Student Opinions wrack America into Interesting, Unsettling Times, USA

{Written at the one-month mark of the Trump Administration}

We live in an interesting, unsettling time where protestors rage through cities, alternatives wrangle against facts, and executive orders place controversial border bans on Syrian warzone refugees and select nations. America ripples with decades’ worth of malaise rising to a cracked surface in the aftermath of President Donald J. Trump’s election. Volatile emotions crackle through the air. It’s a rare but powerful time in American history, where each day’s protests and Twitter tides write new ink into history’s ledgers.

“Today’s ceremony has a very special meaning because today we are not merely transferring power from one administration to another, or from one party to another, but we are transferring power from Washington D.C. and giving it back to you, The People,” rang President Trump’s voice on January 20th 2017. “…Because this moment is your moment, it belongs to You.”

On January 21st 2017, over two million Americans took the newly-elected President’s words to heart. Powered through a grassroots movement originally on social media, the Women’s March on Washington put forth a mission “to send a bold message to our new government on their first day in office – and to the world – that women’s rights are human rights.” Over 400 marches in the U.S and 673 sister marches in 80 countries supported the flagship march in Washington D.C supporting the protestors’ beliefs that “the rhetoric of the past election cycle insulted, demonized, and threatened: immigrants of all statuses, Muslims and those of diverse faiths, people who identify as LGBTQ…”

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Women’s March Protestors, New York City (PC: Nicole Craine, NY Times)

“It was amazing to be in Boston because Mayor Walsh pointed out that so many effective movements – dating all the way back to the American Revolution – started on the Boston Commons,” said Spencer Showalter, a marine biology student at Boston University, of her experience participating in the march. “It was also nuts: [the organizers] underestimated how many people would show up so we couldn’t effectively march. There were so many of us that we could fill the parade route several times over.”

“My aunt flew to Washington D.C and my grandmother marched in California,” shared Kayla Goldberg, a political science student at SMU. “I’m really proud to be from such a long line of strong (#nasty) women.”

When asked why he joined protest efforts in New York City, Sam Sontag replied, “we’re in one of two possible worlds right now. Either Trump sweeps aside democratic norms and leads the country down an authoritarian and oppressive path, or the people resist so forcefully that we reverse course and bring about the progressive change that so many of us thought was within reach last year. The only way I can believe I’m living in the latter is if I participate in it.”

Jack Mitchell, a biochemistry student at Bowdoin College, joined the Women’s March in Oakland and a later demonstration against the immigration ban at an airport in Maine too gave his reasons for protesting. “I know that our democracy and countrymen are under attack. The Trump Administration has policies that literally go against everything I believe is right and what America is about. Protesting is obligatory when possible.”

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“It almost feels like we’re teetering on the edge of some kind of war: physical, psychological, or social” – Marissa Jennings. (PC: Jack Mitchell, Women’s March Protestors, Oakland)

To make the protests translate into actual changes to current and proposed government regulations, Sam suggests “reading up on existing movements and considering how we can build and sustain a mass movement that is [inclusive of] identity, class, activist experience, and political views. Solidarity is the answer here.”

Jack furthered that “the Women’s March was a powerful rallying cry, but the real work happens every day with organizing, calling representatives, and reading. For resistance to work, it must be multifaceted and include hard work from lawyers, politicians, lobbyists, and companies to do what’s right and put pressure on lawmakers to protect our country from the enemy within.”

Since President Trump’s inauguration, social media, talk show hosts, and even Super Bowl advertisements have brought protesting to the forefront. Demonstrations’ causes range from environmental rights, to women’s equality, and to immigrant rights. Many of my peers’ Snapchat stories charge with live videos of chanting slogans, and Instagram posts caption with social warrior hashtags rather than brunch throwbacks. Every Facebook post feels like time-traveling into images of 1960s Civil Rights or 1970s Anti-Vietnam War protests. Social media feels electric as people’s statuses turn into forums for socio-political debates whilst the president’s own Twitter blasts add fuel to the opinionated mix

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“Our dissent is patriotic, and resistance is our moral imperative” – Anonymous Protestor (PC: Anonymous Protestor at Women’s March, Oakland)

The Women’s March on Washington and its related marches have made their mark as the largest single-day protest in American history. Newspapers estimate that five million people worldwide participated in the marches on January 21st, and the movement now aims to bring awareness to 10 Actions within the first one-hundred days of the new administration. While this may initially seem exciting and surreal there is palpable tension in the air that seems to affect nearly every daily interaction.

Marissa Jennings, a psychology student at SMU describes, “the current political climate is not only divisive but dangerous. It almost feels like we are teetering on the edge of war – whether physical, psychological, or social. And while President Trump managed to say a plethora of insulting, demeaning, and demoralizing things…I wouldn’t necessarily pin it all on him. Trump was catering to his audience who are staunchly against political correctness.”

“Party affiliations don’t account for this divide as there are some conservatives who lean towards social progression and some independents who lean more conservatively right now,” continued Marissa. “Social polarization [exists] because Trump doesn’t favor progress and half the country craves it.  [It’s] forcing a lot of tension into conversations, resulting in confrontations such as attacks on speakers and Trump supporters.”

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“Protesting is obligatory when possible” – Jack Mitchell. Women’s March, Oakland. (PC: Jack Mitchell)

SMU management student Gabby Wolf too is not in favor of the protests. “It’s ridiculous that people are upset that the president is doing what he said he was going to do all along. My concern was that Trump [would] be a lot more moderate once he got in office…As far as the protests go, people need to grow up and realize that they are hurting more than helping. I believe 100% in freedom of speech, but not in stupidity. Some of these protests are limiting the other side’s freedom of speech,” she cited, noting UC students protesting and cancelling alt-right wing speaker Milo Yiannopoulos’ events on UC Berkeley and UC Davis’ campuses.

Jolene Won, a pre-med student at UC Davis, described the protest against Milo Yiannopoulos on her campus. “Walking into a politically charged situation with your only goal being to prove your point to the Other People and not listen is how we got here in the first place. There were less than a dozen people who were actually talking to each other. I didn’t go to [the event] to try to change anyone’s mind or pick a fight. I just wanted to share perspectives with the Milo supporters. I was sad that the event was shut down because the idealist in me believes that if you lay your ideas out people will buy it if it’s better than others, however my cynical side knows that this is what Milo wants, to cast himself as the martyr for free speech and show UC Davis and UC Berkeley as those who nailed him to a cross of political correctness.”

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“I believe in freedom of speech, but not in stupidity” – Gabby Wolf. (PC: Ynet News, Women’s March, Boston)

The contention around freely expressing one’s opinion is felt by a female mechanical engineer at SMU, who feels it’s necessary for her to remain anonymous to avoid ruining her reputation amongst friends and faculty. “It’s impossible to have a discussion with anyone whose views don’t parallel my own because I’m automatically labelled a racist, sexist, privileged woman when they don’t even know me. I don’t support the entirety of President Trump’s campaign rhetoric, [but] I do support his emphasis on the economy and especially his plans to rid Congress’ corruption and place limitations on lobbyists. He has a lot of work to do when it comes to professionalism, but he’s taking America in an economically positive direction.”

The anonymous mechanical engineer also disagrees with the merit of the Women’s March. “As a woman, it worries me that we are promoting our own victimization by constantly placing so much emphasis on it. Energy spent shouting about oppression could’ve instead been spent speaking about female accomplishments. The money people spent to fly to D.C could’ve instead been donated to charities to help women around the world who fight for their basic human rights. Constantly talking about p*ssies and p*ssy hats and saying that I’m talented and valuable because of my body parts is essentially reverse sexism. I am worthwhile because of my personality and intellect, not only because I am a woman.”

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“We will respond with that timeless creed that sums up the spirit of a people: Yes We Can” – President Obama placard held by Chelsea Mitchell, Women’s March, Oakland (PC: Jack Mitchell)

Regardless of which side of the political spectrum one favors, these past weeks have shown what democracy at work looks like, in a way that the founding fathers could only have hoped for. Laypeople have made it a point to take time out of their routines to reach out to their government officials by calling representatives and stating their opinions on issues that matter to them, such as funding for Planned Parenthood, reforms to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and changes to the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

Neha Rao, a medical student at Texas A&M, and her peers hand-wrote letters to elected government officials sharing their personal stories as to why they became doctors and their staked interest in the status of their patients, when the new government announced their decision to repeal the ACA.

“Our main goal was to urge those in power not to take away these beneficial policies until they have a better plan of action in place to care for the millions who would become uninsured should the ACA be repealed,” explains Neha. “We included our stories to help leaders understand that first and foremost, medicine is about people, and at the end of the day, we need safeguards for the [people] who rely on the ACA for fundamental care.”

“I work in a hospital that [predominantly] serves minority patients. Almost all are on government health insurance: some are refugees, undocumented immigrants, or poor. I want to ask supporters of Yiannopoulos and those who support ridding of the ACA: have you ever met my patients?” seconded Jolene.

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“The entire world will be damaged by the rejection of sound science” – Spencer at Women’s March, Boston Commons. (PC: Spencer Showalter)

People in other science fields weighed in too on matters such as the government’s changes to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). “No one in the Trump Administration has the scientific experience to judge thousands of peer-reviewed research projects as falsified,” expressed Spencer. “They are systematically impugning the entire concept of science, and while I may be damaged immediately by lack of federal funding and grants [for marine biology], the entire world will be damaged by the rejection of sound science which allows us to interact productively with our natural resources.”

 On the other hand, Americans such as Gabby see subjects such as climate change and healthcare as outside of the government’s jurisdiction. “I hated Obamacare to begin with because it did way more harm than help, so I’m glad to see it go. As for climate change; it’s nothing we need to be too concerned about. The Earth gradually goes through a natural heating and cooling process over thousands of years. Media is very liberally biased; they’ll start with a true story and find a way to make it controversial or exciting to grab people’s attention. The real issue is that people are too ignorant, lazy, and stubborn to hear both sides and get all the facts before they start speaking. I for one am a conservative Christian, but I’m always more than willing to sit down and discuss anything with anyone to try to understand their view or solidify mine. The current political climate is interesting because a lot of people feel entitled to act without thinking things through. I personally love Pence.”

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“The DFW Airport Protest revived my hope in humanity” – Yasmeen Mohamed Gadallah (PC: Jack Mitchell, Women’s March, Oakland)

On January 27th 2017, President Trump launched a controversial executive order temporarily banning the entry of citizens from seven predominantly Muslim countries, resulting in another series of concurrent tidal waves of support and backlash.

When asked her views about the ban, Gianni Windahl, a journalism student at SMU, reflected on a quote by Ronald Regan: “A nation that cannot control its borders is not a nation.” With this in mind, she believes “the temporary is a wise [way] to allow proper vetting of immigrants. National security is one of the few jobs of the federal government.”

Meanwhile Yasmeen Mohamed Gadallah, a recent SMU international studies graduate, took to protest at the Dallas-Fort Worth Airport. “I felt a rush of emotions [at the airport protest]. I was very happy that people from different races were standing alongside me to fight for freedom. I felt the ban wasn’t fair because it specifically targets Muslim countries, who historically are not even on the list of countries who have harmed any American citizens. It makes no sense to trap people at airports who are harmless. But the DFW airport protest revived my hope in humanity. I realized that even if there is some sort of corruption in America, the power of the people is stronger. A united people can actually make a change. In that moment, I experienced the true definition of democracy.”

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“The immigration ban is unconstitutional and un-American” – Jack. (PC: Jack Michell at Airport Protest in Portland, Maine)

The anonymous SMU student too shared her thoughts, “I think it’s amazing to be able to offer freedom and accept refugees fleeing a situation America contributed to, especially if those people are open to American values. But assuring the entirety of the population that there’s no reason to fear these refugees is very important if they’re going to have a chance at assimilating without hesitation and pushback. It is concerning to see the increase in assaults on women in Europe since the inflow of refugee migration. By no means is it a reason to stereotype any group, but it’s certainly a valid fear. Not banning, but indiscriminately pausing immigration for 90 days to more confidently accept refugees is not racist, it’s safe. Ensuring the safety of American citizens is the President’s first and foremost job.”

Americans such as Jack saw a different side to the executive order. “The immigration ban is unconstitutional and un-American. We have nothing to fear from Syrian refugees and the other six implicated countries, and our vetting process is already extreme.  This [act] is merely an aspect of the regime of fear that Trump and Steve Bannon are implementing to coax Americans into relinquishing their liberties slowly but surely. The current administration appears determined to undermine public knowledge with the aim of taking total control of central government. We can see evidence for this in the constant lying, gag orders on government agencies, and continuous attacks on other branches of government – especially the courts who are supposed to check [the president’s] power.”

Emotions continue to run high, as Donald Trump’s presidency crosses the one month mark. The new administration barrels forward with changes as the world watches Americans’ divided reactions to various measures. The ink on History’s pen waits at the ready as Americans and the world have much to weigh in the coming four years, and what it means for the country and the United States’ position as the paragon of democracy. In the meantime, we must be aware that our every action and inaction writes the tale of our interesting, but unsettling time.

{This article will appear in the Tower Center Student Forum for Political Science’s magazine, “Memo” for March 2017}

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Crowds gather in the largest single-day demonstration in US History in Washington D.C (PC: ABC News)
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Protestors at Women’s March, Oakland on Jan 21st 2017 (PC: Jack Mitchell)

Author: Nikita Taimni

A Dubai-based blogger, I write about travel, theatre and lifestyle in the cities I explore around the world. Follow me on Instagram @nikitalyfe and follow via email if you enjoy reading my posts!

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