The Governance Post sat down with Hertie School of Governance students to weigh in on the results of the US election.
What we witnessed last night with the American election was not just a backlash against the political elite, but a “white”-lash – against changing demographics, against cosmopolitanism, against a broken system that many perceive to chew up and spit out those without a college education or fancy home or high-paying job. (See data from exit polling broken down by gender, age, race, income, education, and a range of other indicators here.) The result made it starkly clear that however insulated by our ivory towers and liberal social circles we may be, the “other America” is out there, and its voice will no longer be silenced.
No one knows what the next four years will bring, but one thing is certain: this election revealed a gash torn more deeply through the US than ever previously believed. Stitching together the chasm between the two sides – whose morals and values appear to lie within entirely distinct hemispheres – is a daunting prospect, leaving many of us feeling frustrated and lost.
As future policy-makers, it’s important that we engage with the reality of the voices carrying the Trump movement – the same voices gaining momentum in Europe through right wing, populist parties – no matter how many of us installed the Chrome plug-in to #makeDonaldDrumpfagain. The Governance Post spoke to several Hertie students to get some perspective on how we can move forward, remain engaged with the political system, and begin to make peace with the power of the “other”. Their responses, featured below, will hopefully solace you the same way they did for us.
If you have a response to the election that you would like to share over the coming weeks, get in touch – firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Citizens have never been more powerful”
Apparently, Donald Trump will be the 45th President of the United States of America. This is disheartening and shocking to many people all over the world – myself included.
Now is the time to stay strong and remain involved. There is a habit amongst us American voters to simply drop out of the political process once the election has been decided. Instead, we must continue to pay attention to our politics so that we can voice our concerns to any future policies that we find abhorrent. Citizens have never been more powerful and I firmly believe we can preserve the progress of the last eight years.
As an optimist, I believe there is a silver lining here: the wrong choice was made during this election but the choice came from the people, not the establishment. Moderate estimates project that voter turnout was up by 4.7% across half of the country with records being reached or eclipsed in numerous congressional districts. Additionally, there were more early voter ballots sent in than any previous year. The key now is to find a way to harness that fervour towards progressive ideals and fight for a more comprehensive America that many who participated in this protest vote truly do want.
As Bernie Sanders said, “We need a political revolution of millions of people in this country who are prepared to stand up and say, ‘enough is enough’. To many Trump supporters, that is exactly what they did, and now it is our turn to do the same. This revolution isn’t over – it is just beginning. – Jonathan Rummel, MPP student
A campaigner’s perspective
I had often thought about the excitement I would feel upon leaving the US after the election cycle is over, having done my little part in getting the first women president elected and to prevent the nightmare that I expect Donald Trump to be. Now, as I’m sitting at the airport waiting for my flight, the reality is slowly hitting me.
On this day, 27 years ago a wall in Berlin fell, uniting people and a nation. Last night’s result lifted the veil to uncover another divided country. People are separated by an invisible wall of hate, prejudice and confusion. But as I sit here, the ‘Hillary’ Button still pinned on my jacket, strangers keep walking up to me wanting to talk, grieve or share a hug. It’s these little things that give me hope. Having hope – that no matter the outcome there will be good people, fighting the good fight and standing for the values that they believe in – will make us stronger, together.
I’m disappointed but I’m not discouraged. We need to stop pointing fingers in blame but reach out with compassion to build bridges across the new divide. – Dinah Schmechel, MPP student and Clinton campaign volunteer
Bridging gaps – civilly
If I were to pick a single word to describe my post-election feelings, it would be shattered. My faith in the American political system is shattered. My belief that a majority of our society values facts and decency more than insults and falsehoods is shattered. My love for my country and the opportunities it has given me is shattered. There are so many broken pieces laying around me that I’m really not sure how to even begin picking them up.
But we must. Yes, the time for mourning is now – it is perfectly fine to take a step back and commiserate with friends about what a colossal disappointment this is. But simply staring at the pieces on the ground is not an option. We have to slowly clean them up and think about how we want to rebuild. We will never be the same, but we can try to forge something new out of the pieces, and maybe it will be something better.
We (meaning, liberals/democrats/generally left-leaning people) need to fight for politicians who make the concerns of both the poor and the struggling middle class their cause. People in these demographics were not the only ones voting for Trump, but they are among those who are easiest to reclaim. We need more politicians like Bernie Sanders who can truly engage with the concerns these people have and offer them answers that feel both realistic and sincere.
It is also critical to make inroads with Trump’s supporters. We need to make Michelle Obama’s proclamation that “when they go low, we go high” our rallying cry. Nothing will be solved in the US if we continue to belittle and mock those we disagree with, no matter how strongly we believe they are wrong. We need to fight to return civility to our political process, or else any efforts to bridge gaps will be futile. – Tori Dykes, MPP student
A wakeup call for the left
Donald Trump’s victory is a rally call for the left to wake up and fight. Let me be clear: an unchecked Trump presidency will be a disaster for America and the rest of the world.
The nearly two year-long election was exhausting but we must resist the instinct to want to give up. At this moment, there is too much at stake. Donald Trump is not a normal republican. He is unpredictable and holds patently dangerous views that run counter to inclusive democratic and secular values. The left now needs to organize around the standard bearers of the democratic party at the national level, namely Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. People need to become more political between elections and volunteer at local civil society organizations, join protests and elect local and state officials that reject Trump’s vision. To resist Trump, we must now be more actively political than we have been. There is no ‘going back to life’ after this election. – Tristan Powell, MPP student
On teachers and tolerance
Donald Trump rose to power in association with the “birther” movement. This movement questioned every aspect of President Barack Obama’s identity, all the way down to the very genetic details of whether he belongs in America. For years he viciously questioned our president’s bloodline, heritage, birthplace, ethnicity, and religion. Trump’s victory reminds us that the white supremacy message resonates well in 2016.
As a former high school Government teacher, my goal was always to balance ideological American values with the realities of a segregated society, by promoting civic participation as a tool for positive change. This election made such a mission incredibly difficult for teachers everywhere. They will continue trying to instil civic values into the most diverse student body in American history, but after years of racist rhetoric, I question the limits to their success. American teachers cannot combat white supremacy alone. All Americans must lend their support by being active role models of civic engagement if our youth are to have any hope. – Christopher Norman, MIA student
Speak up against a broken system
So, US democrats have now won the popular vote 6 out of the last 7 elections, but only taken the presidency in 4 of those elections. It’s frustrating for all of us.
But one great initiative to make our voices heard, and to make everyone’s vote count is the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact – which has already been joined by 10 states, representing 30.7% of the Electoral College. These states have pledged to give their vote to the popular vote winner, though they need to have 270 Electoral College for it to have legal force.
If you think the system is broken, and that voter reform needs to happen in America, write to your county’s representative in your state’s senate (or other legislative body) to ask them to vote for the Compact. These are politicians who are less likely to get heaps of letters, so you have a real chance at making change happen. – Julia Black, MIA student
“This loss hurts”
Growing up in Alabama, my family and I were blue dots in a sea of red conservatism. Oddly enough, I never conceptualized the extent of division that party lines could create in the USA until this presidential election. For me, America was already great, and I saw hope and inspiration in Secretary Clinton’s plans. I was with her.
We have elected a man into the White House who will try to institutionalize misogyny, bigotry, xenophobia, and racism into our new government. For the first time, I realize that the values and norms of the majority exclude me. We are a divided nation. It begs the question, as Paul Krugman poses in his New York Times Op Ed, of whether America is a failed state.
French and Dutch elections are only months away. Even though it seems like no checks or balances in any of the three branches of government right now, we must keep fighting more now than ever. Secretary Clinton says it perfectly: ‘And to the young people in particular, I hope you will hear this…this loss hurts, but please never stop believing that fighting for what’s right is worth it. And so we need—we need you to keep up these fights now and for the rest of your lives.’ I will keep fighting alongside my Wellesley College sister and stay hopeful that tolerance, transparency, and acceptance will prevail. – Emily Bell, MIA student
A page from a future history textbook
The election of President Trump in 2017 was a historical turning point. It finally spurred millions of shocked and devastated Americans into action. They took to the streets in unprecedented numbers, waving sternly worded placards. The crowds were so large and the support for reform so strong that the government could not resist, though it took several months for them to agree to reform and several years for the reforms to be fully implemented.
Some historians have said that without the disastrous Trump presidency of 2017-2018, America would have continued in its slow decline. We would not now have the fair and prosperous US that we have today, in 2048, in which voting is easy as well as mandatory, and schools teach obligatory critical reasoning and citizenship classes. Indeed, many commentators name him ‘Donald the Unintentionally Inspirational’ for the great wave of opposition he provoked, and the generation of Americans he inspired to pursue a lifetime of vigorous political activism. – Elise BeckHedemann, MIA student
Isabela Vera is a Master of International Affairs candidate at the Hertie School of Governance and Executive Editor of the Governance Post.