Few publicly predicted that America would ever call the Commander in Chief, “President Trump.” But as of November 8, 2016, that is our reality.
The wake of election night has caused a slew of protests, fear, rejoicing and, undoubtedly, aggravated conflict. What does the future hold? Rhetoric surrounding the future Trump presidency is extreme, even hyperbolic. It’s unclear to what extent his working goals align with his campaign promises.
As writer Salena Zito observed in The Atlantic, “The press takes [Trump] literally, but not seriously; his supporters take him seriously, but not literally.”
So Scholastic decided to turn back the clock. What happened on campus after election night, and what will happen next?
A Reaction Like No Other
In the previous Scholastic story, published only five days before election night, this writer declared, “the idea that one’s vote won’t decide an election is perhaps the strongest it’s been in a long while.” The claim hardly seemed unreasonable: on Nov. 3, the New York Times’ ‘Presidential Forecast’ gave Donald J. Trump only an 11 percent chance of winning the presidency. In a student-run mock election, Hillary Clinton won decisively with 59 percent, and only 24 percent of Notre Dame students voted for Trump.
With this seemingly conclusive data, Notre Dame students began the evening of Nov. 8 with the expectation that they were about to witness the election of the first female president. Many were anxious to be rid of what they saw as ominous, discriminatory proposals, including Trump’s suggestions that he would build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico, deport 11 million illegal immigrants and force Muslim Americans to wear identification cards.
But as states’ votes rolled in, students watched as those fears rapidly became more and more plausible.
Freshman political science and Spanish major Holly Harris was certain Clinton would win. She says, “My mind only changed once Trump won Florida and it was at that point that the horror of a Trump presidency began to set in. I was scared as a woman, as an African American, as a student, even just as a Democrat and the stress of the next four years of disapproving of his policy decisions.”
Like many Notre Dame students, she spent election night watching from her dorm room with friends.
Harris’ roommate, as well as about half of her friends in her dorm, had voted for Trump. Accordingly, the Trump-supporting half of the group watched the election from a separate room across the hall, while Harris found herself host to the Clinton supporters. Harris stressed that both sides of her friend group maintained mutual respect for the other’s views — but despite that, there was unavoidable tension.
“My room grew increasingly more depressed and tearful and stressed,” Harris says.
The next morning, Harris encountered a peaceful protest in front of DeBartolo Hall.
“It was like a flashback to the ‘60s,” Harris says.
After the election, campuses across the country were home to a slew of Trump protests. At American University in Washington, D.C., an American flag was burned. At the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, an American flag was defaced with the words “F- -- you” written on it. Many campuses, including Notre Dame’s, offered counseling services.
Some mocked the reaction as coddling and over-sensitive.
To rape survivor Kristen Kennelly, a senior, the reaction was hardly enough.
“On election night, I was honestly in complete shock,” Kennelly says. “I remember watching the results come in and feeling absolutely sick to my stomach. ... For me particularly, I was absolutely disgusted when I saw Mr. Trump, a constant painful reminder of the problems in our society regarding sexual assault, delivering his acceptance speech that night. I couldn’t help but imagine the man who raped me standing behing that podium.”
What Will Happen to the Undocumented?
On Nov. 9 and Nov. 16, students from both Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s, as well as some faculty members, gathered outside of DeBartolo Hall and the Main Building to peacefully protest the Trump presidency and declare solidarity for communities who felt victimized by Trump’s campaign, particularly undocumented students.
Some universities in the U.S. will not accept undocumented students; Notre Dame will. Additionally, Notre Dame is part of Questbridge, a scholarship foundation dedicated to helping low-income students, many of whom are first-generation college students, be able to attend an undergraduate institution. Often, Questbridge Scholars are also undocumented students.
Though Notre Dame stops short of legally proclaiming itself a sanctuary campus, Notre Dame fulfills many of the duties of that title — for instance, it doesn’t give undocumented students’ information to immigration officials, and does not allow federal agencies on campus to conduct investigations related to immigration documentation.
“Sanctuary means different things to different people,” Paul Browne, Vice President for Public Affairs and Communications, says. “Without adopting others’ labels, Fr. Jenkins was clear when he said to our DACA students, ‘The University will spare no effort to support you, just as we will do for every student at Notre Dame.’”
Deyaneira Garcia, a freshman at Saint Mary’s, was one of the protesters present in front of DeBartolo on Wednesday morning. She said that despite the encouraging amount of support Wednesday’s protest received, some people “showed up and tried to piss us off, who would shout, ‘Build that wall!’”
Garcia is an undocumented student. Born in Mexico City, her family immigrated to California when she was three years old.
“School has always been a way for me to distract myself from what’s been going on in my personal life,” Garcia says, “I taught myself how to read when I was a little girl, I always had my head stuck in a book, just to get away from the really harsh things that were happening when I first moved to the country.”
Among those harsh realities were being homeless and dumpster diving for food.
“Now that I’m a lot older I look back and say, ‘Whoah, these were definitely not conditions that a little girl should have been living in.’ But the reality is that’s what’s happening to a lot of communities of color, especially happening to a lot of immigrant communities,” Garcia says, adding that while many undocumented citizens graduate high school, few can afford to go to college.
Garcia was a senior in high school when Trump began his presidential campaign. The entire election season has felt personally victimizing to Garcia — even when she lived in California, home to more immigrants than any other state.
She said her teachers sometimes joked about future “President Trump,” but for her, the jokes fell flat. A Trump presidency meant possible deportation, for her and her family. “They do know that there are undocumented students in their classrooms that have to walk in here and hear this older person with a degree, sometimes even a doctorate, make those inhumane and thoughtless jokes about someone’s actual life, someone’s actual experience in this country,” she says.
To say that election night was jarring for Garcia is an understatement. “I was in my room watching the election in my dorm ‘til 3 in the morning,” Garcia says, “There was a Muslim woman, queer women in the room — we had women in general in the room who had been affected by the rhetoric that had been used throughout his candidacy. When he finally won, we looked at each other like, ‘Did this just happen?’”
She said she immediately started to cry. “I saw the path of fifteen years of my life in this country go to trash. Be done. I did not know where my life was going to go, and I still don’t know,” Garcia says.
In the days immediately following the election, Garcia said she faced an unprecedented amount of confusion and racism — starting the moment she looked at her phone and found a text from a friend apologizing for “what had happened.” What had happened, Garcia says, was that a stranger saw an Instagram photo of Garcia protesting with a sign that read “Undocumented, Unafraid, Unapologetic.” This bystander posted the photo to Snapchat, captioning it, “*calls local law enforcement* Hello officer I’d like to report an undocumented, unafraid, unapologetic illegal ready for deportation.”
“It honestly felt like someone had punched me in the gut,” Garcia says. “You had a person who had never talked to me, didn’t know anything about me, except that I was undocumented, spill such hateful and disgusting rhetoric. I was paranoid for days. I couldn’t sleep for days. I’d wake up from nightmares.”
In the days that followed, Garcia says, she had multiple people approach her to tell her to be more private about her undocumented status. “I was 15 when I realized how my undocumented status affected me personally,” she says. “It was such a huge and painful journey to make peace with this side of my life that I had no power over, and for people to approach me and tell me to not advocate for myself is ridiculous.”
Her four-year plan — and her life in general — she says, has been reduced to a question mark. “I’m not sure if I will be here or if I won’t be here,” she says. “No one is sure.”
Garcia says she is in the process of transferring out of Saint Mary’s College to move home to California due to the racial harassment she says she experienced in the weeks following election night.
“Why I Voted For Donald Trump”
Although many people voted for Trump (62.4 million, to be exact), Trump voters seem to constitute a less invisible community on Notre Dame’s campus. On campus, undocumented voices resound, and admitting that you voted for Trump can carry a stigmatized weight that implies you are a bigot, racist or sexist. As a result, many Trump voters live in semi-secrecy on campus, not outright denying that they voted for Trump — but not making any effort to make it known, either. Multiple students Scholastic approached for comment declined to be interviewed, fearful that they’d be outed as Trump supporters.
But there are a few students eager to make their voices heard — to show that it is possible to vote for Trump and not be a bigot, racist or sexist.
Freshman philosophy major Zachary Hamar cites his “conservative tendencies” as a result of both his conservative parents and his “serious” Catholic upbringing in Sandy Hook, Conn.
And despite the association of Trump with a crooked morality, it was ultimately moral drive that justified Hamar’s vote.
“I voted for Donald Trump primarily on account of his social positions,” Hamar says, “Economic policy factored into my decision and led me to support Trump as I believe his economic plans would be better for our country than Clinton’s, but my [decision] was largely based on social issues.”
Among the most compelling of those social issues were Trump’s stances on abortion, gay marriage and transgender policies. Other non-strictly moral issues that attracted Hamar to Trump were Trump’s criticism of Obamacare and his immigration policies.
But Hamar’s biggest moral argument of all was the perceived danger posed by a potential Clinton presidency.
“I voted for Trump to an extent because I agreed with his policies, but more so because I couldn’t vote for Clinton,” Hamar says. “Clinton would push for things that I strongly disagree with ... I can’t support those things, so I couldn’t support Clinton. I believed that either Trump or Clinton would win, so I was left with only Trump to vote for. That he was aligned to a significant extent with my beliefs was a bonus.”
Sophomore Redmond Tuttle, a Program of Liberal Studies major, says that politics have been a part of his life throughout his childhood as the eldest of eight children in an Irish Catholic family in Milwaukee, Wisc.
He grew up with a “brash, boisterous, hyperbolic style” of politics that attracted him to Trump.
“My grandparents were John F. Kennedy and Reagan Democrats,” Tuttle says, “I grew up very involved in politics, working for the Bush campaign as a little kid, and my family was always very open politically. The dinner table was always filled with very open discussion.”
He says, “This election was reminiscent of Reagan’s defeat of Carter. People thought Reagan was extreme like they do Trump because he was effective and that is what will happen in 2017.”
It was an emphasis on efficacy that drew him to Trump.
“He made points that mattered even if he overstated them,” Tuttle says, “He cared more about actions than words. Society has put way too much emphasis on political correctness and nice words. It has killed diversity of thought and someone needed to blow it all up. Trump did that. … He and most Americans do not care about words, but rather actions.”
And Tuttle isn’t afraid to defend the president-elect’s morality.
“I do not think any of his comments were racist or sexist, xenophobic, or any label of your choice,” Tuttle says. “He attacked opponents regardless of gender. He called out illegal immigrants and terrorists regardless of race. He wants to focus on America first rather than the illusion of a global community at the expense of America. Yeah, he is a pig. He is not a moral guy. We always knew that from his entertainment days. But why would the American people shoot themselves in the foot, refraining from voting for a guy because of morality, which does not affect his leadership? He is a stellar leader and that trumps morality for a president any day. We voted for a president, not our best friend. … Everyone knows politicians think some nasty things, we just never hear them. With Trump, we know exactly what he is thinking because he speaks his mind, exactly.
Turning the Tassel with Trump: Will the President-Elect Speak at Commencement?
Perhaps the only thing clear at this point is that the future is unclear. Across the nation, everyone is asking what will come next, and Notre Dame students face an immediate uncertainty: Will president-elect Trump speak at this year’s commencement?
Historically, Notre Dame has invited recently-elected presidents to act as Commencement speakers. In 2009, University President Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C. refused to rescind his invitation to President Barack Obama. Jenkins drew criticism, especially amongst alumni, due to Obama’s pro-choice stance on abortion.
But the controversy surrounding Obama’s appearance on campus seem trivial compared to the minefield that could break out if Jenkins follows tradition and invites Donald Trump to speak at commencement in May.
On Nov. 2, before the results of the presidential election were clear, senior Cody Devine began a petition on Change.org urging the university to extend a commencement invitation to neither Clinton nor Trump. The petition says both candidates are unforgivably at odds with the university’s character and mission, both having “contributed to and perpetuated a disappointing culture of offensive and dishonest rhetoric and ad hominem attacks in the national political discourse,” as well as having “advocated for positions in violation of the Catholic faith.” On Dec. 5, the petition had 1024 signatures.
In an email to Scholastic, Jenkins wrote, “Notre Dame has a long history of inviting U.S. presidents to commencement, having had more presidents speak at its commencement than any other non-military university in the nation. I continue to believe it is important to recognize and listen to our country’s elected leader, whatever their views. At the same time, I do not want the surrounding controversy to distract from the central purpose of commencement — a joyful celebration of our graduates and their families. I am weighing the decision now and plan to make an announcement next semester.”
“Trump’s victory confounded pollsters and pundits, but it also broke with nearly every electoral tradition,” Robert Schmuhl, Professor of American Studies and Journalism, says. “To call his path to the White House unconventional borders on understatement. He campaigned pretty much on his own, emphasizing his own appearances at rallies rather than television commercials or speeches by surrogates.”
Many will continue to question how Trump could have won the presidency, how he could have led such a successful campaign. They are, undoubtedly, left with far more questions than answers.
The only certainty is that Donald J. Trump is our president-elect, poised to be inaugurated as the 45th president of the United States in January. And there is one question that everyone, no matter how they voted, can agree on: What will he do next?
“Without spending a single day in public office or in the military, he now faces the responsibilities that come with leading all the departments of the federal government, including serving as Commander in Chief,” Schmuhl says. “My guess is that the unconventionality of his presidential campaign was just a prelude to what will be a very unconventional presidency.”