McCormack Speaks

Reflections on the First 2016 Presidential Debate

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After Monday’s historic presidential debate, we asked Mark Warren and Christian Weller, professors in our Department of Public Policy and Public Affairs, for their thoughts on the policy issues each candidate addressed.

Presidential candidates Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton

Presidential candidates Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton

 by Mark Warren
Department of Public Policy and Public Affairs

During the first presidential debate, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump presented contrary views of the state of the African American community and race relations in America. Trump repeated his claim that murder rates are up in places like New York City and that strong “law and order” policies like stop and frisk are necessary to create public safety. Although rates have climbed recently in a few big cities, in fact, as Clinton noted, murder rates in New York City are lower than they were several years ago and almost everywhere far below the historically high rates of the 1990s. Stop and frisk policies in New York City were ruled unconstitutional, and are criticized as a form of racial profiling, as the moderator pointed out. Clinton has expressed concern with police violence and the mass incarceration of black men and she mentioned the role of implicit bias and stereotypes in the debate. She has suggested modest reforms to improve police-community relations, reduce mandatory sentencing and improve re-entry opportunities for those leaving prisons.

Clinton’s proposals are modest but a step in the right direction. Trump, while apparently appealing for black votes, has put himself forward as the “law and order” candidate, historically a code word for racial repression. It’s hard to take seriously a policy discussion with someone who was a leader in the “birther” movement, claiming that President Obama was not born in the United States. Although Trump recently changed his position, and has accepted Obama’s legitimacy as a native-born American, the birther charge is deeply offensive to African Americans and many other Americans who care about improving race relations. Trump’s demagoguery only fuels racial animosity and divisiveness precisely at the time that we need a serious conversation across racial lines and committed action to address racial violence and the myriad other ways that structural racism continues to impact the lives of African Americans.

by Christian Weller
Department of Public Policy and Public Affairs

During the first presidential debate, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump squared off on the economy and families’ economic security, which both require serious policy attention. Only Hillary Clinton laid out a comprehensive and workable strategy to address slow growth and high inequality, while Donald Trump harked back to the failed trickle down policies of the early 2000s, which likely will make matters worse.

The economy has been improving for several years now. Jobs have come back for some time. And, incomes are finally rising for middle-class Americans.

Yet, challenges remain for the economy and for families’ finances. Innovation is improving very slowly and economic growth is modest. Wages and incomes still have a lot of catching up to do, especially when considering that families are burdened by a lot of debt, increasingly for education. Moreover, many groups, especially communities of color still suffer from disproportionately high unemployment rates and low incomes. Yet, businesses have little incentive to invest more money and get the economy growing at a faster pace as long as wage growth is low and inequality is high.

Breaking through this vicious cycle of low growth and high inequality will require sustained and serious policy attention. Policymakers can do more to boost wages, for instance, through a higher minimum wage and paid family leave, to create more jobs, for example, through infrastructure investments and to increase economic growth through initiatives that favor innovation such as energy efficiency and renewable energy sources. Secretary Clinton laid out her vision for a stronger economy during the first debate and it includes all of these aspects and then some. She is focused on what has proven to work well in the past to reduce inequality and strengthen growth.

Alternative approaches such as cutting taxes on the wealthy, as proposed by Donald Trump, have repeatedly failed to deliver. The large tax cuts of 2001 and, more importantly, 2003, failed to boost investment, hiring and economic growth as macroeconomic and industry level data show. Considering the severity of the economic challenges, repeating failed experiments of the past, will not deliver for America’s middle class nor for the U.S. economy.

Mark R. WarrenMark R. Warren (PhD, Harvard University) is professor of public policy and public affairs at the UMass Boston’s McCormack Graduate School. Mark studies and works with community and youth organizing groups seeking to promote equity and justice in education, community development and American democratic life. He is co-chair of the Urban Research-Based Action Network (URBAN), a national network of scholars and community activists designed to promote collaborations that produce research relevant to advancing community needs.


Christian WellerChristian E. Weller (PhD, University of Massachusetts Amherst) is a professor of public policy and public affairs and a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress. His research focuses on economic policy, retirement income security and wealth inequality. He is widely published and his work is frequently cited in the media.

One Comment

  1. It was remarkable to hear a presidential candidate talk openly about structural racism and its impact on youths, especially young men of color. It makes me hopeful for moving forward with more honest dialogue.

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