By Christine van der Horst
— It has been almost a week since Donald Trump won the United States presidential election. A week filled with feast and triumph, but also with protest, disbelief and occasional tears. While the once unimaginable idea of a ‘Trump Nation’ has gotten some time to sink in, The Herring spoke to AUC students and staff with ties to the United States. Their personal experiences with the 2016 election reveal a mixture of shock, fear, hope for the future, and a strong will to fight back.
Most current students were generally stunned at the final outcome. Lia den Daas, a half-Dutch and half-U.S. third year Sciences major, woke up in disbelief: “I went to bed on Tuesday evening with complete confidence that I would wake up to the first female president,” she told The Herring. “I maintained all the way through that there was just no way it [Trump winning the election] would happen,” den Daas added.
Babs Kamsteeg, a third year Social Sciences major who is currently on exchange in New York City, was also convinced that Hillary Clinton would win. She had already purchased tickets to attend her victory speech at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Centre, a large glass-domed building no doubt chosen for its symbolic value. “I was thinking I would experience a historic moment,” Kamsteeg admitted.
A few interviewees said they had seen the surprise result coming. “People were so sure [Hillary] would win, but with all the email situations and such, I didn’t feel as confident,” Pamela Ozga, a former exchange student from the States, explained. AUC alumni and U.S. citizen Ben Nater had also anticipated the outcome. “There was this general underestimation of how many voters were angry and fed up with the status quo,” Nater said. “I think that really contributed to his [Trump’s] win,” he added.
Incomprehension turned out to be one of the major themes among students and alumni alike. “I have no idea who half of America is,” said Angie Wehrli, a second year Social Sciences major from the U.S. “They aren’t my friends; they weren’t on my news feed,” Wehrli added. And indeed, narrowcasting may have played an important role in determining the final results. According to Isobel Hawes, an exchange student from the U.S. currently at AUC, Trump’s victory was such a surprise mainly due to the expectations raised by media prior to November 8. “Every poll had Secretary Clinton ahead of Trump for the entirety of the election,” she said.
For those students who have already processed Trump’s unexpected victory, the main source of worry now revolves around how much damage his Presidency will do. “The United States has benefitted from the diversity and inclusivity it fosters,” alumni and U.S. citizen Yana Ahlden said. “The fact that the opposite was the platform on which our next president was elected scares me,” she added. Nater shared her pessimistic view of the future. “When it comes to the environment, a President Trump is going to accelerate the the downfall of our humanity […] I don’t think that’s an exaggeration,” he added.
Although these fears seem to be widely shared, students also carefully expressed some hope. Some are counting on Trump changing some of his stances once he starts his presidency. “I am still in disbelief that it has gotten to this point, but am also sincerely hoping Trump may be better or different than what I thought, ” den Daas thought. First year Social Sciences major Juanita García Gutiérrez, who has lived in the United States since she was seven years old, is also trying to keep her faith in the future. “I’m hopeful Trump will come to his senses, and that his supporters will follow him in also coming to their senses,” she said.
Finally, there is a group of students that does not believe Trump will be able to damage the U.S. as dramatically as some suggest. Josh van der Kroft, a third year Social Sciences major from the U.S., thought that Trump’s ascent will lead to a democratic wave in 2020, and he would only get four years to realize what he has promised to voters. Isabella Martini Donati, a first year Social Sciences major from the United States, argued along the same lines. “I do not think he [Trump] is going to ruin the country,” she said. “It is not as if we are facing a monarchy or dictatorship: not all the power is in his hands.”
Both students and staff, however, were quick to voice concerns about the impact Trump will have on Europe. Jonathan Gill, a New York native who teaches Literature at AUC, thought Trump will boost the rising right wing in Europe in terms of Islamophobia, anti-immigration sentiment, and an anti-EU, anti-NATO and anti-UN ideology. Academic Core faculty member Wade Geary shared similar concerns. “It does seem as if the idea of the European Union is seriously in question. I hope it isn’t. Protectionism and nationalism are not the answers to the world’s problems,” he said.
What Gill was most afraid of is that Europe will make the same mistake as Hillary Clinton did. “She [Clinton] believed Trump’s supporters to be wrong and bad, and therefore not deserving of her attention,” Gill explained. “But these angry white guys exist, and they have real emotions, and real complaints, and they vote — it is a mistake to pretend that they do not play a legitimate role in things.”
Regardless of what the future may hold and how far Trump’s plans may reach, students emphasized the importance of standing up to any changes and uniting the country. “We are more than the person who won 270 delegates the other day, and we have the obligation to ourselves, and generations to come, to rise above fear and hatred,” Ahlden told The Herring. Hawes’ sentiments echoed this opinion. “No matter who is president, Americans have the power to make our country what we want it to be by getting up every single day and fighting the good fight,” she said.
To many, the outcome of this election has been a motivation to become more politically active. “I fear for the future but I also feel like so many people are angry, and will use that anger to make meaningful change. It’s made me want to get more involved,” Pamela Ozga admitted. Den Daas referred to an Edward Snowden interview from which a similar combativeness followed: “If we want a better world, we must not hope for an Obama or fear a Trump, we must build it ourselves,” she quoted.
This is the second piece in a series of articles covering the 2016 United States Presidential election. Jean Pierre Guzhnay previously reported on students’ expectations prior to November 8.