The divisive campaign season and nail-bitingly close election has left many citizens confused, angry, and afraid, and these emotions have permeated the country – even The Hill.
Many students and faculty have welcomed the election as an opportunity to begin conversations across party lines. History teacher Scott Wich, who has taught 21st Century Democracy and advises the Republican Club, commented, “Politics have become an openly expressed issue for so many up here [on The Hill], and that allows for really good conversations to take place – with my colleagues and with students.” Katrina Tiktinsky ’18, similarly said, “These heightened energies and clashes of wills have drawn the attention of many Americans toward politics. Though the factors behind the change are unfortunate, I feel that members of my community are discussing politics more than they ever have before, at least in my lifetime.”
But some believe that the election silenced those with dissenting opinions and political discourse, in general. Discussing the negative effects, Wich said, “It’s also been silencing to a group of people here who are knowledgeable and interested but feel like ‘Wow, I thought I didn’t have a voice, I thought I couldn’t really share my agreement with standard Republican opinions. I thought my opinions weren’t welcome before, but now there’s outright hostility, so I’m just going to keep my mouth shut.’” Grace El-Fishawy ’18 expressed a similar view, saying, “I feel like there’s actually fairly little conversation among students at Hopkins. Aside from the occasional comment about whatever the latest crazy things Trump had done, I don’t feel like there’s an active political conversation going on at all.”
Explaining why such a lack of discussion might be occurring, El-Fishawy said, “I think after the election a lot of people were confused and disappointed, and after the initial anger and emotion wore off, Trump and politics kind of faded into the background. Additionally, because of how polarizing the election was, and who the President is, the environment really isn’t conducive to open debate about politics and policy.”
Sonni Fitzsimonds ’18 has some personal experience with this lack of tolerance and conversation. She said, “When I voice more conservative opinions at school, oftentimes other students get emotional and, in some cases, use my political beliefs to attack my character. At Hopkins, I have heard students confidently brand Trump supporters as homophobic, xenophobic, misogynistic, racist neo-Nazis. And it is likely that few (if any) will oppose them – not only because conservatives are a minority within the school, but because those students are afraid to be unjustly labeled themselves.”
Fitzsimonds also commented, “The ideal is not to have a campus that is uniform in its beliefs. Instead, the objective is to foster a cacophonous exchange of ideas. This closed-mindedness and intolerance for differing ideas undermines opportunities for intellectual discourse (in a sphere which should encourage just that). Hopkins, as an institution, has a ways to go, but the onus is on the students to develop an open-mindedness to respectfully engage in political discussion.” Karyn Bartosic ’18 agreed with Fitzsimond’s assessment. She said, “On The Hill the general outcast of Republicans, that has always kind of been present, has only become more extreme, which is the opposite of what we need to do in order to make progress.”
History teacher David DeNaples focused on the President himself, when explaining how the election changed the way Hilltoppers discuss politics. DeNaples said, “Unfortunately, what we’re talking about more than anything is Donald Trump and not the issues. So while we’re all talking about how he mocked Puerto Ricans’ accents, no one is talking about the laws that were overturned recently that were protecting the environment. He’s created such a circus in the White House that we don’t notice a lot of the other things that are going on.” Wich focused on the President, and the role of the presidency, in an entirely different way. He said, “I’m disappointed that last year’s election confirmed, and continues to confirm on a daily basis, the pervasive mentality that the President is the central figure of American life, essentially our monarch. The idea that the President is and should be the most powerful person in the world, the solver of all problems, and the moral compass of the nation seems to be nearly universal on both sides of the Republican/Democrat divide. I was hoping that our response to the election would be a realization on some level that the power of the President and the executive bureaucracy needs to be limited and restrained. But the media-fueled obsession over everything the president does and tweets seems to have only made that mentality worse.”
The contentiousness between the parties was also noted as a significant outcome of the election. Tiktinsky said, “It certainly feels like liberals and conservatives are both straying further from the middle of the political spectrum —an evolution heavily enabled and encouraged by the latest election cycle — and with this comes more tension between the two factions.” Wich agreed that the tension was heightened, but concluded that this was similar to previous election years. He said, “It’s absolutely the same as previous elections in the immediate divide and the contentiousness between the left and the right. The response to [Obama and Trump’s] elections by their oppo
sition has been absolutely similar. Many feel that anything a President they don’t agree with is for, is something they must be against.” Nikhil Etikela ’18 focused on an aspect of the electoral process that came under fire after the 2016 election: the Electoral College. The College was written into the Constitution as an intermediary body that would chose the President, though now the College mostly functions as an instrument of the popular vote in each state. Etikela said, “The recent election has brought the value of the Electoral College down. Lots of people are upset with it, especially people in a very Democratic state. Even though it is part of our democracy, it has garnered hate from our country.”
Trump’s election, according to many, marks a polarization of the American political system, and a shift in the way in which politically opposing citizens interact. Some say there is more hostility, but there are also opportunities for debate and understanding across party lines. American will certainly continue to feel the impact of this election and presidency for decades to come.