We awakened on November 9 to find that our world had been shattered. As Stuyvesant students, we had been floating in a bubble: a place open to all backgrounds, but also a place insulated by a progressive, New York City mindset. The 2016 election revealed an America we didn’t know existed: an America that elected Donald Trump to the Oval Office.
Now that our bubble has burst, we find ourselves in the midst of a frightening fall. Over the past eight years, President Barack Obama’s administration has taken great strides. It enhanced rights for women and LGBTQ+ Americans, improved our environmental policy, provided health care for over 20 million people, worked to accommodate immigrants, and imbued within our country a sense of morality and integrity.
Now, our president elect is apparently racist, sexist and homophobic, believes climate change is a hoax, and plans to repeal at least parts of Obamacare and deport between two and three million immigrants during his first 100 days in office. Perhaps more troubling, both Congress and the Senate are controlled by Trump’s party, the Republicans, and Trump will have the power to appoint one or more conservative justices to the Supreme Court, following the Senate’s refusal to vote on President Obama’s nominee of eight months ago. And he has no government experience, nor throughout his seventy years can he point to a significant act of public service.
The three branches of government may reverse nearly a decade of what we perceive as extraordinary progress. In an election that could have chosen America’s first female president, the nation selected a man who, to female and minority students, is openly both degrading and threatening.
However, the true fear for many comes not with Trump and his policies, but with the environment he has created during his campaign. The past 16 months of Trump’s campaign have brought out a hatred in America that many believed was disappearing. His rhetoric has galvanized prejudiced Americans across the country, and amplified and normalized the voice of bigotry.
It hasn’t been more than two weeks since Trump was elected, and Muslim women on college campuses are being stripped of their hijabs, Chinese men are being told to go back to “where they belong,” and African Americans are being screamed at to move to the back of public transportation. And while not all of Trump’s supporters are openly racist, all of them were able to overlook and accept his xenophobia and misogyny to the extent that they would cast a vote for him.
In a community as diverse as Stuyvesant, these immoral acts hit close to home. The thought of deportation instills fear in our peers and their families. Many of us no longer feel safe in our own country. On the day after the election, many Stuyvesant students were devastated. Some, who immigrated to America searching for a better life, are now considering a return to their native countries, many of which are less developed and more restrictive of civil rights.
So how, in the midst of all this, do we react? It is not wrong to despair, for embedded within our despair is a desire for change. But we must not be paralyzed. We must think forward. “#NotOurPresident” protests will not reverse the votes for Republican electors that have been cast, and moreover, are contrary to our most cherished constitutional bulwark against chaos—the peaceful transition of power. When the root of the issue is non-acceptance and denial, these acts of opposition are counter-productive.
There are perhaps better ways to make our voices heard. At the school level, it is more important than ever to discuss our political concerns in classes and in the clubs and publications that facilitate such discussions. Classrooms filled with students bursting with ideas are an ideal place to learn about current issues, understand different perspectives, and develop specific and actionable suggestions for the government.
The next step is to extend our ideas beyond the classroom. The outcome of this election encourages the millennial generation to speak up and become more politically active as we make our way to college, whether it is through participating in peaceful rallies or organizing marches to City Hall to support Black Lives Matter or Obamacare or Planned Parenthood. We can volunteer our time for organizations that protect marginalized groups, or research and fight climate change.
We can combat Trump’s xenophobia with warmth and openness, actively and peacefully resisting by demonstrating the acceptance and openness we have learned at Stuyvesant as we sit in our classes and learn and befriend those who are different from us.
Instead of focusing our energy on bringing Trump down—he was, after all, democratically elected—we must work with him. If he truly wants to “be president for all Americans,” as he pledged in his victory speech on Tuesday night, he will ultimately need to reckon with the reality that his electoral victory was not a popular one. If for no other reason than that the midterm election is only two years away, Trump will need to listen carefully to the overwhelming electorate that opposed him––and we can help by telling him what we need.
Trump’s presidency should not spark despair and further division, but rather must be a call to act. We must become more politically astute, broaden our perspectives, and become more unified on what just became a more winding and challenging road toward progress.
To read election anecdotes from students and teachers, please click here.