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Celebrate or commiserate? Students gather for US elections

This has been a year of important events and elections that have influenced global politics. On 8 November 2016, the US voted to elect their new president and the election was closely watched throughout the world, including at the University of Edinburgh.

The Edinburgh University North American Society and the Edinburgh Political Union hosted an election night party with speakers including US Consulate General Susan Wilson, Edinburgh University Vice President International James Smith, and Professor Frank Cogliano. The event was completely sold out and attracted media attention from local news stations. For the event, Potterow was filled with students and non-students, Americans and Europeans, professors and members of the media, as everyone gathered to watch the United States turn red or blue.

Americans and non-Americans alike highly anticipated the election as well as the event itself and over 1,000 people showed up to Potterow. Students from the crowd who are full-time and on exchange shared their thoughts early on in the night of the election, before any of the results leaned one way or another. An exchange student from New Jersey, Sashi, spoke about her predictions for the election that night, “I think it is going to be close, but I do think Hillary is going to win by a landslide. She’ll get that 270.” Many of the other students at the event also had hope for and confidence in Clinton’s ability to clinch the presidency

Conversely, other students considered some of the consequences that would result from Trump winning the election. Even early in the night, the election results were too close to call, and students responded to the neck-and-neck nature of the race. “If Trump were to win, that’s a direction I don’t want the nation to head, so I’d be worried. But it’s already worrisome that it’s already so split,” said Californian exchange student, Jaden.

Other students also gave their input on their specific worries about a Trump presidency, ranging from free speech to immigration and the economy. Guy, a non-American University of Edinburgh student from Southampton, spoke about his main cause for concern, “I worry about the freedom of speech and freedom of the press. [Trump has] already said stuff in the campaign about how much he hates the media. And if he’s elected, I really worry whether America will continue to be this free and democratic society that it is at the moment.”

A student from Texas, a state that ultimately voted for Trump, said, “Because I’m from Texas, I have a lot of friends who are immigrants and I have friends who can’t vote in this election, so I worry about them and I worry about the backlash that might happen if Trump wins.”

The students eagerly awaited the results, as the rooms televising the election results would erupt into boos and cheers each time a state was declared for one or the other candidate. However, students were not the only group of attendees who keenly anticipated the election results. Two professors at the University of Edinburgh were in attendance and stayed at the party after they had given speeches about the election. One was Professor James Smith who is the VP International and also a Professor at the School of Social and Political Science. Though he is not American, Smith gave some perspective on why this election is particularly significant for him and his fellow UK citizens. He said, “I think it’s especially interesting for me as a non-American. Following very closely with the Brexit vote, which is a similar sort of dynamic: the idea of a few people who feel dispossessed within the UK, feeling they’re losing their power base, voting for something that’s probably not in their best interest. I think there is a similar sort of dynamic in this election which I think makes it resonate more with British people than might typically be the case.”

Frank Cogliano, who teaches American History at the University, is an American, but has been living abroad for almost 25 years. He commented on the overall attitude felt from this election compared to others in the past, “This has now been my sixth or seventh election outside of the US. The Obama elections were interesting because they were clearly historic and they felt historic, but they also felt hopeful and happy. This one will be historic–we may elect the first woman president of the United States, we may Mr. Trump, which would be historic in all kinds of other ways–but if feels like there’s more at stake in this one.”

He continued, moving on to sharing his own views about a Trump presidency, which echoed the uneasiness that many students expressed, “In 2012, many people wanted President Obama to win–the majority of the population–but it didn’t feel like if he lost, that it would make a dramatic shift in policy and everything else. I think if Trump wins, it will certainly be historic and it will be a major turning point in the history of the United States.”

Both professors agreed that though Trump might be seen as a successful businessman (a claim which can be contested in itself), success in the private sector does not necessarily translate into success in the public sphere. “My impression of politics is it’s about concession and finding ways of working with people, whereas the way my impression of Trump organises his business is very top-down, it’s very dictatorial and there’s just no translation there,” said Smith, “And I think the whole notion of transferring business, private sector expertise, into the public sector, into service, is really flawed on many, many cases.” Cogliano concurred, noting that “the record of businessmen in high office in the United States frankly isn’t very good. Because the skill set isn’t the same.”

Apart from the domestic politics and concerns that a Trump presidency was projected to accompany, people at the event considered the international consequences that his election could hold. A student from Germany, Tom, spoke to the strengthening of certain political ideologies that could be fuelled by Trump’s election, “There are so many right wing movements in all of Europe right now. You see it in France, you see it in Hungary, and I guess in the UK I would call it a right wing movement. So if Trump wins, you’re probably going to get so much empowerment for that stuff.”

Professor Cogliano as well commented on the next steps that he believed the rest of the world might take with Trump in the White House. He said, “[If Trump wins] I think there will be a great deal of concern in capitals around the world, because the instability that Trump would represent is very, very dangerous.”

Cogliano continued, “I think we would wake up tomorrow morning and people would be very, very anxious but I also think that the Pentagon, the State Department, these entities are both well-run and well-established. They will continue to do so, and the first thing they’ll do tomorrow is try to reassure allies and enemies.”

Of course, since the election is over and Trump has been declared president, these sentiments and predictions are currently being addressed by the citizens of the United States, the leaders of the United States, and people around the globe. The election night party ended with a devoted few who stayed up until the morning hours to witness the final results. While Potterow was left littered with donkey and elephant pins, American flag stickers, and red white and blue plastic hats, the US woke up to a new president and a new era of history for America and the world.

Image: Josh Green

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The Student Newspaper 2016