Binary Oppositions: Perspective on the election from an international student

Article by Tiange Chen

It’s Wednesday morning after the election, a rainy day. The last scattered leaves have been blown away by the wind. During one of the last mornings of this autumn, I am sitting in a comparative politics class, listening to a British-born American professor talking about the election the previous night.

After all, it was a long night for not only the candidates, but for all Americans. I raised my hand, asking the professor whether he thought the Democratic Party would fracture into pieces and the liberal wing would rise, like the Labor Party of the United Kingdom did after Brexit. I guess I was not exactly as depressed as many were. As an international student who studied politics in both countries, I was not drawn too much into the abyss of this horse race. At least, I can try to stay out of the mess and make my own objective observations.

But my fellow students couldn’t. Maybe it had to do with the weather. Maybe it had to do with such an early class time. The entire class was in a dark mood, much like the bus I took to school earlier in the day. People are trying to come to their senses. The media, the depressed supporters and the elites are all digesting the outcome of this election.

It was a hard fought campaign, like Trump said. It was equally an ugly, divisive one, like all the pundits said. But the outcome was significant. It reinforced, if not enlarged, the deeply embedded divisions within this country. It also tore apart millions of Americans’ minds and hearts. This election has created a series of binary oppositions: the rural vs. the urban; the young vs. the old; the college educated vs. the poor working class; the grassroots vs. the establishment; the white vs. the minority.

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Donald Trump speaking at CPAC 2011 in Washington, D.C. Image Credit: Gage Skidmore

State College was in suspense, underlying the fear, resentment and uncertainty some of the community may face. Just like how the night ended in Clinton’s campaign headquarters –– a big occasion ready for joys and celebrations that never occurred –– “I’m with her” seemed to be just the fanfares of a lost cause or a foregone promise.

At the same time, there is another world outside the city. The uber driver I met who just wanted to give Trump a shot, or the hundreds who put yard signs of “Trump” in front of their houses, just got what they want.

That is a world many didn’t see. At least for the world I live in, nobody noticed.

A year ago, I was in Oxford, UK, listening to a left-leaning newspaper reporter talking about the unlikeliness of Brexit. I shared my acute observation of the country and David Cameron’s renegotiation trick with my professor and saw no threat of Brexit. But a year later, I ended up witnessing a friend from Oxford in tears during work.

A week ago, I was in a guest lecture, listening to former Governor of Pennsylvania Ed Rendell talking about the possibility that polls would miss a “silent majority effect,” and that Clinton and McGinty would win with comfortable margins. Of course, he said, there weren’t enough of them — voters who hid their voting preference and eventually supported the Republican nominee — for Trump to win Pennsylvania. But a week later, I couldn’t believe a single word he had said.

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Taken at the October 24th, 2012 campaign event of Governor Mitt Romney at Reno, Nevada. Image Credit: Darron Birgenheier

An hour ago, I was wrapping up my post on the discussion board about FiveThirtyEight for my data journalism class. Originally, I was supposed to tout how successful Nate Silver’s website is and how much it has adapted and reshaped the landscape of the media industry. But as the most precise predictor of presidential elections and the most prominent leader of data journalism, it failed badly.

I was in shock the whole day.

As a journalism student, I no longer understand how media should tackle the challenges of mistrust and the public’s abandoning of fact-checks. As a political junkie, I no longer understand how the blue wall crumbled along the rust belt. And as an outsider, I no longer understand how to observe this country objectively and respectfully.

Eventually, I had to get my answer. I guess it’s because I was, or still am, part of the “elites.” I, along with the people around me, live in a huge bubble –– we failed to see how the outcome of this election would unfold. We all adopted the “conventional wisdom” to believe in polls and the pundits. We were all obsessed with the “beauty of globalization and cosmopolitanism.” Like everyone else, we were all part of the “establishment.” But to the people outside this bubble –– whom we don’t understand –– we were the “rigged system.”

Feature Image Credit: Neil Tackaberry

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