Discussing Politics at UC Davis After Trump

by Luis Fernando Anguiano, Ben Porter, and Kelly Sunseri-Adams

“I voted for Trump and some of my liberal friends stopped talking to me,” said Kenneth (19), a UC Davis student who asked not to be identified by his real name.  Relationships crumbled, debates intensified, and violence erupted during this divisive election cycle.

With all the bad press that university campuses have been getting, we wanted to offer a perspective that included a large sample of students, not just the colorful fringe reactions that the media usually reports. We surveyed approximately eighty students to gather a range of perspectives spanning the ideological spectrum.  

Some Clinton supporters have no hesitation in labeling all Trump supporters as bigots. “No, I cannot have civil conversations post election,” says Oscar Cervantes (18). “I refuse to support a racist and accept the friendship of those who accept racism in our country.”

The reemergence of white nationalist groups and the spike in hate crimes since his election- 701 reported cases and counting- has made the loyalty of his moderate supporters a topic that deserves discussion. Many are justifiably anxious, but the anti-Trump protestors must be wary of becoming “the hate that they are protesting against.” 

Some Anti-Trumpers believe his loyalists guilty by association, complicit in legitimizing his rhetoric and empowering his extreme supporters. Matthew Silva (19) explained, “students here will assume a lot of things about you and your morals if they know you identify as conservative or a Republican, and especially if you admit to voting for Trump. Just because I saw him as our best option doesn’t mean I back up every word he has ever said…”

Trump’s supporters have complex motivations, but not all of his opponents are willing to find out through conversation. Krushna Jamnadas (19) said she was open to discussion, but tried to avoid conversations with a conservative friend. “When he argues with me, most of the time he does not provide facts, claiming ‘it’s common knowledge’ or ‘stop eating up what the liberal media tells you.’ . . . when we have political conversations, he attacks rather than debates…I try to avoid politics in its entirety with him.”  On the other hand, Elizabeth Brown (25) affirms, “I can have a conversation with someone who disagrees with me. Perspective is invaluable in our world…”

Sixty-four percent of UCD students reported not losing any friends over the election, but that means a sizeable number (36%) did. Alondra Perez (18) confided, “As of now I haven’t lost any friendships, but I’m not afraid to cut people off.”  Still, preserving friendships is a priority for most, and the election has strained them. According to Michael Gomez (24), he and some friends “definitely have some mending to do.”

Our study also assessed the effects of polarized politics on the classroom. With an overwhelming majority of “liberal or far left” professors, do students feel as if politics influences how well they can voice their opinions in discussion or papers?

David Stiles (19) thinks that regardless of political affiliation students should always feel free to express their opinions:  “even though most people here are on the liberal side, it seems like as long as your viewpoint is properly backed up . . . any opinion is respected here.”

Others felt the need to tailor their perspectives. Jaren Gaither (20) admitted to not always being open with professors “because I do not want partisanship to affect how well I do in class.” Oliver Compaño (21) said that his more extreme views have occasionally made him hesitant to fully voice his opinions. “As a radical socialist, I am always wary to discuss conceptions of socialism.”  On the other hand, Ana Caren Talavera (22) feels comfortable sharing her views “especially if it’s a safe space.” 

The election inspired many students to get involved in politics.  Krushna Jamnadas explained, “I will try to be more involved in the future, to ensure that our new president-elect will not step out of bounds or move backwards when our country has progressed so far.” 

Others do not feel the same way. When asked if she was glad she tuned out of the general election, Sarah Valdez-Contreras (18) confessed, “Yeah I’ve been very tuned out and I love it. Everything that has happened and gone down in the last few months is almost depressing. It seems like every day somebody did this wrong or said this mean thing.  It makes our government and country look bad. And yes this election has pushed me to tune out of politics more.” 

Oliver Compaño views political blackout as complacency that neglects the election’s impact for better or for worse on vulnerable groups.

When asked if he wished he had not paid attention to the election, Compaño exclaimed, “What kind of question is this? It assumes…that one can gladly turn a blind eye and be unaware of its ramifications. What a privilege: to tune out of the election.”

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