After more than a year of partisan squabbling, scandals and pundit-baffling surprises, the election that once seemed to be never-ending has reached its conclusion, sending tearful students into the streets in response to Republican President-Elect Donald Trump’s surprise victory. While results would not be confirmed until about 2:30 a.m., inklings of a Trump victory could already be felt after early wins in Florida and North Carolina complicated what had been expected to be a near-unflappable path to victory for former Secretary of State and Democratic Presidential Nominee Hillary Clinton.
The externalities of such a contentious election could already be felt on campus Tuesday night. At a viewing party at the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs, Paula Martínez Gutierrez ’17 said that when she said she was Mexican, a Trump supporter responded, “ew.”
The student supporting Trump said that he said “oh” in the exchange, rather than “ew.”
Speaking at a Watson Institute event featuring a panel of faculty members before Trump’s victory was known, Rose McDermott, professor of international relations, outlined an outlook for the election that is tragic when viewed ex post facto.
“If you don’t think that this election is a referendum on the place of women in society, then you’re not paying attention,” McDermott said. “If she loses, it is a commentary on the position of women in America, and is an endorsement of a particular type of social subordination.”
“We can all sit here in a progressive institution and pat ourselves on the back and be really proud of ourselves, but then you have to look at that map,” McDermott said. “It reflects a kind of discomfort that people have with women being in positions of power.”
“It’s about a level of comfort with a man who proudly endorses sexual assault as part of his history,” McDermott said. “To me that’s the depressing part of this election and how I think about the meaning of it.”
Earlier in the day, Rhode Island residents at the polls expressed a number of views on the candidates.
“I can’t stand either of these candidates,” said John Corrigan, who wrote in his ballot for Mitt Romney. In justifying his choice, Corrigan made note of Romney’s “morals, honesty” and “competence,” traits he said both Clinton and Trump were lacking.
Still, Corrigan was resigned to what he saw as an inevitability in this election: a Clinton victory. A Clinton presidency was still more palatable for Corrigan, who thought the threat of a Trump administration was too dangerous to risk. “Do you want corrupt or crazy?” he asked. “I’ll take corrupt.”
“I’ve been back and forth a lot this cycle, and I’m really not happy with either of the two major parties,” said Tyler Young, who voted for the Libertarian Party this election. While admitting that he usually leans Democrat, Young said it was more important his vote go toward Gary Johnson in the hopes that he wins 5 percent of the national vote, securing Libertarians federal funding in the next election cycle.
Other voters like Dennis Roberts II did not struggle as much with their choice for president this election. Roberts, a former Rhode Island attorney general, classified Trump as an “existential threat” to the security of the United States whose election would spell disaster for the nation. “As Democrats we try to continue good government. … I think Mr. Trump is more concerned with continuing no government, and I’m very disturbed by that prospect,” he said.
Carole Delaney put it more bluntly: “Trump is an idiot; he’s repulsive; he screwed the government; he didn’t pay taxes; he didn’t pay his workers, and he’s lied,” Delaney said. “Why would anyone vote for him?” she asked.
The Watson Institute held a panel featuring faculty members from the political science department. The panelists gave their forecast for the night even before polls closed in most states. In introducing the panelists, Edward Steinfeld, director of the Watson Institute and professor of political science, praised the quality of discourse on campus, which he characterized as notably positive in comparison to what has been otherwise expected of the election.
“We haven’t exactly shown our better selves as a country in this election,” Steinfeld said, “but the kind of discourse that we’ve had on campus has been different.”
Surveying the packed audience of the Joukowsky Forum, McDermott rationalized the size of the gathered crowd: “Anxiety benefits by company.”
In his address, Richard Arenberg, adjunct lecturer of international and public affairs, explained his own source of anxiety in this election: “the unwillingness of one candidate to say that he will abide by the results of the election.” In a thinly veiled reference to Trump, Arenberg defined such logic as “a really corrosive line of attack on the very root of democratic institutions in our country.”
Such a feeling of anxiety is hardly unique in this election, and a number of Brown students similarly expressed sentiments of dread, disbelief and horror at the prospect of a Trump presidency.
“It’s been an incredibly stressful election, and I’ve been a lot more anxious than I have been in the past because (a Trump presidency) is so terrifying,” said Leah Kazar ’17. Trump’s ascension is particularly worrying to Kazar, who is considering a job in government after graduation. “I really don’t want to work in a Trump administration,” she said.
“If you’re not a white male then everything should scare you,” said Lisa Schold ’19. “Just the rhetoric he uses is so offensive to everyone,” she added. “It’s embarrassing.”
“I’m one of those people if you’d told me months ago that this is where we’d be today, I wouldn’t have believed you,” said Ariel Higuchi ’18. “I was absolutely stunned by how the election played out.”
Such responses are hardly surprising considering Trump’s paucity of support on campus: Results from the Herald 2016 fall poll found that 85 percent of students declared a preference for Clinton while Trump received support from only 1.8 percent of the undergraduate student body.
With a narrow majority in the Senate and a substantial one in the House, Trump now has a clear path to achieving his policy agenda, though the nature of that agenda, or at least its feasible elements, remains unclear.
“I have a lot of trouble sorting out his stance on a lot of issues,” Arenberg said. “Whether or not he will try to build a wall is anyone’s guess, but I’m fairly certain that Mexico will not pay for it,” he added.
Even with dual majorities, hesitancy on the part of Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Paul Ryan to endorse Trump’s candidacy may dilute a sense of Republican unity in Congress, Arenberg said. “Some members of his caucus supported Trump and feel like he insufficiently supported the Republican nominee.” Tensions could rise between the various wings of the Republican Party “if the speaker has a hard time marshalling his majority.”
“But assuming he can,” Arenberg said, “there’s nothing except public pressure from the people necessarily that can move them.”
The most obvious task of any president upon assuming office is to heal the wounds of a contentious and polarizing election, McDermott said. “(He) has to try to overcome the incredibly divisive and vicious politics that have characterized this campaign,” she added. “There’s just a lot of hate.”