Sunday longread: American students in Trinity look towards November 3

Students from the US are taking nothing for granted as they await the election results

With the United States elections upon us, it has been like watching a horror movie for some- scary but not having any material impact. For many others personally affected, it represents a tipping point in history, with its impacts stretching across the world and generations into the future. 

At the moment incumbent President Donald Trump is trailing former Vice-President Joe Biden in the polls, but it does not stop there. For months, the GOP have privately seen Trump as dead weight, dragging down incumbent Republicans’ chances at re-election up and down the ballot. The Democrats are all but guaranteed to retain control of the House, are in a good position to win the presidency.  Having completely turned around what was once a ruby red senate map, high profile republicans are now publicly attempting to distance themselves from the President. Currently, Republicans have a 53-47 majority in the Senate, meaning the Democrats need to net only three seats for a majority, with Sen Kamal Harris casting a tie breaker vote should she be elected Vice-President. While at risk of losing 2 seats in Alabama and Michigan, the Democrats are ahead in Maine, Colorado and Arizona, and extremely competitive in North Carolina, Montana, South Carolina, Iowa and both races in Georgia.

While there is a sense of optimism among US students in Trinity, they are taking nothing for granted. Erin Buckley, a European Studies student from Texas, believes Biden will win the election with a larger share of the popular vote than Hilary Clinton, but with a very tight margin in the Electoral College. “Similar to what happened in 2016, there’s a very large Trump support group in the United States but because of the media/political bias, many of them aren’t as vocal as Democrats. This subset of Trump supporters is difficult to detect in the polling and makes the group easy to overlook,” she said. “I still think Biden will win because of Trump’s personality and his response to the COVID crisis. While Trump did succeed in lowering taxes and helped boost the economy to record highs in the stock market and record low unemployment, his abrasive style and habit of blaming others for his and his administration’s shortcomings, in addition to the ongoing pandemic response, will resonate more with the American voters.”

On the subject of a post-election transition, Buckley sees the reaction to a Trump defeat as being dependent on the circumstances of his loss. “If it is a landslide blowout I think he’ll have to step aside, encouraged by multiple members of the Republican party, but if it is a tight race, especially if the vote is close in one state that could swing the Electoral College vote, there will be contestations and several court cases, as he’s already said he doesn’t plan on going lightly,” she said. 

Morgan Hildula, a Junior Sophister PPES student from California, notes that Biden is not the “ideal shining beacon of progressive liberal thought.”  However, she worries about the effect uninspired democrats voting third party could have in swing states. “If you’re from California or if you’re from New York or you’re from a state that is automatically going to vote Blue and you want to vote third party, go for it, make your point. But I can’t get over how counterproductive it is because we know that it splits the vote, especially in swing states,” she said. “I do think that a more productive way of getting involved in politics is considering ways of getting involved in communities more actively and I think protesting is an excellent thing, signing petitions, looking at how to get involved in local campaigns, local council. I’m kind of optimistic in that I think Biden is genuinely trying to be a transitional candidate and then you see who he wants to point to the cabinet, you see that in the legislation that he supports and is willing to adopt.”

However, the elections are about more than just who controls the White House and Congress. Hildula continued, “This year is also really important for governorships obviously because 2020 being the year we’ll be redistricting after the election and that’s really important as well because that affects gerrymandering which is a huge issue for the Democratic Party. Obviously Democrats have done it as well and do it but the Republican Party does it at a much higher rate. It’s just very despicable and again just messes with the integrity of our electoral system.”

Oliver Fisk, a Senior Fresh European Studies student from Virginia, also favours Biden’s chances, pointing to the high turnouts in elections since 2016. “Democrats have won convincing victories and with the pandemic and how the economy suffered over the last half year or so the signs are pointing towards a Biden victory,” he said. 

Fisk believes that although it is not an issue the election will likely be decided over, foreign policy will be one of the main areas most affected by the outcome. “Four more years of Trump would mean four more years of tensions building between the US and China, it would mean four more years of America cutting support for international organizations, it would mean four more years of a more isolationist approach and four years of more difficult relationships between the US and its allies. Biden would seek to restore the US foreign policy of Obama but also the added some progressive spin,” he said. “For example, he seems to want to cut alliances with authoritarian states in the Middle East for example. He’s not a fan of Saudi Arabia, he’s not a fan of Turkey and he would not certainly as Trump has, play to and try to form friendships with authoritarian leaders and political rulers.”

On what a post-Trump America may look like, Fisk does not see the Republican party or the US returning to its Obama years. “I think if Trump loses America is going to be an interesting place. It depends on where the Republican party ends up going, like this sort of post trump era. I don’t think Trump would spend four years in opposition but I don’t think that the Trumpian brand of politics is gone from the right,” he said. “I think that there will be a battle to sort of take over his seat at the table and I don’t think this Trumpian firebrand style politics will live or die by this election. That will be a battle on the right to sort of become his successor.”

In terms of domestic policy, Buckley believes that a Biden presidency would be more in step with the leftist side of the Democratic Party as opposed to the more moderate wing. “Evidence of this can be seen in the Biden campaign’s proposal for climate change, which mirrors many aspects of the Green New Deal. Many people were upset about Biden getting the nomination over Bernie Sanders and there is a sense of being forced to settle for Biden. To attract more of these voters, the Biden campaign has acquiesced to many of the demands from the far left of the Democrat party and added these aspects to his campaign platform, hence why there are already discussions about packing the court, stopping fracking and getting rid of the filibuster,” she said.

In response to what she would like to see happen after the election, Morgan Hildula favours pushing a progressive agenda and scrapping the electoral college. “Let’s get rid of the Electoral College, we know that it doesn’t actually do anything in encouraging or fostering American democracy. And it’s pointless, we no longer need and arguably we never needed a sort of vanguard to decide what the public needs,” she said. Noting how her vote only really seems to count in her home of San Francisco or statewide elections and not much else, Hildula insists that proportionally the Electoral is deeply flawed and “has persisted for literally no reason other than to benefit the Republican Party and keep the majority of the population voiceless.” 

This tendency of many states to swing very heavily towards either the GOP or the Democrats has several students more focussed on statewide races. “My hometown of Richmond is a microcosm of the battle for the Democratic Party. At the moment in the mayoral elections there is a moderate Democrat running against a progressive and the city is very diverse, lots of young people, lots of older people,” said Fisk. “It’ll be interesting to see if the sort of Green New Deal, police abolishment brand of progressive politics will win out and win the hearts of Democratic voters or if the more moderate, gradual reformist approach for policy really will.”

For students living in Democratic or Republican strongholds, there can be a sense of futility, particularly for those whose political inclinations are at odds with their own states. Democrats living in Missouri, or Republicans in New Jersey, for example, can find that their votes seem particularly meaningless. However, in some states across the US, this is changing. Candidates like Democrat Jaime Harrsion of South Carolina could well defeat Senate Judiciary Chair Lindsey Graham to become one of only two African-Americans to win a Senate seat there since the Reconstruction era. 

 Buckley also notes that former bastions of the left and right are becoming more competitive, which could have a profound effect on the election. “As for elections in my own state (Texas), races that used to be no contest will be closer than ever before. This became incredibly evident in how close the Beto O’Rourke-Ted Cruz midterm election race was, so while the state is still red and will probably stay red through this election, there is a purple haze forming in some of the areas of the state, which could lead to the state becoming much more competitive than in the past 20 years.”

Sean Gordon Dalton

Sean is a Deputy Features Editor at Trinity News