UB hosts fourth annual Critical Conversations program

Presidential program consists of keynote address and panel discussion


Theda Skocpol said she didn’t think she would live to see an election like the 2016 presidential election.

Skocpol, Victor S. Thomas Professor of Government and Sociology at Harvard University and an internationally renowned scholar of political science professor presented on Thursday afternoon on how to understand this past election. Skocpol addressed the “extremely close” election, compared it to past elections and analyzed the results.

The discussion continued on Friday afternoon at the Black Box Theatre as the panel discussion titled “Election Reflections: moving forward after the divide?” Moderator Robert Granfield, vice provost for faculty affairs and panelist, reacted to Skocpol’s presentation and election overall.

President Satish Tripathi opened the presentation and said this program is more than sparking conversation.

“It is also meant to spark us in new ways, to open ourselves to different perspectives and ideas,” Tripathi said.

Skocpol feels there was a “huge gap” in this election that was much bigger than previous elections.

She said people who voted for Trump were more likely to be male, older and without a college degree.

“White voters went different ways depending on whether they had college degrees or not,” according to Skocpol.

She said whites voted for Trump in the end by roughly the same margin as they voted for candidate Mitt Romney in the 2012 presidential election.

Skocpol also feels that there has been a gender gap for “quite a long time favoring the Democrats” in this election.

She said young voters voted by less of a margin.

In the end, she feels Trump “barely” won.

What mattered most in this election was community size, according to Skocpol.

Democrats tend to do better in large cities and Republicans tend to do better in rural areas. This became “even more amazingly pronounced in this election,” Skocpol said.

Skocpol felt a lot of voting action was in the middle of the country where the vast majority of cities voted for Trump.

She said in a “highly polarized country” the results could have “easily” gone either way.

“I really think it’s quite interesting and unique that such an unusual candidate who certainly faced a lot of foot dragging from key Republican office holders, previous presidential candidates, leading interest groups, how that candidate ended up winning the election,” Skocpol said.

Skocpol studied the tea parties years ago and when Trump announced he was running for president, reporters called her to ask if he had a chance of winning. She could never bring herself to say that he couldn’t win.

She feels Trump “played the media” and took over their space and “climbed to the top.”

Trump was able to make deals with major constituencies and he did this with “considerable savvy,” according to Skocpol.

She said deeper trends for Trump are because of the changing religious landscape, encouraging defensive mobilization by white Evangelicals, rising economic inequalities fueling social tensions and rapid immigration since 2008. She also said GOP and conservative elites are being rejected by their own voters.

Skocpol emphasized both parties had “big problems” in this election.

She said 60 percent of Americans said Trump was unqualified last Tuesday.

“Trump’s bombastic style is a kick-ass approach to politics appealed to a lot of Republicans in this country,” she said.

She argued Hillary Clinton didn’t get enough coverage or have a strong enough message and that Trump “messed up so often” that it was taken for granted.

Skocpol said ethnic and social tensions are unlikely to go away. She said the racial conflicts were very real and disturbing. Trump seems committed to rescinding Obama’s Deferred Action for Children of Undocumented Arrivals.

Trump won “by a hair,” she said. “It’s a fact in history that small differences can open the door to big change.”

Skocpol said there will be epochal change in the U.S. with very extreme economic ideas and policies.

Right after the presidential inauguration, she said Trump administration and house speaker Paul Ryan will try to act quickly before opponents can mobilize and citizens understand popular changes.

Skocpol apologized at the end of her discussion for using a lot of data.

The discussion continued on Friday where panelists and professors Jacob Neiheisel, Athena Mutua, Chad Lavin, Jason Young, Gwynn Thomas, Theda Skocpol and Madelaine Britt, a senior environmental sciences and urban planning major, spoke.

Britt mostly discussed housing, especially fair housing practices and planning policies. She said Trump’s ability to dismiss EPA’s work poses “an immediate threat” to reducing carbon emissions.

“I do not represent the entirety of this campus but I do stand in solidarity with others,” Britt said.

Neiheisel, assistant professor of political science, feels Trump received a great deal of "free or earned media coverage" up to the general election. He feels that much of the electoral wanted to see past Trump’s flaws.

Granfield, vice provost of faculty affairs and sociology professor, discussed the fall of globalization and said the election was about “emotion, personal meaning and anxiety.”

“We had a president elected for the first time without a shred of political experience,” Granfield said. “Experience seemed to be a negative attribute.”

Students and faculty who attended the keynote discussion wanted to better understand the election turnout.

Russ Crispell, director of Outdoor Pursuits looks at the discussion as a starting point. The most surprising aspect was the non-participation numbers for those who didn’t vote, Crispell said. He said there were over 100 million people who didn’t vote that were able to.

He said he is most worried for gender rights for his wife and daughter. He has fears for their future and employment opportunities.

Hatice Altun, a fifth year social linguistics Ph.D. student, Asri Saraswati, third year Ph.D. American Studies student and Naila Sahar, a fourth year Ph.D. English student from Pakistan, are concerned about the U.S. and attended the event to find out why Trump won because they were “quite surprised” when he won.

Tom Siskar, a senior sociology, economics and urban policy major, wanted to hear a political expert’s views. He’s worried about tax reform.

“It was a tight race but it’s the same America it’s always been it’s just a tough time,” Siskar said.

Tori Roseman contributed reporting to the story.

Hannah Stein is a senior news editor and can be reached at hannah.stein@ubspectrum.com and on Twitter at @HannahJStein.