Forecast 2021: Presidential politics

May you live in interesting times…

Scholars will be delving into this divided, dangerous era in the U.S. for many decades to come. Keep reading to hear Michigan faculty members’ real-time priorities for the incoming presidential administration.

Taking a pass at exploring the leadership implications is Mike Barger, executive director of Ross Online and clinical assistant professor of business administration at the Ross School of Business.

Barger’s distinguished resume includes a 13-year career in the U.S. Navy as a pilot, flight instructor and, ultimately, chief instructor at the Navy Fighter Weapons School (commonly called TOPGUN). He left the Navy to be a founding member of JetBlue Airways and created JetBlue University, the company’s centralized training department. Recently he spoke with Michigan News writer Jeff Karoub.

What will President Joe Biden be up against and how as a leader should he respond?

Mike Barger

Mike Barger (Michigan Ross)

These are four of the most critical challenges Biden faces:

  • Perhaps more than any time in our history, the American people are struggling to find compelling reasons to trust their leaders in Washington. Throughout these last four years of fabrications, exaggerations, claims of fake news, and accusations of partisan subversion, it has become almost impossible to know what to believe or whom to trust. Biden must make every effort to regain America’s trust.
  • While the primary objective of public service should be in the service of the public, evidence of this commitment has been largely absent. Public servants have often seemed more interested in their personal agendas than those of their constituents. This cannot continue.
  • Our country is deeply divided on many issues. The Constitution grants us the freedom to voice and debate our differences in perspectives and interests. It also provides a mechanism to establish and make progress toward common goals. The previous administration, however, used our lack of unity as a weapon — to further divide us. President Biden must pursue an agenda that prioritizes unification.
  • Recent events have called into question the courage of our leaders to make difficult decisions when those decisions may not be viewed favorably by their constituents, peers, or those in positions of power. We have the right to expect our leaders to have our best interests in mind when making policy decisions. We should demand they have the moral and ethical fortitude to do what’s right. All of these challenges must become foundational elements of Biden’s platform. [Read a full Q&A with Barger.]

Health care/Affordable Care Act

Sarah Miller is an assistant professor of business economics and public policy at the Ross School of Business. Her research interests are in health economics and, in particular, the short-term and long-term effects of public policies that expand health insurance coverage.

“There are a number of seemingly minor items that Biden could undo that could improve the functioning of the health insurance exchanges,” she says. “Two examples are increasing the open enrollment period back to its original 90-day length and rolling back access to non-Affordable Care Act-compliant, short-term health care plans. Both of these policies will likely boost enrollment and participation in the ACA marketplaces. The Biden administration could also further encourage states to take up the ACA Medicaid expansions.”

Public health/Health policy

Shobita Parthasarathy is a professor of public policy and director of the Ford School of Public Policy’s Science, Technology, and Public Policy Program. Her research focuses on the comparative and international politics and policy related to science and technology.

“Generic drug manufacturers around the world — many in low- and middle-income countries — are ready to produce COVID-19 vaccines, if only the World Trade Organization adopts a proposal submitted by India and South Africa to waive intellectual property rights on COVID-19 vaccines and other technologies including some patents, trade secrets, and other tacit knowledge.

“One hundred member countries of the WTO have already signaled support, but the U.S., U.K., and European Union have blocked its passage. I urge President Biden to support this proposal and convince our European allies to do the same. It will allow him to quickly fulfill his priorities to re-establish America’s leadership in the world and work towards racial equity, while also hastening the world’s recovery from the pandemic.”


Nirupama Rao is an assistant professor of business economics and public policy at the Ross School of Business. Her research focuses on the economic effects of fiscal policy, focusing on the impact of policy on firm production, investment, and pricing decisions.

“One broad priority will be to bring federal tax revenue back in line with average spending historically, which is about a fifth of GDP,” she says. “The Biden plan is to raise these added revenues progressively by returning the top individual income tax rate to 39.6 percent and reversing half of the 2017 corporate tax rate reduction.

“I would like to see the new administration simplify the tax rules for investment, allowing for more expensing and limiting interest deductions. The pandemic has also laid bare the critical role affordable high-quality child care plays in our modern economy. Robust child care support would boost labor supply at a time that participation rates are falling.”

Climate change priorities

Thomas Lyon is a professor of business economics and public policy at the Ross School of Business, a professor at the School for Environment and Sustainability, and director of the Erb Institute for Global Sustainable Enterprise. He is a leader in using economic analysis to understand corporate environmental behavior and how it is shaped by emerging government regulations, nongovernmental organizations, and consumer demands.

“As the largest historical source of greenhouse gas emissions and the world’s leading source of scientific talent, the U.S. has both the responsibility and the capability to set the pace of the transition to clean energy,” he says.

“The Biden administration needs to repudiate the falsehoods that have been tweeted by anti-science politicians in the pocket of the fossil fuel industry and convince the rest of the world that we still have the smarts to acknowledge scientific fact and the heart to act on it.

“Jobs in the renewable energy sector will help fossil fuel workers transition to the economy of the future, and replacing dirty energy sources with renewable sources will improve the health of Black and brown communities, since they suffer disproportionately from the pollution and health impacts of coal plants.”

Barry Rabe is a professor at the Ford School of Public Policy and a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. He is the author of the 2020 book Trump, the Administrative Presidency, and Federalism, which examines U.S. withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement and other executive actions whereby President Trump reversed direction from former President Obama.

“As Biden learned as a vice president, trying to advance climate policy via unilateral executive action is always tempting, allowing a president to bypass Congress. But it also involves perils, given uncertain court responses, likely opposition from many states, and possible reversal from a subsequent administration. Rejoining Paris is easy, but the other possible steps are much harder.”

Andy Hoffman is a professor of management and organizations at the Ross School of Business and professor of environment and sustainability at the School for Environment and Sustainability.

“Overall, the answer is not to simply apply new technological band-aids to an overall system that is in desperate need of upgrading,” he says “By fostering collaboration between governments, industry, and civil society, we can develop new solutions that remake our human and natural environment in a way that solves more than just one problem. And by taking such a leadership role, we can model and convene the world’s leaders to work together to solve what is genuinely a collective problem for all of humanity.”


Charles H.F. Davis is an assistant professor at the U-M Center for the Study of Higher and Postsecondary Education. He recently co-authored a special NAACP report that found that student debt disproportionately impacts Black students.

“With $1.5 trillion of student debt affecting 44 million Americans, most of whom are Black according to national data, the nation’s economic recovery must include race-conscious debt cancelation for Black borrowers,” he says. “Given the demonstrable impact of Black voters in the presidential election, as well as the disproportionate effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on Black communities, the Biden-Harris administration must consider their responsibility to Black constituents by advancing student debt cancellation as a priority within the first 100 days.”

Matthew Diemer, professor at the School of Education, examines how young people resist, challenge, and overcome racial, ethnic, socioeconomic, and other constraints in school, college, work, and civic/political institutions.

“In reopening schools, prioritize youth and families who are marginalized by society, as well as lower-wealth and lower-income districts. Without attending to these gaps, the disproportionate learning losses we’ve observed since March 2020 will only further widen over time — which would entail even larger disparities in school achievement, college outcomes, and labor market (as well as other) outcomes over the long term.”

Elizabeth Birr Moje, professor and dean of the School of Education, has done research examining young people’s navigations of culture, identity, and literacy learning in and out of school.

“The inequities that are evident in new ways during the COVID-19 pandemic are not the result of the virus but of systemic injustices that have always done harm in our country,” she says. “We must acknowledge causes of racial injustice such as inequitable school funding, harmful discipline and policing, discriminatory assessments, and inadequate curricula. We must dismantle these devastating systems, practices, and policies, and replace them with evidence-based solutions that give every student the ability to reach their full potential.”

Foreign policy & diplomacy

Mary Gallagher is the Amy and Alan Lowenstein Professor of Democracy, Democratization, and Human Rights and director of the International Institute.

“U.S.-China relations [are] at the lowest point in decades. Although the previous administration promised to be tough on China, in the end, the Trump administration lost the trade war, failed to deal effectively with the global pandemic, and could not thwart the ongoing loss of autonomy and civil rights in Hong Kong. The Biden Administration, staffed with many Obama-era officials, will continue the toughness of the DJT administration, but with far more effective implementation of policy and far more engagement with our allies.”

John Ciorciari is an associate professor of public policy and director of the International Policy Center and Weiser Diplomacy Center.

“North Korean nuclear advances, festering wars in Yemen and Syria, authoritarian clampdowns in Venezuela and Belarus, Taliban terror in Afghanistan, migrant caravans in Central America, and vaccine distribution worldwide are all among the problems demanding U.S. leadership and multilateral action.”

Melvyn Levitsky is a professor of international policy and practice at the Ford School of Public Policy. A retired U.S. ambassador, he served as officer-in-charge of U.S.-Soviet bilateral relations and as a political officer at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow.

“Biden will have a much harder stance on Russian interference in U.S. domestic affairs and on human rights, but he will seek to restart negotiations on arms control, New Start, and INF. He will press China to work on the North Koreans. He will not be as forthcoming on bilateral issues with Israel; at some point, he will begin a renewed initiative to broker an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.”

Keystone pipeline

On his first day in office, President Joe Biden signed an executive order revoking the permit, issued by the Trump administration, that allowed construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline.

Kyle Whyte is the George Willis Pack Professor at the School for Environment and Sustainability and an enrolled member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation. His research addresses moral and political issues concerning climate policy and Indigenous peoples, the ethics of cooperative relationships between Indigenous peoples and science organizations, and problems of Indigenous justice in public and academic discussions of food sovereignty, environmental justice and the Anthropocene.

“Indigenous peoples in North America have suffered greatly at the hands of fossil fuel industries, both economically and in terms of environmental quality, health, and human safety. Some Indigenous governments have faced dilemmas, having had to fight for their political and economic self-determination over energy resources on their lands to avoid having those resources being used exploitatively and harmfully by others.

“Indigenous peoples did not choose to have to live in a fossil fuel-driven energy system that factors into dangerous climate change. Projects like the Keystone XL are at odds with certain widely held Indigenous values that promote safe, healthy, and sustainable communities and lifestyles. The action of the Biden/Harris administration to halt the Keystone XL project is hopefully a step in the direction of reforming the overall problems Indigenous peoples face with the energy sector.”

Jonathan Overpeck is an interdisciplinary climate scientist and the Samuel A. Graham Dean of the School for Environment and Sustainability. He is an expert on paleoclimate, climate-vegetation interactions, climate and weather extremes, sea-level rise, the impacts of climate change and options for dealing with it. He served as a lead author on the authoritative Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change 2007 and 2014 reports.

“Halting the Keystone XL project is one of the most visible and effective ways President Biden can demonstrate he’s committed to his justice pledge. Corporate wealth and power have often been used in the past to disadvantage and harm Native American communities, and the president’s pledge to halt the Keystone XL pipeline is also a pledge to end the racism and injustice that has no place in the 21st century.”


William Lopez is a clinical assistant professor of health behavior and health education at the School of Public Health and faculty associate in the Latina/o Studies Program. He is the author of the book Separated: Family and Community in the Aftermath of an Immigration Raid.

“DACA has been shown to improve the lives, health, and economic and educational opportunities of undocumented immigrants. However, at its core, it’s still only a temporary relief from deportation. Now is the opportunity to move forward from the immigration policy of the Obama administration and propose legislation that not only supports undocumented community members, but gives them a path to citizenship and an opportunity for full inclusion in our society.”

Ann Lin is an associate professor of public policy at the Ford School of Public Policy. She is currently studying potential immigration policies, such as guestworker programs and legalization, and the political beliefs of American immigrants, with a specific focus on Arab Americans.

“I hope President Biden doesn’t simply try to revive the comprehensive immigration bills that failed to pass in both the Bush and Obama administrations. We need an immediate solution for immigrants who have lived in the U.S. for decades, worked and paid taxes, but don’t have a way to ‘stand in line’ for permanent residence and citizenship. They deserve a simple way to legalize their status, not the 10-year obstacle course that some of those earlier bills laid out.”



  1. Stephen Charles - 1979

    Wow, could this be anymore of a far left wing analysis of the current state? First, there are no indiginous people in America. All Americans were immigrants from those who crossed the land bridge some 10-20k years ago, arrived from the South Pacific on boats, were brought here as slaves from Africa, or who arrived from Europe. So, if the author is referring to American Indians then some of them opposed the pipeline, though many others including those living in Alaska support drilling. How does halting the pipeline stop racism and injustice? What has happened to scholarship at the University of Michigan? Do you wonder why we graduates no longer want to contribute and support this Marxist and revisionist institution?


    • Lisa Fetman - 2007

      The relentless pursuit to undermine and invalidate scholars who have spent decades conducting field work and specialized research is troubling. This comment immediately blames the “author”, conflating the author of this article with the quoted scholars. The witch hunt for people reporting on the truth based in valid research is alarming and must be disrupted. These armchair scholars who use alternative facts to challenge scholars and academics is the biggest threat to our democracy. Furthermore, the author of this comment and those who subscribe to his beliefs are the true revisionists.


      • San Juanita Garza-Barajas - 1981

        I agree


    • San Juanita Garza-Barajas - 1981

      Could you be more far right lol


    • Pauline Costianes - 1970

      Stephen Charles can be steadily relied upon to support the right wing fascist Trump agenda in every comment.


    • Patrick CARDIFF - 1990

      1. Stephen Charles does not exist. That is a pseudonym of a “troll-bot,” a machine-learning algorithm that only outputs far-right comments. This version is called “the chucker.”

      2. Michigan is NOT a Marxist Institution. It is avowedly Maoist. Everyone knows that. All non-Maoist graduates who did not fully embrace the ideology of the Revolutionary Left are immediately identified and scheduled for shunning operations upon graduation. The chucker missed the cut.

      3. It is necessary to agree with every word anyone ever (said) says about one’s alma mater. If one does not agree with every word, then that is called an “infraction.” An infraction removes both the cognitive dissonance associated with the non-agreement, as well as any obligation of charitable giving. In other words, complaining comes with great cost savings, especially with a free audience. Everyone knows this, too.

      4. The “pipeline” is a critical *flashpoint* issue that unites all conservatives in the US. The pipeline is THE metric by which all other matters in political thought, discourse and demeanor are decided, more important than: Inequality, guns, abortion, government interference, the rigged election, so called “racism,” the muzzling of free speech, whether folks should comply with CDC protocols, and how well folks with genuine psychosis – such as MT Green – represent the future of the Republican Party.

      5. It is very healthy to spend as much time online as possible trying to convince the inconvincible of the following: that a) our country has lost NO civility during the last four years of “non-government,” b) that people are NOT dying because of the Right’s lack of discipline in stopping the covid pandemic, and, c) that the Right bears “more responsibility” than the Left for the tanked economy.

      The above are not my opinions. They are merely facts.


  2. Ted Tanase - 1963

    After my first quick read I felt that the comments were significantly left of my beliefs (except for those of Rabe and Hoffman); I consider myself in the middle politically (I voted for 2 republican, 1 democrat, and 2 independents in the last 5 presidential elections). I do agree that the USA is deeply divided on almost everything, and I’m hoping that President Biden will work to bring the country back together. I think that means working toward the middle (a little left; after all, he’s a Democrat); and rejecting far right and far left ideas.

    I noticed you didn’t have anyone from the Engineering Schools make comments. That’s where I spend my 4 years. Maybe engineering professors don’t teach so left?


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