As the sun rose on November 9, those who didn’t wait up for the results learned that Donald Trump had defeated Hillary Clinton in the presidential election. It was a depressing blow to many in the community, but the news was welcomed with a sense of relief, or satisfaction, by some town residents.
“I’m glad he got in,” said Diane Vitarius. “I was afraid of the other one,” not using Clinton’s name. “She got away with the e-mails, the things she did as Secretary of State, like Benghazi. She would have been a lousy president… it would have changed the country for the worse.” Of the winner, she said, “Trump will make this country better. He is what we need, something new.”
New Paltz major political party registration runs about five-to-one in favor of Democrats over Republicans, suggesting that most voters were, unlike Vitarius, not thrilled with the outcome. KT Tobin is among that group, but she tried to sound a positive note. “Many people are disappointed at the presidential election’s outcome,” she wrote via e-mail. “I believe people who did not get the result they expected and wanted — myself included — need to take the time to process and grieve, but it’s also clear to me that many of us need to identify concrete actions to both distract us from our disappointment and to focus on ways to move forward a progressive peace and justice agenda, as well as identifying interventions to help the people and places we think are most threatened with harm under the next administration. Post-election I asked people on social media to post what they are doing in their daily lives to create positive change, and in under 24 hours the range of responses was long and varied. After Tuesday, I am definitely fearful but I also think this can be a forceful and catalyzing call to action, I certainly hope so.
“I found myself weeping,” said Alexandria Wojcik, as she watched the results at Snug’s. “I had no idea it would turn out that way.” The fact that there were meetings scheduled in Morocco this week to implement the Paris Accord made her “extra nervous,” because Trump’s victory puts the outcome of those negotiations on uncertain ground.
Language like “grieve” and “weeping” has inspired some local Trump supporters to lash out at “crybabies” via social media. When as many as a thousand college students walked out of their classes and up Main Street Friday, that sentiment was mixed with outrage that such a protest would be staged on Veterans Day. The walkout’s timing was not based on that holiday, nor was it technically a reaction to the election itself. Rather, students were responding to hate messages found scrawled in a dormitory bathroom Thursday night. The graffiti denounced Muslims, Latinos and African Americans using racial epithets, and alongside words supportive of the president-elect. University president Donald Christian quickly issued a statement, which read in part, “We must expose these acts to uncover the bias and educate broadly to build solidarity and community against such harm. I hope that we all recognize that this is a time when we particularly want to speak and listen respectfully with each other, in and out of the classroom, and reach out and support each other.”
While that incident is troubling, some might dismiss it as a childish, if mean-spirited, prank. Even other unconfirmed reports of hate crimes on campus could be seen as not reflecting the values of the host community, as most students there were not reared here. Harder to explain away is the aftermath of the election in public schools. One student was willing to speak about November 9 only on condition of anonymity, out of a concern for their own safety. Students of color were “told to get the [expletive deleted] out of the country, and that they were going to get deported,” the student recalled, while LGBTQ students were “pushed and called [expletive deleted] fags and ‘tranny fags’ and ‘oddities.'” Teens and young adults are wrestling with reactions that, while arguably not specifically endorsed by Mr. Trump, are now being expressed by people who otherwise might have remained silent.
Butch Dener, who at this point of his life is perhaps better known for his connections to the local Republican party than to The Band that he managed for many years, does think that some previously-silenced voices have now been heard. “The people have spoken,” he said. “People of faith who were tired of being dismissed, people who did not have values that were the same as the last administration.” He went on, saying, “People in New Paltz and New York need to realize that the Northeast is not America. There are people with problems that are not being addressed. Let’s hope Trump hires people of quality to fix America.”
Local artist and cartoonist Matt Maley hopes to find a peaceful way forward. “The outcome of this election reinforces not only how divided we are, but how insulated we’ve become from one another,” he observed in an e-mail. “We all share the blame, living in our bubbles while we shun, demoralize and demonize those who disagree with us. We’ve been viewing distorted versions of each other through computer screens while we calcify our own sense of self-righteousness. Half the country is not all racist neo-Nazi buffoons just as the other half is not all liberal elitist Christmas-haters. We have to find a way back to recognizing common humanity in those who disagree with us, and find a way for them to recognize ours.”
A reflection of the top of the ticket came in how the congressional race played out in the 19th district, one of the few which was a toss-up this year. Despite support from Bernie Sanders, challenger Zephyr Teachout was unable to eke out a win against John Faso, who was endorsed by incumbent Chris Gibson. Another high school student, Eli Duncan-Gilmour, was on the front lines as that unfolded.
“I was up at 4:30 in the morning hanging door knockers,” for Teachout, he said; his volunteering had “turned into a full-time job” by Election Day. Although he called the results “rather crushing” and a “kick in the teeth,” he acknowledged that he will be more than ready when he reaches voting age. “I was interested in 2012, but not like this,” he said. “I wasn’t able to calculate electoral college votes on the fly.” Like his candidate, he said he intends to remain engaged and pay attention “as much as a junior in high school can.”
Vitarius, like Dener, showed enthusiasm for Faso’s victory. “I was glad he got in,” she said. “He is replacing a wonderful man, Chris Gibson. What a saint.”