This Monday was the first presidential debate of the 2016 election, and Mount Holyoke College Students were eager to watch the clash. The screening, hosted by the Debate Society, took place in Blanchard, drawing a large crowd of students eager to see the first face to face debate between presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. By 8:30 PM, half an hour before the debate, seating was already scarce, and tensions high as students checked their Twitter feeds and talked amongst themselves, wondering what would happen and predicting what mistakes the candidates would make. A mixed roar of booing (mostly for Mr. Trump) and cheering (mostly for Secretary Clinton) went up as the candidates appeared on screen, and though the crowd was mostly quiet within the first half-hour of the debate, cheers and jeers were heard through zingers and false statements, making for an entertaining group event.
Most students I talked to believed Clinton won, in accordance with national polls. However, it is likely students with different political leanings stayed home from this particular event, perhaps anticipating a very pro-Clinton crowd. It would not be inaccurate to say this was the case. Though Mount Holyoke College is not in the top twenty of the Princeton Review’s Most Politically Active Colleges, a quick look at the buttons and stickers prominently displayed on campus will leave a casual observer with no doubt about the political convictions of the student populace. Both the College Democrats and the College Republicans were busy at the Org Fair a couple of weeks ago, and though the College Republicans have not issued a statement endorsing Trump, their endorsement is implicit – not true for every College Republican group. At Yale, the College Republicans suffered a mutiny of sorts, with students who identify as Republican but who do not support Trump splitting off into two different groups: the Yale New Republicans and the Yale Undergraduate Conservatives Against Trump. This internal split is a dramatic enactment of the larger ideological split between the young and the old in the Republican party. Many millennials are much more concerned with economic conservatism than social conservatism, and a majority are turned off by the rhetoric of the GOP on social issues such as immigration or gay marriage.
This is not to say we are due for another Era of Good Feelings. Certainly anyone who paid attention to the Democratic primaries can testify the negative tactics used by supporters of both sides in order to get their points across, and the tortuous question of whether Bernie Sanders supporters would back Hillary Clinton, or if the divide in the Democratic party would widen and ultimately cost them the election. Though polls remain very close, the hatred of the Democratic primaries and even the relatively recent protests from the “Bernie or Bust” supporters during the DNC in Cleveland seems to have quieted, and support from the party solidified with the debate. Certainly the mood in Blanchard was nowhere near defeatist, and at times, it was almost jubilant, particularly when Secretary Clinton talked about her plan for debt-free college. Though the zingers were fun and succeeded in drawing Mr. Trump into a defensive strategy, it was the policy statements from both candidates that deserve the most attention. If you haven’t watched the debate already, I urge you to watch it and the following debates, all being screened publicly. This election, and the debates, are a part of history you do not want to pass over in favor of second-hand interpretations.
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