Villagers react to historic election
- Published: November 24, 2016
Villager and former journalist Jeff Simons spent election night in Springfield, phoning in Clark County returns to the Washington, D.C., bureau of the Associated Press. As the Republican-leaning county’s votes were tallied through the evening, his surprise and worry grew.
“I realized things were moving in a very different direction [than predicted] when by 9 o’clock, Trump had a 20 point lead over Clinton,” he said.
Ohio was announced for Donald Trump around 10:30 p.m. last Tuesday. Four hours later, the Republican candidate surged over the 270 electoral vote mark to be named the nation’s 45th president.
“When his victory was announced, I was stunned,” said Karen McKee, who, like many in the village and around the nation, stayed up late to watch the returns.
But not everyone got the news overnight. Some, like local poll worker Chrissy Cruz, waited to tune in the next morning. “I went to bed feeling rather hopeful,” she said. “When I woke up, I was really devastated.”
Most polls and pundits predicted a close race ending in victory for Hillary Clinton. But actual results took a very different turn late Tuesday. Though Clinton gained and held a modest lead in the popular vote, Donald Trump picked up crucial swing states, including Ohio, winning with 276 electoral college votes.
As it usually does, Yellow Springs went its own way. Village voters favored Clinton nearly 13 to 1 over Trump — an even greater margin of support than Barack Obama received here in 2012 (see precinct-level results). Reflecting local sentiment, hundreds of villagers were active in Clinton’s campaign, and a recent protest downtown, organized in response to the 2005 “Hollywood Access” tape in which Trump boasts about groping women, drew about 250 people.
Villagers react to the news
So Trump’s unexpected win hit Yellow Springs hard last week. In the days following the election, dozens of villagers registered emotions ranging from shock, disbelief and confusion to dismay, alarm, outrage and grief.
“I was feeling like there had been a death in the family,” said MJ Dodson, who canvassed for Clinton through late afternoon last Tuesday. Other Hillary supporters she knew felt the same way, she added.
Excitement around electing the nation’s first woman president motivated some Hillary supporters and campaign workers, and for them, the disappointment was keen.
“It is really heartbreaking,” said Joan Ackerman, a longtime Clinton fan. “The country has missed a terrific opportunity. We need a woman’s perspective at this level of government.”
One young Hillary supporter, Eliza Minde-Berman, said she came downstairs last Wednesday to find her father [News co-owner Matt Minde] dressed in black. “I was just shocked and so disappointed in people,” said the 11-year-old, who made about 300 calls for Clinton in the week before the election.
Many villagers with children, especially girls, wrestled with how to share the news. Naomi Bongorno, the mother of two elementary-aged girls and a toddler boy, said telling her two older children was hard.
“They were shocked, and wondering what this meant,” she said. “I told them, ‘We’re going to be okay, but a lot of people are afraid, and we need to think of ourselves as activists for good.’”
Some villagers felt immediate concern for their safety, or the safety of their loved ones, given Trump’s statements about Muslims, Mexicans, women and others during his campaign.
“I have a very diverse family,” Cruz said. “If you take what he’s said at face value, it’s frightening.”
Jonah Martindale, a first-year student at Antioch College, described the mood on campus last Wednesday as “depressed.” He continued, “The next day was unreal. You could feel the collective upset [that] this person who said so much hurtful stuff was president.”
A somber atmosphere likewise prevailed at the Emporium the day after the election. A handful of people were in the downtown coffee shop around midday Wednesday, some hugging and talking in low voices, others sitting quietly at their own tables scanning smartphones and computers. One woman was drawing. A sax and guitar duo played, at one point drifting into “Stormy Weather.” The song seemed to catch the general mood.
But not all villagers were disappointed by the news. Third-year Antioch student Fleet Simons said he was “pretty energized” by the result, not because he supported Trump, but rather because he believed the election was “a dark moment that can sometimes bring clarity.”
And a few in Yellow Springs welcomed Trump’s win. Longtime villager and Trump supporter Joe Lewis said he believes the Republican victor has the potential to be a very good president because of his strong business background, while his neighbor Joe Nickoson said he was pleased with the election’s outcome. Nickoson added that he still had a “Deplorable and Proud of It” sign in his yard. “I was called a ‘deplorable,’” he said, referencing Hillary’s characterization of some Trump supporters during the campaign.
In the immediate aftermath of Tuesday, however, most villagers this reporter encountered seemed to teeter between disbelief and distress.
“It feels like a coup,” said Jeff Simons, who left town last Wednesday to travel to New Mexico, hearing a range of reactions to Trump’s victory, many of them negative, along the way. “It’s disheartening and tragic. I just feel powerless.”
Accounting for Trump’s win
Not all villagers were surprised by the election’s outcome. Canvassing for Hillary in traditionally Democratic neighborhoods in Springfield the weekend before the election, Don Hollister said he felt a sense of foreboding.
“I was startled by the number of people who said they didn’t know how they were voting, or said they were just disgusted by the whole thing,” he observed. And among Xenia voters he’d encountered earlier in the campaign, “there was a genuine feeling of ‘let’s shake things up,’” he said.
Yet Americans were unwilling to shake things up when it came to voting for a woman, several villagers were quick to point out. Clinton fan Ackerman said she wasn’t surprised by Hillary’s loss because in her view many voters remain unable to accept a woman in an executive role, even one so overqualified as she believes Clinton to be.
“Just what does a woman have to do to be president of these very un-United States?” Ackerman asked.
“People will offer all kinds of explanations,” she added. “But saying people voted for Trump because of policy and party [loyalty] is like saying people buy Playboy for the articles. It just doesn’t hold up.”
While many villagers saw reluctance to vote for a woman or outright misogyny as factors in the election, many also believed that Trump’s win reflected a white backlash against the nation’s first African-American president.
“There’s never been an election that has the potential to totally reverse the policies and progress of the previous administration,” Jeff Simons observed.
To Kevin McGruder, professor of history at Antioch College, this election resonates with what he’s currently teaching students about the Reconstruction period after the Civil War, a time that gave rise to the Ku Klux Klan.
“The election offers the opportunity for us to acknowledge the tradition of white supremacy in our culture,” McGruder said. “Not everybody who voted for Trump is a white supremacist. He used code words [such as condemnations of political correctness and multiculturalism] to appeal to some who might not be comfortable” with explicitly white supremacist views, McGruder explained.
The belief that “white people should always be in dominant roles and their interests are the most important” was at the heart of Trump’s appeal to many white voters, in McGruder’s view. The white working class has legitimate grievances, he said. “But black people have the same grievances. Black people have lost factory jobs, too.”
Larry Gerthoffer, who grew up in Pennsylvania’s coal country, said he saw job loss and economic fears as drivers of the election. But he blamed the media for elevating Trump in the first place. “He was such a spectacle, they couldn’t turn their eyes away,” he said.
Yet other villagers seemed at a loss to fully explain how a candidate they viewed as racist, misogynistic and xenophobic could have drawn the support of over 60 million fellow Americans.
“I thought we’d moved further than this,” Cruz said. “It’s a wake-up call.”
The way forward
Nearly all villagers interviewed for this article agreed: the nation was deeply, perhaps dangerously divided. Some despaired of bridging that divide, while others felt motivated to try. And still others saw value in living their lives in the best way they knew how, with redoubled commitment to their families, their community and the causes they care about.
Jeff Simons said he overhead the phrase “cold civil war” used to describe the divided state of the country, as revealed by this election. It seemed apt, he said.
To Dodson, who canvassed for Clinton in Springfield and previously taught both there and in Xenia, such rifts can only be healed through contact and conversation. Deeply moved by her experience over the past weeks talking to voters from all walks of life, she is determined to seek out “those little, pleasant interactions with people that humanize us all,” she said.
“We can’t be ‘that enemy,’” she added.
But others struck a more militant note. Antioch student Martindale saw active resistance to Trump and his policies as one way forward. “We’re going to fight back in any way necessary,” he said. “We can seize this extreme opportunity … and run with it to create change.”
And many villagers said they felt moved to embrace with renewed purpose the progressive causes — ranging from social justice to climate change to LGBTQ rights — they believed would be threatened under a Trump administration.
Jessica Martinez, a residence life staff member at Antioch College, said she planned to “take a step forward” and be more publicly active in her support of issues like reproductive rights and immigration policy. It was especially important, she said, for people to stand in solidarity with those groups, such as Mexican immigrants, that Trump had targeted in his campaign.
That sentiment guided small actions last week, like the nationwide safety pin movement that led some villagers to wear safety pins as symbols of solidarity, as well as larger ones, such as the protests happening around the country, a majority of them peaceful. A protest Friday evening in Dayton drew several hundred people, including some from Yellow Springs.
Mother of three Bongorno attended the Dayton protest to “be around other people [and] search and figure out how best to respond” to Trump’s election. Part catharsis and part call to action, rallies are useful — but not enough, Bongorno said. “There is such a divide, and so much to do,” she explained.
Recommitting to life in Yellow Springs was a theme many villagers underscored. Active in this year’s campaign, Hollister said he hoped citizens would reengage with local and state politics — “run for School Board, Village Council, for County Commission,” he said.
“A lot of people here have been doing good things, and they will continue to do good things,” he observed.
Some Yellow Springers last week reached for gallows humor. “I’m just praying to keep the Supreme Court healthy. Ruthie, honey, hang in there,” Dodson said, with a laugh.
And a few philosophic souls faced the future pragmatically, and with resolve. Karen McKee said she planned to stay the course in her own life and commitments.
“[The election] is a huge bump in the road, but we still have to travel the road,” she said.