On the morning of Nov. 9, the Storrs campus at the University of Connecticut was stunned into silence. Donald Trump had just been elected president. My fellow millennials, like me, thought that Americans would reject the boorish and vengeful business magnate who ran a vulgar and haphazard campaign.
We were wrong. Trump ran a campaign on the promise of creating a national safe space for baby boomers, and he won.
As millennials, we should have expected that.
I attended an anti-Trump rally on campus that afternoon. Students expressed solidarity with the undocumented immigrants, women, and people of color. Even I, as a Jewish man, am distraught by Trump’s selection of Stephen Bannon, a man who is well known for harboring anti-Semitic attitudes, as his chief strategist. Yet the threat to civil liberties posed by a Trump administration is far greater for those who do not look like me.
In response, students at my university created a safe space. It was important, it was valuable, and I was glad to have been a part of it.
My generation is often criticized for its supposed childishness and oversensitivity. A recent slew of op-eds has exploited these protests to lambast millennial immaturity. Rudy Giuliani called college protesters a “bunch of spoiled crybabies.” Carl Cannon opined, “Baby boomers teach millennials right response to Trump.” The assault on millennials has primed the public to assume the worst about us. A satirical op-ed in which millennials received participation prizes for taking part in anti-Trump protests was taken seriously on social media. The fact that the joke was lost on so many people is telling.
Now, I am not wild about everything that is said or done on college campuses like mine. I take particular exception to chants of “Not my president!” Like it or not, Donald Trump is the president-elect, and to reject this fact offends our democratic institutions. I also share many of the concerns about tolerance for intellectual heterodoxy on college campuses that have been thoughtfully expressed by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt.
Nevertheless, the constant brow-beating of millennials and their safe spaces rings hollow following this election. Trump’s victory is a win for those who wish to see the country return to a time when America was “great”; to a time when the American economy stood alone on the world stage in the aftermath of two world wars; to a time when white, male, straight, and cisgender hegemony reigned supreme; and to a time when American life was characterized by small-town values, local manufacturing, consensus politics, church on Sunday, and homemade apple pie.
The notion that we can, or should, return to this time is far more infantile than playing with crayons on a college campus. Millennials know that Trump’s regressive vision of America is a nostalgic fantasy. The future will be driven by pluralistic urban values, a globalized economy, hyper-partisan politics, brunch on Sunday, and Blue Apron for dinner.
These trends might make some baby boomers feel unsafe, but no electoral campaign can turn back the tide of history. Millennials will continue to be criticized for creating safe spaces on college campuses. Meanwhile, Trump supporters are hoping that their man in Washington will create a national safe space by forcibly removing undocumented immigrants, building a wall along the border with Mexico, and implementing tariffs in a futile attempt to keep manufacturers from leaving the country.
In Trump’s America, it looks like it’s safe spaces for everyone. One can only hope that, in a future where Americans are stronger together, we can break down the border walls of our generational safe spaces and hold the difficult dialogues necessary to move our country forward.
Ian A. Gutierrez is chair of the American Psychological Association of Graduate Students at the University of Connecticut.