At 7 p.m. on Wednesday, November 16, about 100 people packed into the Pier at Tyler Haynes Commons on University of Richmond’s campus. People lined the periphery of the room as the panel members began setting up and the forum organizers brought over more chairs. Everyone had come to hear what some of the most renowned professors here at UR had to say about the future of American policy. After a physically and emotionally exhausting election over a week ago, the students at the University of Richmond all seemed eager to get some answers, even if the answers were just speculations.
The panel consisted of a moderator from the Richmond College Government Association, and several professors from different departments, including English, journalism, and environmental studies. The Forum was divided into six major topics of discussion where the panel members would have approximately 10 minutes to speak on each issue. Then, the panel was opened to the community for questions.
Dr. Crutcher, the president of the University, opened the panel with a brief introduction in which he commended the event organizers and reminded the UR community of the value of a range of opinions. He ended his introduction with a comment he claimed he wasn’t going to make, but did anyway: he told the audience that if anyone who did not vote in the election tries to discuss, debate or complain to you about the outcome, basically you shouldn’t give them the time of day. Later on, this point was contradicted by a panel member, Dr. Mufti, representing journalism, who said that if someone chose not to vote after careful consideration, he believes one should be able to make this decision. He then commented on how the silence of many non-voters in this election was extremely telling and illuminated much-needed concern within the U.S.
While the range of topics posed to the panel varied and covered most major concerns of the possible changes to American policy, there were some particularly notable comments about the election and its outcome in general. Dr. Mifsud, representing rhetoric and communication studies and women, gender and sexuality studies, discussed how there may be an upside to Trump’s campaign opening the Pandora’s box of white supremacy language. She said it forced Americans to come up with new vernacular and new rhetoric for civic discourse where prior to this, language had become more and more restricted by the liberal public. It’s testing values, shaping new arguments and voicing people who had previously remained quiet and resentful.
Dr. Mufti chimed in and talked about how Trump exploited this divide between “how we are supposed to speak” advocates and the rest of America. He says we need to learn to communicate across this divide.
Dr. Palazzolo, representing the political science field, responded to this by saying that while Trump’s language may have been shocking in this election, it didn’t necessary help his case. He claims that those who found his language appealing most likely would have voted for him anyways. Palazzolo also commented that Trump’s campaign was a tactful victory based on low democratic support/turnout.
In terms of the panel’s predictions for American policy in the future, they started by analyzing the future of immigration laws. The moderator referenced Trump’s “extreme vetting” and “wall” remarks and questioned the reality of those remarks. Dr. Palazzolo said that the public, on average, does not support Trump’s comments. Not only that but immigrants have offered valuable contributions to American society for the entirety of the country’s existence. Lastly, Palazzolo mentioned that Trump’s "60 Minutes" interview said that he would basically be continuing the lead of the Obama administration in terms of deportations and immigration laws.
Professor Hayes, representing economics, echoed Dr. Palazzolo by saying “there are enough checks and balances” to keep Trump in line. He also commented on how important and beneficial free trade is to the economy and how we will definitely be seeing the effects of that with Trump’s presidency.
The second topic addressed the Republican shift in the US government and the political system as a whole. Palazzolo predicted this to change policies that would be expected of the Republican party to change. Altering or eradicating Obamacare as we know it, cutting taxes as a “dogma of the Republican party”, and reshaping the budgetary framework of the nation in general. But he did express concerns that activists are controlling the parties right now after a particularly divisive election and it is going to be key that the Republican party and the Trump administration doesn’t overreach in his first two years of presidency. This could lead to more discontent from the American citizens when he needs to rally support behind proposed future positive outcomes.
The third topic of discussion was the environment and especially Trump’s outright denial of climate change. The panel seemed to agree that this “anti-science” plan (Dr. Finley-Brook of Environmental Studies) is definitely backward. Finley-Brook also commented that while protecting the environment may not be economically advantageous in the short term, the human benefit and world benefit of it is something we need to take in consideration to move forward. Dr. Mufti agreed with this and said that organized resistance to anything going backward on environmental protection progress will become more popular and more necessary.
The fourth topic of discussion was about Trump’s desire to create laws preventing the people from criticizing him publicly. Mufti discussed how this election season and Trump’s campaign has been one of the most hostile towards the press in U.S. history. Palazzolo mentioned how, though that is true, they have also been the most transparent administration in US history. He says that it can’t necessarily get worse if they have been this transparent. So, it’s a possible upside. Mufti expressed further concern for Trump’s unapologetic aggression towards the press.
The fifth topic of discussion was definitely one at the forefront of the minds of the audience: race. At this point, the moderator addressed rather bluntly the bigoted statements from Trump and asked the panel to address them and their effects. Dr. Ashe, representing the English department, described his campaign as “throwing gas on a fire”. Considering how much unrest was already present, Dr. Ashe said, this just caused more fear and concern and opened the door for white supremacists to feel compelled to voice their views. Mifsud commented that “political correctness is demonizing civil discourse”, yet it doesn’t justify overt racism.
The last topic of discussion posed to the panel brought women’s rights to center stage. Finley-Brook expressed concern that we must continue, as a nation, to be a leader in women’s rights. Mifsud made some extremely fascinating points about how, in general, we must be able to interrogate our own beliefs and values. She says that the defensive shield we have put up that blocks out any opinion we disagree with will never work and never produce change. She also says that the sexist remarks that have been brought to light during this election will cause trauma and we need to be prepared to treat that trauma.
The forum ended with the community asking the panel questions that included one about the neglected topic of discussion: the rural and urban divide that this election has caused. The panel seemed to agree that this has always been present and to some extent, always will be.
The efforts of the Student Government Associations to provide some hypothetical direction for American policy through esteemed members of the UR community after an extremely confusing and uncertain election were definitely achieved. Whether that was a direction favored by the students, maybe not; but, then again, this was mainly speculation so we will all find out the fate of our country soon enough.