Cameron Pollack / Sun Photography Editor

Donald Trump takes the stage in Syracuse on Apr. 16.

November 9, 2016

Cornell Professors Struggle to Explain ‘No Less Than Stunning’ Election

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As the reality of Donald Trump’s victory over Former Sec. of State Hillary Clinton sinks in, several Cornell professors suggested that Trump’s ability to harness Americans’ frustration with political gridlock and economic stagnancy could have propelled him to the presidency.

Prof. Tom Pepinsky, government, emphasized how surprised he was by the election results, calling them “no less than stunning,” given that the media and pollsters had given Clinton a small but durable lead.

“Yet Trump won handily in the electoral college, as did GOP in nearly all national and state offices,” he said. “The meaning of these results will be debated for years to come, but initial analyses by political scientists reveal a deeply polarized America along urban-rural, class and racial lines.”

Prof. Keith Weller Taylor, Asian studies, agreed with Pepinsky on the unprecedented nature of this election, adding that Trump’s victory reveals the depth of frustration among American voters with both a government and economic structure that favors the wealthy and makes life more challenging for middle class families.

“The presidential election result shows that a great number of American voters have become weary of the political deadlock that has developed at the federal level and of the politically correct teacherly attitude that has become fashionable among many politicians and government administrators; they have voted for change,” he said.

Prof. Louis Hyman, Industrial and Labor Relations said Trump’s popular appeal reveals the depths of many Americans’ disenchantment with the established order.

“Trump articulated class rage against the winners and losers in our globalized, urban, tech economy,” he said. “In every state that benefitted from this kind of capitalism, he lost. But most of the country, and especially rural america, has not benefitted from this new economy. They have been left behind.”

However, Prof. Emeritus Isaac Kramnick, government, attributed Trump’s win to his ability to influence conservative narratives, especially using the Republican media.

“Nourished in its identity and solidarity by the safe places provided by conservative talk radio, Fox news, right-wing web sites and Trump’s rallies, populist anger — always there in American life — found the perfect candidate this time,” Kramnick said.

Kramnick added that Trump, who he called “a recently re-branded good old boy, with locker room authenticity and honesty,” was able to command a direct a mass of populist sentiment.

“Trump channeled the populist sense of a conspiracy — a conspiracy of intellectuals, meritocrats and politically correct policy experts — whose allies in the media and college campuses, were much less concerned with the difficulties in ordinary people’s lives than with — as they see it — pushing gay marriage, promiscuous sex, abortion, as well as racial and gender equality,” he said.

Prof. Aaron Sachs, history, adopted a slightly more optimistic outlook, stressing that the historic fight for justice among activists will continue after this election.

He quoted Albert Camus, citing character Sisyphus’ “endless rock-pushing,” as a representation the “work of rebellion that all people of good faith must do.”

“Sometimes, life is about pushing the boulder up the hill over and over,” he said. “Early this morning, the boulder rolled all the way back down to the valley floor. I am radically demoralized. But it’s time to start pushing again.”