At 3 a.m. on Nov. 9, tears were shed, emotions were raw and jaws were picked up off the floor, as Republican nominee Donald Trump surpassed the projected 270 electoral college vote to be deemed the country’s President-elect in an upset victory against opponent Hillary Clinton.
It’s been three weeks, and for UW-Whitewater students, faculty and staff, most have come to accept what was thought to be almost inconceivable. Emotions still resonate, although they are not as raw as on election night.
Those emotions can be found in their mourning in the days following the election. From concerns about the partisan divides the country faces, t0 fears for the rights of marginalized citizens, pride for our country’s free elections, the power of prayer and in learning how to cope, the election will shape UW-W’s students for years.
Here are just a few of their stories.
A day of mourning
For Jo Ellen Burkholder, associate professor of Women’s Studies, Election Day was emotional and symbolic.
Calling Wellesley College, a private women’s college outside of Boston, Massachusetts, her alma mater, Burkholder and other alumni were excited to vote for a fellow alumnus and woman.
“We were all excited that about this idea that we had gone out and voted for the first woman president,” Burkholder said, holding back tears before reverting to a sense of pride. “I know people who took their daughters … they dressed their daughters up like Hillary Clinton in their pearls and in their little pantsuits.”
However, as the election results began to wrap up, Burkholder’s excitement from the day had subsided to the point where she just decided to go to bed.
“I felt it in my gut that this was not going to go well,” she said. “So I just went to bed – and didn’t sleep.”
Burkholder wasn’t the only one finding herself tossing and turning over the idea of a map turned red – senior Megan Cagney, a Bernie Sanders supporter who turned to Clinton following her nomination in July, was so “hyped,” she said, that she found herself awake at 2 a.m. still watching the results.
“Each step along the way [of the election cycle] was a loss of hope,” Cagney said. “I always said to myself, ‘Well, there’s still this, there’s still this, it’s going to be okay.’
“I was crying. I couldn’t believe this was happening,” Cagney said.
Cagney describes her reaction to the election results as mentally “being in a bad place”, so much so that she didn’t attend classes the next day, in order to allow herself to mourn.
Senior Amanda Mack, a Clinton supporter who also voted for Sanders in the primary, was confident in the idea that the country would be in for a good night, making history in electing the first woman president. Around 12 hours after leaving the polling booth, she instead found herself turning off the TV as Vice President-elect Mike Pence was walking on the stage for the ticket’s victory speeches.
“Seeing all the red states, I just sat in disbelief, because when I voted around 2 p.m. that afternoon, I was feeling confident,” Mack said. “I definitely lost hope.”
Lorenzo Backhaus, co-president of the Students Allied for a Green Earth (SAGE) organization who supported Sanders in the primary election and relates most to Green Party ideologies, was feeling sick with the flu on Election Day. Watching the returns, and then waking up the next morning to a Trump presidency, didn’t make him feel any better.
“I felt like my body was telling me that something’s not right on this planet right now,” he said.
Backhaus, who has participated in environmental and social justice advocacy throughout the country, having gone out to Standing Rock to protest the North Dakota Access Pipeline just two weeks ago, witnessed a “nation of devastation” from those he’s stayed in contact with found themselves “disheartened” and “in a blur” days after the election occurred.
“I myself was in a funk,” Backhaus said. “I felt so bad for the climate movement, social justice and equality rights.”
A feeling of optimism
Senior Kyle Brooks watched the election returns all night with a sense of surprise. He was convinced that Clinton was in for a win, having seen polls that turned out to be incorrect, he said.
Having formerly worked as an intern for Rep. Robin Vos (R-Rochester), speaker of the Wisconsin State Assembly, Brooks is active in working for the advancement of the Republican party. Seeing Wisconsin turn red was a result of the groundwork the party has laid in the state.
“It certainly reflects that the state GOP has been working hard over the last six years to develops a strong grassroots,” Brooks said. “The three successful walker elections allowed the state GOP to develop field offices and contacts that certainly helped in the presidential election.”
In addition to the groundwork done in the state by the Republican party, Brooks says blue-collar voters have been drawn to conservative values at the state level because of the issues the party focus on.
“The GOP has been focusing on reducing taxes and creating jobs,” he said. “Demotes over the past decade has strayed from an economic message towards a more social issue based message. This both turns many away, but also doesn’t deal with the important economic issues people face everyday. State republicans have been lowering taxes, drawing businesses here, freezing tuition, all steps that help working class people.”
When it came to his peers in his political science classes, Brooks said the reaction was pretty split. Those who were happy with the election results weren’t necessarily celebrating Trump’s victory, Brooks said.
“As far as for most people I know, they were more happy Clinton lost,” he said. “Most people I talked to weren’t necessarily fans of trump, but preferred him over Clinton.”
The UW-W College Republicans chapter has declined to comment on the election results.
A great divide
What worries junior Casey Dean post-election is not the candidates themselves – he says that “no matter who won, we lost” – but it’s the ripple effects that will push our citizens further apart.
“It’s extremely, extremely divided,” Dean, a military veteran who worked with the U.S. Coast Guard, said. “That’s the scary part of it.”
The divides are reflected in the demographics of the voters themselves. According to voter exit polls, the divides exist in age, race, wages and geographical location factors. Voters who were under the age of 45, a person of color or located in urban areas were more likely to cast a ballot for Clinton. Trump found more supporters in those who were older than 45, predominantly white, had an income rooted solidly in the middle class and lived in in suburban and rural parts of the country.
However, it’s the ideological divides in America that worry Dean more.
“The systemic problems have always been there, behind closed doors, but [Trump] seemingly made it okay to just do it now,” Dean said. “He made it okay to treat people [badly]. He made it okay to be racist again. That’s the part I’m worried more about, is the followers of the independent parties lashing out against the opposing party.”
Senior Jada Avila, president of the Moving Onward to Disability Empowerment (MODE) organization and a member of three minority groups as a Latina woman with a physical disability, is appreciative towards Trump because of what his campaign has exposed in American ideology.
“Just for me, I’m not necessarily worried about Trump because he can only do so much – I’m worried about the people in the environment of others,” Avila said. “In a way, as much as I disagree with Trump and I’m not a huge fan, I thank him because people can no longer deny discrimination.”
In addition to concerns over a shift in national ideology, there’s also a fear rooted in the potential loss of rights and progress under Trump’s administration.
Avila’s concerns are rooted in the security of health insurance for people with disabilities – for some UW-W students, having access to medical care subsequently provides for access to medications that can reel in the effects of any health issues that persist.
“A lot of us are on Medicare and Medicaid,” Avila said. “Our VP actually informed me that she’s scared because her disability is not visible, but is very much internal … that’s her major concern.”
Trump has been unclear on his stance on government-aided health care. Throughout the campaign, he spoke of repealing the Affordable Care Act and replacing it with something “much better” that still remains undefined; however, Trump seemed to backwalk his claims in the days after the election, saying that he’d like to keep certain aspects of the 2010 healthcare legislation.
Additionally, the Trump/Pence ticket’s stances on reproductive and LGBT rights has left room for concern, as Trump publically stated during a CNN Town Hall debate in March that women who receive abortions should receive some form of punishment, and Pence has used public funds in his home state of Indiana for the use of electroshock conversion therapy for those who identify as LGBT. In an interview with CBS’s “60 Minutes,” Trump said that the Supreme Court’s ruling on marriage equality was “settled,” but argued that Roe v. Wade, a four-decade old decision stating women have a constitutional right to an abortion, was able to be changed.
As a white woman, Mack says she feels impacted, but not in the ways others who have multiple minority statuses do.
“When people have multiple [minority statuses], they’re a different race, they’re a woman; when they have all those things against them and it’s so intersectional, it affects them even more,” Mack said, as Cagney nodded in agreement. “I feel affected, but I can’t imagine how other people feel affected. It’s just mind-boggling.”
Backhaus doesn’t want to see Trump’s stances on environmental policies – once saying that global climate was a hoax created by the Chinese government for economic gain and continuing the country’s use of fossil fuel as a main energy source – to erase the work advocates have done in the past decade, he said.
“People bought into [Trump] because he was going to make America great again, but at the planet’s suffering,” Backhaus said. “I hope he sits down with people who are actually educated and aware of what’s going on and understand that jobs don’t just come with the fossil fuel industry, it actually comes with clean energy as well.”
Faith in one’s country
Prior to the election results in the morning hours of Nov. 9, Richard Harris, coordinator of Student Veterans and Military Services at UW-W, thought the country’s changing demographics would never allow the Republican Party to win another presidential election again. Trump was their symbolic “white male death rattle” – words of a CNN commentator Harris will never forget.
It’s because of the values and principles UW-W’s veterans have fought for – the Constitution, and more specifically, free elections and the freedom of speech – and the faith held in their country that brought them to broadly accept the results of the election, Harris said.
“I am utterly disturbed by individuals on campus who want to suppress free speech,” Harris said. “Free speech is painful at times, hurtful at times, it’s distasteful, but it’s free speech. It’s what I put my life on the line for six years … I’ve seen the other side of that.”
Harris can name a few reasons why Trump found support in veteran’s groups, one of them being a shared dialect, which often goes against the grain of society’s politically correct nature.
“We tend to speak our mind, and that may hurt people’s feelings, but, it’s what we do. We don’t have time to politic, because lives are at stake,” Harris said. “A lot of veterans find him appealing because he sounds like somebody that we have served with, or under, in our time in the military.”
Harris said Trump also found support from his outward appearance on veterans, and benefitted where Clinton lacked. Clinton only demonstrated concern for veterans when it came to the election, Harris said – for veterans, it’s about sincerity in being spoken to, not being spoken at.
“It’s difficult for us to get beyond Benghazi, even though the rest of the world may have,” Harris said. “Some of us are always going to have a feeling of ‘Hillary Clinton did not protect lives that were in uniform on foreign soil.’”
Dean said the rhetoric from Clinton and Trump on the military moved back and forth. Both appeared to be pro-military, he said, although Trump mocked the family of fallen five-star army officer Humayun Khan after his father’s speech at the Democratic National Convention in July. Then there’s the 2012 Benghazi attack that still resonates with veterans, both Dean and Harris mentioned, creating a sense of distrust.
“It was politics,” Dean said. “It depended on who they were talking to.”
Power of prayer
As a practicing Catholic, junior William Strigel saw no perfect candidate that members of his faith could perfectly align with.
Clinton’s pro-choice stance directly conflicted with the church’s pro-life teachings. Trump’s bedrock ideology on undocumented Americans contrasted the commonly held belief in the Catholic faith that people should be allowed to immigrate. Both candidates had issues with the Catholic faith during their campaigns – in emails released by WikiLeaks, Clinton and her campaign staff have allegedly had harsh words concerning the faith. Trump at point called Pope Francis “disgraceful” for commenting that he did not think the Republican nominee was a Christian.
The “extreme” rhetoric from both Trump and Clinton throughout the campaign pushed UW-W students of the Catholic faith toward prayers of acceptance, Strigel said.
“Typically what our reaction is as Catholics is praying for acceptance, praying that whoever is selected is the right candidate,” Strigel said. “The entire faith is split in two … there were people who were not necessarily excited when Trump was elected, there were people who were excited and there were people who were indifferent.”
Praying for acceptance serves as a way to work toward healing the partisan divisions for people in the Catholic faith, Stringel says. While he acknowledges it’s not the right solution for all Americans, it’s a great way for members of the faith to come together.
“The power of prayer is a big thing,” Strigel said. “We’re all able to have certain beliefs, we’re able to pray together, we all pray for each other.
Mack was frustrated and afraid for what the future held following Trump’s win, but knew that wasn’t the right attitude to have.
So she made a donation to Planned Parenthood as a way to cope.
“[Planned Parenthood is] always under attack, and especially now, it’s going to have to deal with so many more issues, and with everything wrong with Republican [ideology], they’re in a worse place than they were before,” Mack said.
Cagney, on the other hand, says she found it easiest to cope when she aligned herself with people who weren’t quite as “rock bottom” as she was, turning to social media to find that support.
“It was encouraging, because you go [online] and see people who are raging as hard as you are,” Cagney said. “There’s always going to be more people around you who are like, ‘we have to fight harder now. It’s time to get back up and fight for what you believe in.’”
How do I get help?
Matt Mallin, co-interim executive director of University Health and Counsel Services, says counseling has kept pace with the busyness of prior fall semesters, and that election stress has been a topic on student’s minds, bringing up worry and anxiety for some.
“I can say very, very anecdotally, that absolutely students are talking about the election,” Mallin said. “It’s pretty hard to tease out whether that was the specific reason for coming in – it’s the case, in some cases – but it became an addictive fact to what people were already dealing with and bringing in. It would just be another factor for them.”
Counseling appointments can be made in-person at the Ambrose Health Center or by calling (262) 472-1300.