Trinity students react to Trump

Students at home and abroad share their reactions to the elected ‘Trump America’


“What disturbs me the most is the indifferent people. The people who think that racism is an opinion to be respected.” This “silent racism” is, in Miller’s opinion, the “biggest threat” to the world at the moment.”

Donald Trump’s election shocked the world; Asian financial markets immediately fell, Clinton-Headquarters were filled with bewildered and sobbing campaigners, and even Trump walked on stage in a slight daze while delivering his acceptance speech.

This was, as Trump predicted, “Brexit plus plus plus”; America had taken an even bigger leap to the right than the UK in electing a candidate with no professional experience in politics and exhibiting mild to explicit racism, xenophobia and misogyny. Four years previously Barack Obama, America’s first black President, was elected based on his campaign message and visual embodiment of ‘hope’. Instead, the 55.4% of Americans who voted in 2016 (a twenty-year low in US electoral history) took Trump’s words and tweets as a symbol for change — or a cry for hope in a world post-financial crisis and crazed by social media sound-bites.

As Wednesday morning and the Democrat loss dragged forward, Clinton Campaign Manager John Podesta sent home his fellow Democrats who stood motionless under the unbroken glass ceiling of New York’s Jacob K. Javits Convention Centre. Hillary Clinton had picked this glass fortress as the symbolic end to her political road trip. She first spoke of the patriarchal “glass ceiling” sitting above women and their Presidential hopes during her concession speech to Obama in 2008, in which Clinton stoically declared she had put the “cracks” in. Eight years on, eight years of Obama and eight years of more women in the public eye, the Clinton Campaign hoped they would finally ‘break’ this ceiling and had planned to flood their supporters with symbolic ‘glass’ confetti. However these remained in unbroken bundles and bags in the eaves of the Javits Centre by the morning of the 9th November.

Trump’s campaign of condescension ‘trumped’ all polls and odds to be elected as America’s 45th President. This wasn’t purely a working-class vote; he resonated across gender, financial and race strata. We asked students currently in America, from America or running events on the election what the election meant for them and how America is reacting to an elected campaign which opened with a promise for a wall blocking out Mexican “rapists and criminals”, climaxed on recordings of Trump joking about his personal sexual assault of women, and closed with his threats to send “crooked Clinton” to jail.

Matthew Collins is a third year PPES student on exchange at NYU in New York City. On election night he was at a bar in Bushwick which had cleared empty by 11pm once Clinton’s lead started to switch; those remaining were “visibly upset, some shouting at the TV”. Catherine Prasifka, who helped run the GMB “Election Lock-in” event said a similar mood existed amongst Trinity attendees. “The evening started off hopefully, with no one really believing Trump would win…The atmosphere gradually chilled as the votes came in, however, with people becoming more and more subdued or else leaving entirely as the outcome became clear. I couldn’t stay until the end; it was too much.”

Collins’ said his NYU professors expressed varied reactions the day after the election, some not mentioning it while others arranging group meetings. “Unfortunately, I believe the Muslim prayer room in NYU was was vandalised yesterday, and ‘TRUMP’ spray painted on the walls.” Annie Miller, a former Trinity student, outlined there have been multiple hate-crimes reported against black and Muslim women in Chicago since Trump’s election because she believes it has given voice to “silent racism”.

Miller transferred from Trinity in 2015 to DePaul University in Chicago. Although fully secure in this move pre-election, Miller admitted that “my first response was to flee to Ireland to avoid having to deal with all the pain this country will encounter in the next four years. Though, after overcoming this selfish initial reaction, I am glad that I am here to help fight against the hatred in this country…Racism is the number one reason Donald Trump became our President…What disturbs me the most is the indifferent people. The people who think that racism is an opinion to be respected.” This “silent racism” is, in Miller’s opinion, the “biggest threat” to the world at the moment; “it exists in Ireland too but has been given a louder voice in America”. The 42% surge in hate-crimes in England and Wales this year is another example of active xenophobia resulting from far-right politics, in the form of the UK’s Brexit vote.

America underestimated the divides in their country – that some still cannot accept a woman as President and accept casual racism as a rally against “political correctness”. Trinity student Maura Ford originally from Chicago expressed distress and a deeper reflection on American politics post-election. “This confirmed what I knew my country was capable of. The American government has allowed corruption and scandal to underwrite a large proportion of its processes…I couldn’t have had so measured a reaction if I had attended college overseas. I realise now, regarding my country with rose-tinted glasses like I was prone to do three years ago (before I joined Trinity), won’t do me any favours. I still feel deeply attached to where I’m from. Chicago defines a large part of who I am; but Trump’s win has undoubtedly led to a feeling of alienation to my sense of ‘American-ness’…however I must have a bit of optimism in light of this election, that I realise that it also does not define the person I have become.”

Trump is one man and perhaps we have to interrogate what one man can really do in four years. During the campaign he promised to immediately scrap J1 Visas as part of his US immigration reforms, which were developed in 1966 to ‘embolden’ Irish-American relations. According to Taoiseach Enda Kenny, their conversation reaffirmed America and Ireland’s “mutual” relationship; perhaps this J1 stance will be ‘softened’ like Trump revoked his aggressive Obamacare approach after meeting Obama on Thursday. However the Trump-Pence erratic campaign means we cannot predict what their administration will guarantee for minority rights, or American unity. Thus many students might share Collins’ sentiment, that the election of a “fascist leader” has re-shaped their considerations of the J1 and Grad Visa programmes.

So far Collins felt safe, but questioned whether he would also share the “increased level of fear” expressed by Muslim and Hispanic classmates if Trump was “successful in translating the number of anti-LGBTQ stances into policy”, as an LGBTQ person. Police intolerance and oppression has filled US media for many months, and Collins said the huge police presence at an anti-Trump rally he attended over the weekend was “one thing that made me feel less safe…(it) was totally unwarranted for a peaceful protest. There were hundreds of police, positioning themselves on Trump tower looking down on us and alongside the crowds”. Trump and his campaign team have denounced these swathe of rallies across the country as groups of “professional” protestors funded by Clinton and Obama.   

The campaign, election and result moved the TCDSU Facebook page on Wednesday to remind students of several wellbeing services in college including Niteline, Student Counselling, and extending the SU kitchen hours until midnight for students “feeling alone”. SU Welfare Officer Aoibhinn Loughlin spoke to ‘Trinity News’ affirming the “SU took no stance on the election or its result” but recognised “no matter which way the election went, some people were going to be disappointed. But because of the high number of 18-24 year olds who supported Hillary Clinton according to the polls leading up to the election, and because of individual cases we assisted with, we were of the view that many Trinity students would be quite upset by the election of Donald Trump. We weren’t wrong – there have been numerous students in my office since who are scared for their country and their loved ones.”

Hearts may reel from this result and its proof that a “glass ceiling” still sits above minority rights. However our focus must now be on the future and resolving our silent divides and racism; such as towards Germany and France’s upcoming elections and the Italian referendum, where polls are showing similar trends to the right. Brexit didn’t ‘wizen’ America, but European electorates will demonstrate from December whether Trump’s “Brexit plus plus plus” result has moved them against or towards the sound bites of hope from the right.