Sunday, November 13, 2016

What I said to my students about the election

The election
This is difficult but the election of Donald Trump will have such enormous impact on your careers in the law that I think it’s important to discuss the election.

As you know I grew up in Levittown, Long Island in a 100% white post-war suburb.  I went to a Jesuit high school in Brooklyn.  When I graduated from Holy Cross College in 1967 we were at war in Vietnam.  I was opposed to the war.  Like several classmates I joined the Peace Corps - a people to people peace mission created by John F. Kennedy.  I spent two years in India and learned a lot about other cultures.

In 1970 I started law school at Rutgers, inspired by the civil rights movement and courts’ role in expanding protections of people’s rights.  For most of the past forty years those principles have  been on the defensive as the expansiveness of the Warren era has been eroded.  There have been some advances – the Orbergefell same sex marriage decision being a notable one.  But now the prospect is for a Supreme Court that will be hostile to rights claims for generations.

The unthinkable has happened - Donald Trump lost the popular vote but won the political majority and will be the President of the United States.  One of the most important principles of democracy is the orderly transfer of power after an election conducted according to law.  This is a uniquely difficult moment in my life because so many of the themes of the Trump campaign violated norms of democratic behavior and ordinary civility – toward neighbors (Mexico - they’re sending rapists, murders, and probably some decent people), immigrants (build a wall), Muslims (bar Muslim war refugees from entry), and African Americans whose lives are said to be  so miserable that they “have nothing to lose”.

Such norm breaking abuse was directed at a former first lady - two term United States Senator, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.  She was disparaged as Crooked Hillary.  Trump led crowds in chants of Lock her up!  He said on stage in a national Presidential debate that if he is elected she “would be in jail”.

What is the proper response as the defeated candidate?  Act like it didn’t happen, like Hillary Clinton.  Be like her.

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