More than two months into the new presidential administration, the partisan gap between Democrats and Republicans is deeper than ever — a divide that was clear on Tuesday night as panelists debated the existence of equality in the United States under President Donald Trump.
The event, which was hosted by the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics, aimed to dissect a number of issues affecting citizens, such as income inequality, immigration and racism. Unruh director Bob Shrum and political science and international relations doctoral candidate Fabian Gonzales moderated the discussion.
The panelists included Ehsan Zaffar, a professor at the American University College of Law; John Thomas, a political analyst at KFI AM; and Ange-Marie Hancock; a professor of political science, gender studies and sociology at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences.
The event started with an analysis of income inequality and the role of women in the current political administration, particularly given the recent Senate vote to allow states to block funding for organizations such as Planned Parenthood. Hancock argued that although there were women represented in positions of power in the White House, such as Assistant to the President Ivanka Trump and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, inequality is still rampant.
“It makes it very difficult for women who are trying to get equal access to opportunities to actually have the data to present their case because so much is swept under the rug,” Hancock said. “I think it’s a real challenge for women to understand where they can make progress in terms of policy.”
Thomas, who identified himself as a member of the Republican party, argued that economic regulation suffocated businesses, when stumped job growth. Under Trump, he said, this pattern has changed.
“I think that what we’re seeing here is freedom,” Thomas said. “It’s a significant shift. For the last eight years it was the reverse — Barack Obama felt that the federal government should dictate and that the state should follow.”
In addition, the panelists described their views on Trump’s immigration policies, especially regarding his temporary ban on travelers from six majority-Muslim countries. Zaffar said that people who support the ban conflate terrorism with a threat from people of the Muslim faith.
“We, in the United States, tend to focus on acts of terror that rile the national psyche in a way that resonates with people that is contrary to evidence that actually exists,” Zaffar said.
Zaffar went on to state that the way that we assess terrorism now is primarily based on Islamic extremism, which is rooted in a faulty understanding of Islam. He pointed to the lack of security in train stations, such as Amtrak, as opposed to the intensive security in airports.
“The way that we allocate resources towards terrorism is not a good way to fight terrorism,” Zaffar said. “I expect more out of my political leaders, and I want them to keep me safe.”
The panelists also discussed the administration’s attitude toward the African American community, focusing particularly on voter identification laws, which often require voters to show identification when reaching voter booths. Voter identification laws often reduce turnout, since many low-income citizens and voters of color often do not have driver’s licenses, according to The Atlantic.
Hancock stated that a field experiment conducted by one of her students demonstrated that the legislators who had higher levels of “racial hostility” were more likely to support voter identification bans. However, she said Trump’s position on this issue is still unclear.
“I think that Trump could be swayed both ways on social issues,” Hancock said. “He could really go either way.”