A week after Donald Trump won the presidency, many students on the University of Delaware campus were still devastated. Professors at the blue-state public school where Vice President Joe Biden is an alumnus canceled classes, helped organize marches, and held discussions so that students could process their feelings and fears.
But the UD students who voted for Trump were thrilled. It’s not just that their candidate won, but that the Democrats’ reliance on “identity politics” failed. Hillary Clinton’s campaign bet on the votes of women, minorities, the LGBT community, and other groups whose political positions are often shaped by the way they identify. But the Clinton campaign didn’t just fail to get out the vote — it also alienated white people who don’t like being told they’re bigots.
Trump didn’t win the election thanks to college graduates. The majority of them backed Clinton — except for white college-educated voters, who went for Trump by a narrow four-point margin. Nevertheless, Trump voters on campuses across the country view themselves as underground rebels fighting a corrosive epidemic of political correctness. Just don’t expect them to wear their “Make America Great Again” caps to the dining hall.
“It’s the new counterculture,” said Jared, an undergraduate who wore a suit and tie to a recent meeting of the UD College Republicans. “It’s the equivalent of being a hippie protesting at Kent State,” he said, apparently referring to the 1970 Vietnam War protest that ended with National Guard troops shooting four unarmed students to death.
“Or being grunge in the '90s,” another student chimed in.
In the 1960s, the University of California, Berkeley, was known for free-speech protests, said Andrew Lipman, a UD senior and the chairman of the Delaware Federation of College Republicans. Now, in Lipman’s view, the university is known for “silencing conservative speech, because it’s considered hateful.”
Trump’s win is a boon for every college student frustrated by progressive campus activists’ concepts that have gone mainstream, such as “trigger warnings,” “safe spaces” and “microaggressions.” Lipman wasn’t a big Trump supporter, but he’s concerned by reports from UD students who say they don’t feel comfortable voicing pro-Trump sentiments in class, in their dorms, and around campus. He’s such an advocate for free speech that he helped bring Breitbart News writer and alt-right celebrity Milo Yiannopoulos’s “Dangerous Faggot” college tour to UD two weeks before the election.
Yiannopoulos spoke about his belief that transgender people are mentally ill. (The American Psychiatric Association voted to remove “gender identity disorder” from its manual in 2012.) The day he spoke, posters of Michelle Obama’s and Caitlyn Jenner's faces with the words “trannies are gay” appeared on UD’s campus, shocking students who were already horrified the school was allowing the event to take place, since other colleges had prevented Yiannopoulous from speaking. Yiannopoulos’s UD talk sold out.
The UD College Republicans released a statement distancing themselves from the posters. Still, Lipman said, college students want and need to be exposed to taboo issues, as well as conservatism, even when they offend (or scare) their peers.
“If they could talk about it with their friends they might not feel a need to come here [to the College Republicans] and talk about it, but they don’t have that outlet,” Lipman said. “They feel like they’re being silenced.”
Trump-supporting students told BuzzFeed News they related to the “silent majority” of older voters who resented being called “deplorable” by Hillary Clinton. In a New York Times op-ed titled “My Liberal University Cemented My Vote for Trump,” a student at Wesleyan University, the ultra left–leaning college in Middletown, Connecticut, wrote that he had investigated the alt-right and found “a diverse, intellectual and multifaceted community that prides itself on its all-encompassing embrace of free speech.” They’re not “fueled by racial resentment,” he explained; they just want a “technocracy.”
Yet, many furtive Trump supporters on college campuses refused to give their full names to BuzzFeed News because they feared being called racist.
Daniel, a New York University senior who didn’t want to give his last name “given the current climate,” said it was “aggravating” when his professors cracked jokes about the state of the country the day after the election.
“There is the assumption that nobody is going to get hurt because no one could have possibly voted for Trump in New York City, but that assumption is clearly incorrect,” he said. (He acknowledged that there were few Trump supporters on campus, and said he had looked forward to meeting more at Yiannopoulos’s planned speech there — that is, before NYU canceled it).
“At NYU, everyone feels like we need to be inclusive, but when you enforce that, you’re creating a different sort of minority group,” he said. If you try to question the concept of “safe spaces,” for example, “you’ll immediately be slammed as a hypocrite or an oppressor,” Daniel said, adding that being a white man “doesn’t help” matters.
“It’s like, yeah we’ll have open discussions as long as it’s absolutely aligned with what we already believe in,” he said.
One student at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, said he solidified his aversion to PC culture in high school. In one class, he was chastised for writing an essay calling undocumented immigrants “illegal.” Another time, he said, he was barred from going to an Asian-American student alliance meeting because he was white. “People were so into political correctness that people’s voices were censored and nothing was heard,” he said.
At Duke, he knew his classmates and professors were liberal, so he didn’t tell anyone he supported Trump. After the election, he tentatively started posting about Trump on Facebook. But he grew nervous again when a professor told the class to write down thoughts they had about the election: “She said, ‘Say whatever you want to say, but you better be willing to have the consequences of what you say if you want to say it.‘“
He took that as a warning that his grades would suffer and he would be shunned if he publicly admitted his support for Trump.
This student canceled a second interview with a reporter because he was afraid for his physical safety after reading about anti-Trump protests coming to campus. “The hate on Duke’s campus is getting worse,” he wrote in an email.
Another Duke student, Brittany, said her seminar class conducted an anonymous poll in which she was the only one who voted for Trump. The day after the election, Duke students were offered endless support and “healing services,” which made her feel further that she could not express her excitement in public.
“The silent majority was very real,” she said. “People were embarrassed and scared to say they were voting for Trump because of fear of being labeled and even harassment."
At the University of Delaware, Jared said there is a contingent of young people who support Trump because “they feel threatened by the fact that you cannot depart from this dogma that the majority on the campus holds without being told you are racist, being told you are sexist, having people report you for having an opinion because it, you know, threatens somebody’s identity.” Jared said he had friends who worked as resident advisers in the dorms who had to comfort people crying about the results of the election, which he thought was “absurd.”
Over lemon-drop martinis at a bar near campus, 21-year-old Ryan Dubicki rolled his eyes at distressed students on his campus and at other schools.
“I know at Harvard they had safety pins on and they had, like, dog therapy,” he said. “I don’t want to be mean to them, but they’re being crybabies right now. This is an election, guys.” If they really care that much about politics, they should get involved at the state and local level, he said, not cry to their professors.
“Professors canceling tests and classes because Trump won is why Trump won,” Dubicki said. “People were sick and tired of political correctness and identity politics, and Trump totally ran against that.”
Perhaps Dubicki embodies the new college Trump supporter: He’s gay, for one. He considers himself socially liberal, but fiscally conservative. He would have voted for Obama, if he had been old enough. And he was irritated when friends told him he should vote for Clinton instead of for someone whose victory has alarmed LGBT groups. “I was like, Hillary Clinton doesn’t speak for me — I don’t want someone who belongs in prison,” Dubicki said. Then he showed a photo, saved on his phone, of Trump unfurling a LGBT sign.
Like 75% of students on UD’s campus, Dubicki is white, and admitted his group of friends is not very diverse. But, in his opinion, “Hillary Clinton ran a campaign on minorities against whites,” he said. “Even look at her rallies: They were all minorities. There were no white people there.”
Still, he said, he had friends who supported Clinton, and they got along because they didn’t talk about politics too much. (When Dubicki isn’t in school, working, or volunteering for Republican causes, he enjoys watching Friends reruns — Season 5 is his favorite). He made fun of an email UD President Dennis Assanis sent students a week after the election, acknowledging that there “had been unacceptable events where members of our community have acted in ways that are divisive, demeaning and even hateful” and promising UD would “ensure that free speech and diversity will coexist and even flourish in our society.”
Dubicki thought it was embarrassing.
“Only at my school would I get an email reminding me to respect others’ opinions and beliefs, which I was already raised to do,” he wrote on Facebook afterward. “This is why I hate my generation and being a millennial.”
At a coffee shop near campus, Jaelyn Brown, the president of UD’s College Democrats, had a different reaction to the email: She thought it was too little, too late.
Why didn’t Assanis denounce the hate crimes reported around the country in the wake of Trump’s victory? Why did he wait a week to try and comfort UD students like her who are devastated and afraid? She doesn’t know any Trump supporters, because her friends are politically engaged feminists, she said. Now, she can’t stop wondering who around her on campus voted for him.
“The most frustrating thing about this is that for people of color, trans people, women... their lives are actually in jeopardy,” said Brown, who is black. “Your life as a white guy is not in jeopardy if Hillary Clinton is president.”
Next May, Brown will graduate. Once, she thought about going into politics — she campaigned for Clinton last winter break — but now, she’s not so sure.
“A lot of the rhetoric you hear from Trump supporters is ‘I’m not personally racist,’ and it’s like, ‘You actively supported a racist,’” she said. “You chose to ignore it, which is incredibly privileged. It’s scary as a woman. It’s scary as a woman of color. It’s going to be a difficult couple of years.”
Although Trump has vowed to end political correctness nationwide, he’s also co-opted the same progressive concepts he’s mocked. On Saturday, he tweeted that a theater “must always be a safe and special place” following Mike Pence’s “rude” treatment at the Broadway musical Hamilton.
Trump also successfully ran on his own identity-politics platform, Brown said, by appealing to large swaths of resentful white voters sick of feeling ignored.
“This was the last-ditch effort of the white male to stay in power,” she said.
Katie Baker is an investigative reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
Contact Katie J.M. Baker at email@example.com.
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