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Worries of a Trump 'dictatorship' may be overblown, Virginia Tech presidential scholar says

November 10, 2016

Karen Hult is the chair of the Department of Political Science at Virginia Tech’s College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences.

Portrait of Karen Hult
Karen Hult

Despite rhetoric and concern for some that a Trump presidency might represent an unseen form of “dictatorship” in America, a Virginia Tech presidential scholar says the label may be overwrought.

“It probably overstates how President-elect Trump actually handled his business dealings over the years,” said Karen Hult, the chair of the Department of Political Science at Virginia Tech’s College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences. “It also overlooks the constraints of the position of president itself: it comes with expectations of how administrations are organized, the myriad staffing and advising institutions that continue across presidencies, and the unrelenting press of demands.”

Checks and balances remain in place, Hult said, even when a Congress controlled by Republicans is still riven by polarization “and run by those whose first objective is to be responsive to their own different constituencies.”

About Hult

Hult serves on the board of the nonpartisan White House Transition Project, which provides information to new White House staffers about making the shift from campaigning to governing, and sharing knowledge of what works and what doesn't from one presidency to the next. She has served as a contributing scholar providing briefing materials to the White House Counsel's Office and the White House Office of the Staff Secretary for transitions dating to 2000. Hult is the author or co-author of four books, including two on the evolution of the White House staff. 

Her research and teaching at Virginia Tech focuses on organizational and institutional theories, the U.S. presidency, executive branch bureaucracies, the U.S. judiciary, social science research methodologies, and state and local politics and policy. 

Quoting Hult

“From what one can tell from the outside, both the Trump and the Clinton campaigns had serious and systematic transition operations, [and] the Obama administration appears to be following the excellent transition plans of George W. Bush. That suggests then that fears of inability or unreadiness to govern may be misplaced.”

“A lesson that current and former staffers, scholars, and other observers generally agree on is that among the first things a newly elected president should do is to select a White House chief of staff, who then can fill important positions like White House counsel — critical for vetting of possible appointees and offering ethics guidance — and the personnel operation. One early indicator of being prepared to govern is starting with the senior White House staff, not cabinet members.”

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