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2016 presidential election

Morgan State students blah on Clinton, but shocked by Trump win

Mood at election night watch party turned heavy as the results came in

The pollsters got this much right: They said black millennials were not feeling Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, and that much was clear at the election night watch party at Morgan State University’s Student Center in Baltimore.

The crowd was robust. A couple of hundred students packed the two-level theater on the center’s main floor, and dozens more took in the returns from overflow rooms upstairs. Yet, despite musical interludes, political trivia games, and exhortations from student leaders, there was little excitement.

Several students explained that while they found the idea of a Donald Trump presidency unthinkable, the prospect of Clinton occupying the Oval Office did not excite them much either — at least until everyone saw that the unthinkable could happen.

“We are a younger generation. We are not going along with something simply because our parents did. We support something because it is in our best interest, not because it is in our history,” said Rebecca Phillips, 21, a political science major and head of the university’s Political Science Association. “In the 1990s, she talked about superpredators, the crime bill. Then when she is running for president, the next thing you know she is doing the Whip and the Nae Nae on Ellen. You don’t know whether she is being sincere or not. A lot of us voted for her, but our heart was not in it.”

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 09: A screen displays the popular vote favoring Donald Trump on election night for Democratic presidential nominee former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center November 9, 2016 in New York City.

NEW YORK, NY – NOVEMBER 09: A screen displays the popular vote favoring Donald Trump on election night for Democratic presidential nominee former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center November 9, 2016 in New York City.

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In the end, that lack of enthusiasm helped do in Clinton as an outpouring of rural and exurban white voters lifted Trump to a stunning victory. He won in white areas of the country — by a lot. Clinton won in urban centers and prosperous suburbs, but her margins were not big enough to compensate for Trump’s advantage.

“You have to say this for Trump, said Chad Williams-Bey, 31, a doctoral candidate from Connecticut who cast an absentee ballot for Clinton. “He is the voice for those who feel voiceless especially with [President Barack] Obama, a black man, in power — which is OK.”

Polls leading up to Tuesday’s election showed Clinton with overwhelming advantages among black voters. But that margin was slimmer among the millennials, many of whom have only voted for a black man — Obama — for president. One August poll found that just 60 percent of black millennials supported Clinton, as opposed to more than 90 percent of overall potential black voters. Many young voters said they would not cast a ballot, while still others said they would support minor-party candidates. Only 2 percent saw Trump as a viable alternative.

Democratic pollster Cornell Belcher ran focus groups in Ohio that found many young black voters simply did not trust Clinton, whose husband, former President Bill Clinton, supported a 1990s crime bill that some activists blame for fueling mass incarceration, even though prison populations started their sharp increases in the mid-1970s.

“He might be the devil,” one interviewee was quoted saying in the report. “But she has been in bed with the devil.”

Mareco Edwards, 20, a Morgan State sophomore. He was a strong Clintons contemporaries were not.

Michael A. Fletcher

Mareco Edwards, 20, a business administration major at Morgan, was all in for Clinton. But he also knew that she did not energize many of his contemporaries. “It is hard to compare her to Obama. He is one of a kind. But at the end of the day, when you see Hillary and Trump side by side, there is no comparison. But for me, the idea of seeing the first woman elected president was exciting.”

For much of the night, that was the tenor of conversation at Morgan. Clinton is no Obama, everyone agreed. But she would be better than Trump. Some admitted that they did not vote, mirroring the views of celebrities such as San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick who told reporters he would not vote.

Malik Pelham, 20, a civil engineering student said he did not vote. “I did not want either one in office,” he said.

Yet, he looked as concerned as other students when it became clear that Trump was winning. “This is crazy, to go from Obama to Trump,” he said, after the large screen in the front of the theater showed Trump edging ahead in the Electoral College.

The mood grew heavier as the night wore on. The theater cheered when New Mexico and its five votes went to Clinton. They erupted again when she won Virginia. There were audible murmurs when the networks called Ohio for Trump. They were more urgent when Trump won Florida.

The students cheered loudly when clips of previous election calls were flashed on the screen. The one from 2008, when Obama was declared the winner, brought loud applause from the crowd, and now distant memories from administrative staff who remember Morgan students taking to the streets in celebration when the nation elected its first black president.

Some students paced the aisles, visibly worried, when it became apparent that Clinton’s electoral firewall was burning down. North Carolina was slipping away, and then Pennsylvania.

One of the speakers tried to lighten the mood. “Are you all as nervous as I am about this election?” she said, asking everyone to strike a pose with their reactions if Trump won. “They say no middle fingers,” she cracked.

Another speaker offered some perspective from the stage. “A lot of this comes down to black people, us, getting out the vote,” he said. “In Michigan, the blackest county, [which includes] Detroit, has had the worse turnout since President Obama was first elected. I love that we have a black president, but there is life after him.”

Michael A. Fletcher is a senior writer at The Undefeated. He is a native New Yorker and longtime Baltimorean who enjoys live music and theater.