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.”
A Changing Climate
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.”
Photos by Michael Melinger