On the morning of November ninth, my professor opened the class with something I didn’t want to hear: talk to each other.
Like many Bates students that morning, I had shuffled down Alumni Walk with my head down. Chalked on the ground were catchy messages pushing the community to vote; many of these vouched for Hillary, some denounced Trump. But the character of these notes had changed radically overnight. These messages, once cheerful reminders the future of America, were the salt in the wound.
I was baffled with the election results, and shared this confusion with many other Bates students looking for groups of likeminded friends. In these conversations, we fed off of each other. I’d leave riled up and impassioned, but with little pushback to my own perspective. Out of anger, these interactions became vehicles through which I could vent my anger, opposed to forums for effective intellectual discourse. I was comforted by the sound of my own echo.
The one sided nature of these conversations felt fundamentally wrong, but the ideological gap felt impermeable. I knew that I had to break out from my liberal bubble, but I felt trapped. After all, I feared for the civil rights of millions of Americans. Trump is unapologetically misogynistic, racist and nativist. Pence is openly anti-LGBT, actively fighting to unravel decades of progress in the gay rights movement. And half of Americans support the duo, nonetheless. How was I supposed to talk to someone who voted for a candidate that makes so many people I care about feel worthless?
And this animosity towards minorities was unrestricted to the sphere of political ideology: the manifestations of it were very, very real. In the days after the election, incidents began to crop up across campuses. Witnesses watched in horror as two young men with Trump signs parked their car in front of a house for Black students, spitting on one student.
In these initial glimpses into Trump’s America, my professor’s hanging advice seemed impossible to grasp. After all, the differences felt more than political– they were ethical. But I had to reconcile the fact that one in two Americans had voted for the candidate. But at Bates, I struggled to find spokespeople of the other side. In a dearth of conservative perspectives on campus, I sought out this perspective digitally.
Although the conservative presence on campus seemed lacking, brief research suggested that it was merely silenced. I read an article in the New York Times called: “How My Liberal University Cemented My Vote For Trump,” written by a student at fellow NESCAC Wesleyan. Readings his specific delineations of his reasons for voting for Trump, I began to understand his view. I knew that Wesleyan and Bates were both small, left leaning liberal arts Colleges, and shared much in common. So if Trump supporters were at Wesleyan, they were at Bates as well. But they stayed quiet.
And the explanation behind their silence was clear– we live in a fragmented America. Whether it’s between rural and urban, or liberal and conservative, divisions are everywhere. If we ever want to bridge these gaps, we must first understand how they got there.
Finally, let’s not forget where we are. In the security of the Bates bubble, it’s easy to forget that our own district voted for Trump. We may have removed the fence from our campus perimeter, but an ideological divide still exists. But by opening dialogues, we can begin to understand these barriers– and perhaps begin to deconstruct them.