A hundred-person lecture hall on the third floor of Bentley Hall overflowed with attendees who filled the desks and sat in the aisles late Tuesday afternoon for an event called “Understanding the 2016 Election.” The faculty panel was hosted by Katherine Jellison, chairperson of the history department.
The discussion was largely intellectual, with a strong historical basis for many arguments that were made. The topics ranged from whether Hillary Clinton would have won if she was male, to the ideological divide of whether people choose to believe in something because it is true or think things are true because they believe it.
Assan Sarr, who holds a doctorate in history and specializes in African American issues, spoke about the global impact of this election. He said that the reactions from governments around the globe, including countries who are mainly populated by Muslims, were largely skeptical but other leaders were more moderate or positive.
“I can think of a number of countries in Africa where the leaders came out and celebrated,” Sarr said. “There are many questions people are thinking about to do with immigration, with U.S. relations in general, because (Donald Trump) hasn’t talked about Africa much.”
An expert on Russian government, Steven Miner, who holds a doctorate in history, spoke about the unique relationship President Vladimir Putin has with the U.S. and now with Trump. There have been allegations this election season that the Russian government leaked the Democratic National Convention emails exposing the DNC’s support for Clinton in the primaries.
Miner said that Putin has run an authoritarian government.
“What we know about authoritarian governments is that they can be quite popular, but also quite brittle, and this is the concern that Mr. Putin has,” Miner said. “Very few people know that in 2012 when he ran for reelection, his principal opponent was, in fact, Hillary Clinton. He campaigned against her on the grounds that she as secretary of state was promoting these revolutions.”
Jellison added some comments on the sexist rhetoric of the race before allowing comments and questions from the audience.
Audience members, which included several history graduate students, soon developed a discourse about the role media played in the election, including the proliferation of false news in today’s social media climate.
“First, this is an extension of patterns we can trace back a long ways,” Chester Pach, who has a doctorate in history, said. “Second, I was talking to someone the other day and I’m not sure what the ‘mainstream media’ is anymore. Is Fox News not the mainstream media? I thought they had the largest cable ratings, and if so, they seem to have a voice that is sympathetic to Trump. So, it’s not ‘the media’ but some kind of media.”
Pach, who teaches U.S. foreign relations in the history department, went on to talk about other presidents who blamed the media for narratives that they did not like, including Ronald Reagan and Lyndon B. Johnson.
The night ended after in-depth discussion between the faculty and attendees continued well after the scheduled ending, while conversations continued between those who had attended as they left.