Formal dinner was canceled for the occasion. That night, students and teachers huddled in the various common rooms throughout the campus to watch the 2016 Presidential Race, the televisions’ colors of blue and red streaming across their faces.
This was it: the culmination of over a year of celebrity scandals, implacable aggression, and biting anxiety. And after eight years of the Obama Administration, election night would reveal the nation’s true character.
It was early— only 6:30 p.m.— and Mr. Trump had an expected lead in the South. Still, students shot nervous glances at one another, their laptops opened to 538 and the New York Times live forecasts as they scrutinized the precincts in swing states.
“Guys, it’s way too early, polls haven’t even closed in California,” a student offered in one group.
“It’s the cities— large populations, highly democratic. That’s what’ll do it for her,” another chimed.
“You’re right, but look, she’s losing” one wailed. “In FLORIDA!”
“Get real, do you honestly think he could win,” a student calmly stated, her confident tone devoid of concern. Luckily, her comment managed to placate, convincing students that tomorrow morning offered only one foreseeable outcome. The group began to smirk at one another and make jokes about the impossibility of a Trump presidency.
“We’re with her!”
As the night progressed, however, and polls began closing in Florida, Ohio, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania. The common room congregations assumed a drastically different spirit. Now, election forecast counters swayed towards Trump and with each passing moment, it was no longer a mix of blue and red that splashed spectators faces.
In the bustling Hill common room, a group of disciples crowded around Mr. Carney, demanding an explanation for the paradox that cascaded from the television. Trump is winning. Together, their faces reddened with angst, they became political analysts and reporters, scanning for favorable predictions on their cell phones and laptops.
Nearby, other students did homework, glancing to and from their Calculus or English or Biology to CNN or CNBC or MSNBC. Rapid chatter filled the room, and each time a Key Alert was announced, the room hushed and all eyes locked on to the screen.
Students remained calm, knowing that Clinton’s path still existed, but some shuffled nervously. Others wore nervous faces while grinding their teeth, and some told increasingly gloomy jokes.
“Hey, guys, I bet if we turned it to Fox News, we’d be a lot happier.”
“No joke, if this happens, I’m packing my bags for Canada.”
“You can’t! Canada’s immigration website has crashed!”
Without warning, Trump secured Ohio. By 9:00, he took Florida and within the span of thirty minutes, he seemed to be paving a direct path to the oval office on the once blue Rust Belt. Results flowed in from North Carolina, Iowa, and Wisconsin. All states that Obama had won. All red.
As Clinton began to fall behind, students began to fall into hysteria. Now, Trump had the upper hand— 244 electoral votes to Clinton’s 215.
Students messaged one another frantically, creating plans to push back assessments and assignments on behalf of the oncoming upset. Others leaned on each other’s shoulders, their eyes swollen with tears. A few sat in silence, looking at the ground for answers as they shook their heads in astonishment. Dorm heads were beside themselves, unable to hide their emotions behind countenances that betrayed horror and disbelief.
Outside, distressed students held phones to their ears.
“Are you watching this?”
“I didn’t expect it either.”
“No, there’s no time left.”
9:30-10:00 concluded, and students scurried back to their own common rooms. As they clustered around the television, they struggled to make sense of the images on-screen; while throngs of Trump supporters wailed in excitement, Hillary’s supporters slowly made their way home.
Trump took Pennsylvania: 264.
That evening, the capacity to imagine seemingly failed the Thacher community. Intellectually, we knew the possibility of a Trump presidency loomed since he announced his candidacy months ago— even more so as he edged past Clinton over the course of that night.
During the campaign, we paraded our lofty and insightful political opinions, certain that beyond any reasonable doubt, America would not have the audacity to elect such a figure; that somehow, even despite the tumultuous social and political climate that stared at us, we could live content in our small, progressive community.
We were unwilling to see or process the numbers and the headlines and fell victim to our trusted sources which we devoutly followed in the preceding months — MSNBC, followed by 538, the Washington Post, and the New York Times seemingly deceived us and announced the impossible.
We were unwilling to see or process the fact that Donald Trump, against all his misogyny; against all his bigotry; against all his chauvinism; against all his narrow comments that indiscriminately marginalized, estranged, and disaffected so many Americans; against everything, had won the presidency.
And now, on November 9th, with Trump elected president, students wake to a sunny morning in the state of California.
It’s just another day in Ojai. And it will be the same for the next four years.