A House Divided by Grace Snelling, Sara Stemmler, Lila Taylor, Jacob LaGesse, David Higuchi and Disha ChatterjeE with Photography from michael melinger and tns

The Take on Trump

Trump's candidacy and presidency from the perspective of Clayton students, residents, and graduates

*Some names have been altered to protect the anonymity of conservatives who, in Clayton's liberal climate, felt that they could not comfortably go on record.

On Nov. 8, 2016, at 2:30 a.m, Donald Trump was elected 45th president of the United States.

As millions of Americans began to hear the results of the election, the overwhelming reaction to the news, regardless of political affiliation, was evident: shock.

“I honestly couldn’t believe it. I was on record as stating that there was no way that he would be president,” said Charlie Brennan, CHS parent and host of KMOX’s The Charlie Brennan Show. “I did not think that he would be able to run the table, as they say, and win as many states as he needed to to win the presidency. So I was as shocked as anybody that Donald J. Trump became the 45th president of the United States. I couldn’t believe it. I thought he was an amusing candidate. I fully expected Hillary Clinton to be president.”

Though Brennan felt that Trump’s personality distinguished him from other candidates, he doubted his chances of winning against Hillary Clinton. Many citizens, even those closely following the campaigns and election, echoed similar perspectives.

“I think firstly, everybody was shocked, including myself. I’m in the political science department at University of Missouri-St. Louis, where we have some really terrific American politics experts, and I can tell you that they never predicted Trump’s victory. There were very few, if any, American politics experts who predicted Trump’s victory. I think almost everybody was shocked by it,” said Martin Rochester, political science professor at University of Missouri-St. Louis and parent of two CHS graduates.

Trump’s polarizing political effect meant that his victory evoked widely varying emotional responses from American citizens.

“When Mr. Trump was elected to be president, I felt that it was a very important victory for the Republican Party, and I still believe that it was the best outcome of the 2016 election,” said CHS sophomore Jackson Carter.

In contrast, CHS junior Tucker Hall woke up on Nov. 8 to the news and was both surprised and devastated.

“I just felt kind of hopeless and really just generally confused, because, like I said, I wasn’t really expecting [Trump] to win and I didn’t believe that the opinions that he represented were part of the majority in America. I still don’t know if they are, but when he was elected I felt like they were. Me growing up in a progressive community, it was kind of a culture shock to realize that his nativist, racist, bigoted, isolationist views resonate with a lot of people,” Hall said.

"Growing up in a progressive community, it was kind of a culture shock to realize that his nativist, racist, bigoted, isolationist views resonate with a lot of people."

-Tucker Hall, CHS Junior

From the moment that he announced his candidacy, Trump stood out compared to his running mates. His status as a reality television star and billionaire meant that he was more well-known for his persona and businesses than any previous political experience. According to Washington University in St. Louis political science professor Randall Calvert, this may have been one of the major reasons that he appealed to the American public.

“He seems to have been able to command media attention in just a supernatural way. It was extreme. And in ways that previous candidates hadn’t been able to appeal. Maybe it had to do with his fame as a TV performer, maybe it had to do with his previous fame as a media figure in NYC, as a real estate mogul or maybe it had to do with his status as a billionaire, I don’t know. But he was able to command attention,” Calvert said.

In some regards, this was an advantage, as many Americans expressed a desire for leadership from a Washington outsider. Yet, as Brennan stated, it has also come with its negative consequences.

“The con is, well, you may not know what you’re doing when it comes to Washington D.C.,” Brennan said. “It can be a very complex labyrinth. I would say, if you’re talking about Donald Trump being elected with no previous experience, it shows. He had difficulty filling his cabinet, filling administrative roles in the federal government and retaining people in the White House and around the federal government. It seems kind of unstable.”

However, there were more pivotal reasons for Trump’s success. Namely, his ability to captivate the attention and support of groups who felt that their previous power had been diminished by past administrations.

“I think that he appealed to what I would called a left-wing populism as well as right-wing populism. And what I mean by that is this: I think he tapped into the fact that a lot of the democrats and liberal leads seemed to ignore white working-class people, particularly in the midwest,” Rochester said.

“They tended to ignore the industrialization of the midwest, and so he tapped into a lot of economic dissatisfaction. Another thing he tapped into, when I say right-wing populism, was cultural issues. I think there was a sense, that a lot of people had, that the Democrats had devalued a lot of traditional values–patriotism, family, religion [. . . ]. There was a feeling that a lot of people had, including myself, that the Democrats under Obama had thrown the police under the bus. During the Ferguson issue. So there were a lot of things that Trump was able to tap into, both economic and cultural.”

"There was a sense, that a lot of people had, that the Democrats had devalued a lot of traditional values -- patriotism, family, religion.

Martin Rochester, former Clayton parent

According to Brennan, Trump addressed Americans who lack college degrees and felt that offshore labor competition was either cutting their wages or keeping them out of work. A report by Georgetown University found that, of the jobs created since the 2008 economic recession, 8.4 million have gone to people with a bachelor’s degree or higher, while only 80,000 have gone to those with a high school education or less.

“We lost millions of manufacturing jobs in the late 90s to current day. And very few people were addressing that,” Brennan said. “Most people said that was a good thing, and there are some economic benefits. But Trump said no, losing the manufacturing base is bad. And he was one of the few people recently to say that [. . . ]. I think that was very appealing to a lot of Americans–a lot of rural Americans, a lot of Americans who, in the last 40 years, have not seen their wages go up because of the competition for labor abroad.”

Of the many promises that Trump made during his campaign, one of the most prominent, which also directly targeted his middle-class supporters, was his emphasis on heavy tax cuts and an increase in focus on American businesses. Both Brennan and Rochester agreed that one of Trump’s greatest successes thus far has been his effect on the economy.

“Right now, our unemployment rate, which is a big deal, is at its lowest since 1969. It’s at 3.7 percent. Why is that important? Well, I think that when we have more people working, they pay more taxes, and actually federal revenues are up in 2018, even though there’s been a corporate tax cut and a personal tax cut, because people are paying income taxes and payroll taxes and there’s more money for the treasury. And the pay is up for retail workers, service workers and manufacturers. Pay is also up for people who have a high school education or less, which is rare. The number of people applying for food stamps is down. So the economy has been good between the stock market and unemployment. It’s really at record levels,” Brennan said.

Although these tax cuts have had an immediate effect on the economy which has appeared to facilitate growth, Calvert contended that there is a high likelihood that current overstimulation of the economy will lead to a period of inflation.

“There were enormous tax cuts. And I think ultimately, they’ll turn out to be inflationary tax cuts, there just can’t be much doubt about that, because we’ve gotten down to such a low level of unemployment already [. . . ]. And we’re going to see, I’m afraid, another period of inflation like we did several decades ago, which was, at the time, quite disruptive,” Calvert said. “It might be that we have institutions that can handle that a little better now, but I think that the economy is probably overheated. I think that in the long-run, the tax-cuts and dialing back of antitrust efforts and regulatory efforts is just pushing the economy toward more market concentration and more inequality and those are going to be damaging to the political system. That’s a trend that has to be reversed if democratic politics are going to be maintained.”

Perhaps even more fundamental to his campaign than his economic promises was Trump’s open criticism of Obama’s immigration policies and his insistence that, as president, he would build a wall on the Mexican-American border and crack down on immigration. For Hall, Trump’s demand for a border wall was especially striking.

“I was stunned when Trump declared his campaign and said that he was going to build a wall to keep Mexicans out, despite the fact that everyone knowledgeable on the issue said that this would never work, that it would not be feasible, that it would not fix the problem and would be a big waste of money. And yet he continues to talk about it. And I don’t know if he’s made any progress on it or not, but it’s just insane to me. The fact that people really latch onto that and the fact that people believe it despite there being no evidence to support the idea that that would be an effective solution,” Hall said.

CHS senior Jason,* despite agreeing that America, as a country founded by immigrants, should continue to admit some refugees, is supportive of Trump’s attitude towards immigration.

“We do need to make sure that this country is a safe place for all,” Jason said. “Germany, for example, has had a plethora of small terrorist attacks over the years, and that’s really a result of their open borders and all the refugees that they’ve let into their country. So I think that Trump’s push for stronger borders and some more screening for immigrants is very helpful for our country and keeping us safe.”

"I think that Trump's push for stronger borders and some more screening for immigrants is very helpful for our country and keeping us safe."

-Jason*, CHS senior

Brennan, who has helped several Syrian refugee families in St. Louis to adjust to their new communities and seek better employment and education opportunities, expressed his support for greater admittance of legal immigrants.

“I think he’s been completely wrong on immigrants. His policy, restricting immigrants from seven different countries, which I think the Supreme Court later upheld, was wrong. Syria has many people who should be coming here because they have a terrible civil war, it’s a war-torn nation, and we have room for them in our economy. We have about seven million job openings, and only six million Americans looking for work. So here in St. Louis and around the country we need workers. Syrians have come to St. Louis and they’re getting jobs, they’re starting businesses, they’re opening restaurants, they’re trying to live the American dream. He also should open the door to others, legally, to come here, and begin their American dreams [. . . ]. I think that the president is really mistaken there. Especially for Syrian refugees who need to come here and who have been helping the St. Louis economy,” Brennan said.

Trump’s positions on various other social issues have also sparked controversy, especially as a result of his unorthodox use of social media platforms to communicate with the American public. Only a few months after his inauguration, Trump used his Twitter account to announce that he would be attempting to implement a ban on transgender people in the military. According to Hall, this was one of the most concerning messages that Trump has communicated to the American public thus far.

“One thing that, for me, was particularly upsetting, was the idea that he would use his powers as president to prohibit transgender people from serving in the military. That is something that I really believe transcends politics. These are people who have chosen to dedicate their lives to preserving America’s power and preserving the freedoms that we enjoy in America, and the president has decided that that’s not acceptable. I just find that really baffling. As people become more educated and people find more interest in academic fields, I think that interest in the military as a career is decreasing. So I think the idea that you would explicitly prohibit certain people from serving in the military just makes no sense,” Hall said.

As of yet, district courts across the country have blocked the policy from taking effect. Despite this, as recently as Nov. 23, 2018, the Trump administration has requested that the Supreme Court review the issue in order to bypass the decisions of lower courts. Lambda Legal Counsel Peter Renn commented on the demand for Supreme Court action in an interview with The Washington Post:

“Yet again, the Trump administration flouts established norms and procedures. There is no valid reason to jump the line now and seek U.S. Supreme Court review before the appellate courts have even ruled on the preliminary issues before them,” Renn said.

The unconventional political strategies of Trump’s administration, as well as Trump’s own blunt and sometimes sensational persona, are topics that continue to be analyzed by political scientists and the media today. During his campaign, Trump’s honesty caused him to seem more genuine to his supporters.

“People a lot of times also don’t like his honesty,” Jason said. “Like Trump really doesn’t hold things back, he says exactly what’s on his mind. Sometimes something will come out of his mouth that people don’t want to hear and they’ll become upset by it, but I appreciate his honesty. I don’t want to be left wondering what he’s thinking, and I won’t be. His lack of a filter is definitely what causes him to make some ignorant comments and some comments that he probably shouldn’t have said, but wouldn’t you rather have someone who doesn’t hold anything back?”

"His lack of a filter is definitely what causes him to make some [...] comments that he probably shouldn't have said, but wouldn't you rather have someone who doesn't hold anything back?"

-Jason*, CHS senior

However, other aspects of his personality have drawn criticism, even from those in favor of his political policies.

“I think what’s really stood out is that he’s rude, crude, boorish and at times reprehensible. He also has a careless disregard for the truth. He just talks and spews and says things, sometimes they’re accurate, often they’re not. So that whole persona really sticks out, more than the policy in many ways. There’s been nobody like him in that office. I really thought that President Barack Obama carried himself with dignity befitting the office. I think that this president is effective in some ways, when it comes to policy, but the Trump persona I can’t endorse. And I think his personality is actually bigger, in many ways, than many of his policies,” Brennan said.

The consequences of this unprecedented approach to the presidential office have been widely debated. Though historical examples indicate that a pendulum effect may cause future politicians to employ highly contrasting political strategies in order to gain the support of voters, it is also possible that many candidates will attempt to mimic the traits which have allowed Trump to be successful.

“I try to keep reminding myself that although these particular things haven’t happened before, strange things have happened before and they fizzle out and things get back to normal,” Calvert said. “The episode I keep thinking back to would be the conflict of the late 1960s, following the Civil Rights Acts, but especially in connection with the Vietnam War protests and then Watergate. That was a very tough time in a lot of respects, socially and politically, in the United States. And yet, it seemed to sort of evaporate over the 1970s. On the other hand, there are a couple of changes which Trump has made that are worrisome for the long-term. They’re connected. First, doing politics in the sort of ethnic, nationalist way that Trump does was never a thing before. At least you had to talk in coded language to do it. And now, it’s in the open. There is still an audience for that and we now know it’s a bigger audience than we thought it was. That’s a real worry. It’s changed citizens outlooks. People have begun to talk the way Trump does and I don’t think that’s healthy for American politics. I don’t know when that’s going to go back to some semblance of normality.”

The Kavanaugh Confirmation

On July 9, 2018, President Trump nominated Judge Brett Kavanaugh to fill the position of Supreme Court Justice for the retiring Anthony Kennedy. Prior to this nomination, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, a psychology professor at Palo Alto University, contacted a Washington Post tip line, accusing Kavanaugh of sexual assault during the 1980s when the pair were both in high school. This led to a a supplemental Republican-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee hearing which resulted in a statement declaring that the allegations against the judge were unsubstantiated. Following the investigation, the Senate voted and confirmed President Trump’s nomination on October 6 by a vote of 50 to 48.

Art by Anna Sturmoski

Kavanaugh graduated from both Yale University and Yale Law School and began working as a law clerk, later joining the Bush administration as White House Staff Secretary after the 2000 election. He was confirmed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit in 2006 after being nominated by Bush in 2003.

He has vast amounts of experience in his field, and the Washington Post found that he had the most conservative voting record on the D.C. court from 2003-2018. Due to his experience, he made the short list of Supreme Court nominees.

Harvard Law Professor Richard Fallon spoke of Kavanaugh’s confirmation as well as of other inner workings of the Supreme Court.

“But for the allegations of sexual abuse, Brett Kavanaugh would have been a highly qualified nominee to the Supreme Court,” Fallon said. “He is smart and experienced. Presidents in making nominations and Senators in casting votes on whether to confirm nominees also take judicial philosophies and relative conservatism or liberalism into account.”

Despite believing that Kavanaugh was qualified nominee, Fallon also believed the allegations of Dr. Ford.

“Following the harassment allegations and the testimony before the Senate Judicial Committee, different people drew different conclusions about whether Kavanaugh had engaged in sexual assault as a teenager. For my own part, I thought Dr. Ford a credible witness. A majority of the senators obviously disagreed. I do not think they thought that he had committed sexual assault and then lied about it, but that no assault ever occurred,” Fallon said.

Fallon also has noticed a recent rightward shift in the Supreme Court. This movement to conservatism could mean a variety of things in the coming years.

“Over the past 20 years, the Supreme Court has become more conservative, largely as a result of more conservative Justices being appointed,” Fallon said. “If Justice Kavanaugh is more conservative than the Justice he replaced, we could say the same of the most recent 10 years.”

Unlike most political positions, Supreme Court Justices serve life terms. Fallon believes that a shorter term of 18 years would be more appropriate.

“I think it would be better if the Justices of the Supreme Court served fixed terms of 18 years each,” Fallon said. “This schedule would allow each President to nominate two Justices during each presidential term. But three-fourths of the states need to approve amendments to the Constitution, and getting three-fourths of the states to agree to anything is nearly impossible. As a result, I expect that Supreme Court Justices will continue to serve life terms.”

Despite the lifelong terms, impeachment for a Supreme Court Justice is still possible, but extremely rare.

“Supreme Court Justices can be impeached. The impeachment process requires the House of Representatives to vote “articles of impeachment” and the Senate then to convict the accused Justice of “high crimes and misdemeanors.” Only one Justice has ever been impeached by the House, and he (Samuel Chase) narrowly escaped impeachment by the Senate early in the nineteenth century,” Fallon said.

Kavanaugh’s confirmation sparked controversy across the nation. Many took the side of Judge Kavanaugh, either believing that high school mistakes should not affect a major decision over 35 years later, or that Ford’s allegations were false, misremembered or not substantial. Others supported Ford’s case, backing her in her allegations against Kavanaugh.

Clayton students and faculty alike have mixed opinions on the latest Supreme Court confirmation. CHS history teacher Richard Kordenbrock spoke on the controversy.

“He’s in the Scalia mold of an originalist, or sometimes referred to as a strict constructionist, which I don’t agree with,” Kordenbrock said. “I think the constitution is a living document. I’m definitely in favor of those judges which are referred to as being on the left: Ginsburg, Sotomayor and so on. From that standpoint, I’m not happy he was appointed to the Supreme Court. Gorsuch, the guy before him, he’s in that same camp and that makes a definite shift to the right of a 5-4 majority of judges who are conservative in the Scalia mold.”

While Kordenbrock does not agree with Kavanaugh’s political stance, he additionally disagrees with the result of his misconduct hearing.

“As far as whether he should’ve been confirmed by the Senate, my personal opinion was no, because I believe his accuser [Ford], and that should disqualify him,” Kordenbrock said. “That’s an anti-social act. I don’t care what age he was, I don’t care if he was under the influence. When he commited a sexual assault by laying on top of her, putting his hand over her mouth, closing the door, trying to keep her from screaming, trying to get her clothes off… My belief is that she didn’t forget who did that to her. Yes, she might’ve forgot whose house it was, but you don’t remember everybody’s house where you went to a party. But you remember who did that. You don’t forget that.”

"You don't remember everybody's house where you went to a party. But you remember who did that. You don't forget that."

-Richard Kordenbrock, CHS History Teacher

Kordenbrock believes that Kavanaugh’s confirmation sends a negative message to victims and survivors of rape and sexual assault.

“This sends a message that you’re not going to be taken seriously. But that’s always been the issue. That’s why women don’t report rape. It’s the most underreported crime there is. Because if they do, they’re going to get dragged through the ringer. They’re going to be called liars. They’re going to be accused of being immoral or promiscuous,” said Kordenbrock.

This isn’t a new pattern that society has adopted. As a history teacher, Kordenbrock has found that the cycle of disregarding sexual assault and rape allegations has been happening for a very long time.

“In African-American History I, we use a document–a report of sexual assault in Virginia in the 1670’s. A woman claims that she was raped and the witnesses testify that she was kind of making a pass at this slave–she was an indentured servant, he was a slave. So historically this is nothing new, but I do think it sends a terrible message. One that says if you’re a young guy who’s drunk, you get a pass. It’s just like when candidate Trump talked of what he could do with women. He later said that it was locker room banter. Well, I was in a lot of locker rooms. I never heard guys talk about sexually assaulting women,” Kordenbrock said.

CHS student Jackson Carter, however, believes that Kavanaugh was a suitable candidate and the right person for the job. Carter believes that the evidence presented by Ford was not incriminating enough to prevent Kavanaugh from being appointed.

“I believe that Judge Kavanaugh was rightly appointed because of the fact that there was not enough substantial evidence to convict him of any wrongdoing in the past,” Carter said. “I do understand that what he has been accused of is horrible and should never happen to anyone, yet I believe that due to conflicting evidence in his trial he was rightly appointed to the Supreme Court.”

Two other Clayton students, Jane* and Margaret*, agree with Carter in that they thought Kavanaugh was rightly appointed. Jane believed that alleged high school actions should not be held above an entire career in politics and law.

“We’re in high school. People do things that they think are awful looking back on them, or just stupid. But I feel like that shouldn’t reflect your entire life. And I was just skeptical of it all because she came out right when he was about to be elected for Supreme Court. If you really had a problem with it, why wouldn’t you have said it right when it happened and made it a big deal? I just think it’s a little fishy,” Jane said.

Art by Anna Sturmoski

Margaret thought that there wasn’t enough evidence to support Ford’s claims.

“Honestly, I don’t know if people believed it was real. I mean, she probably was assaulted, but we don’t know if it’s exactly by him, and there’s not enough evidence to support it was actually him,” she said.

Sophomore Reagan Wade continues to question whether or not Kavanaugh’s political affiliation affected the investigation and the media surrounding it.

“I think that a drunken mistake when you’re 17 years old should not affect your entire life or your career, because not only was his career put in jeopardy there, he was also humiliated for something that he might not have done,” Wade said. “If Brett Kavanaugh was a liberal, if he wasn’t appointed by Trump, would this thing have happened?”

Another CHS senior, Charles*, takes into account the idea of false accusations.

“The testimony of Christine Blasey Ford was heartfelt and compelling,” Charles said. “She sounded credible as she emotionally described the impact of the alleged assault on her life. However, Judge Brett Kavanaugh was just as compelling and heartfelt as he strongly denied the accusations with indignation. The problem is, who do we believe? As a country, what standard should we have for believing accusations? Or should we, as some might suggest, believe every accusation?”

While false accusations may happen, they are extremely rare. A study done by the National District Attorneys Association found the rate of false reports to be 7.1% after surveying eight U.S. communities, which included 2,059 cases of sexual assault.

“Despite some claiming false rape accusations never happen, they are real and they can ruin lives,” Charles said. “Studies estimate the number to be somewhere between two to ten percent of cases. The number really isn’t the important part though, it happens. Therefore, I believe it’s entirely reasonable to need some shred of corroborating evidence before labeling someone guilty.”

On the other hand, many Clayton students believe that Kavanaugh should not have been appointed, both conservative and liberal alike. CHS sophomore Kate Lay feels passionately about the controversy at hand and the pattern of underreported and prosecuted cases of sexual assault.

“Brett Kavanaugh was accused for sexual assault that he committed when he was 17,” Lay said. “I think he should still be held accountable for his actions, because by 17 you should know right from wrong. By 17, you should understand that your actions have consequences. As a 17-year-old, I can understand right from wrong. I am tired of American rape culture, where rape is normalized and victims are ignored. As a woman, as a feminist, and as a human being, I refuse to sit back and allow a patriarchal society dictate the maltreatment of women.”

"I think he should still be held accountable for his actions, because by 17 you should know right from wrong. By 17, you should understand that your actions have consequences. As a 17-year-old, I can understand right from wrong."

-Kate Lay, CHS junior

Another CHS sophomore, Leo Goodfriend, believes that any suspicion of sexual assault should be enough to halt a Supreme Court Justice confirmation.

“Obviously, the allegations against Brett Kavanaugh were more than enough to disqualify him from the Supreme Court. It is not a criminal trial, so he should not have been assumed innocent until proven guilty. If there is any doubt as to whether or not someone is a rapist, they should not be voted onto the Supreme Court. Despite this, I can almost understand why many republicans used the unavoidable doubt in the allegations as an excuse to vote for him,” said Goodfriend.

The major issue for Goodfriend was not just the sexual misconduct allegations against Kavanaugh, but his conduct throughout the hearing.

“For me, the deal breaker was how he conducted himself in the hearing. A judge is supposed to be even-keeled and predictable, and he proved himself to be a compulsive, angry person. If the rape allegations weren’t disqualifying for Republicans, Kavanaugh’s demeanor should have been.”

This is not the first time Kavanaugh’s composure has been put into question. In 2006, the Bar Association had to reassess Kavanaugh before lowering his ranking due to temperament issues.

Psychiatrist Brad K. Greenspan wrote a Letter to the Editor of the Chicago Sun Times in which he stated, “Whether Judge Kavanaugh lied, whether he did or currently does suffer from alcohol abuse or dependence, whether he is or isn’t guilty of sexual abuse in the past, his interview behavior alone was, in my opinion, appalling and disqualifying. Despite extraordinary coaching in preparation for his testimony, he behaved with hostility and belligerence. He was, at times, demonstrably abusive.”

At one point in the confirmation hearing, Kavanaugh addressed the Democratic members of the Senate.

While talking to Democrats, Kavanaugh was heard saying, “What goes around comes around…” which many interpreted as a threat against Democrats to be carried out after his confirmation as a Supreme Court justice.

With yet another issue dividing the country, it is important to stay informed and updated on all aspects of politics, and to be tolerant of the views of others.

Regardless of whether or not Kavanaugh is supported or disliked by members of the Clayton community, he is now one of the United States’ Supreme Court Justices. The next step is watching Kavanaugh and the decisions he makes.

A Changing Climate

Two degrees.

In 1965, that’s all experts said it would take to change the world. And we’re halfway there.

A recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) stated that human activities are estimated to have already caused approximately 1.0 degrees Celsius of global warming. This amount is projected to reach 1.5 degrees between 2030 and 2052 if it continues at the current rate.

As such a pressing global issue, climate change has become heavily integrated in today’s political discourse. But before one can understand this relationship between science and politics, one must first understand the issue itself.

According to Michael Wysession, a professor of earth and planetary sciences at Washington University, climate change is a global issue that describes incremental adjustments in climate over time.

“Climate change is an issue that describes how Earth’s systems have altered over the climate’s history. So to understand climate, you have to understand physics, space science, earth science, biology, chemistry, as well as sort of have an understanding of current human activity,” Wysession said.

While the disciplines required to study the complex facets of climate may be diverse, they all contribute to an issue that has one simple root: the gradual warming of the planet.

Historically, the planet has been able to dispose of excess heat. With current human contributions however, the Earth is no longer able to rid itself of this surplus.

“If the Earth’s surface heats up a little bit, it radiates that heat back out, and it will approach an equilibrium. So all these feedbacks are constantly changing, and Earth is constantly striving to reach this moving target. The reality is it never ever gets to reach an equilibrium,” Wysession said.

According to CHS biology teacher Adam Bergeron, it is important to understand that climate change can occur naturally, but that this process has been sped up as a result of human activity.

“Climate change, in terms of fluctuating climate, is a naturally occurring phenomenon. But when you look at the last 200 years, there has been a dramatic change in the concentration of carbon dioxide, methane and water vapor in the atmosphere, and as a consequence of those inputs being added to the atmosphere, there has been a significant impact on climate.”

The dramatic environmental events that we see today did occur historically as a course of nature, but are now occurring at a higher magnitude.

“There have been times when the global temperature was warmer. There were times when North America was underwater. Now, however, with the rapid rate that we are altering Earth’s systems and adding greenhouse gases, we are changing climates faster than we have ever seen them change naturally. And that’s why climate scientists are so terrified of what’s happening,” Wysession said.

As our climate changes rapidly, so does its effect on society. Substantial historical evidence suggests that human movement is dominated by climate and its relationship to geography. According to Wysession, climate change will undoubtedly alter the state of the world economically, politically and socially, just as it has historically, but at a greater rate and magnitude than past centuries.

Despite differing philosophies on the issue, large energy companies such as ExxonMobil are attempting to convert to renewable energy in anticipation of decreased funding for their unsustainable methods of extraction.

Wysession believes that this sort of economic lens for climate change does not affect how people affiliate themselves in terms of political party, as it is a mostly bipartisan perspective.

“All these regulations in the 1970s for the Environmental Protection Agency–the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act–they passed either unanimously or near unanimously in the U.S Senate and the House. They were fully bipartisan. There were both Republicans and Democrats embracing them. Then what happened was it became clear that if you identify burning fossil fuels as a problem, for pollution and for global climate, there are financial implications for this. It’s more so an economic issue than a political one.”

Wysession acknowledged, however, that while it may appear economically as a bipartisan issue, party affiliation still has an effect on the votes coming in on climate-related amendments.

“Republican senators, they all know about climate change and they understand this. They have smart staffers fill them in, and their votes and decisions are are based on political alliances. And when it becomes sort of prudent for them to vote a different way, they will. That is, unfortunately, an offshoot of having a two party system. So yes, climate change has become a political issue.”

"That is, unfortunately, an offshoot of having a two party system. [...] Climate change has become a political issue."

-Michael Wysession, Washington University Earth & Planetary Sciences Professor

Wysession also believes that the way in which a party votes on these issues is also based on their relationship with authority– namely, President Trump.

“Trump made it very clear he drew the line and said ‘I’m not supporting renewable energy,’ so he has very much drawn that line and he has a strong support, so the Republicans have followed suit.”

Bergeron sides with many climate scientists in his belief that what is done to address the issue of climate change should not be based on the swinging pendulum of party support, but based on science alone, and what steps can be taken to limit the climate’s effect on humanity.

“From a human population perspective, climate change has been politicized. We turned it into something that we can debate over that is open for interpretation. In reality, it’s something that has happened, is happening and is going to continue to happen regardless of whether or not you are a Republican, Democrat, Libertarian or independent. It is probably if not definitely the most pressing issue that will influence the human species in the next century.”

It is clear that if we wish to create sustainable living conditions in the future, change is required. If change is going to take place, it must occur soon.

“As the IPCC reports show us, we don’t have a lot of time for these political games. We really need a concerted effort on sooner rather than later So we really need to find a way to get over the politics and remove climate change as as a defining issue for one party or another,” Wysession said.

The Clayton School District has taken initiative to become more sustainable and to promote environmentally friendly habits among its students through various renovations and programs.

According to Tim Wonish, Director of Facility Services in the district, the middle school building received a gold certification from the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) organization, and the renovated science wing at CHS received a silver rating.

“Many things go into into LEED certification, as specific as how many trees, how much grass,” Wonish said. “The organization’s purpose is to make things more sustainable and to reverse how we’ve treated the earth over the past hundred years.”

The District has also experimented with implementing renewable energy sources to decrease reliability on fossil fuels for power. Solar panels have been added to most buildings, including three 25 kilowatt arrays at the high school. While these arrays do not satisfy a significant amount of the energy required, all the electricity generated reenters the grid and is used.

“Making the District more sustainable, it’s the best thing for mother earth,” Wonish said.

In 2015, almost every country in the world pledged to reduce emissions as part of the Paris climate deal.

The United Nations’ recent report claimed that these goals were too low to begin with, and no country has made significant progress in accomplishing these. The UN climate science panel stressed that if greenhouse gas emissions are not massively reduced in the next 12 years, we should expect a major climate crisis within our lifetime.

“I’m sure you’ve heard it a million times, and I hate to say it but it really is true, you know, we screwed things up,” Wysession said. “And it’s up to you to fix it.”

History of the Supreme Court

Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed to the Supreme Court by a vote of 50 to 48, the narrowest margin in modern history. In 2017, Neil Gorsuch was confirmed 54 to 45 in a vote following mostly along party lines. However, the Supreme Court nomination process wasn’t always this political. In fact, nominees of both parties used to receive widespread bipartisan support routinely. In 1986, the United States Senate voted to confirm conservative Justice Antonin Scalia to the Supreme Court by a unanimous 98-0 vote. In 1993, the Senate voted to confirm Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg by a 96 to 3 vote. She was the last Justice to get more than 90 votes. So what changed?

“Presidents are generally pretty successful at getting their nominees through. But that doesn’t mean that the Senate has always just approved, it may just mean that presidents are just really good at picking nominees who senators will approve of,” Assistant Professor of Political Science at St. Louis University Dr. Morgan Hazelton said. “And when times are less polarized that’s an easier task.”

As Hazelton suggests, America is in an era of increased political polarization. According to the Pew Research Center, the average gap between Republican and Democrat political values have increased from a 15% gap in 1994 to a 34% gap in 2017.

“Over time what we’ve seen is in the Senate and in the House and in society that between Republicans and Democrats, there’s much less of a middle,” said Hazelton. “They’ve polarized so there is almost no middle ground to have a candidate in. And it then becomes more of a party line. So I think increasingly these nominations are seen as important political acts that voters are going to hold senators accountable for.”

For most of American political history, the Senate portrayed itself as a collaborative body that tried to stay above partisan politics and the Supreme Court was viewed as an apolitical institution. As strange as it might seem today, it was almost unheard of to vote for or against a nominee based on political affiliation. In fact, from 1894 to 1968, the Senate rejected just one nomination to the high court. However, the Senate has quickly lost much of its bipartisan tradition, and Supreme Court nominations have devolved into pure partisanship.

Many historians point to the Senate’s rejection of Reagan Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork in 1987 as the starting point. Bork was a

conservative judge and writer with a record of controversial ruling. His style of legal theory which he self-described as “original intent” meant interpreting the words of the constitution exactly as it was understood when it was drafted. Bork wrote an article opposing the 1964 Civil Rights Act that requires businesses to serve people of all races and opposed Supreme Court ruling on gender equality. Bork’s record led Democrats and civil rights activists to launch a campaign to stop Bork’s nomination

In a speech to the Senate, Senator Ted Kennedy said, “Robert Bork’s America is a land in which women would be forced into back-alley abortions, blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters, rogue police could break down citizens’ doors in midnight raids and schoolchildren could not be taught about evolution.”

In the end, Bork was defeated 52-48. His failed nomination and the success of the campaign to stop him opened up a nominee’s ideology as legitimate grounds for attack. His failed nomination also had lasting effects on the confirmation process as a whole, with nominees now refusing to talk about their political views and views on current cases so that they don’t cause controversy.

Another major step to the polarized state of today’s Supreme Court was the court’s 5-4 decision to end Florida’s recount in the 2000 presidential election, effectively calling the race for Bush.

The decision highlighted the court’s political impact and motivated senators to rethink how nominations were handled.

While previously criticisms of nominees were always couched in qualification issues or characters flaws, the ruling lead to voting based on political views become seen as fair game.

In an op-ed for the New York Times, Senator Chuck Schumer wrote that it was time to stop pretending that politics didn’t matter.

“For one reason or another, examining the ideologies of judicial nominees has become something of a Senate taboo. In part out of a fear of being labeled partisan, senators have driven legitimate consideration and discussion of ideology underground. The not-so-dirty little secret of the Senate is that we do consider ideology, but privately,” Schumer said.

Following his return to the Senate following cancer treatment, the late Senator John McCain called for the return of bipartisanship.

“This place is important. The work we do is important. Our strange rules and seemingly eccentric practices that slow our proceedings and insist on our cooperation are important. Our founders envisioned the Senate as the more deliberative, careful body that operates at a greater distance than the other body from the public passions of the hour.”

Photo by Michael Melinger

Clayton Conservatism

Clayton conservatives speak about their experience in Clayton's "liberal bubble." Is Clayton the tolerant environment it is thought to be?

It’s no surprise the community at Clayton tends to have a liberal climate. In a survey of 250 Clayton students and parents organized by the Globe, 63.3% identify as liberal while only 12.5% identify as conservative. For the smaller sector of conservative students at CHS, it’s not always an entirely comfortable task attending a school where liberal views are so frequently circulated.

Janet*, a CHS sophomore, grew up with more conservative beliefs.

“Both my sets of grandparents are conservative as well as my parents, so I’ve been raised into those beliefs,” she said.

Different conservative students also expressed the same idea of being raised with their political viewpoints.

“My family’s in the South, and I grew up listening to conservative views. Although there’s some points in the liberal party I can understand and agree with, it’s like overall Republican and conservative,” Annalise*, another CHS sophomore, said.

However, the majority of their peers hold liberal ideas, and having starkly contrasting views from others becomes a challenge at Clayton for many conservative students. Junior Christina* realized when she first came to the high school that with her less liberal views, she was a fish out of water.

“I felt a bit isolated, and I felt sort of foreign here. Every time I meet someone who’s the slightest bit not wholeheartedly liberal it’s like, ‘Hey, two of a kind!’” she said.

For others like Janet, an obstacle comes when dealing with a situation where her peers all speak openly about their liberal views and she isn’t sure how to respond.

“I don’t want to speak out, but I also don’t want to go along with what they’re saying, because sometimes it’s not always what I believe,” Janet said.

According to sophomore Brianna*, being conservative at Clayton can be an incredibly frustrating experience. Her belief is that conservative viewpoints, because they are heard less frequently are taken less seriously.

“People kind of take conservatives as a joke. They just laugh, and it’s not really funny. If we were at a more conservative school, and I was laughing at people with more liberal views, it’s rude,” she said.

“People kind of take conservatives as a joke. They just laugh, and it’s not really funny. If we were at a more conservative school, and I was laughing at people with more liberal views, it’s rude.”

-Brianna*, CHS sophomore

Brianna additionally commented that there is a skewed impression of what being conservative entails, as it can widely differ from a stereotype which is often believed. Her peers now associate being conservative with traits that do not always describe her or others of the political party.

“People just think that conservatives are diehard Trump fans, they are so horrible, they want everyone to have guns–that’s not true. People just feel that way, and it’s not a good environment,” Brianna said.

This exasperation is shared by CHS senior Simone*. She explained that in her experience, she has often been disrespected for her Republican beliefs, and is frustrated that, in her opinion, a double standard exists at Clayton.

“It’s ironic to me how some democrats claim to be accepting of all beliefs, yet when someone disagrees with them politically, they somehow forget what acceptance means. I am hesitant to talk about my political beliefs for fear that people will think poorly of me,” she said.

The predicament does not merely exist outside of the classroom.

Conservative students expressed discomfort in sharing their own views inside class, fearing that teachers with differing political beliefs could potentially treat them unfairly. They also shared a belief that teachers tend to express their own more liberal viewpoints, which frustrates certain republican students–especially in history classes.

“I know [teachers] don’t mean to, but they do sort of project a very liberal filter on things, and when people are just talking and laughing and joking about how much they hate, you know, all these things that I agree with, it sort of makes me feel, like almost guilty,” Christina said.

The liberal viewpoints expressed by teachers make Brianna and Janet fearful that their conservative beliefs could harm the relationship they have with their teachers, or even their grade.

“Some of the teachers say they don’t express a view, but it’s obvious they have one. They’ll say little side comments, you just kind of know. At least for my brothers and I, we’ve refrained from speaking our minds because it’s not really worth it to have a teacher not like you,” Brianna said.

On Nov. 8, 2016, President Trump was elected to office. For some of the conservative students in eighth grade, this marked a significant turning point in history, and a change of course for the administration.

Former President Barack Obama had been in office since they were in kindergarten, and they were excited with the prospect of change. In social studies that day, Brianna was asked to express her thoughts on the election, to which her response was that she believed the new change could be beneficial. In her view, the teacher criticized her perspective and her fellow peers began denouncing her for her position on the issue.

“People said it is a safe community, but how is it safe if one group of people isn’t allowed to express their views?” Brianna said.

"People said it is a safe community, but how is it safe if one group of people isn't allowed to express their views?"

-Brianna*, CHS sophomore

The day was not only negative in Brianna’s experience. When Christina arrived at school the morning after the election, she approached one of her friends, who was aware of Christina’s support of Trump. In response, the girl said ‘don’t talk to me’ and walked away.

“I felt like I couldn’t say anything because everybody else was so upset … I knew I should have been happy because it was what I wanted, it was what I supported, but I felt guilty for wanting that,” Christina said.

Other students, such as Annalise, have faced criticism for their support of Trump. On the day of Trump’s election, Annalise was talking with Brianna, when a person behind them rolled their eyes, leading Annalise to immediately feel guilty for her belief. In retrospect, Annalise realized that she should not have been afraid in expressing her views, but also understands that when she does, she will be regarded differently by peers and teachers. However, Annalise has maintained faith in the president, excluding her initial skepticism, and continued her support despite the negative responses.

“I remember in seventh grade we were talking about the election in history class, and a bunch of people brought up how rude he was being during the debates, just like how he tweets a bunch of stuff. At first my views were kind of skeptical, I knew he would bring good changes since he’s conservative and he knew what he wanted to do, but I was always a little skeptical if people would like him or not. But now, as he’s making these changes, I’m starting to support him more and I’m glad I put my faith in him,” Annalise said.

Despite their more conservative beliefs, most students do in fact have mixed opinions on many subjects. Students such as Janet are in strong support of gun control, contending that only certain enforcers like the police should be armed and that thorough background checks need to be conducted before allowing a person to have access to such weaponry. Some, like Christina, have a wide variety of liberal views, including their opposition to Brett Kavanaugh’s appointment into the Supreme Court, which she believes is an issue that transcends political ideology.

Many also easily identify negative aspects of Trump and are not entirely in support of the policies he enacts or his behavior. Simone is against the administration’s current methods of dealing with immigration, is suspicious of some of Trump’s activities in office and questions his ability to lead the country at times.

“I kind of start to think about those ideas. But when I get home, my family’s pretty conservative, so I have these two worlds that I live in. I really do see both sides,” Brianna said.

While the liberal environment at Clayton has allowed for conservatives to be more open-minded and process many new ideas, they still believe that in their experience, the political climate of CHS has not always treated them beneficially. Janet often wonders if her experience at Clayton is justified, or whether a double standard could potentially exist.

“I have to be open minded. Same with the conservatives who go to our school-- we have to be open minded. But then, sometimes, the liberals, since they’re just so used to the community being so liberal, they don’t have to adapt to different ideas. So I think it’s almost unfair, too.”


Photos by Michael Melinger

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