Scholars consider lessons to be learned from the 2016 presidential election
Race relations and immigration have become increasingly salient and divisive topics in this presidential election, asserted a panel of professors at an event on Thursday.
“What is this election season teaching us about America?” asked Acting Director of the Ethics Center Cynthia Cohen, opening the event. She went on to ask two familiar questions about the election: Are we seeing what was always there? What does this election tell us about ourselves?
“Unfortunately for me, nothing new,” answered Prof. Jeffrey Lenowitz (POL). Though the ideas behind this election have long existed — Lenowitz commented that 18th-century politics “was as dirty as it is now” — it is distinct in giving the people who hold them a platform. He argued that “the existence of Trump” shows a failure in Republican strategy but also a failure in both political parties, the governmental structure and in the media.
Prof. Douglas Smith (LGLS) also questioned to what extent this campaign has revealed anything new. He noted that the populist movement underlying Trump’s popularity has rippled across Europe as well, as shown in Hungary, France and the United Kingdom.
Intercultural Center Director Madeleine Lopez and Smith discussed the media’s effect on Trump’s prominence. The corporate media, argued Lopez, had seized the conversation to maintain high ratings. Smith added that Trump “has found a way to leverage the media,” with day-to-day coverage “of each and every thing he does.”
From there, the conversation shifted to American democracy and its intensifying polarization. Trump, as an “excellent manipulator of the media,” serves as more than just an indicator of a flawed media coverage; he also reflects “a strategy from the Republican party that has backfired,” Lenowitz argued.
Smith said that this election cycle is “laying bare this insecurity, this lack of faith in our political institutions” — in part because, as he had said earlier, those institutions are failing.
Cohen delved further into that insecurity, citing a Vox interview with sociologist Arlie Hochschild, in which Hochschild discusses what motivates Trump supporters. In that article, Hochschild describes people waiting in a long line, at the end of which lies the American Dream.
The people have been waiting for a while, working hard and sacrificing plenty to get something they deserve. This line is slow, almost still — and then they see others cutting in front them. Immigrants, women and refugees keep cutting ahead, encouraged by the very man meant to supervise the line: Barack Obama.
This image is not entirely accurate, Cohen argued, but it was an “emotional truth” for many people who feel cheated. She described a “tension” between “wanting to oppose racist strands” of this ideology and “wanting to reach across this polarization.”
“There has to be an end to the family detention programs,” said Lopez, who favors a path to citizenship. She emphasized America’s history as a nation of immigrants.
Though Hillary Clinton has vowed to address immigration reform and prevent the breakup of families, Lopez was skeptical as to whether the Democratic presidential nominee would actually achieve that.
Similarly, citing various immigrant advocacy groups, Smith noted that, though many expect a Clinton presidency, their hopes are not high for comprehensive reform under it. “I can’t imagine how many people must be disengaged after this election,” agreed Lopez.