats need to “show up” to communities taken for granted by Democrats in the recent election in states considered part of the “Blue Wall”: Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. He said they need to show they care and have solutions for the issues plaguing those particular communities.

In closing, Roemer said, “Let us all, Democrats and Republicans, students and teachers, rural and urban, working and non-working, fix our democracy and restore this system as the beacon of hope and freedom it has been for over 225 years.”

Following Roemer, Rogers Smith, Professor of Political Science and Associate Dean of Social Sciences at the University of Pennsylvania, spoke of an “America first” narrative put forward by President Trump in his inaugural address that had great nationalistic appeal. Instead of underestimating this appeal, Smith explained the need for Democrats to put forth a rival vision of progressive nationalism in which the nation is focused on the gradual securing of rights for all.

“There is a story of American identity that deserves recognition, as our best story of who we are and what we as a people are trying to achieve. It is a story that not only recognizes but gives moral content to America’s obligations to its own citizens, and at the same time, it shows why a vision of ‘only America first’ is far from the best that Americans are and can be as a people,” Smith said.

This is contrary to the current status of liberalism in America, he explained, as liberals often simply offer long lists of policy proposals while conservatives have a concrete narrative of American identity. The new liberal vision requires more than serving America, he said, and should be concerned with the rights of all people everywhere.

Closing out the individual reflections, Dianne Pinderhughes, Chair of Africana Studies and Professor of Political Science at Notre Dame, focused largely on the impact of Trump’s presidency on the African American population. She said that African Americans face discrimination individually and as a group in areas such as voting rights, scrutiny by citizens and police, and economic distribution. Even with President Obama in office and strong civil rights leadership, she emphasized, all of this still occurred. Thus, she said, if there is no rule of law under President Trump, the civil and political rights African Americans have gained over the past 100 years could be undermined.

Looking forward, Pinderhughes said, “In order to address full national democracy in a way that [Smith] was talking about, we have to incorporate a full understanding of America’s past, which includes [slavery]. It’s a part of the institutional history of the country, and the way in which political decisions were made or not made in terms of reparations for example … It’s not been addressed … These are things that have to be addressed.”

Sophomore Jackson Hignite reflected to the Rover, “The political institutions of the left crumbled in this past election cycle just as the world was sure that particular fate was happening to the right.”

Hignite added, “In this event they plainly admitted that they were wrong about a whole host of political tactics and that there were many ways they could’ve communicated with the American people in a more genuine way. If the spirit of the event on Notre Dame’s campus was indicative of the new spirit of liberalism in America, I think that the left may be well on its way to repairing its image in the eyes of the American people.”

Matt Connell is a sophomore living in Sorin. His past bylines have included a wide variety of majors and minors, but he is now officially landed on marketing and constitutional studies. You can contact him at