In Time for the General, Reflections from a Clinton and Trump Supporter

 The First Presidential debate. Photo credit: David Goldman/Associated Press, courtesy of the Los Angeles Times

 The First Presidential debate. Photo credit: David Goldman/Associated Press, courtesy of the Los Angeles Times

September, 2015—The primary election is on the cusp of taking off. The candidates for the Democratic party nomination were set to take the stage for their first debate in just weeks. The GOP was a free-for-all circus, overflowing with nominee hopefuls. 

On Sarah Lawrence campus, there was one person who had captured the hearts of nearly every politically conscious person on campus: Senator Bernie Sanders. The future was uncertain.

Fast forward a year. September 26, 2016—two candidates take the stage for the first general election debate about a month shy of voting day. She is clad in a red pantsuit, he in a shiny blue tie—a role reversal of sorts. Democratic candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton. Republican candidate Donald J. Trump.

At home, Bernie Sanders watched in his living room.

At Sarah Lawrence, every room with a TV filled to capacity. Every room sounding cheers at the quick wit of HRC, and groans at the interruptions of Trump. Either way—it was a room filled with the converted, or those on the fence. A year ago, a cheer for Hillary was singular and strange. A cheer for Trump was unheard.

Unheard, yet not unheard of. In a poll conducted by The Phoenix a year ago, about fifteen percent of students self-identified as being moderate or conservative on the spectrum of political ideology. Many of those students, however, expressed hesitance in being cited in print for fear of being singled out. Even express mentions of support for Clinton were few and far between. After all—there was still a year left until the election. There was still time to make a choice.

Now, for most, the choice has been made—though admittedly, many may feel that the choice has been made for them.

But what about the students who had their mind made up before the nominating conventions even began?

Lili McFarlane, ’18, has been #withher since the start.

James Hobayan, ’20, initially favored Jeb Bush, but soon changed his mind when the GOP primary began to unravel. He is voting for Donald Trump.

McFarlane is a student of politics. She’s been working with the HRC campaign since the end of last school year.

Hobayan is a first-year studying theatre—that being said, he comes from a military family that is heavily involved in politics. His parents are Democrats, but they respect his differing views. Coming into this college, Hobayan was aware that politically, he would be an outlier. He’s already come across difficulty in freely expressing his opinions.

“I was expecting that,” he said. “It’s a big reason I almost didn’t come to Sarah Lawrence.”

McFarlane, however, has known this experience first-hand for far longer. “During the primary being a Clinton supporter was pretty alienating,” she said. “People would assume that as a college student I supported Bernie, and having to interrupt someone to explain that I wasn't the typical college voter and/or that young people did support Clinton was frustrating.”

McFarlane wasn’t alone in her experiences, either. “What was saddest to me, were the other Clinton supporters that I knew on campus, who would only talk about it if no one else was in earshot,” she said.

Now that Clinton has clinched the nomination, however, things have begun to change for McFarlane. “This fall, now that the primaries are over, I feel like my position is a bit more respected. I even saw someone else with a Hillary sticker on their laptop. That was huge.”

As for Hobayan—he’s not “here to preach.” But he is open about being a Trump supporter. When he first made his position clear to his classmates in his high school, a lot of people accused him of being a racist and a bigot. Others, however, respected his decision—not because it was a vote for Trump, but because it was a vote against Clinton.

The same is true on the flip-side, too. “Since the primary has ended, the majority of Bernie supporters that I see are quietly supporting Clinton, and it's mainly from an anti-Trump perspective,” said McFarlane. She does have a number of friends who previously supported Sanders but are now strongly backing Hillary. These students, however, seem to be in the minority, according to McFarlane.

The “anti” vote rather than the “for” vote seems to be an emerging trend in voter thought. Many are left unsure as to who to vote for, whether to vote third-party, or whether to vote at all.

To those who are on the fence—particularly liberals—McFarlane offers this: “Clinton may not be your ideal candidate, but she will certainly work with ‘the revolution’ more than Trump and his administration would.”

A more general plea, however, comes from Hobayan: “It’s a sacred right given to the American people,” he said. “Everyone needs to vote.”

Editor’s note: If you are voting third-party or choosing not to vote and are interested in offering your views to The Phoenix, please send a letter to ybakhtiyarova@gm.slc.edu.

Kate Bakhtiyarova '19

SLC Phoenix

The Phoenix is a non-profit, student-run publication representing the voices and opinions of Sarah Lawrence College community members. Our print edition publishes bi-weekly on Tuesdays, and our online edition is updated multiple times per week. Anyone may attend our open meetings at 9:00 PM on Wednesday nights in the North Room of the Pub.

America, the Beautiful: Notes From a Trump Rally

Crowds filling the Long Island Trump rally last week.   Photo credit: Kate Bakhtiyarova

Crowds filling the Long Island Trump rally last week. Photo credit: Kate Bakhtiyarova

LONG ISLAND, NY—Coca-Cola, Billy Joel, and cops bearing submachine guns: all the things that make America great. If there’s anything about this hyper-patriotic combination that makes you nervous, don’t worry—you’re probably just not a real American. Luckily for all of us, doomed-and-damned-hipsters-drinking-rice-water-in-our-Tudor-minicastles, all hope is not lost. Hope is here, in all his leathery tangerine glory, right at the foot of our New York doorsteps. The one, the only.

The Donald.

That’s right. On Thurs. Apr. 6, Donald J. Trump graces the humble 16,000-person post-war suburb of Bethpage with his demagogue greatness. Over 10,000 people fill the 160,000 square foot floor of Grumman Studios; among them, about a dozen SLC students studying political science. A fascinating study it is—but let’s not get ahead of ourselves here. If you found yourself with other things to do that night, read on.

Let’s set the scene. 

Before even officially entering the venue, attendees of the rally are greeted with what looks like an animal pen for dissenters. Seeing that Trump’s rallies are privately funded by him, all protestors are asked or forced to keep their pesky free speech where nobody will hear it. Protests to DUMP TRUMP are effectively blocked from view by a surrounding cavalry containing presumably every single member of the Nassau County police force. 

Not pictured: horses, and rally attendees in passing yelling “SOCIALISTS!” as if the word itself is some kind of character insult. 

It is really the long walk to the entrance that begins to offer some foreshadowing for the populist paradise that awaits. On my particular trek, I am charmed with surrounding yells by young men to f*** Hillary, f*** Bernie, those f****ing liars, among other elegant vulgarities.  On the issue side of things, one attendee walking behind me is terse in justifying his support: 

Economically, Trump would save us.

Fair enough. Moving on.

Bags are carefully checked, so unfortunately it is at the TSA security scanner that I am forced to part ways with my Pub hand-fruit™ apple. I mourn the loss of my $2.25 nutrition as I enter the rally, staring into the face of death-by-annihilation as I walk by:

I rest my case.

Inside, it hits me: this is America, the beautiful. The sea of red dots promising to MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN, the stretchers rescuing those poor souls who faint from heat exhaustion in the pit, the high fashion of Ed Hardy bedazzled USA apparel—all of this, existing unapologetically as the lyrics to Billy Joel’s “Uptown Girl” play so loudly I can hear my heart beat in my head. 

Pretty f***ing weird, right? a man in an army-green jacket asks me as he passes by. So it is—my attempts at remaining incognito are evidently failing miserably. You can take the immigrant liberal out of Sarah Lawrence, but you can’t take the Sarah Lawrence out of the immigrant liberal. My suspicions are later confirmed when an undercover reporter from the Netherlands asks me what I am doing there. Apparently I, and the group of SLC students standing alongside me, do not look at all like the average Trump supporter. She is right, of course—to say the least, half of our group are people of color, who account for maybe a little less than half of the total POC population at the rally, by the way. That begs the question: what exactly does an average Trump supporter look like?

For all intents and purposes, an average supporter looks and acts like a normal human being. Statistically, they are white, lower-middle-class and uneducated, but I cannot stress enough that if you’ve ever been to a typical high school suburban football game, you have seen exactly what these people look like. Yes. You talk to them and you laugh with them. Picture this bona fide American setting and there you have the atmosphere of this event. Substitute the anger and intensity of sports rivalry for xenophobia and hate and it makes sense: it’s mob mentality, or populism—call it what you want. So comes the patriotism, the harassment, the mindless mechanical chanting. BUILD A WALL, by the way, sounds terrifyingly like KILL THEM ALL when enough people are shouting it. 

The crowd slightly parts to make way for a person being carried out on a stretcher, and it is in this moment, as the familiar upbeat tune of “Uptown Girl” makes its second wave around, that I step back to process the recursive nightmare unfolding before me. 

It is a disaster. 

It is reality.

To call the gathering a mob of thousands of angry people is not enough. It is the American political system turning on its head. The house of cards is collapsing, and Trump is not collapsing it on his own—rather, he is leading the way on a bridge to change while his followers set fire to the path behind him. As the French would say—après moi, le deluge: after me, comes the flood.

The average Trump voter is not the only Trump voter. An education and a moral compass are not mutually exclusive with a vote for Trump. From the conservative’s perspective, the choices are limited. Although the GOP convention may very well produce an entirely different nominee for the general election, as of now voters are suffocating between two men. Between sensationalist rhetoric and a proven record of being one of the most hated men in Washington, a vote for Trump over Cruz is understandable.

At the end of the day, Trump has expressed to the public a stance on seven issues at most, and his constant flip-flopping and denial of words that come directly out of his mouth calls into question just how set those stances are. Cruz, on the other hand, is deliberate and allegiant to an agenda that pushes the fate of the GOP to its right-winged extremes. Cruz is a lawyer; Trump is an entertainer. Cruz is, in his own words, not here to attend the party, but to get you home safe. Trump is, on the other hand, dancing on tables and inviting everybody else to jump up with him. 

Congress is in a stalemate and people are suffering. Desperate times call for desperate measures, and with Trump’s masterful ability to invoke the mythology of American Providence and exceptionalism, to many he is that last measure. Or so it seems. One need only to look up at the hypnotized crowd staring lovingly while he delivers a sermon-like speech about the dangers of aliens, to see the severity of this trust. They feel, for the first time in a long time, understood. They are ready and willing to bow down and pledge their allegiance with baseball caps and a vision: make America great again.

Kate Bakhtiyarova '19

SLC Phoenix

The Phoenix is a non-profit, student-run publication representing the voices and opinions of Sarah Lawrence College community members. Our print edition publishes bi-weekly on Tuesdays, and our online edition is updated multiple times per week. Anyone may attend our open meetings at 9:00 PM on Wednesday nights in the North Room of the Pub.

Election 2016 is No Time for Voter Apathy

The 2014 election had the worst voter turnout in the past 72 years of American history. Photo courtesy of Reuters.

The 2014 election had the worst voter turnout in the past 72 years of American history. Photo courtesy of Reuters.

In the 2014 election, less than half of the eligible population of voters showed up at the polls. No state broke 60 percent. In fact, it was the worst voter turnout in the past 72 years of American history—only 36.3 percent, nationally, with about a 20 percent turnout for young voters.

The numbers are abysmal, but they have not been ignored. Bernie Sanders in particular has framed his campaign around the idea of a political revolution—one that hopes to inspire a surge of political efficacy to get out the vote and take back the government that he claims is controlled by money, not average citizens. While Sanders has evidently made remarkable strides in the polls and primaries, a question of doubt is being raised among political hopefuls and cynics alike: will the thousands that show up to the rallies translate to thousands in the voting booths come election day? 

The ideal answer is obvious, but mainstream media is not so sure. In the aftermath of the New Hampshire primary, The Washington Post reported that only nineteen percent of Democratic voters were less than thirty years old—a mere one point percentage increase than the turnout in 2008 state primary. It appears that while young voters have not been mobilized at exceptional rates thus far, a majority of those who have are rallying behind revolution—a revolution, by the way, that is not only catered to young people, but to the average citizen. 

Compared to the 2008 numbers, the number of Democrats who voted in the primary increased, and so did total voter turnout in New Hampshire by 20%. While the corporate media reports that there was a minimal percentage increase in young voters, the point is that for some reason or another, turnout is on the rise. Not to mention that 80 percent of young votes cast went to Sanders, who won New Hampshire in a landslide. A 50 percent turnout for a primary is huge and raises important questions—it means that all that political scientists know about voting tendencies may be changing. 

The primaries are typically reserved for “political elites”—that is, a small percentage of citizens who are the most informed, educated and politically active. The fact that more and more people who are presumably more casually interested in politics are showing up at the polls months before the general election is important. People are not only listening to rally cries, but responding to them.

What this means is that 2016 is an incredibly important year for witnessing change in the way that people interact with the democratic process. What is causing the shift is an interesting question, and many speculate that one of the answers is social media. Social media, which is overwhelmingly dominated by young people. Yet if this is the case, shouldn’t young turnout percentages reflect this influence?

With data from only two primaries, it’s difficult to say. What can and should be said, however, is that now more than ever is the average citizen being offered a chance to mold the way the political process will work for years to come. Sanders said it first—and it’s an idea worth repeating: young people are the key. 

It’s a known fact that turnout rates are exceptionally higher among eligible voters who are older and more educated. Young people turn out less for a variety of reasons which range from apathy to the inconvenient and confusing process of voting from outside of one’s home state. For both of these problems there is one obvious solution: resources. What young people and voters as a general population are desperately missing is resources—that is, not only access to information about logistical things like absentee voting but also access to the political discourse.

On college campuses in particular, this access exists. Groups like SLC Democrats and SLC Students for Bernie Sanders are shining examples of this potential. Their enemy is the enemy of all human attempts to rally for change—apathy. 

The students who lead and participate in these groups are paradigms that need be followed and not merely admired. 

“I mailed in my absentee ballot vote for Bernie Sanders last week, so there’s a piece of evidence for our legitimate political activity,” said Hank Broege, a member of the SLC Students for Bernie Sanders group. “[The] group has already hosted at least a couple phone banking parties, with a third one happening tonight. I can’t attend tonight’s party, but I’m going to one in Manhattan on Thursday to make up for it,” he said. The group hosted a “Bern-rager” party in Andrew’s Court last weekend with an interesting twist—a five-dollar entrance fee in exchange for party favors, with all the fees to be sent to Sanders’ campaign. 

In the 2014 election, only 20 percent of 18 to 29 year olds cast ballots. Keep in mind that only 42.2 percent of college aged students (18 to 24 years old) were even registered to vote to begin with in that same year. The numbers are pathetic, frankly—but how does this happen? Why?

At a school like Sarah Lawrence, complacency does not explain anything. People are angry all the time—and that’s important. While that anger often manifests into productive expressions of important grievances, what has failed to be acknowledged is the necessity of political participation in any battle fought in this country. 

Activism makes people listen—but the problem is that too often it’s easy to forget that the very people who are being complained to are the ones who were voluntarily elected into office. The problem is that the many young people are ready and willing to show up at the doorsteps of vilified politicians go MIA the day that the address of the doorstep could actually be changed.

Voting is no perfect solution—obviously, politics is a game that is dominated by complexity, conflicting interests, and ulterior motives—but it is too important for how neglected it is. Bernie Sanders is on his way to proving that in some capacity, the political system can be taken back by the average citizen. The friend of the cynic is money and corrupt campaign finance, but candidates like Jeb Bush have proven that money does not buy elections. The invisible primary does not have to exist if the people show up to fight it. 

Many realities of the backroom of American politics are disturbing—but the most terrifying part is that so many of us who are a part of a blossoming generation pining for change are sitting back and debating politics over coffee but forgetting to show up the day that our voices actually matter.

“We are apathetic, but not apathetic enough,” said Sam Abrams, professor of politics. Most of us don’t care enough to participate in the system, but we care enough to feel disturbed by it when we start to pay attention. We are angry at a system created by the small percentage of people that do participate and we want to change it.

Change will come—in one way or another. Either we can continue to sit back until things become so intolerable that the whole system is upturned and a new party replaces one of the two major ones, etc. Or it will come by making it happen. The former possibility may be inevitable anyhow, but to wait it out with complacency is a total waste of the democratic system that is both the great virtue and plague of this country.

You might not have time to go to the AC Sanders party or phone bank marathons, but sending in an absentee ballot takes the same amount of time as reading through another mind-numbing article on Facebook. The time has come to rip the metaphorical duct-tape off of one’s mouth and cease the cycle of voluntary disenfranchisement via apathy and ignorance. The point is: get out the vote.

Kate Bakhtiyarova '19

SLC Phoenix

The Phoenix is a non-profit, student-run publication representing the voices and opinions of Sarah Lawrence College community members. Our print edition publishes bi-weekly on Tuesdays, and our online edition is updated multiple times per week. Anyone may attend our open meetings at 9:00 PM on Wednesday nights in the North Room of the Pub.

2016 Campaign Coverage: Higher Education Reform Plans

As the Iowa caucus approaches, the campaigns for primary candidates for both the Democratic and Republican presidential nomination are becoming hard to miss. With only months left until primary voting kicks off, the time to solidify a choice in nominee approaches. Although a well-reasoned choice requires a holistic look at a nominee, certain issues are more important to college students than others. One of those being education––particularly, post-secondary education.

Photo credit: Marc Nozell

Photo credit: Marc Nozell

Hillary Clinton, the current leader of the Democratic primary race, has established a comprehensive plan for educational reform which she calls the New College Compact. This plan relies on increases in government investment in higher education by providing $17.5 billion per year in federal funds for states to reinvest in public higher education. While families will still be expected to contribute to the college fund and students will need to work about 10 hours a week to help pay, this plan ensures additional support to reduce the costs associated with a college education-- including books, tuition, and living expenses. Under the New College Compact, community college would be tuition-free. In terms of post-graduation debt, this plan cuts interest rates for borrowing and allows for refinancing loans for debt relief so that students never have to pay more than 10 percent of what they make. Clinton’s plan is estimated to cost around $350 billion over 10 years––a large sum that will be fully paid for by limiting tax expenditures for high-income taxpayers.

Photo credit: Gage Skidmore

Photo credit: Gage Skidmore

Bernie Sanders, who is quickly coming up behind Clinton in the polls, has a plan which he calls “revolutionary.” Sanders believes the right to a college education should be guaranteed and should therefore be subsidized by the government. His ideas for reform are thoroughly laid out in the College for All Act, a bill he proposed to the Senate in May, 2015. This plan relieves students and families of all debt by splitting the $70 billion tuition costs at all 4-year public colleges––33 percent to the states, and the remaining to the federal government. To help with pre-existing debt, the bill proposes the reduction of student loan interest rates from 4.32 percent to just 2.32 percent. To cover the cost of this reform, the bill outlines a group of financial transaction taxes, also known as Robin Hood tax. This tax targets Wall Street with a 0.5 percent speculation fee on investment houses, hedge funds, and other stock trades, as well as a 0.1 percent fee on bonds and a 0.005 percent fee charged on derivatives.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Joe Biden, a favorable, albeit unofficial, candidate has worked closely with President Barack Obama to come up with a plan to reform higher education. In the absence of an official campaign website, Biden’s stance may be predicted from his work in office. In 2007, the Obama-Biden plan for higher education proposed the creation of the American Opportunity Tax Credit, a “universal and fully refundable credit” that ensures $4,000 completely free for most Americans in exchange for 100 hours of community service. This plan was later amended and incorporated into the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in 2009. More recently, Biden has reiterated support for increasing taxes on wealthy Americans and banks to make the first two years of community college free, echoing ideas expressed in Obama’s 2015 State of the Union address centered around “middle-class economics.” This educational subsidy would be provided to students who attend a college in the government’s program and who maintain academic excellence.
 

Photo credit: Gage Skidmore

Photo credit: Gage Skidmore

Donald Trump, the GOP primary frontrunner, has expressed limited opinions on education in the United States. Although his official campaign website offers no stances, Trump has expressly supported opposition to Common Core in primary and secondary education, as well as the suggestion that the Department of Education could be cut “way, way, way down.” He has also agreed that the federal government should not profit from student loans, but has not elaborated beyond that.

Photo credit: Michael Vadon

Photo credit: Michael Vadon

Ben Carson, who is rapidly approaching Trump’s lead, has been more vocal on higher education. Carson supports the idea that colleges should foot the bill for the interest rates of student loan borrowers. In February, he wrote an op-ed in The Washington Times wherein he stressed personal responsibility for the free college ideas proposed by President Obama.

The bottom line: Sanders and Clinton both have major plans for tuition reform for public institutions. The major difference is that while Sanders hopes to eliminate tuition at all four-year public colleges, Clinton aims to move towards making college more affordable by lowering costs and student loans, but not eliminating them. Biden’s call for reform seems to follow that of President Obama however the current absence of a campaign and issue stances makes it difficult to outline his plan exactly. As for the Republican frontrunners, whatever vague opinions about education expressed have thus far not been accompanied by a plan as comprehensive as that of Clinton's or Sanders'.

All poll references taken from HuffPost Pollster, a chart that regularly compiles all the latest opinion polls into one trend.

Kate Bakhtiyarova '19