One day after the 2016 election, an over-capacity crowd gathered in Linsly-Chittenden Hall to hear a panel of Yale historians contextualize and analyze the surprising results.

History professors Joanne Freeman, Beverly Gage ’94 and Glenda Gilmore addressed more than 200 students, faculty and local residents who packed into a lecture hall Wednesday night, many of whom stood in doorways or sat on the ground. Speakers discussed the implications of a Republican president, Congress and Supreme Court, and touched upon the significance of President-elect Donald Trump’s victory.

“Tonight we come together as a community and as historians, to think about how we got to this moment, what in the American past can help explain it, and to see what can help us move forward,” said Alan Mikhail, director of undergraduate studies of the History Department. “This is both an intellectual exercise, and an affective and emotional one.”

A historian of early American history, Freeman began by recounting American political movements that featured backlashes against progressive change, and the long history of bullying and threats in American politics.

Emphasizing the complexity of American history, Freeman said recurrences of events and ideas over time can help people understand their current position in history.

“The particular amalgamation of the things we’re looking at right now may be distinctive but many of the pieces are not new,” said Freeman.

According to Gilmore, a series of events over the past few decades contributed to Trump’s rise.

Among these, she mentioned the growing popularity of the obstructionist wing of the Republican Party, which was led by Newt Gingrich and created a 20-year legacy of dysfunction in Congress, the growth of a more strongly ideological wing of the party, the rise of angry voters — “those the economy left behind and who public education failed” — and the failure of the Democratic Party to reckon with white working class voters’ grievances.

“Lines [for voting] skewed the vote to people with flexible work schedules and to older retirees,” Gilmore said, citing demographic groups that voted for Trump.

Gilmore noted the significance of this election for America’s future.

For example, early voting could cease to exist, strained international relations might arise as the U.S. veers toward isolationism, federal laws regarding gay marriage and abortion could change and a band of U.S. states that lack civil rights might surface, Gilmore predicted. She added that there could be a radical transformation in traditional political parties, as Ronald Reagan’s Republican Party morphs into Trumpism.

“This is the darkness before dawn,” she said. “This is the moment we organize to take our country back, [but] before protecting our country we must protect ourselves.”

Regarding clandestine activity, warfare and surveillance, Gage shared her worry that such powers will be handed off to a set of political actors with very different ideas of the use of such technologies, their constraints and America’s role in the world. She emphasized the potential detrimental impact of Trump’s presidency on Sino-American relations.

Gage drew parallels with the 1968 election of Richard Nixon. Both capitalized on the resentment of voters who felt excluded from politics, Gage said, adding that Trump’s ability to rally the rage of the “forgotten” white rural Americans and champion for their voice contributed to his win.

This election was a moment of political realignment, according to Gage. New coalitions and identities might come into being, she said, such as the emergence of a new Democratic Party that combines Republican establishment figures who rejected Trump and the pre-existing Democrats.

“There are certain resonances with the past,” Gage said, “but this is also a situation that is in many ways truly unprecedented in American history.”

Freeman responded to a question from the audience about possible social mobilization against Trump. Because reactions to the election are strong and extreme, the collective fear will negate sociopolitical differences and bring the society together in a shared response, she said.

Freeman also emphasized the “we-ness” of the community gathered in the lecture hall.

“We are in an exclusionary moment in history where boundaries and lines are being drawn. However, by gathering and having conversations, we can move through this as a collective,” Freeman said.

Rora Brodwin ’18 said she is still processing the election results, adding that inaccurate poll predictions led her and many others to be emotionally unprepared for Clinton’s loss.

Lou Pressman ’73, a teacher at the Hotchkiss School in Lakeville, voiced his disappointment with the results of the elections.

“I’ve been in conversation with younger people, many my former students, and the degree of anguish and shock, rage and despair, really was striking,” Pressman said.

  • Hieronymus Machine

    Well aware of GG’s aboriginal censorial power vis-a-vis the YDN (the source of the 9-10 hour turnaround time for postings here), I observe nonetheless.

    “Gilmore noted the significance of this election for America’s future.” (Um, “historian” much?) “For example, early voting could cease to exist, strained international relations might arise as the U.S. veers toward isolationism, federal laws regarding gay marriage and abortion could change and a band of U.S. states that lack civil rights might surface, Gilmore predicted. … ‘This is the darkness before dawn,’ she said. ‘This is the moment we organize to take our country back.'”

    As for that last bit, voters said the same thing… on November 7, I believe it was. But with regard to the broader complaint, let no one doubt the validity of claims that US campuses — Yale chief among them — are breeding grounds of bias, indoctrination stations on the path to left-wing Whackovia.

    “According to Gilmore, a series of events … contributed to Trump’s rise:
    – Obstructionist wing of the Republican Party (Trump is a Republican?)
    – Growth of a more strongly ideological wing of the party (Trump is a neo-con?)
    – Rise of “those the economy left behind and who[m] public education failed”
    – Failure of Democrats to reckon with white [sic] working-class voters’ grievances.
    – Long lines(!)”

    I here note two primary reasons for our brave new world as promulgated by that great, if right-wing prognosticator (as opposed to hysterian), Michael Moore*:

    “Our biggest problem here isn’t Trump – it’s Hillary. (The Hillary Problem)
    [Because of] the anger that so many have toward a broken political system, millions are going to vote for Trump not because they agree with him, not because they like his bigotry or ego, but just because they can. (The Jesse Ventura Effect).”

    Or, perhaps slightly more deliberately, Americans preferred an election, not a coronation (The Hillary Problem), or were willing to exchange “more of the same” for *whatever* was behind Door No. 2 (The Obama Problem).

    On a more pragmatic level, Trump is (1) against open borders (buh-bye Europe–I mean, مع السلامة; it was fun while it lasted, wasn’t it?); (2) against foreign wars (versus, say, oh, I dunno, President Obama, maybe?); (3) against “handouts” (aka “for” lower taxes and/or “against” global free trade: see Nos. 1 and 2).

    In sum: “against weakness” (or “for” making America *great* again), whether that weakness be individual, collective, federal, national etc., to include any “snowflake” weakness (which is viewed really as masquerading brutal brownshirt/Red Guard thuggism or, as Mr. Clemens said, some rhyme thereof).

    I absolutely do not expect those who made their careers by braying their blindness (looking at YOU, Yale “historians”) to suddenly see the light; I indeed expect gnashings of teeth (“lamentations of women?”) about “whitelash” (oy veh!) and other mono-causal explanations. Whatevs, the Donald will still be…. the Don — boorish and rude (though not under FBI investigation), yet still weirdly and vividly an American success story (now even more so). And still the one to choose our next Supreme Court Justices (see anti-PCism, above).

    But don’t take *my* word for it, seek out light, truth and salt on your own. It’s okay: on the internet, no one knows you’re a dog.
    2. “What being PC has come to mean in 2016 is that it’s not enough to live and let and let live. Political correctness, as defined rather succinctly by Reason, is the social force that holds people who don’t necessarily understand something (like non-binary genders) in contempt for that, or punishes them outright: “Political correctness (to the people who voted for Trump) means this: Smug, entitled, elitist, _privileged_ leftists jumping down the throats of ordinary folks who aren’t up-to-date on the latest requirements of progressive society.”
    3. The prescience of The WSJ’s James Taranto (who switched his views on Trump’s chances in his Dec. 8, 2015 “Best of the Web”) and
    4. Dilbert’s(!) Scott Adams (no, seriously, dude called it a year ago; click his link and work backwards: eff GG, Adams’ insights are *brilliant*, oh, and because: Dilbert):

  • ShadrachSmith

    Kellyanne Conway: first woman to run a winning presidential campaign…that’s historic 🙂