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'This is Not Normal': Harvard IOP Fellows Dissect The Trump Administration

Harvard Kennedy School
The Harvard Kennedy School, pictured in 2017.

The Kennedy School's fall Institute of Politics fellows took the stage at the John F. Kennedy Jr. Forum Thursday to offer a shared conviction — that, under the Trump administration, America has strayed into a political Twilight Zone.

“You might be lulled into thinking this is normal,” said Mitch Landrieu, the former mayor of New Orleans. “This is not normal. In 30 years, I’ve served in office. My dad served in office. I’ve never experienced anything quite like this.” 

“Whatever side of whatever argument you are on, this is not a normal period,” said Washington Post chief correspondent and new senior fellow Dan Balz. “We don’t know where it’s ending. We don’t know where it’s going.” 

Thursday's panel, moderated by IOP Director Mark D. Gearan ’78, was meant to address the current “moment in time." Speakers discussed Senator John McCain’s high-profile funeral, to which the president was not invited, and the anonymous opinion piece criticizing Trump penned by a senior White House official and published by the New York Times this week.

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Many fellows were quick to call these developments “extraordinary.” They also offered blunt critiques of the current administration and Congress.

Margaret Talev, a senior White House reporter for Bloomberg News, stressed that explosive reports about the administration will “come to head during the midterm elections.” 

“The definitions of the Republican party is at stake, control of Congress is at stake, the direction of the second half of the term of the president is at stake and Democrats are trying to figure out who is going to run in 2020. That is at stake. The control of the Supreme Court is at stake,” Talev said. 

Fellows also emphasized the importance of civic engagement in the run-up to the November midterm races and encouraged students seated in the audience to register to vote. 

“I’m optimistic because I will always believe in America,” Landrieu said. “There’s lots of ways for citizens to participate, but you have to engage because democracy does not survive alone.” 

Kennedy School student Tyra J. Walker said conversations about the upcoming elections are important “at this critical time” in the country’s history. 

“Like a lot of the fellows mentioned, we are on the eve of probably one of the most important elections a lot of us will witness in our young adult lives — that’s whether we’re undergraduate students or Kennedy School students or students at any of the other graduate schools here,” Walker said. “I think these conversations are the ones we need to keep having.” 

—Staff writer Alexandra A. Chaidez can be reached at alexandra.chaidez@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @a_achaidez.

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