Exhausted, but unsurprised: UMD students react to Trump’s refusal to concede

Trump supporters congregate at Freedom Plaza in Washington, D.C., prior to the Million MAGA March on Nov. 14, 2020. (Julia Nikhinson/The Diamondback)

On Monday, some three weeks after winning the election, former Vice President Joe Biden received his first daily intelligence briefing — a milestone in his team’s transition to the White House after the Trump administration delayed the peaceful transfer of power.

Just hours earlier, President Donald Trump took to Twitter to undermine the legitimacy of the election results, proclaiming, “NO WAY WE LOST THIS ELECTION!”

With 306 electoral votes — including Georgia’s 16, following a six-day recount — Biden will become the country’s 46th president. Still, Trump has yet to concede, saying as recently as Thanksgiving Day that he’s unlikely to ever do so. The break with generations of precedent has prompted some University of Maryland professors to flag alarm for the future of democracy and has exhausted students, though some are not surprised by Trump’s actions.

Soh-Hyun Hur, for one, called the president’s response to defeat — including his baseless claims the election was rigged — “immature and ridiculous.”

“It’s just really hard for me to see him as a likable leader,” said Hur, a sophomore bioengineering major who voted for Biden.

Naja Mulagha, a sophomore biology major, echoed Hur’s frustrations, calling Trump’s fruitless legal battle a waste of time.

Hailing from rural Virginia, Mulagha is accustomed to being a Democrat among Republicans. She has family members who voted for Trump. Most of her friends at home are Trump supporters. But what caused arguments with family has recently severed some friendships.

“It just seems like there’s nothing that the president can do that will make his supporters not support him,” she said. “So it just kind of comes down to a line … this is how you feel, this is how I feel, we’re never going to have a middle ground.”

[After five-day-long election night, UMD students react to news of Donald Trump’s defeat]

Finn Osterhout, a junior mechanical engineering major, said he likely would have voted for Trump had his mail-in ballot from Rhode Island arrived in time. He might have regretted it, he said.

“Seeing his reaction to defeat probably would have changed my mind,” Osterhout, a self-proclaimed Republican, said.

Some students, however, see Trump’s actions in a different light.

Tony Proulx, a junior mathematics and secondary education major and Trump supporter, understands the president’s legal battles will not alter the outcome of the election. He also disagrees with the president’s allegations that the election was stolen from him. And he thinks Trump should concede — but not until the administration has tried its hand in court.

“I think in order to have it so everybody feels more comfortable about the legitimacy of the election, that we just let everything play out,” said Proulx, founder and president of Young Americans for Freedom, a conservative organization on campus. “And if it’s a Biden election, so be it. And if it’s a Trump election, fine.”

“This is not just about Trump getting his legal team to ensure that he lost,” Proulx added. “It is also kind of a citizen’s look, where the citizens can trust the process [has] played out fully.”

[“Just want it over with”: UMD students stress as election winner remains unknown]

But Stella Rouse, a government and politics professor at this university, described Trump’s actions as “dangerous.”

She fears distrust in elections will outlast Trump’s term, hindering voter turnout and influencing how political parties handle future disputes. She described the peaceful transfer of power as a major tenet of American democracy and one that normally involves the loser conceding.

“Our system often operates more on norms than it does on actual laws that can be enforced, which is really a real weakness,” said Rouse, who is also director of the university’s Center for Democracy and Civic Engagement. “Those norms have been largely respected regardless of how brutal a political contest has been.” 

Sam Intrater, a junior government and politics and theatre major, has not been surprised by Trump’s refusal to concede. But, like Rouse, he foresees the consequences of Trump’s actions outlasting his term. 

Intrater, a member of UMD College Democrats, has heard his parents and grandparents speak about the presidency with a sense of honor and dignity. He feels Trump’s behavior, especially following the election, has eroded that view of the office and will make young people more critical of future presidents.

“It feels like a culmination of four years that I think are going to have a big impact on a lot of young people,” he said. “On how they view the institution of the American presidency for the rest of their lives.”

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