Published February 04, 2019 by Samara Nassor ’22

Reaching Understanding in the Trump Presidency

In the company of civilizing influences such as live music, coffee, and treats, Bowdoin students, faculty, and community members gathered last week in Smith Union for the latest What Matters and Make Shift Coffee House conversation.
What Matters discussion in Smith Union

When more than half of the American population reports that the current political climate is a leading source of stress, the attendees at the event were there to chat about the source of that stress for many—President Trump.

What Matters is a Bowdoin series that brings people together to talk about a current event. Make Shift Coffee House is a local organization that organizes forums for town hall-like discussions around divisive social and political issues. They collaborated on this program.

Make Shift Coffee House founder Craig Freshley started off the event by announcing that the evening was not intended to convert anyone or win over a stranger to one's side. “We are here to understand people’s views—not to find common ground, change minds, or convince people,” he said. He encouraged people with a wide variety of perspectives to articulate their opinions.

Freshley’s first question was, “Why Trump?” A graduate from Bowdoin’s class of 1966 answered right away: “Over thirty-five years, thousands of jobs from shoe, paper, and textile industries disappeared. You become desperate.”

But some members of the Brunswick community, in response, wrestled with questions about how Trump could ever reflect true American values.

Another Brunswick resident said he was disturbed by the polarization that he declared the Trump administration incited. “Trump has no moral compass. I don’t feel safe raising my grandchildren in this country,” he said.

A Brunswick resident added that she feared that if Trump continued to demonize others by calling them diseases and rapists, he would spur violence in the streets.

A participant stood up and said that he grew up in the segregated South, a setting that was demeaning for everyone. While he wanted everyone to be included in today's society, he was worried about another big segregator. “It is an unbalanced system for people who have money,” he said. 

A Bowdoin graduate who identified himself as Republican said while there was a rise in identity politics, he urged the audience to be more patriotic. For him, patriotism was about recognizing the errors of the past but leaving them in a historical context, and working on forging a shared identity.

A sophomore at Bowdoin followed this by arguing that Republicans have been mischaracterized. His views were reinforced by the chair of Maine’s Republican party, Demi Kouzounas, who added that Trump is above politics, which is part of his appeal. She challenged anyone in the audience who thought that they could ever bribe him.

Even so, some still felt that the blind trust that Americans put into the current administration, and indeed, past ones, was not ideal.

Yet someone else pointed to a bright side to today's difficult political climate: those who were not politically active before have now started to pay attention.