NEW HAVEN, CT – The dozen students who are taking a new political science course at Southern Connecticut State University focused on the first 100 days of Donald Trump’s presidency all agree there has been no shortage of material to discuss the first few weeks of the semester.
“It’s been a real interesting class each session,” Robert Vaughn, a history major, said just before the weekly class got underway Monday at Engelman Hall.
Vaughn admitted that “he’s not a big fan of Trump,” but he’s finding the course, Seminar in American Politics: Presidential Elections and Transitions, being taught by Art Paulson, a professor emeritus of political science at Southern “a real good lesson in our constitutional process.”
The students — mostly graduate and some undergraduate students — signed up for the class which is looking at President Trump’s policies, cabinet nominations and other high level appointments, such as Supreme Court nominations.
“It was scheduled before we knew the results of the election, so if Hillary had won, it would have been about her transition,” Joe Musante, a university spokesman, said.
“They have been active and vocal,” Paulson said of his students. The three main areas of study have been the Trump transition, the office of the presidency from both a theoretical and practical standpoint, and an examination of the presidency and the executive branch of government.
Paulson said he enjoys teaching the course, saying clearly “Trump is different,’’ than most of his predecessors, moving faster which gives him, Paulson, plenty of subject matter to discuss with the class weekly.
“Donald Trump’s election makes an interesting course even more fascinating because of its historical uniqueness,” Paulson said. “It marks the first time that someone without any governmental or military experience has become president.”
Paulson, a longtime professor at Southern, said he wasn’t aware of any similar courses being taught anywhere else in the country.
In Monday’s class, Paulson told the class that the last president who was as dramatic a change for the country was Ronald Reagan.
“Reagan represented a real change with Reaganomics. That was going to be a fundamental shift from the policies of the previous 40 years,” Paulson said.
The difference between Trump and Reagan, Paulson told the class, is that Reagan “did nothing to discourage” debates between his team. “By the way, chaos is not always bad,” Paulson said.
“Reagan encouraged his staff to argue,” Paulson said, stating Reagan operated under the policy that “he needed to hear all sides before making a decision.”
There was a spirited debate in Monday’s class about Trump’s first few weeks in office, his cabinet choices, policy initiatives, and executive orders.
Most of the class clearly were not supporters of the president, but also clearly enjoyed the give-and-take discussion.
“I think the class is great,” Ryan McKenna, who said he is studying public policy and political science. “I’m a Democrat and it’s no secret that I voted for Hillary.”
But McKenna said the course, and the weekly discussions have “been an eye opener” for him. “It’s helped me understand how he (Trump) thinks, even if I don’t agree with him.”
Another student in the class who clearly wasn’t in Trump’s camp was David Blackmon, also studying political science.
“I don’t understand why he wouldn’t rather appease than crush the opposition,” Blackmon said.
“He definitely wants to set himself apart from Obama, which is fine, but I think he could at least come in and think about things and maybe implement a few more task forces to understand what’s going on rather than just come in and change things.”
Not everyone in the class was anti-Trump.
Peter, from Bridgeport, who said he didn’t want to give his last name because he was afraid he would be “stalked” on social media, said he prefers Trump over Barack Obama.
“He knows how to organize,” Peter said of Trump, stating he wasn’t a fan of Obama’s “laissez-faire’’ style. Peter said Trump’s style of management is the “best fit for the White House.”
Paulson said the class is using a book by former White House staffer and presidential adviser Stephen Hess, “What Do We Do Now?” as its primary research material for the curricula.
The book is described as a workbook for new presidents, stating the early part of a presidency is a “unique and daunting process that always involves at least some mistakes – in hiring, perhaps, or in policy priorities, or organizational design.
“Early blunders can carry serious consequences well into a president’s term, minimizing them from the outset is critical,” the book states.
Sarah Santone, also studying political science, said Trump is not following the book’s advice. “His election and presidency, I don’t think, is according to the book.”
Santone said Trump needs to learn to get “positive instead of negative attention.”
Paulson said later in the course, one assignment will be to have students generate policy suggestions for the new Commander in Chief as if they were working in his administration.
“They’ll be trying to sell ideas that fit within his policy framework,” Paulson said.
The separation of powers and Trump’s relationship with Congress also will be studied in the course, according to Paulson.