Written by politics students Satchel Johnsen and Alex Hamann
Russian hackers and rigged voting systems are not the biggest threat American
democracy faces. Rather, we must reflect on our own behaviors and attitudes as the American people. Preservation of the American Idea depends on educating future leaders on college campuses that support academic and political diversity as well as informed and rational political engagement. College students’ reactions and personal reflections on the U.S. presidential election results reveal that one of the greatest threats to democracy may be on college campuses.
For the past year, many of us couldn’t wait for Wednesday, November 9th to come and end one of the most dreadful and divisive presidential elections in U.S. history. Many of us were shocked by the results of a Trump victory, especially someone like me, a “Never Trump” Republican. Like many people, I was disgusted that the Republican Party put up such a flawed candidate who nearly derailed his campaign with sexually vulgar comments, racially charged rhetoric, and a lack of factually based arguments. Despite these factors, the American people selected Mr. Trump as our 45th president.
Now we see rioting in the streets and people challenging the election results. These responses are rooted in a misplaced belief that the president-elect does not deserve it. While I believe that Mr. Trump is unfit to be President, I am devoted to the idea of democracy, its ability to let the voice of the people to be heard, and its capacity to promote a free society through free and fair elections, even if I disagree with the results. Democracy is best form of government for promoting the unchallengeable idea that“government is made by the people, for the people.”It is one thing to point out a presidential candidate’s flaws, but another to target a
candidate’s supporters. Targeting and stereotyping a candidate’s supporters is hateful and ignorant. Groups which claim to be inclusive and open to all backgrounds act hypocritically when they generalize that Mr. Trump’s supporters are bigoted, racist, and xenophobic white males. Support for Mr. Trump is far more nuanced than whitenativism, sexism, or “whitelash.”
Who really supports Mr. Trump?
Yes, a number of Trump supporters behaved in reprehensible ways. But their behavior does not represent all Americans who voted for Mr. Trump. This election cycle Mr. Trump drew record numbers of voters, most of which came from working class white America. It is both impossible and unfair to conclude that racism or sexism was the primary motivator for Mr. Trump’s support. Many other factors motivated Americans to vote for Mr. Trump, including economic hardship and cronyism in Washington. Many of Mr. Trump’s supporters are angry and feel they have been forgotten due to policies that are viewed to seem to help an elite few flourish, not working class Americans. They feel that the political elite is out of touch with America’s working class. The elite has embraced the idea of globalization and free trade agreements that many Trump supporters feel dis-proportionality harms them.
Arthur Brooks, the president of the American Enterprise Institute, recently wrote an article for the Wall Street Journal explaining why Mr. Trump had such extraordinary support. He argues that work and dignity are strongly tied together. Brooks notes that since 1965 the percent of men outside of the workforce has risen from 10% to 22%;millions are underemployed and have given up looking for work. He further reports that, “the employment to population ratio for men aged 25 to 54 is 6.8 % lower than in 1930, in the teeth of the Great Depression”. This lack of work creates a lack of dignity, which in turn creates the perception that society is deteriorating. They feel vulnerable, but see a savior in Donald Trump, who promises a return to dignity by rebuilding the domestic economy.
How has the college reacted to Mr. Trump’s victory?
Some argue that Mr. Trump is undemocratic by pointing to his authoritarian statements, such as jailing Mrs. Clinton and his eagerness to work with Vladimir Putin. However, the response of Mr. Trump’s detractors, especially college students, has been to reject democracy. They refuse to acknowledge Mr. Trump as their future president, and reject the legitimacy of the election. This rejection is not limited to popular opinion among students: it also has roots in student organizations on college campuses. As a college student, I had my doubts in the beginning of the year with some of the initiatives that the student body wanted to pursue at Messiah. Support for the creation of safe spaces seemed to come at the cost of rational debate and discussion. These initiatives seemed to silence certain views, while elevating others. The results of the election have compounded this issue by aggrandizing student emotions. In the name of safe spaces and protecting student emotions, it is increasingly difficult for students to have meaningful discussions about Mr. Trump’s election victory.
College administration have condoned and promoted the creation of safe spaces for those hurt by results of the election. For example, recently the student body of Messiah College received an email informing them that a special worship service would be held in light of the election results. The administration’s email validated fears students may experience following the election of Mr. Trump. While the divisive, hostile, and discriminatory rhetoric of Mr. Trump’s campaign hurt many Americans, this response by the administration falls short in understanding the reasons why people support Mr. Trump. More importantly, election results must not consume our daily lives, our identity, or negatively impact how we interact with one another. Although healing and reconciliation must follow this painful election cycle, this is also a time to re-prioritize and contemplate how we can come together in unity and positively shape the future of our nation.
How does this concern democracy? Why must we reject such behavior?
In one of my classes, we talked about the state of Messiah’s campus post-election. I brought up my distaste for the “he is not my president campaign”, which many students support on campus. I believe that this movement is more than being anti-Trump, but antidemocratic because if the democratic process is going to work there must be a peaceful transition in power. I wasn’t far into my statement until a fellow student cut me off and said “how could you support a President like that, I bet you and all your friends were chanting that in 2008 and 2012 when Obama won.” Since I didn’t support the “he is not my president campaign,” I was categorized as not only a supporter of Mr. Trump, but as a hypocrite. Little does she know, I did not vote for Mr. Trump.
An essential element of democracy is reconciliation and unity. At the end of an election cycle, Americans must acknowledge their differences and work together for the success of our American system. Without this reconciliation, cooperation, and respect, democracy fails. It robs our system of its ability to address the problems that cannot be fixed by individuals. However, reconciliation only occurs when disagreements are met with openness, compassion, and the competition of ideas. When college campuses allow safe spaces and discourage students from sharing controversial views, they prevent reconciliation from occurring.
Emotions run high as the world processes the results of the U.S. presidential election. But student organizations and college administrations must be careful in the tone and purpose of conversations occurring on campuses across the country. Right now, many student organizations and college administrations are consumed by emotion in responding to the election results. My hope is that the college administration take a more active role in informing the students that this presidential election isn’t the end all of all things and addresses the importance of a free democratic society. Student groups at Messiah must ensure that they practice reconciliation by including all student perspectives and experiences. We live in a free society where we should be encouraged to share our beliefs, not threatened. While there are people who fear discrimination because of their sexual or racial identity, there are groups that have been unfairly labeled as oppressors. If college campuses are supposed to educate America’s next great leaders, true reconciliation and a competition of ideas to help promote a free society is a must.
i Arthur Brooks, “How Donald Trump Filled the Dignity Deficit.” Wall Street Journal. November 9, 2016. Accessed November 11, 2016. http://www.wsj.com/articles/how-donald-trump-filledthe-dignity-deficit-1478734436?mod=e2fb