‘Winter is here’: U of T experts weigh in with advice and Game of Thrones references for Trump inauguration

Photo of Trump
Donald J. Trump gets sworn in as the 45th president of the United States (photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

As Donald Trump is sworn in as America's 45th president, U of T professors review what's at stake and offer advice for Canadians and citizens of the world about what to watch in the years ahead.

From Trump's cabinet appointments to his Twitter posts to even his campaign vitriol, there's a lot to make the world anxious about the future. 

Hence, the prevalence of apocalyptic Game of Thrones references emerging, says U of T History Professor Ronald Pruessen.  

“‘Winter is coming?’ We wish. If it’s January 20 – inauguration day – winter is here,” he says.

As Trump's presidency kicks off amid Inauguration Day boycotts and protests, U of T News spoke with University of Toronto experts from a variety of disciplines to provide insight into everything from immigration and race issues to trade, health care and potential problems with China, Russia, Mexico and the Middle East. 

This article was compiled with files from reporters Noreen Ahmed-Ullah, Romi Levine and Geoffrey Vendeville

Global politics, trade: Levine, Pruessen, Bothwell, Norrlof, Teichman

Immigration and race: Gilbert

Image: Hanna, Soberman

Environment: Neville, Hoffmann

Health care: Fisman, Deber

Washington D.C. prepares for Trump's inauguration ceremony (photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Global politics, trade


Let's begin with sage advice from U of T Scarborough political scientist Renan Levine:

“My advice to Canadians and Americans on both sides of the border is to focus our attention on the substance of politics rather than the latest tweets or other manufactured controversy that makes for snarky social media comments or good TV soundbites but has little impact on government policy.

“Dramatic efforts to overhaul government policy – like the NATO alliance or reexamining NAFTA regulations – that require our careful attention will be given inadequate review if we focus only on the latest tweets.

“Studies show that controversies and scandals can be limited if and when there are other controversies, scandals or "big news stories" that literally crowd out the original controversies.

“Whether by design or accidental, the soon-to-be 45th president is adept at shifting people's attention to areas of little impact – like his criticism this week of Georgia Congressman John Lewis or last week's jabs at former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger on the new Celebrity Apprentice, rather than concerns that his top national security aide called the Kremlin after President Barack Obama announced punishments in response to the hacking scandal, or that a key national security aide got caught plagiarizing material, or his attorney general's record on racism, or his education secretary's interests in reducing funding for public schools.”

Read more from Levine

Professor Robert Bothwell of the Faculty of Arts & Science is an expert in history and international relations. He has spoken extensively with U of T News about trade, Trump's effect on Canada-US relations and conflicts with other countries. He talked today about his concerns over Russia:

“Events have been dominated by revelations (unsupported in some cases – which only means that they can’t be confirmed but does not mean that they are false) about Trump’s interaction with Russia and Russians. These revelations seem to me to reinforce my misgivings about Trump and [Russian President Vladimir] Putin. He and his entourage are obviously very sensitive to anything that would undermine his legitimacy as president – which I suppose could mean his right to hold the office of president.

“Hence his over-the-top response to Congressman John Lewis when the latter questioned whether Trump was a legitimate president. 

“Trump’s incessant twitterings are also not reassuring. They show a thin skin, a vengeful disposition and a disregard for the facts of any given issue. Trump’s thoughts are evidently transitory – it does not seem to be hard to divert his attention, though he always does return to the same subject, namely himself.” 

Read Bothwell on Trump and the world

Historian Ronald Pruessen knows a thing or two about U.S. presidents and their history with the populace. The history professor in the Faculty of Arts & Science and the Munk School of Global Affairs is currently writing a book about Obama and teaching an undergraduate course on the Obama presidency: 

“It’s hard to resist sometimes responding in kind to Donald Trump’s hyperbole, isn’t it? Witness the prevalence of Game of Thrones references in conversations these days. Even in the absence of a crystal ball, after all, we do know enough about the 45th present to be anxious: his thin-skinned yet gargantuan ego for example, and his demagogic capacity to distort and dissemble. 

“In a complex world where sparks routinely fly, will a gaggle of cabinet officers and advisers of decidedly mixed credentials be able to restrain the fire-breathing dragon who appointed them? Will congressional leaders with a stunning track record of obstructionism against Obama choose to turn that dubious talent against the new president? There are many reasons to worry if problems arise (as they will) in the Middle East, with China, Russia, Iran or Mexico, with trade, etc...Many reasons for anxiety on the U.S. home front as well: health care, Roe v. Wade challenges, immigration and exclusion issues, increasing threats to social and economic equality.

“We can live in hope, of course – as we wait to see what President Trump actually does (or is allowed to do). The U.S. (like many other countries) has had poor and even terrible leaders before (think Ulysses S. Grant or Warren G. Harding – or George W. Bush). And American presidents have routinely found their freedom of movement far more constrained than they liked – by the U.S. constitutional system, the complex sentiments of voting citizens and the realities of the global arena (think Woodrow Wilson, Richard Nixon – and Barack Obama). Still – at this moment in January 2017 – “hope” feels like a fragile “thing with feathers.”

“Emily Dickinson thought the small bird was hardy enough to survive storms of gale proportions. We have George R. R. Martin’s imagery in the 21st century and might be wondering how a sparrow will survive any blood wedding or battle of the bastards on the near horizon.”

Read Pruessen's thoughts on the Obama legacy

Trump merchandise on sale in Washington D.C., for Inauguration Day (photo by Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty)

Carla Norrlof, an associate professor of political science at U of T Scarborough, has talked to U of T News about Trump influencing policy and global markets, and attacking China even before coming into office. She shared additional thoughts today: 

“For the moment, there is no serious risk that the Trump presidency will be imperialist in anything but style. The biggest geopolitical risk is that he makes good on his campaign promise to engage an ‘America-first’ agenda.

“That prospect seemed to fade for a while. But renewed talk of an obsolete free-riding NATO, indifference to the EU’s survival, proposing across-the-board tariffs, strongarming China on trade and provoking them over the South China Sea while defending and praising Putin have unsettled bets that his words are ‘cheap talk.’ Soon, we will see.”

Read more from Norrlof about Trump and the auto industry, and attacking China

Judith Teichman is a professor of political science and international development, and an expert in Latin America and the politics of development in the global south. She writes about the Trump presidency on her blog

A central promise in Donald Trump's campaign was to build a border wall. Do you expect him to follow through? 

“It's going to be pretty difficult to do – the reasons being that it will be extremely costly and will take a great deal of time. But I think the message behind that promise is that he's going to take stronger action to stop the flow of Mexican migrants into the U.S. 

“Obama has already done that. During the last few years, there has been quite a substantial decline in the flow of Mexican migrants. But what I think we can expect is even stronger measures under Trump.”

What happens if Trump follows through on freezing remittances, money flowing from Mexican workers in the U.S. to their families across the border? 

“A rise in poverty and criminal violence, for sure. The implications for Mexico are very, very worrisome. The remittance payments, which are very substantial go to very poor families to ensure their survival because there are inadequate employment opportunities in Mexico. But with structural adjustment and market liberalization and NAFTA, things went from bad to worse. 

“The one bright spot in the Mexican economy is the auto sector, and that is Trump's target.” 

What about trade? 

“What Trump illustrates is that political leaders need to rethink free trade. I'm not saying they should get rid of it. 

“If you recall the negotiations of agreements like NAFTA and the TPP, the only people at the negotiating table were politicians and big business. Environmental groups, labour, civil society organizations were not invited.

“So if this triggers a rethinking not only of trade agreements, but the process of negotiating them and having a process that is fair and inclusive, you're more likely to get agreements that take into account social repercussions in participating countries – and therefore a greater likelihood of avoiding the kind of mess that you have right now in the U.S.” 

Immigration, Race


Emily Gilbert, an associate professor of geography and planning, as well as Canadian studies, specializes in issues of citizenship, borders and security. She talked about Trump's fear-mongering against racialized populations like Muslim Americans and Mexican Americans:

“As we approach Trump’s inauguration as president, there is lots to be worried about with respect to his attitudes towards immigration. Trump has promised to build a wall with Mexico and to ban the travel of all Muslims to the U.S. Both of these statements have been qualified in the weeks since his election – the wall might just be a fence, and the ban would only apply to those from specific countries.

“But there is still much to be worried about, not only because of the lack of clarity around Trump’s policies and questions about whether to take his statements literally. A fence is still a barrier. And whether a ban on Muslims is total or partial, it is a form of racial profiling that casts suspicion on a group of the population. 
“This discrimination would be reinforced by Trump’s proposal to create a registry for all Muslims – and perhaps other immigrants – who enter or are already in the U.S. This could resurrect the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS) database that was implemented in the months after 9/11, and which disproportionally targeted Muslims, subjected them to additional biometric security checks and required frequent check-in with immigration officials. Tens of thousands of people were registered, especially men and boys, and more than 13,000 people were deported from the U.S. Only in December 2016 did Obama finally close down the program – even though it was long criticized not just by human rights advocates but by security experts. NSEERS did not lead to a single conviction on the grounds of terrorism. 
“Canadians should worry, especially those who may be targeted by these programs. But we should also be concerned with our state’s complicity with U.S. border policies. Since 2012, the two countries have been working on a Shared Entry-Exit System at the land border that depends on extensive information sharing between immigration officials in both countries. A revived NSEERS program would necessarily implicate Canadian border programs.

“We must oppose any such collaboration which is a de facto form of consent and entails surveillance of Canadians, Americans and visitors. We must resist any such fear-mongering against immigrants and racialized populations when it appears in Canada. 

“It is also time to scrap the Canada-U.S. Safe Third Country Agreement, which prohibits refugees from making a claim at the land border.

“To circumvent this rule, refugees are looking for illicit ways to enter Canada and endangering their lives. This happened just this week, when Seidu Mohammed, a 24-year old gay man originally from Ghana, suffered frostbite while crossing farmland to reach Manitoba. He nearly died. And while he is recovering, he will lose several fingers and a toe. We can only expect there to be more refugees under a Trump government and more people that we will needlessly subject to danger, unless this policy is changed.” 



Alex Hanna, an assistant professor at U of T Mississauga's Institute of Communication, Culture, Information and Technology and U of T's Faculty of Information, says Trump's way of communicating through social media is unique among politicians. His "chaotic" approach to Twitter has been so successful that Hanna expects it to continue into the presidency.  

"In the middle of 2016, people thought there would be this pivot and he was going to be more presidential, but I don't think that will happen," Hanna told U of T News recently.

"He built up his Twitter following unlike other politicians, even though his party continues to use the platform in a measured, restricted way. Trump's personal style definitely lends itself to Twitter."

Read more about Trump and his tweets

A slew of criticism has followed Trump from his campaign to the election and up until his inauguration. But so far none of the criticism – everything from his treatment of women to his conflicts of interest and ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin – has caused any dents to his popularity.  

David Soberman, a professor of marketing at U of T's Rotman School of Management, says we’re all to blame for Trump’s imperviousness to controversy. 

“I believe that one of the reasons that people in democracies are so disconnected or disillusioned with politics in general (take a look at the voter turnout numbers) is that all we hear about are scandals, mudslinging, conflicts of interest, etc…not enough political discourse is about things that really matter to the average person.

Read more from Soberman



Trump alarmed environmentalists by nominating a climate skeptic and the CEO of ExxonMobile to key cabinet posts. Kate Neville of U of T's school of the environment and department of political science says it is a worrying time for the environment. 

"We're entering a very, very uncertain time. This is a man who doesn't take briefings. This is someone who doesn't understand how government works," she said. "I think we can say fairly confidently we won't see improvements in many of the environmental areas that we might care about – everything from climate change to water protection, biodiversity and so on."

Read more from Neville

Matthew Hoffmann, a professor of political science at University of Toronto Scarborough and co-director of Munk School’s Environmental Governance Lab is not alone when he worries about what will happen under Trump regarding climate change. Trump has named named many climate deniers to his cabinet, including his pick for head of the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt.

“It is not hyperbole to say that the Trump administration will likely be a disaster for climate change policy in the United States and for the pursuit of an effective global response to climate change,” Hoffmann said. “The risks on climate change policy from this election are manifold and serious. We are likely to see a reversal of the directions and leadership that the Obama administration was pursuing in the U.S. and abroad on emissions reductions and support for renewable energy. Meeting the climate crisis just became much harder than it already was with an engaged United States.”

Read more from Hoffmann

Health care


Trump's meetings with anti-vaccination activists have public health professionals like David Fisman, a public health professor at U of T's Dalla Lana School of Public Health, deeply concerned. He says that with lower vaccination rates, outbreaks become more likely for highly infectious diseases like measles, mumps and rubella – which could lead to children dying.

“Using a big platform like the White House to cast doubt on vaccines could lead to lower vaccination rates, which in turn raises the odds of a dangerous outbreak,” Fisman said. “When anti-vaccinationists are given credibility and they are able to influence policy, vaccination rates drop. When vaccination rates drop, diseases – especially highly infectious diseases like measles, mumps and rubella – resurge. When those diseases resurge, children are sickened and can die.”

Read more about vaccination concerns

Raisa Deber, a professor at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health Institute of Health Policy, Management and Evaluation says she expects to see funding reduced for Planned Parenthood and potential changes to Obamacare.

“I’m expecting they’ll move very quickly on some easy things like taking away money from Planned Parenthood,” she said. 

She believes it will be more difficult to get rid of Obamacare.

“A lot of these things are run at the state level,” she said. “Can they require states to remove coverage? Is there going to be lobbying from people who had coverage and are then going to lose it? To what extent are they going to stick with what they’re claiming, or are they going to decide that this may lose them enough votes that they don’t want to go that route?”

Read more about Planned Parenthood and Obamacare


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