Some of Harvard’s authorities on American politics, government, and economics shared feelings of shock and warned of instability in the political system after Donald Trump became president-elect, contrary to the predictions of pundits and pollsters.
“From the beginning, I’ve not anticipated Donald Trump in any regard,” government professor Harvey C. Mansfield ’53 said. “ I kept thinking he would come to an end.”
Mansfield, among the minority of outspoken conservative intellectuals at Harvard, said he thought a lack of education among the American electorate contributed to Trump’s unexpected success.
“The whole thing is a victory of the lower half of the American IQ,” said Mansfield, who chose to write in Indiana Governor Mike Pence, Trump’s running mate, for president.
Harvard faculty tend to lean liberal in their political views. A Crimson analysis in February showed that 91 percent of contributions to presidential candidates at the time went to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Some of Mansfield’s colleagues expressed concern that the Trump presidency will further divide a nation already polarized after one of the most bitter presidential campaigns in modern history.
“It’s a real disaster for American politics,” Government professor Jennifer L. Hochschild said. “There’s a huge section of the population that was so angry, mistrustful, furious, that they were prepared to take an enormous risk.”
Government and sociology professor Theda R. Skocpol called Trump’s election “a crisis comparable to the Civil War.”
Skocpol, who supported Clinton in the election, said she was nervous about the businessman’s victory because of her own scholarship, some of which has focused on conservatism in America.
“I think that the disorganization and internal conflict of the Republican party have opened the door to someone winning this presidency that even the vast majority of Americans believe is not qualified to be president,” she said. “We’re in for a terrifying period for this country.”
Jill E. Abramson ’76, a senior lecturer in English and the former executive editor of the New York Times, wrote about election night for the Guardian from Hillary Clinton’s New York City headquarters.Abramson said by the time she left, shortly before midnight, signs of distress were evident among the assembled Clinton supporters.
“There were young women who I could see were crying and comforting each other,” she said.
In the wake of Trump’s surprise victory, Abramson said journalists must redouble their efforts to act as political watchdogs and check the new president’s authority.
“I think Trump’s rhetoric has had an obvious authoritarian streak,” she said. “I don’t think the country wants a government with unbridled power.”
Some professors discussed the surprising election result at forums. On Wednesday evening, the Mahindra Humanities Center hosted a panel discussion with government professor Danielle S. Allen, economics professor David I. Laibson ’88, and history professor Jill M. Lepore.
Laibson argued that Trump’s victory was fueled by growing income inequality between educated and uneducated Americans, a problem that he projects will intensify with robots and artificial intelligence increasingly replacing the labor force.
“What I unfortunately see, is a much darker road ahead,” he said “The forces that I’ve described are going to intensify.”
The large lecture hall that held the panel was entirely filled, and people crowded outside the door for a chance to enter. Homi K. Bhabha, a humanities professor and the director of the Mahindra Center, who moderated the panel, said the event was meant to be an occasion for both conversation and comfort.
“I’m so delighted to see a very full room on an evening when I feel particularly empty,” he said.
—Contributing writer Alexis Ross contributed to the reporting for this story
—Staff writer Mia C. Karr can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on twitter @miackarr.