Trump is drawing votes from the same base with his own emphasis on controlling international trade and immigration. Comparing the political climate of Vassar College and the town of Poughkeepsie, Block noted, “The town is blue-collar, depressed, slightly depressed, a lot of ex-manufacturers. So this is Trump country.” Block continues, “They’re most likely Republicans or Reagan Democrats— Democrats that vote Republican because they like the second amendment, don’t really care about abortion, don’t really care about gay marriage either. Gun control, affirmative action, immigration and trade would probably be the big stuff here.”
“I think Trump largely appeals to the working class and those who have working class backgrounds,” iterated VCLU member Ian Vasily ’18. Vasily believes that Republican voters are united by similar experiences and values. He continued, “Statistically speaking, many of these people haven’t gone to college and they feel they don’t have a political voice…”
As with Trump rallies, the Sanders rally regularly raised uproar from the crowd. When Sanders mentioned opponent Hillary Clinton, the crowd booed; when he asserted that Trump insults women, the crowd booed. Many observers believe the excitement of it all is what draws millennial voters to Sanders. O’Malley disagreed, “The idea that young people support Bernie because of his energy and because he’s challenging the status quo—I think that’s a misconception.”
During the rally, Sanders cited income inequality as one of his primary targets for change. He argued, “Our people are working the longest hours of any people in the industrialized world. We have to fight for a nation where people earn enough income without working 50, 60, 70 hours a week.” The bustle of Sanders’ campaign rests on a unique sensitivity to the moral dimension of socioeconomic problems. O’Malley explained, “When he talks about the fact that the top one percent of Americans own 44 percent of the wealth, I see that as a problem. We’re the richest country ever and yet we have people who are struggling. And I also think that we’re a country that’s supposed to be striving towards freedom. I don’t think that somebody making eight bucks an hour and trying to feed two kids can really be free.”
Bringing the argument home to Vassar College, O’Malley concluded, “It’s transgenerational. If you look at Vassar, Vassar is supposed to be and is one of the top two schools in the country in terms of admitting students from a wide range of socioeconomic backgrounds and having amazing financial aid. Nevertheless, we are not a proper representation of the American public. Kids from wealthier families do better in school and have more opportunities because there is a certain element of leisure involved in their lives.”
Mid-Hudson Civic Center
Trump came to the Mid-Hudson Civic Center on Sunday, April 17 to a packed audience of 3,200, with an extra 800 watching the rally from an ice-skating rink next door. Multiple local politicians were in attendance, including Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro and Poughkeepsie Mayor Rob Rolison. Following the tenor of his previous speeches, Trump promoted his plans for a border wall with Mexico and attacked opponents in the Republican primary. But the main message of his campaign was that of creating a political revolution. Addressing his supporters and expressing disdain for traditional Republican politicians, Trump said, “We are going to make it without relying on the political bosses— they call it a ‘phenomenon.’ This movement is about common sense.” Nearly 200 protesters from across Dutchess County and beyond—some from Vassar College—decried his message, holding up signs that urged onlookers to “Dump Trump,” protest “#Bigotbutch” and join the “#BlackLivesMatter” campaign (The Poughkeepsie Journal, “Trump Promises Winning for Dutchess, America,” 04.17.16).
As Protest Organizer Natalie Ward said at the event, “I live in this community. Poughkeepsie is a primarily people of color city and we don’t feel safe. We’re here with our neighbors because we stand against everything that Trump stands for, racism, xenophobia, homophobia. We’re scared partially because the sheriff of our county is a supporter of Trump. And our organization, the people that we work with, have to deal with racism everyday and we can’t stand for that.” (Poughkeepsie Journal, “Nearly 200 protest Trump’s policies”, 4.17.16)
The main goal of the rally at the Mid-Hudson Civic Center was to excite supporters into coming out for the primaries on Tuesday, April 19. Trump predicted, “We’re going to keep winning. We’re going to win, win, win and we’re going to make America great again.” And Trump is likely to continue winning as he accrues delegates for nomination by the Republican party. Heading into the primary, election polls indicated that a whopping total of 29 points distance Trump from Ohio Governor John Kasich among Republican voters in New York. Trump dominates the state with 54 percent of the vote against 25 percent for Kasich and 16 percent for Texas Senator Ted Cruz.
Hillary Clinton has appeared in New York, with campaigns active across Buffalo, Syracuse, Albany, Rochester, New York City and Westchester County. Chelsea Clinton, the daughter of Hillary Clinton, spoke in the town of Poughkeepsie on Sunday, April 17. Among Republicans, Kasich and Cruz have had numerous events around the state.
Recent polls suggest that Clinton maintains a significant lead in New York. Reflecting on the primary, Dean of Students D.B. Brown urged, “Because of the way that the Districts are defined in Dutchess County, it can be very confusing for students—different residence houses are in different Districts! That’s why we supply shuttles to the polls and provide information about which campus addresses are in which District. I don’t care how students vote, but I do want them to be able to vote if they wish to do so.”
Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Maryland, Delaware and Rhode Island hold their primaries on April 26. Since the Democratic candidate requires 2,383 delegates to receive the nomination, both would be happy to win as many of New York’s 291 delegates as possible. O’Malley commented, “I don’t think [Bernie] has a real shot at the nomination, quite frankly. The next three states are New York, Pennsylvania and Maryland. Hillary is the favorite of those states by a wide margin and those are all heavy delegate states. Bernie has won the last eight or nine states, but the eight states he has won combine to have about the same number of delegates as Florida, which is a state Hillary won. He would have to get 57 percent of the remaining delegates to get the majority for the nomination. I think that’s wildly unrealistic. So no. If he gets the nomination I would be really shocked.”
New York and Beyond
Sanders addressed a gymnasium full of supporters at a rally at Marist College on April 12. Sanders announced, “What I have learned in this campaign is that, when there is a large voter turnout we win. When there is a low voter turnout, we lose. Next Tuesday, let’s see the largest voter turnout New York state has ever seen.” With this stop, Sanders became the first 2016 presidential candidate to visit Dutchess County (Syracuse, “Bernie Sanders’ plan to win New York: Get highest voter turnout in primary history, 04.12.16).
Compared to Trump, Sanders had an electrifying effect on Vassar students. VSA Freshman Representative Emmett O’Malley ’19 noted, “I like to think that the Sanders campaign is centered around a platform that is compassionate and that is empathic. It’s about caring for people who traditionally haven’t really been cared for or heard from in the political climate as is.” O’Malley summarized, “I think that the things Bernie sees as problems—income inequality, institutional racism, institutional sexism, inequality across the board—are really to a large extent plaguing this country.”
Sophia Burns ’18 agreed, “His stance on job creation and economic equality, among other things, are important to me, and I find his lack of adhesion to the Democratic party refreshing.”
During his speech, Sanders referred back to Franklin Delano Roosevelt as a model of leadership. “In my view, FDR was one of the greatest presidents,” Sanders exclaimed. “He was a great president because he came into office in 1933 in a nation which was experiencing the worst depression in the history of our country and he looked around him and he saw millions of people unemployed and hungry.”
O’Malley confirmed, “I think what Bernie is saying is the logical next step to what Obama’s saying. People who are more to the Left than what Clinton has been, over the course of the last 20 years, have been saying, single payer national healthcare is not a new idea to the Left, raise the minimum wage is not a new idea to the Left.” He concluded, “I think the fact that he calls himself a socialist is what really throws people off, but I think ultimately he’s not a socialist. I think he’s a New Deal Democrat.”
Changing the world through knowledge and understanding is one of the core aspects of a liberal arts education. The faculty and administration generally believe that American society needs to discard the stereotype that liberal arts is good for nothing and pay more attention to the scholarly debate. Professor of Political Science Stephen Rock suggested, “In principle, there should be close connections between the study of politics and the practice of politics (and public policy). Too often, politicians and policy makers ignore the work of political scientists because they think political scientists dabble in abstract theory while they are dealing with ‘the real world.’”
Unfortunately, some students believe that even the scholarly debate at Vassar does not offer enough diversity of opinion. Based on his experience as a student of political science at Vassar College, Block observed, “I think there are a lot of awesome kids here and a lot of awesome, even crazy liberals. I’m just sort of sad because they’re being taught to totally disregard the other side, because the norm has been moved so far Left here that when we present the middle and when we present the Right, the positions seem extreme when the reality is that they just aren’t.” Vasily agrees, “I would like to see more Right-wing voices, but the problem is that there simply aren’t many conservatives on campus, and the ones that do exist would often rather not speak up in fear of social ostracization.”
Addressing faculty and administration, Block concluded, “And it’s important; you can’t make political assumptions, particularly if you’re a professor—if you’re in a position of power—because then a lot of people here will walk away thinking, ‘Oh, that’s all I can think.’ And that’s really dangerous, if you don’t offer the alternative, regardless of how nasty the alternative is. We don’t not learn about Hitler; we don’t not learn about racism. We learn about these really tricky topics. We learn about both sides and for some reason we refuse to do it with politics in college anymore. We just sort of do these big brushstrokes without actually looking at the issue. Which is just sort of tragic because everyone loses out.”
Since political discourse has the potential to transform every aspect of our lives, Vassar students, faculty and administration have an obligation to fix it rather than leave it. Burns suggested, “I think that Vassar students can best contribute by getting out in the community more, which is something I also have yet to do. I think that if there were more organization to phone bank or canvas in the local neighborhood, we would have a bigger impact on the outcome of the race as well as on the political activity in Poughkeepsie.”
Another solution for improving the political climate at Vassar College is to commit to a broader perspective. O’Malley reflected, “I think we want to live in a compassionate country, I think we want to live in a place where we look after each other, I think we want to live in a place where we take care of each other and I think that comes when people don’t see themselves as the only reason why they want to vote one way or the other.”