Faculty respond to a surprising Trump victory

“I’m seeing a lot of blurry eyes. I’ve seen all day a lot of sad and anxious faces as well—that’s understandable,” said Dan Shea Director of Goldfarb Center for Public Affairs and Civic Engagement and Professor of Government. The day following the Presidential election the Goldfarb Center for Public Affairs and Civic Engagement hosted an event headed by Shea to “hear from students, share some thoughts, vent some frustrations, maybe vent some anxieties.” Shea went on to outline the plan for the event, which included five to ten minute talks from Shea, Associate Professor of Government Laura Seay, and John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Professor of Sociology and African-American Studies Professor Cheryl Townsend Gilkes.

“I want to start by validating your feelings. Many of you feel angry and upset, despondent, and even scared. I want to tell you you’re not alone. This has been a particularly tough day for a lot of Americans. It’s been very intense, the last eighteen months. It’s been a long and tense campaign that’s been all around us—between social media, television, direct mail, and everything else,” Shea said. He continued by highlighting groups that are particularly struggling, including people of color, members of the LGBTQ community, and women.

He continued by touching upon the madness and hostilit that took hold of this year’s election. “Unlike any election that I’ve seen in my lifetime and perhaps any election in American history, the successful candidate brought forth the ugliness and evil underbelly, in my view, of American politics,” he said.

But Shea did not say that Trump created it, instead, he insisted that it has always existed. “It’s an unfortunate truth that those elements have always been in American politics, but they are often under the radar, kept at bay, they retreat with the loser.”

Trump won, Shea postulated, because he was able to take advantage of the economic and social climate—a climate vulnerable to breeding fear and anxiety. In Shea’s words, “it’s under these conditions that malice finds currency.” “Exit polling tells us that 70% of all voters, likely 80% of voters in swing states, did not trust Donald Trump, but they voted for him anyhow,” Shea pointed out. “Many of our friends and neighbors held their nose because they are desperate for change.”

Shea closed his speech by pointing out the realities with which Americans are faced. “Elections have consequences, our world will change, but James Madison and the framers of our constitution in some ways anticipated Donald Trump,” he said. He explained “our public policy moves in small incremental shifts. There will be consequences, Donald Trump is our President and he has a Republican [Congress]—that’s going to matter, but it won’t be a dramatic revolution. There will be change, but it will be incremental.”

Seay followed Shea with sentiments of her own.“For many of us, this is a difficult day. We realized that our neighbors are not who we thought they were, that some people don’t believe we have the right to exist as full and happy and equal citizens of this country, and I want to acknowledge that that is reality. If you’re afraid right now—it is reasonable to be afraid,” she said.

Seay went on to say that out of her two classes on Wednesday, they both elected to talk about their reactions to the election instead of going ahead with the lesson. Seay addressed two questions that were brought up in her classes: “How did we get here?” and “Where do we go next?”

Seay pointed to two institutional failures that led Trump to winning: the media and the competing candidates.“The media was making a lot of money off Trump, doing interviews everyday, letting him spout off untruths, and letting him say really hateful things,” Seay highlighted. By allowing the media to not challenge Trump, Seay thinks there’s going to be some “soul searching” in the coming months for some of America’s major media outlets. Seay explained that the large number of GOP primary candidates helped Trump’s rise. ”The party could never agree on a consensus candidate to unite around—except for Donald Trump,” she said.
In terms of the other candidates, Seay highlighted their lack of offensive against Trump. The reason, Seay pointed out, was that they “assumed [he] was going to fail from the start.” Seay closed her speech by asking students to think about the future and what the next steps should be. “I want us to think with empathy and to mourn together before we take action. When there has been a period to do this, when we have had time to listen to one another—then is the time to act,” she said.

Gilkes was the last faculty speaker at the forum. “If Clinton had won, I would’ve started an op-ed with the sentence, ‘the nation has dodged a bullet and escaped a curse.’ And, so now I am writing an op-ed with the sentence, ‘well we didn’t dodge the bullet and were still under the curse.’”

Her speech highlighted history: how far we have come and how far we have now to go. Gilkes described the racist comments of President-elect Trump, saying that “when [Trump] questioned President Obama’s birthright, to those of us who were African American, it was patently racist. It was the ‘show me your papers’ from slavery.” She continued by stressing that one of the reasons that he was allowed to win was the silent response of the American people to some of his comments, saying,
She offered some words of comfort as well. “We survived an awful lot in this nation,so we will survive,” she said. However, she warned that there are hard times coming, stating that, “the folks who mobilized behind this candidacy are folks who want to repeal birthright citizenship.”

“There’s a lot wrong with this picture, but we can make it right,” Gilkes said. She closed by underlining some of the ways that we can fight against Trump and his dangerous viewpoints: “Watch, witness, organize, and observe. Keep the faith and educate to elevate. Educate yourselves, learn the data that you need, learn what you need to do to be part of the political process.”

The faculty followed up the forum by sending an email on November 13 to the student body titled, “An Open Letter to the Colby Community. ‘We stand for equality, diversity, and inclusivity, and we stand up for those harmed and made vulnerable by systemic racism, sexism and other forms of structural violence throughout the world, including here on this campus.’ ” The email said that the faculty also stand with, and in some cases as, “people of color, Muslims, Jews, immigrants, asylum-seekers, refugees, members of the LGBTQI communities and with women and girls across the spectrum–and all those in favor of equality and social justice.”

The letter discussed the uncertainty of the future as well. “The uncertainty itself already menaces vulnerable students, faculty and staff, and their families. We already see an increase of attacks on people of color, women, immigrants, undocumented immigrants, Muslims, Jews, and LGBTQI people, particularly on college campuses throughout the country. And we have heard from many people this week who are frightened, concerned and isolated,” it read.

The email reassured students that faculty will protect students on this campus, stating that “we are committed to […]protecting our vulnerable colleagues and students and promoting a diverse, inclusive, and just community.”