Yesterday began frenetically. Students woke to find the campus grounds littered with posters and flyers pasted all over our hallways. Student political activists rose early and barely stopped for breath, knocking on doors in a desperate final attempt to “get out the vote.” It seemed everyone — faculty, students and staff — was proudly displaying an “I voted” sticker and encouraging others to do the same.
But then the polls closed and the mood shifted. Anxiety seeped in. We knew there was nothing more to do, and so we paced powerlessly or sat nervously and chatted with friends. The world appeared to hang in the balance and we simply could not focus on other things. The TV networks realized this, and so hours before they had anything meaningful to report, they were already in full form, talking dramatically about nothing in particular. For a few hours, undirected angst and excitement got in the way of everything Yale. Mental space simply did not allow for problem sets or reading responses.
The anxiety affected Democrats and Republicans alike. Perhaps Democrats waited hopefully and Republicans with a greater sense of dread, but despite Nate Silver’s oracular pronouncements, we all found our way to nervous uncertainty.
But where the day began as a common experience, the evening was for partisans. A little after 11 p.m., the mood shifted again as the networks began announcing the election’s results. For the first time in this strange day, the mood among my friends began to divide.
Most Yale students were thrilled, and the cheers were as loud as the relief was palatable. But for the Yale College Republicans watching in Silliflicks, there could only be disappointment in a country that signed itself up for an additional four years of mismanagement. Other Romney supporters, few and far between, outnumbered and low-profile, shook their heads at the willful blindness of their classmates, but resigned themselves to the inevitable.
As I sat in my room writing this piece, I felt myself surrounded by this strange mixture of suddenly released and conflicting emotions. Out my window, I could hear the revelry of those elated by this evening’s results. But even as I heard those voices, I also watched as mournful emails trickled into my inbox. I am not sure how my address ended up on the Yale College Republicans’ mailman list, but it allowed me to bear witness to a string of laments and consolation. As happy shouts overtook the area in front of Connecticut Hall, one lonely Republican student emailed: “The worst possible night to be living on Old Campus.”
That sudden mixture of disappointment and jubilation felt strange. If not for a handful of friends and email-list happenstance, I would have no contact with the (apparent) majority of voters who are deeply saddened by last night’s results. At Yale, we live in a cocoon of political liberalism so tight that the Yale Political Union couldn’t find a conservative professor willing to debate professor David Bromwich on the resolution “Vote Obama.” In this deeply divided country, tonight is a deeply divisive moment. But on Yale’s campus, unless you look hard, you may never know.
Four years ago was the first time I voted. I had just turned 18 and I was spending the year at a religious seminary in Israel. After casting my vote by absentee ballot, I spent Election Night with friends in an apartment in Jerusalem. Because of the time difference, final election returns and speeches did not occur until about 7 a.m.
I remember the excitement of casting my first vote — but what stood out for me most was watching Senator John McCain’s concession speech in the early morning hours. I don’t remember the content, but I remember him quieting the crowd as they tried to jeer mention of the president-elect. In defeat, amidst crushing disappointment, McCain did all could to heal the divisions that elections inevitably create. Again last night, Mitt Romney followed in that impossibly difficult tradition of concession. Amid crushing disappointment, this man who has given so much of his life to the single-minded pursuit of a failed goal prayed for the president’s success and the country’s unity.
The classy concession is the bedrock of democracy, and we betray that democratic process if we turn a blind eye to the trauma of electoral loss. So even as you cheer, happy the country has chosen a path you prefer, search out those small pockets of Yale students who disagree. The grace of the defeated politician is the glue that allows the country to function even as half of our citizenry goes to bed despondent. This election was brutal, but now begins the truly difficult work: putting the jagged and broken pieces back together.
Yishai Schwartz is a senior in Branford College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .
This piece is part of the News’ Election Results Forum. Click here to read more.