Image Credit: Courtesy of Ana Gutierrez Covarrubias
Nov. 3 fell on a Tuesday.
Perhaps if this were any other year, students would have reserved this particular school night for a group study session, or for a serene night in. This year, however, was different. This year, months of social unrest, political controversy and economic crises preceded this imminent Tuesday night. Even amid extreme political polarization, on the night of Nov. 3, Republicans and Democrats alike shared the common goal of gathering in front of a screen to watch the groundbreaking 2020 presidential election.
With no clear winner by the end of Tuesday, the days that followed were taut with anxiety. It wasn’t until Saturday, Nov. 7, that former Vice President Joe Biden was projected to win. Biden supporters took to the streets in celebration, while Trump supporters defended the incumbent’s claims of a fraudulent election. There has been a large divide in public political opinion throughout the nation, and it is no different among University of Maryland students.
Marjorie Antonio, junior history and American studies major, is a U.S. greencard holder from the Philippines and was unable to vote in this year’s presidential election. Despite the ineligibility to vote, Antonio helped phone bank for APIAVote, a voting initiative that works to increase the civic engagement of Asian Americans in swing states.
“I think the discontent and mobilization against the [Trump] administration really showed in swing states, like the historic voter turnout and registration led by Stacey Abrams in Georgia,” Antonio said. “And if I could vote, I would 100% vote in the interest of marginalized folks who face intersectional discriminations; for my LGBTQ folks of colour and my ethnic minorities.”
Antonio was in D.C. on the weekend of pro-Biden celebrations. While she was not in the area to primarily attend the event, she witnessed the lively street festivities, describing them as glorious.
Although mass celebrations seem to have taken the place of prior mass anxiety, many people still worry about potential violent responses born out of political dissatisfaction. Isaiah Espinoza, a UMD graduate student in the Government and Politics Ph.D. program, addresses the idea that violence may follow.
“I've heard people throw around the idea of some civil war, but that is rather unrealistic and quite ungrounded. Rather than a civil war, there's a new possibility that such violence might not be compartmentalized to the realms that Americans usually tolerate, like schoolhouses and particular racial communities,” Espinoza said. “The anxiety I’m seeing feels like a fear that people might be targeted based on who they did, or didn't, vote for.”
Antonio also fears the prospect of future civil unrest. As someone who is not in support of Trump, her fear is especially heightened from President Trump’s lack of concession to the election results. However, Trump supporters’ fears rest elsewhere.
Letters and sciences freshman Adriana Meléndez is a proud Puerto Rican Trump supporter and first-time voter. Her fears lie mostly in the implications of there potentially being voter fraud in the presidential election.
“I’m Latina and many people may say that by voting for Trump, I’m voting against my own community. In reality, I’m not,” Meléndez said. “Regarding the election process, I was stressed because of possible instances of voter fraud. I’m happy Trump is challenging them and bringing them to court. It’s terrible to see how much corruption people are capable of.”
Antonio and Meléndez represent two ends of the political spectrum. Yet, despite the stark difference in political ideology, conservatives and liberals alike have contributed to this year’s record turnout - whether that be through phone banking like Antonio, or voting like Meléndez.
“Early mail-in voting as necessitated by the Coronavirus pandemic, and the perpetual controversy of Donald J. Trump. Either one of these reasons alone might have had a substantial impact on turnout, but both of them together was the ‘perfect storm,’” Espinoza said.
This year’s election has garnered the attention of millions. Having witnessed past on-campus student involvement and enthusiasm for earlier elections, Professor Kristina Miler of the government and politics department compares what she has seen in the past to the current atmosphere.
“I think the interest in this year's election is greater than in past years, but there was a lot of student activity and interest in the 2016 presidential election, as well; many students were drawn to the possibility of a woman winning the presidency,” Miler said. “This year, student interest is high, but the pandemic has really changed what that looks and feels like since many students are at home.”
If UMD students are feeling anything towards the election, it’s likely confusion. While the election is seemingly over, the aftermath remains to be seen. Questions still float around as people constantly and uneasily refresh their news sources, waiting for something substantial to happen: Will President Trump concede? What is to come of President Trump’s multiple lawsuits? What will President-elect Biden do? Will the country see a surge in violence? These questions have yet to be answered, but Espinoza has a general idea of what he expects.
“The lame-duck period will be interesting. The government still has to govern. The American electorate didn't vote out the Coronavirus,” Espinoza said. “A mixture of catharsis, resentment and anticipation will put pressure on incoming politicians to bring plans of resolve with them to their new offices, while those outgoing might punch holes in the walls before being evicted.”