A nation divided

Five+students+see+a+divide+in+America.

Five students see a divide in America.

1 a.m. on Election Night: Nate Stafford went to bed accepting that he wouldn’t know America’s future until he woke to his alarm later that morning.

A little after: Ahmad Albalawi turned his eyes away from Twitter election results and went to bed, remembering that he and the entire world were watching this election.

2 a.m.: Kali Lenhoff turned in for the night, her eyes evidence she had cried at the final results.

2:30 a.m.: Gabrielle Swenson went to bed still shocked at the turn of events.

3 a.m.: Duncan Schwartz stayed awake to calm himself down, before he could shut his eyes.

Five voices, all with a different opinions of the election, see a divide within America. It’s Republicans and Democrats, but it’s deeper than that.

How did we get here?

How do we move forward?

The Bernie supporter, Clinton voter

Duncan Schwartz didn’t believe in voting until Bernie Sanders announced his campaign.

When Sanders’ campaign ended, Schwartz voted for Hillary Clinton. His personal campaign became “Not Trump.”

Instead of voting, the sophomore sociology major believes protests and demonstrations are a more direct use of people’s energy.

So not 24 hours after Trump was declared president-elect of the United States, Schwartz stood in downtown Sioux Falls for a peaceful demonstration.

He gathered with people to stand in solidarity with “marginalized groups particularly to be targeted under a Trump administration.”

“I just want everyone to be happy, and I just want everyone to have an equal stake in the ‘American Dream’ that all the people currently with privilege have,” Schwartz said.

When President-elect Trump received the majority of electoral votes, but not popular votes, it strengthened Schwartz’s belief that the American system was broken.

Schwartz has reasons to fight for people and communities he supports. A threatening message was written on an SDSU student’s whiteboard after the election for having an LGBT+ flag on their door, and Schwartz believes that is a direct correlation to Trump’s win.

“Even if our government is working against the communities that some of us belong to or support it doesn’t mean that all is lost,” Schwartz said.

But just because a portion of Trump supporters behave that way, doesn’t mean every Republican is like that, he said.

“I know these are not the views of every one group, and speaking like this we have to take some liberties in some respect,” Schwartz said.

Schwartz understands polarizing people as Democrats and Republicans makes conversation easier. But he recognizes the divide between people and their beliefs and is growing.

“We’re kind of compartmentalizing even further this bipartisan system, so it’s becoming a bit more what’s based on beliefs, which is good and bad,” Schwartz said. “Especially with how radicalization is bred through these distinctions — it’s good because people are starting to think more about what they want, not just what party they fall under — but it also breeds caustic radicalization.”

Schwartz isn’t in denial that Trump can take office in January. He just hopes the president-elect is “more liberal than he’s let on.”

“This fight has been difficult, and I just want there to be a silver lining,” he said.

 

The Conservatarian

Gabrielle Swenson voted for president like most people take a test: she saved the hardest question for last.

After sitting in the voting booth, bubbling in ballot measures and representatives, Swenson finally decided to vote for Trump.

The junior political science and speech communications double major considers herself a “conservatarian.” She’s socially progressive but fiscally conservative. She said she had to make a choice to benefit the Republican Party in the long term.

Swenson remained nervous even after she turned in her ballot. 

She never supported Trump because she didn’t think he was presidential.

She worked on the Ben Carson campaign and later on the Ted Cruz campaign. Once Cruz dropped out, she didn’t have much hope for her party.

“I had no doubt in my mind that Hillary Clinton was going to win,” Swenson said. 

She even bet money on it.

But as more states started turning red on Election Night, Swenson became excited. But “carefully excited.”

“The people spoke, but what if at the same time they screwed up?” Swenson recalled asking herself that night.

Regardless, she thinks Trump deserves a chance. She’s disappointed with the pointing of fingers and generalizing of both parties. Although she’s Republican, she doesn’t think she’s a racist, bigot or misogynist.

“There are norms, ideas and almost stereotypes for each political wing, but I don’t think they’re necessarily all true,” Swenson said. “… Everything’s relative. You can’t just classify one group of people like that.”

As for Not My President protest campaigns, Swenson would understand it more if “something bigger happened.”

“It was more understandable to me when they were doing that with the Black Lives Matter group because people were being shot, and that is something I think deserves more anger; otherwise their candidate lost fair and square. I just don’t see the Republican Party revolting like that if Hillary won,” Swenson said.

Swenson wants to see something good come out of all of this.

She hopes to find “balance in the midst of chaos.”

 

The Outsider

Growing up in a small, rural, Nebraska community, Kali Lenhoff knew she was different by the time she reached the fourth grade.

She didn’t think the way other people did in her town. She didn’t think the way her family members did.

She’s a Democrat.

Despite how her family members voted, Lenhoff embraced Clinton “with open arms.”

“I have had some conversations with more conservative friends or family members that there is this assumption from the beginning when I ask them to explain why they feel that way that I’m stupid because I don’t see their way,” said Lenhoff, a senior Spanish and family and consumer sciences education double major.

Lenhoff is starting to see this divide she’s experienced with the people closest to her on a national level. “Lib-tard” and other name-calling tactics are scattered across social media, creating a hostile environment through a screen.

“I think it’s applied very heavily in how we treat each other and that being given a screen where we don’t have to own up to the words we’re saying to people who are important in our lives, we’re kind of self-destructing our own relationships,” Lenhoff said.

All she can see now is the divide growing.

Lenhoff wants to see it shrink but feels something drastic will approach before people realize they need to be concerned. Americans are going to keep up the “us versus them” complex until that moment can’t be avoided.

“I don’t see people coming together for Trump, though. I think that while he may be good for the economy, I think there’s going to be a lot of chaos, particularly surrounding social issues,” Lenhoff said.

To mourn Clinton’s loss, Lenhoff wore all black the day after the election. The night of, she started to cry.

“It wasn’t that I was mad or angry that it wasn’t my candidate, I was honestly thinking of all of my friends who fall into categories [Trump] has talked so poorly about,” Lenhoff said. “It was empathetic crying, thinking about what must have been going through their heads.”

Lenhoff assumes people won’t rally behind Trump and the divide might spread further. But she wants to see people support education and America’s school system. That’s the one aspect she hopes people come together for, if anything.

“The change starts by educating people, and it’s not necessarily an education in numbers and facts, but what it means to be a global citizen and a valuable input in the world and how to contribute to the world in a way that’s meaningful and positive,” Lenhoff said.

 

The one who couldn’t vote

The divide between Americans has always been there, according to Ahmad Albalawi.

As Albalawi sees it, it’s Republicans and Democrats. It’s been that way for years.

“I didn’t see it as a big deal,” Albalawi said about election results.

As an international student from Saudi Arabia, he observed the election and found it informative of the American system, but he views the protests of the election results as minor compared to the overall picture.

“People were shocked by the results, but they’ll get used to it and get things moving on,” said Albalawi, junior biology and chemistry student.

As Albalawi watched the election, he supported Clinton, but he wasn’t a big fan of either candidate.

What Trump said in speeches throughout his campaign were extreme things Albalawi believes won’t happen. There are rules put in place to make sure Trump is not able to do whatever he wants, Albalawi said regarding immigration and banning Muslims mentioned about Trump’s campaign.

Although Trump said extreme things, Albalawi doesn’t think Trump supporters are necessarily a reflection of what Trump said.

“He makes his supporters look racist and other people who are part of the country,” Albalawi said. But Albalawi hasn’t been threatened because of his religion or country of origin.

If anything, Albalawi believes things will keep moving forward for American people as they have after past elections. 

 

The Middle Ground

When President Barack Obama won the presidency in 2008, Nate Stafford remembers how Republicans voiced their opposition to him by saying he was a Muslim.

“Eight years have gone by and we’re still here,” the history education major said.

This divide isn’t new, but it’s polarizing and blurs how people view each other, Stafford said. People cling to party identification for Republican or Democrat because “when they have their ideas, they latch on to them, and unfortunately they fail to see other sides or reach that middle ground.”

Stafford was called a racist on campus the day after the election when he wore his Trump campaign shirt.

When someone focuses on parties instead of people, they start talking about people like they’re an enemy, he said, rather than a person who thinks differently.

“It’s like we’re talking about football teams. I’m a Chiefs fan and somebody’s like a Broncos fan, and we immediately have that thing that separates us, but it really doesn’t. We have our own teams, but we both like the NFL — we both like football,” Stafford said. “Just like if you’re a Democrat and I’m a Republican. At the end of the day we both care about the well-being of the country and everybody in sight of that. I think people fixate on political party orientation and they don’t see anything other than that.”

Stafford, a member of the military, voted for Trump in hopes of bringing the deficit down, more support for the military, Obamacare reform and a safer way to accept refugees while keeping security of the country intact.

It wasn’t until Stafford woke up for physical training the morning after the election that he found out Trump was the president-elect. He woke up believing people could come together now and unite.

“Bernie said it, Hillary said it, Trump said it, Obama said it — now the election’s over, it’s time to come together. We’re not Republicans or Democrats or Libertarians. We’re Americans,” Stafford said. “… Everybody’s entitled to their own opinion, their own religion, their own way of doing things so long as you’re not actively infringing on other people and their rights.”

 

The views and opinions represented in this article are not Nate Stafford’s alone and do not represent the views and opinions of the United States Army or the State and Federal Government in any way.