One Year Later: Students Reflect on the National Political Climate

December 1, 2017

Photo: Georgetown Voice

Last year, in the weeks leading up to the election, the Voice interviewed students and asked for their perspectives on the national political climate. In those interviews, students discussed how they planned to vote. A range of candidates came up: Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump of course, but also third party candidates Gary Johnson and Evan McMullin.  After the election, which defied projections and prompted protests marked with cries of “Not my president,” the Voice reached out a second time to hear those same students’ insights and personal views on the new administration and state of politics in the U.S.

As 2017 draws to a close, we asked students once again for their perspectives on the current political climate. The Voice contacted all of the previous interviewees, including 2017 graduates, as well as some new voices. Excerpts from all of those who responded are included here.

The Voice received the following responses via email. They have been edited for space and clarity.

Zoë Abrahm, (Col ‘19)

“As a Democrat, I’ve seen a lot of policies I support get rolled back… I think most of these decisions are immoral and irresponsible, but my party lost, and that was what was going to happen. I am upset, but I don’t think these things are unique to a Trump administration.

“What is unique is that this past year, I have had the existence and identity of me and so many others disrespected by the highest office in our country. When Trump did not comment after the rash of bomb threats towards Jewish community centers and synagogues following his inauguration and when he described Nazis as good people, I felt so shaken. His rhetoric has given anti-semitism and sexual assault a pass, and has been openly islamophobic, homophobic, and racist. Regardless of political party, the President and his team are supposed to work for everyone, but this administration has made it clear repeatedly that they do not want unity.

“I am truly scared that this administration does not care about me as a Jew or as a woman, and doesn’t care about Americans who aren’t Christian, straight, and white.”

Abrahm identifies as a Democrat and is a member of H•yas for Choice.

Jose Altamirano (COL ’17)

“People of all ideological backgrounds seem to be growing aware that the current political status quo is not working. The economic hegemonic doctrine of the last 30 years has resulted in small bubbles of affluence and vast pockets of underemployment and economic distress….. Something needs to change- and a large part of what that change will look like will depend on whether or not the youngest generation, which Georgetown students make up, can identify the right political solutions and the right message to people- all people- who feel left behind by the current system.”

“I see a lot of op-eds and media hand wringing about this, but I’m honestly not concerned about the ‘radical student activists’ who ‘threaten free speech’ on college campuses. Outspoken students voicing political concerns or demands is a feature, not a bug, of our liberal democracy. I’m way more concerned about white supremacists being given a platform to try to out undocumented students (Milo) or try to kill protesters (Charlottesville). I’m also concerned about esteemed publications like the New York Times running sympathetic profile pieces of neo-Nazis.”

Altamirano identifies as a Democrat. He graduated from the college in May, and was involved in the Institute of Politics and Public Service when at Georgetown.

Jessica Andino, (Col, ‘18)

“All of my fears of a Trump presidency are worse than I thought. My most pressing political issue during the election was comprehensive immigration reform but now it seems like each week there is a new development that puts laws I took for granted in danger.

“These issues affect all of us in the Georgetown community: the rescinding of DACA/ Temporary Protected Status, uncertainty of ACA provisions regarding birth control, withdrawing from the Dear Colleague” letter on sexual assault, and proposed tax reform that would reduce the affordability of higher education. Trump has not demonstrated leadership that the country needs; his actions have given fortification to white supremacists to come out and be proud of their racists ideas, most notably this past August in Charlottesville. Now that people are seeing the negative consequences of Trump as President, many people are realizing that they need to stand up against these ideas.

“The recent Democratic sweep in the Virginia elects give me hope that a blue wave is coming in 2018 and 2020. The winners of the election were Democrats, women, people of color, and the transgender community.”

Andino identifies as a Democrat and is the current GUSA Vice President. She served as the Co-Chair of the Institute of Politics and Public Service last year and is an Organizing Fellow at Voto Latino.

Maximilian Fiege (SFS ‘18)

Unsurprisingly, the national political climate has continued to polarize since last November. Given that many students now find their very identities and livelihoods under attack by the federal government, this polarization is warranted. What has disappointed me is the willingness of conservatives to stand with the Trump administration for the sake of the Republican party. While on-campus groups have done a decent job of across-the-aisle communication, both at the student and guest speaker levels, I do find that conservative groups on campus have not been vocal enough in denouncing the current administration.”

“President Trump has proven his critics right since his very inauguration day. Unfortunately, his critics have no sway over the blind loyalty and need for power that has overcome Capitol Hill. His inability to understand the complexities of international issues, his unwillingness to remedy conflicts of interest, and his arrogance have all worked to push America to the precipitous edge of decline.”

“I hope that Robert Mueller’s investigation comes to fruition in 2018 and holds the administration accountable for its self-serving use of the presidency.”

Feige identifies as a progressive and said in a previous interview that he would vote for Hillary Clinton.

Gabriel Gorre, (SFS ‘18)

“The national political climate seems far more accepting of racist rhetoric than in years past, and (though this seems cliche to say) the divide between Trump supporters and others continues to grow – justified given the policies proposed by the man the former are supporting. Many on campus seem more fearful, which is understandable given the threat the current administration poses to many at Georgetown, such as undocumented students.”

I have nothing positive to say about the performance of the President in his first year. Trump has embarrassed the United States, created considerable harm for millions of Americans, undermined the rule of law, and inflamed divisions within our society.”

“Hopefully, Trump leaves/is removed from office, and the Democrats flip the House in next year’s elections.”

Gorre identifies as a Democrat. He is a senior in the SFS.

Mason Hill (SFS ‘17)

Most of my issues with Trump to date have more to do with him being a symptom of problems than the underlying cause.

“Oh, sure he’s a klutz who has hurt a lot of people that have suffered a lot historically though his various prejudices. That said, I’m not as afraid of Trump anymore as of what comes after Trump- the cataclysm that I thought would come has not come yet. Maybe, as President Trump said, ‘it’s the calm before the storm.’

“Like others I voted for Hillary last year, but I’ve grown to accept Trump—maybe that’s easier for me than others for a host of reasons. But look on the left and the right—in their hatred of Trump and the bitterness he brings out in his foes, be it the “Never Trump” Republicans or the #Resistance, they are proving that they are just as willing to throw out norms of civil discourse, charitable construction of the President’s intentions, etc.

“Trump might have destroyed a whole host of norms, but the #Resistance has probably made it impossible to turn the clock back- even if Trump leaves office in the traditional way for failing Presidents (loses reelection).

“I want to see citizens (not referencing nationality here- just the more general sense of the word) – particularly those that go to Georgetown- realize that 99.9 percent of what is wrong with politics has nothing to do with Donald J. Trump the person. Oh sure, he’s erratic but the reason our politics are so dysfunctional is because people both have irrational expectations of it, and don’t realize that freedom requires sacrifice- in many cases that will mean sacrifice on their behalf for absolutely nothing in return.”

Hill is a registered Republican. He graduated in May, and was a member of the International Relations Club while at Georgetown.

David Patou (Col ’18)

“I think most urgent issue now is our foreign policy. If we go to war with North Korea, for instance, the economy isn’t super relevant.

“If Trump wants to be a successful President (and I’m not sure if perhaps that ship has sailed), he needs to be less divisive. Criticizing the dad of the UCLA basketball player, worrying about which football players kneel during the national anthem, etc.—that stuff just divides Americans for absolutely no gain. I worry that he spends too much time getting involved in playground-like disputes with individual citizens rather than focusing on the welfare of the country.”

Patou identifies as a Democrat. He is a senior in the college majoring in Philosophy.

Kate Phillips (Col ‘19)

During the 2016 election and now, the most concerning issues for me were environmental issues. This issue often becomes one of the side issues in a political election, and I found the same to be true in 2016. I have found Trump’s treatment of environmental issues since his presidency to be completely irresponsible. From his review of national monuments to the Paris climate agreement and the Keystone XL, I find his policies shortsighted and based on cheap political wins. In a political system that focuses on the immediate, it is often easy for the American public to forget and ignore environmental concerns when often the results of these policy decisions will outlive the current Congress or President.

“When most people’s understanding of policy issues, and I think this has gotten more marked under the Trump presidency, is just that repealing Obamacare is bad or that the TPP is screwing over America, we cannot expect for political dialogue to be reasoned or levelheaded. Both parties obviously engage in the issues in this manner pretty frequently, but I think under Trump any incentive for the public to understand how complex policy issues can be has completely vanished when our president does not appear to put any emphasis on that.”

Phillips identifies as a Democrat. She is a junior in the College.

Jawad Pullin COL ’18

The most urgent issue the country faces is one that Georgetown students will be extremely adversely affected by, and it’s the next bubble that could burst and throw the economy back into recession: the student loan crisis…

“I don’t think political discourse on campus has changed very much. We have always had a very good pulse on national politics because we’re Georgetown. I think we’re all just trying to better understand where our politics is heading, and we are lucky to have such intimate access to political insiders who can interpret what’s going on for us.

“I think the path back to power for liberals is to stop making excuses for our own political base and start wholeheartedly embracing the metropolitan values that churn two-thirds of this nation’s economy and are responsible for nearly all the cultural output this country has to offer.

“We’re not going to improve our political situation by outdoing Trump on Trumpism. We might as well embrace who everyone knows we already are, and make the case for why our vision for America is better than a hateful, divisive one.”

Pullin identifies as  a Democrat.  He has been a member of GUSA and the College Democrats.

Melvin Thomas COL ’18

“In 2016, both sides saw the other as intolerable. Hillary Clinton called Trump supporters ‘deplorables,’ while the Republican National Convention was filled with chants of “Lock her up!” That fall, Trump became the first American presidential candidate, as far as I know, to threaten to jail his opponent.

“I think President Trump came into the position with a serious lack of experience, and the past 10 months have demonstrated that. His inability to mobilize Congress to act on his agenda, his scandal-ridden administration, and his frequent vacations all indicate he was never ready to become president.”

“I hope those politicians who have been involved in sexual harassment or other misconduct will no longer be a part of the upcoming Congress. I want the Democratic Party to start to listen to the voices it ignored in 2016 and choose to pursue a “big tent” policy. And I hope the Republican candidates do not adopt Trump’s campaign style and strategy of demonizing rhetoric and fueling nationalist sentiments.”

Thomas identifies as a Republican.  He is GU Right to Life’s Vice President, and is involved in Knights of Columbus and the Tocqueville Forum Student Fellows.

Whitney Wantong (Col ‘19)

What will hopefully happen in 2018 is more and more people challenging themselves to check out life outside their bubbles. Here, we talk so much about the Georgetown bubble, but that isn’t the only way we insulate ourselves to like-minded people and opinion. Another example is our social media accounts. Because the feeds we follow are self-selected, we end up not seeing a lot of content that doesn’t reinforce our worldview. This election showed us that politically, we are increasingly polarized. An important way to bridge those gaps is being exposed more and sharing what we learn.

I think it’s also important for Georgetown students to remember that higher education is a privilege not everyone can afford. Criticizing others for being uneducated is classist, and only serves to exacerbate the situation. Many folks will never have the opportunities to attend the lectures we have, so we should start thinking critically about how to reconcile that better, when it comes to how we inform others.”

Wantong identifies as a Democrat. She is a junior in the College.

Samuel Zaroff (Col, ‘19)

“Nationally, I think the election of president Trump has reignited divisions among the American people with regards to race as well as the rural/urban divide. On campus, it immediately begged the question to every student: how ok are you with Trump being president? Will you go to the White House on election night? Will you you attend the Women’s March the next day?

“With Georgetown being a school of predominantly liberal students, with the ‘Georgetown right’ being mainly fiscally conservative, socially liberal students, I think a lot of more conservative students had to make a choice of how to present themselves when they are inevitably asked by friends/peers: you are Republican right? Who did you vote for? Do you support Trump even if you didn’t vote for him?

“I think after the election, the unspoken dividing line on campus emerged between students who were infuriated with Trump’s election and viewed his presidency as unacceptable and an anomaly from the beginning, and those student who either support Trump, view him as an acceptable if not ideal leader for our country, or are less politically inclined and don’t feel strongly about his presidency.”

Zaroff identifies as a Democrat and has interned with a Democratic district supervisor in his hometown of San Francisco. On campus he plays on the men’s club volleyball team.


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