In the Wake: Students React to the Election

November 8th marked a historic election, with Republican candidate Donald Trump beating Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton for the presidency. Much of the reaction can be most aptly characterized as shock.

Shock to the point that President Sullivan and other members of the UVa administration sent out mass emails to the student body about recovering from the election. Shock to the point that a vigil was held the night after the election so people could share their feelings. Shock to the point that the week of the 14th was “Eliminate the Hate” week, and involved a variety of events intended to promote messages of love in a community where an inordinate amount of incidents involving hate speech had recently occurred.

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A random sample survey of first year students conducted by WUVa News found that the two most prevalent emotions in the days since the election have been anger and disappointment. The third most prevalent was a mixture of fear, shock, and confusion.

A week has gone by and the five stages of grief have been cycled through, leaving the previously mournful community in a state of reluctant, bemused acceptance. Now the president-elect is in the process of picking a cabinet, an act that seems to cement the reality of the situation to many.

untitledThe conversation thus turns to what is likely to happen in the next four years. Will Trump be a successful president? Will he stick with the beliefs and promises that propelled him to the oval office? Will his presidency be all that different from previous elections? All of that is yet to come.

For the time being, all that can be offered is speculation. Of the students polled, 63.3% indicated that they were not optimistic about the next four years.

When asked why, many responded with concerns about deteriorating climate change proactivity, increasing prevalence of racism and sexism, decreasing in abortion rights, and the way that Trump will serve as the face of America. Many complaints also deal with his lack of experience, erratic decisions, and belief that social tensions will increase with his presidency. Other complaints indicate displeasure that the GOP will be in control of both chambers of Congress, the White House, and likely the Supreme Court, a position that has not occurred since 1928.

Those who voice support for Trump frequently discussed hopes that his presidency will lead to reduced taxes, the repealing of the Affordable Care Act, no increases in the minimum wage, increased border security, and defunding Planned Parenthood to name but a few. Other supporters indicated belief that he relates to the common man, will get things done, and will end corruption in the government. Many of these same supporters frequently make reference to “political correctness”, saying many voted for Trump in a backlash against the culture that they believe “political correctness” promotes, without saying what culture that necessarily is.

Some polled said they were optimistic, but not due to support of Trump; rather, they had faith in the systems of checks and balances in place. Some had optimism simply because they hope to see this country succeed in the next four years.

When asked what they thought this election said about America, many answered that it exposes racism to be alive and well, it exposes a great divide and polarization in the population, and it exposes that many in the working class of this country have felt ignored by the federal government for years. This was their way of fighting back.

Many also indicated that they believe the Electoral College system needs to be changed, since this is the second election in the past sixteen years that the candidate who won the popular vote did not win the presidency. And by no small margin did she win it either. The Cook Political Report as of the 17th of November indicated she won by roughly 1.2 million votes.

Since that historic Tuesday, many protests have broken out throughout the country against the election of Donald Trump. They have protested not only the fallibility of the Electoral College system, but also what they believe Trump represents: xenophobia, bigotry, misogyny, and homophobia. Whether or not this will affect his presidency or garner any reaction is yet to see, but at the moment it seems that a great deal of Americans are not satisfied with the results of this election.

One anonymous student’s perspective on the future: “Not only do we need legislative protections, but we need to begin mending the minds of individuals who displace their fears onto minority groups. This election is the opportunity for civil rights movements to renew the passion held [by] our past generations in order to ensure future progress. This vote speaks to the ills of our society, but the vote is a brief moment of civic participation. I believe history will look back to the years of civic participation following the election, rather than one vote.”

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Jackson Kosmacki
Born and raised in Alexandria, VA, I'm a filmmaker and writer currently attending UVA in the Class of 2020. I've been involved with video news for two years, one of which has been at WUVA. I have been an anchor for WUVA Weekly the past two semesters, and I've contributed video and written pieces as well.

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