Georgetown students protested President-elect Donald Trump’s victory over former Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton early Wednesday morning in front of the White House and the Trump International Hotel Washington, D.C., later that evening.
Students made their way down to the White House as early as 12 a.m. Wednesday morning, as it became clear that Trump would gather enough votes from the electoral college to become the next president. They were joined by more than 300 others, including students from The George Washington University, American University and Catholic University, in protest, celebration or observation on Pennsylvania Avenue.
As Trump, Clinton and President Barack Obama called for unity and a peaceful transition of power following the results of the election, protests erupted across the nation, particularly at college campuses. The Georgetown University Police Department has not changed its security precautions, according to GUPD Chief Jay Gruber.
One of the students who travelled to the White House, Daniel O’Sullivan (MSB ’20), said he wanted to gauge how the American people would react to the prospect of a Trump presidency.
“Mostly I wanted to see history. I wanted to be down here, I wanted to see what the mood of the country was,” O’Sullivan said. “I’ve seen people really being vicious towards each other, like having to hold each other back, and just shouting matches.”
Maggie Cirrulo (COL ’17), who also headed to the White House, was not there to observe but to celebrate.
“Why we are here tonight is we are celebrating democracy and we are celebrating the Republican Party,” Cirrulo said. “We are very excited about tonight. People think that young people don’t vote for Trump. Well, we did.”
As Trump’s victory became increasingly cemented, peaceful demonstrations by attendees against Trump turned into emotionally charged confrontations.
At 1:45 a.m., a protester from the nonpartisan youth group United We Dream, which interrupted Secretary of State Jeh Johnson’s commencement speech at the School of Foreign Service’s 2016 graduation, displayed a large “Donald Trump is a Racist” banner and began shouting through a megaphone.
“Stop targeting the undocumented community. Stop targeting my black brothers and sisters. Stop targeting my Muslim brothers and sisters. Stop targeting the LGBT community,” the protester said.
As many swing states, including Florida, North Carolina, Ohio and Wisconsin, among others, were called as victories for Trump, students watched on campus in the Healey Family Student Center at an event hosted by Georgetown’s Institute of Politics and Public Service.
Clinton supporter Millie Spencer (SFS ’20), who had been watching the returns in HFSC, said she became too emotional to wait for the final results.
“I’m going to bed. I’ve cried enough and been frustrated enough for like hours and the only thing that’s left to do is get fired up about the fact that we go to a school that cares about politics and social justice,” Spencer said.
On Wednesday night, students joined several hundred others to congregate at the U Street metro station and walk to the Trump International Hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue.
Molly Dunlap (SFS ’19), who attended the protest, described the moment the police overtook their march. Dunlap said she originally thought the police would attempt to stop them, but was instead surprised at their assistance.
“We were walking around and all of a sudden police sirens came from behind and we were all like, ‘Oh they’re coming to stop us,’ but they actually cleared the way for us,” Dunlap said.
Dunlap added that she attended the protest because of her desire to demonstrate her dissatisfaction with the election results.
“What I really liked about the protest was that it was not a bunch of drunk students getting together, because that is a tradition they do every year, but this was people who actually care, who are actually motivated, who went out of their way to mobilize and attend demonstrations,” Dunlap said.
Taking a Step Back
Though students and professors expressed surprise at Trump’s victory Tuesday, government professor James Lengle said the polls accurately predicted the results of the popular vote, which favored Clinton over Trump 47.7 percent to 47.5 percent. However, Clinton garnered 228 of the necessary 270 Electoral College votes while Trump won with 290 Electoral College votes. This marks the fourth time in America’s history that a presidential candidate has lost the popular vote but won the election.
“In some ways, the poll was reflective of the results, in that Clinton, it appears, has won more popular votes than Donald Trump and that was what polling going into the election had shown,” Lengle said. “They did predict the popular vote winner.”
In reference to Trump’s victory, Lengle highlighted three reasons he believed Trump won — the Republican Party uniting behind him, Clinton’s lack of support from minority communities that previously supported Barack Obama and Trump gaining the backing of the Independent Party.
According to Lengle, because Trump’s views differ from the agendas of many politicians in the Republican Party establishment, he will have to compromise with the Republican-controlled Congress in order to advance his campaign promises.
“He will, in some way, have to adjust to Senate and House Republicans’ views in order to get some degree of his public policy through,” Lengle said. “He’s going to learn awfully quickly that the institutions of American politics are more powerful than an individual. He will have to learn to play within the institutional context and restraints of the political system.”
The Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life and GU Politics hosted a panel Thursday night in Gaston Hall examining the results of the election.
Robert Costa, a national political reporter for The Washington Post and a panelist at the event, attributed Trump’s victory to the rise of populism.
“The populism that I first heard from him so long ago, it truly embraced him,” Costa said. “That is what really lifted him to the White House, thanks to working-class white voters in places like Wisconsin and Michigan and Pennsylvania.”
Michael Gerson, a columnist for The Washington Post and another panelist, concurred, warning that the current climate could lead to increased divisions in associations outside of politics.
“The result is pretty dangerous for our public life,” Gerson said. “It has been a hostile takeover of the Republican Party by a populous movement. It has turned a lot of our conflicts in America, conflicts of ideology, increasingly into conflicts of class that are deeply destructive to the fabric of country.”
Gerson added that he had come to realize how disengaged he was from much of the country given the surprising nature of the election’s outcome.
“The first lesson I have drawn is humility and the second is humility,” Gerson said. “The fact of the matter was that there was an elite world that is entirely disconnected from what was going on in the country.”
McCourt School of Public Policy professor E.J. Dionne, another panelist, expressed hope that Democrats could work together to bridge the separation between different communities in the country.
“The Democratic Party needs now what it has always needed, which it is a strategy, a set of policies and a set of candidates who can bring together a significant part of the white working class with African-Americans and now our growing Latino population. In principle, that is very possible,” Dionne said. “We are reminded that the white working class cannot be forgotten about.”