Trump’s transition: A divisive beginning for the presidency

Times of change in today’s American political atmosphere fuel emotions from A to Z, with presidential candidates polarizing voters across whole swaths of the nation. The inauguration of the 45th president, Donald Trump, has produced a variety of responses among students at Washington State University Vancouver, ranging from heartfelt to ambivalent. As with the nation, Trump’s victory in the 2016 election polarized the campus community, with some voters expressing hope for the future and others deep concerns.

The Trump presidency has been years in the making. From the campaigns, debates, ceremonies, protests and celebrations, Americans have undoubtedly played an active role in the past year’s election cycle. Following his inauguration on Jan. 20, President Trump entered the White House with an assertive 100-day agenda.

His pledge of action focuses on issues like immigration reform and trade deal renegotiation. Without much certainty as to where the policies will lead, students and other observers have turned to reflection and speculation to try and judge what will come from the Oval Office in the months to come.

WSU Vancouver serves students from a variety of political backgrounds and beliefs. Two public affairs majors, Mike and Dina, who requested their last names not be used for fear of angering friends and colleagues, were in Washington, D.C., during the inauguration.

Both shared their experiences in the past election. Mike initially voted for Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders in the primary and then for Hillary Clinton in the presidential election. Dina voted for then-Republican candidate Donald Trump.

Despite the difference in their politics, Mike and Dina expressed many like-minded concerns regarding the future of the nation.

Throughout the campaign, Clinton was unable to fully escape the controversies surrounding her tenure as secretary of state. Both Mike and Dina expressed the belief that Clinton was potentially unfit to run against Trump.

“Considering how our electoral system works, I thought [Sanders] would be a much better candidate against Trump than Clinton,” Mike said. Sanders was a popular choice among millennial voters, because he provided an option that circumvented many of Clinton’s shortcomings and advocated for changes that some saw as appealing.

All sorts of shadows surround Clinton, Dina said, “that I did not feel comfortable with. A few examples: Benghazi, the emails, The Clinton Foundation, the 1994 Crime Bill and flip-flopping on social issues.” Dina knew for sure, she said, “that I would never vote for Hillary Clinton.” Beyond campus, arguments on cable television echo Dina’s thinking: that Clinton’s potentially troubled past and the congressional investigations into her emails likely spelled her defeat in the general election.

Throughout the election year, the personalities of candidates played a large factor during speeches, rallies and debates. At some points, these ranked as major concerns for students. At other times, the minutiae of the horse race became trivial. Trump’s role in the election exemplified this notion.

Trump “had awful rhetoric, belittled people left and right and tweets too much,” Dina said. “He is beyond imperfect but as a billionaire businessman who promised to stand by the typical Republican voter, I filled out the box next to his name on the ballot. It was a gamble, but it was a risk I was willing to take.”

To voters like Mike, however, Trump’s rhetoric and personality was enough to sway their vote in another direction. “It was a combination of both Sanders’ sincerity — his character — and a loathing for the pompous authoritarianism of Trump,” Mike said. “I found the emails and the size of Trump’s hands quite trivial, though these ‘issues’ garnered considerable attention from the press.”

In the lead up to and wake of the presidential election, voters from both sides of the aisle felt pressured to take action. Mike and Dina both attended the inauguration, but for different reasons. Mike participated in the Women’s March the day after the inauguration while Dina was a spectator at the swearing-in ceremony.

When asked for his perspective on the reactions of voters nationwide, Mike became philosophical. “Politics is the absence of violence, so when politics appear to fail, people feel voiceless and react. I am a white, straight, educated, male citizen. I have the least to lose in the next four years but I think it is important for people to articulate and respond to injustice regardless of their leanings.”

Not everyone on campus shares feelings of apprehension. “At the inauguration, I sensed a revival of hope for this nation filling the atmosphere that I will never forget. The people surrounding me were excited, they kindly reached out to one another and were giddy about the direction in which they anticipated the new administration would go,” Dina said. “As a conservative attending a liberal college, I have felt ostracized and sometimes even bullied by my peers.”

In a country where citizens are taught the value of rights ranging from free speech to peaceful assembly, Trump’s election challenged the stability of these common values.

Trump has signed 12 executive orders during his first three weeks in office, slightly trailing Obama’s 14 in 2009. Trump’s actions have followed the presidential tradition of delivering on campaign commitments and repealing policies of the previous administration. His orders include a contentious “travel ban” targeting seven countries described as potential sources of terrorism, withdrawal of the U.S. from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, renewed construction of the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines, a federal government hiring freeze and the authorization of a U.S.-Mexico border wall.

Both Mike and Dina expressed opinions on the executive orders. “It is too early to tell what sort of implications they will have on the long-term for this country,” Dina said, adding that she will not be “jumping to conclusions acting on emotions, and protesting the very second the president signs an executive order.”

“I believe Trump’s travel ban is absurd and absolutely unconstitutional,” Mike said. “The wall is a ludicrous proposal and will do absolutely nothing to alleviate the problems Trump claims it will [fix].”

The differing opinions of Mike and Dina offer a glimpse of the variety of political views being expressed in the wake of Trump’s election and inauguration. Their involvement in the political process shows that voices on campus echo the nation’s uneasy political mood, regardless of political affiliation.

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