The 2016 presidential election is undoubtedly the most chaotic political moment that many Vassar students have been forced to contend with as mostly new voters. For the majority of white, liberal students, the loss of an overqualified Democratic candidate to a GOP pseudo-populist whose campaign represents explicit white nationalism and gender oppression comes as a total shock. Many, including us at The Miscellany News, were left incredulous at the unforeseen turnout for Donald Trump, wondering how polls and pundits got the outcome so wrong, and how so much of America has fallen prey to McCarthy-era fearmongering.
However, many of us who were shocked live and move in a bubble. Vassar is an anomaly, a concentrated drop of liberalism in historically conservative Dutchess County. For too many Americans, including almost half of Vassar students, the scope of our country’s bigotry is not a distant threat, nor is it something that ebbs and flows at the whims of popular media coverage. It is a daily experience. For marginalized groups— our Black, Latinx, Asian, queer, and trans* friends—the prejudices at the foundation of the Trump campaign affect their lives constantly. Even at Vassar, marginalized students face bigotry to which privileged students are too often blind. While there are many unaffected by systemic discrimination who recognize it, it is nearly impossible to comprehend the magnitude of the problem from the position of a bystander.
Therefore, it is imperative to understand how so many were blindsided by the outcome of the election given the current sociopolitical climate. To do so, we must first reconceptualize our idea of conservative voters. For example, Trump garnered votes from not only perennial GOP voters, but also lower middle class and blue collar workers who usually vote blue but feel neglected by the establishment. He also managed to tap into minority votes, perhaps due to the same anti-establishment sentiments. This was most evident in the Rust Belt, where poverty and failing industry secured him votes from white, uneducated males and portions of the Black and Latinx populations that voted for Obama in 2008 and 2012. In the crucial Rust Belt states of Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, Trump won 47 of the counties that Obama won in 2012, and all but one that voted Republican four years ago remained red (Cleveland.com, “Donald Trump flipped Rust Belt states by boosting rural vote; Hillary Clinton couldn’t make up the difference,” 11.11.2016). In spite of Trump’s misogyny, women—especially white women, who Trump won—still to voted for him in decent numbers. Research has shown that party loyalty typically overrides gender bias in elections, but it is no less illustrative of the Democratic Party’s failure to provide a more convincing option for its traditional constituents than the GOP. The fact that Clinton was unable to convince many voters of color that she could do more for them than Trump speaks as much to her alienatingly elitist image as it does to Trump’s appeal.
The Democratic Party’s worst mistake was selecting a controversial candidate who didn’t inspire voters. Low voter turnout, the lowest in 20 years, must be partially attributed to the unappealing candidate Democrats were presented with. Only 55 percent of eligible voters cast their ballots (CNN, “Voter turnout at 20-year low in 2016,” 11.12.2016). Further, the dismantling of the Voting Rights Act before this election disenfranchised marginalized voters nationwide, while felony voting laws allowed the prison industrial complex to strip millions of returned community members of their voices. The Democratic National Committee ignored the concerns of the working class and chose an establishment candidate, leaving some alienated voters no realistic alternative but Clinton’s outsider opponent.
This election also reflects the disturbing tendency of the DNC towards elitism, in part displayed in the shock that many felt in seeing that women and people of color voted for Trump. We must change our perception of what the average voter of each major party looks like, and to understand the reasons that voters who do not fit our imaginary mold chose the way they did. The DNC is not just a party for educated white people, the impression with which many are left based on Clinton’s platform. To regain the confidence of marginalized groups, the party needs to champion leaders who listen to their voices and provide workable solutions to the very real problems that so much of the population faces.
We must reconsider the idea that Trump’s America is something radically new. Undoubtedly, his hateful rhetoric and chosen cabinet will make the situation worse, but many Vassar students—as privileged, white liberals—ignore the fact that Trump’s hateful America has long existed for those whom it will affect most. People of color, the LGBTQIA+ community, the disabled, the working class and many others have suffered from American bigotry and intolerance long before the election brought it to national attention. Trump’s presidency will worsen this, but things will likely not turn dire for whites and the upper class. It is also crucial that we defend and support marginalized groups facing immense fear at how the new administration will affect their wellbeing. White students need to show up and stand up for marginalized communities, both at Vassar and in their hometowns.
However, we as a predominately white editorial board can only speak for those in our demographic. A good deal of self-reflection by liberals—especially white liberals, who make up a large part of Vassar as a whole—is crucial going forward. Despite discussions of the “other side” or the “silent majority,” many of us come from communities that supported Trump, and not necessarily in silence. Avoiding polemical subjects for our own comfort is frankly unacceptable. White complacency is in many ways responsible for Trump’s win, so we must have these tough conversations. Though seemingly small, they are essential to understanding his supporters’ positions with the hope of engaging and challenging these viewpoints.
Thanksgiving break is a great time to start. When white liberals avoid challenging harmful beliefs in their communities, we implicitly say that our own comfort comes before the safety of marginalized Americans. White students in particular bear the burden of proving we are better than our voting demographic by fighting for change in our own communities and working to support those who will suffer from our silence.
The Miscellany News would like to express solidarity with the people of color, the LGBTQIA+ community and the disabled who are threatened by a Trump administration, and would like to re-commit ourselves to supporting them on campus. We remind students that ads— for meetings, marches, fundraising—are free to the Vassar community, and we remain committed to providing a space for diverse voices on our pages. We also invite those who feel we can do better to tell us how we can be more supportive, and we will do better. Understanding and challenging these positions is all the more crucial at a time when the lives of so many hang in the balance. Silence is not an option. The election has empowered and normalized hatred and violence, and further stifled the voiceless. This is not the time to sit idly by. Those with the least to fear have the most responsibility to recognize their complicity in this election, to voice their opposition and to challenge others in their communities to do the same.
— The Staff Editorial expresses the opinion of at least 2/3 of The Miscellany News Editorial Board