After five days of anxiously waiting for definitive results of the presidential election, when the news finally broke on Saturday, November 7 that former Vice President Joe Biden had won, the majority of Carleton students were all too happy to see the start of a new era.
“I was on a walk with my A&I group and my phone wasn’t getting any signal, but some others’ were and they all heard at the same time. We all cheered. It was exciting,” said Julia Nicholson ’24. Kennadi Hairston ’22 said that she cried out of sheer relief when she heard the news. Though campus was quiet, the mood was light as Carleton students, an overwhelmingly left-leaning group, rejoiced at the promise of a Democrat in the White House.
“I was actually surprised that people at Carleton weren’t being more celebratory, just compared to what was going on everywhere else,” said Allie Fridkin ’23. “My parents were sending me videos from Atlanta. Everyone was going crazy.”
Celebrations on campus were subdued, and the prevailing sentiment of the day seemed to be relief followed by tempered optimism rather than joy. Even among Democrats at Carleton, Biden gained a small minority of the vote during the primary, and few students expressed genuine enthusiasm for a Biden presidency. Fridkin, who did not support Biden in the primary but ultimately voted for him in the November election, said, “I’m not incredibly excited. I’m just more relieved that it’s not another Trump presidency, I guess.”
For Hairston, the choice not to celebrate was intentional because electing Biden “is just one piece of the puzzle. I was happy that he won and super thrilled that we are going to fight for more things and better things, but I was like, ‘there’s a long way to go still.’” She also warned against growing complacent after a small victory. “We have to keep donating to bail funds, and keep signing petitions, and keep having conversations with our peers, because there were still [more than] 70 million people who voted for Donald Trump,” she said.
Among those millions were several Carleton students who were not celebrating a victory on Saturday. James Craig ’21, who voted for President Trump, said that while “most of his [Biden’s] policies are very wrong,” the thought of a Biden presidency doesn’t upset him too much. “It’s the politicians’ job to convince us that this is the end of civilization if you don’t vote for them, but I don’t really buy into that,” he said. “I found out that Biden was probably going to win and was like, ‘Okay, cool. Whatever. Go back to work.’ It’s subpar, it’s not ideal. I think there are some unfortunate things that could happen, but I don’t see it as an existential threat to my life, and I’m confident that in 2024 the Republicans can take back the presidency and flip the House and Senate, so I don’t have a huge emotional reaction for it.”
Though Biden paints a picture of healing and unity during his time in office, claiming to be a “President for all Americans,” the Trump years left bitter political divides at Carleton that may not go away with a new president. Hairston said that she would find it difficult to be friends with a Trump supporter, even after Trump is out of office, because of the moral choice that a vote for Trump represents for her and the effects that choice can have on her life as a woman of color. “I don’t think I can be friends with someone who would rather see me hang from a tree than thrive and live,” she said. “KKK people have walked up to my dad, who’s a Black man, and I’ve been there for that. That’s traumatizing, and I don’t want to have other little girls go through that. So why would I ever support or be friends with someone who maybe doesn’t condone it outright but is still in that group of Trump supporters with other people who are like that?”
Jonathan Singleton ’23 said he generally keeps his support for President Trump quiet because he fears backlash from the Carleton community. “I feel like some people, if they knew who I voted for, they would look at me differently, so that kind of hurts in a way because they don’t know my viewpoints or anything like that. They just see that I voted for Trump. People may not look through that to see who I am as a person,” Singleton said.
One thing the two sides do seem to have in common is a lack of confidence in Biden’s ability to enact change on a large scale. For Craig, that might be a good thing. He thinks that “if the Republicans still have the Senate, then he’ll be a fairly ineffectual leader. I’m not concerned that he’s going to overthrow the medical system or gun rights or my freedoms of speech or anything. I don’t think much is going to happen.”
For Biden’s supporters, who expressed their hopes for such policy initiatives as rejoining the Paris Climate Agreement, expanding public healthcare and bringing an end to the coronavirus pandemic, a roadblock in the Senate may bring disappointment. After perusing Biden’s campaign website, Fridkin concluded that “it was all very vague and not actually concrete action steps, so I feel like he’s probably not going to get as much done as he says he is,” though she added that she still feels “optimistic about it” at this point.
Carls on both sides of the aisle said the best thing to come out of the decision on Saturday is the end of an unusually tense election season. For most, a Biden presidency is a tolerable result, neither devastating nor particularly inspiring. It represents a step toward the changes Democratic students want to see in the country, not the end goal.