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'I don't think I've ever felt prouder of our country': Students react to Joe Biden's victory

Biden supporters feel joyful, recognize challenges ahead as Trump supporters come to terms with loss

<p>Joe Biden at Hillside High School on October 27, 2019.</p>

Joe Biden at Hillside High School on October 27, 2019.

When he first heard that former Vice President Joe Biden had been elected president, senior Rahul Krishnaswamy, Duke Students for Biden co-chair, said it was like a “transformation.”

“I woke up this morning before it was called. I went outside, and then I saw on my phone that it was called,” he said Saturday. “And even if it was the same atmosphere outside, it just felt like I was breathing completely different air.”

The end of the 2020 presidential election came after four years of chaotic governance under President Donald Trump, followed by four days of suspense as state election officials slowly tallied mail-in ballots and other late-counted votes. Major media outlets finally called the race for Biden and his running mate, Kamala Harris, around 11:30 a.m. Saturday. 

For many Duke students, the news brought relief and joy. Supporters of the president, meanwhile, came to terms on Saturday with their candidate’s defeat. 

After first-year Akiya Dillon heard the news from a friend, she immediately called her mother.  

“I was super excited just because that anxiety goes away and you’re like, ‘Okay, I can breathe a little bit,’” she said.  

When he heard the news, senior Salvador Chavero Arellano started to cry. Chavero is a Dreamer, an undocumented immigrant allowed to legally remain in the country because of the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Trump’s immigration policies have stopped him from going to Mexico to see his family without risking being unable to return to the United States. 

Now Chavero hopes to apply for advance parole to see them again, including his grandmother, who is facing health issues. 

“A lot of things have been going through my mind, and really trying to process it all, but overall super happy,” he said.

Biden and Harris support DACA, whereas Trump attempted unsuccessfully to end the program and his Department of Homeland Security stopped processing new applications. Chavero said he and his friends and allies will advocate for Biden and Harris and push for legislative immmigration reform.

Though relieved, Dillon, who canvassed for Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary, said she also knows there is a long path ahead to achieving progressive policies. 

“It’s a step in the right direction, but it’s still not where I would like to be,” she said. 

Like Dillon, first-year Chloe Nguyen emphasized the need for ongoing reform during a Biden presidency. 

“There needs to actually be change implemented, like fundamental change to help people and address the systemic problems that have been ongoing, in order to make sure that we don't have another Trump in four years,” she said. 

Krishnaswamy said that despite President Donald Trump’s likely victory in North Carolina and the results of some state races, he’s proud of what Duke Students for Biden accomplished in Durham County. 

“We helped get turnout to record levels. Durham County has always been reliably blue, but we've made it more blue than ever before in recent history … and of course every vote counts, especially with the popular vote” he said. As of Saturday night, Biden has a popular vote lead of more than 4 million votes nationally.

Krishnaswamy also noted that Democrats flipped two U.S. House seats in North Carolina and reelected Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper.

Sophomore Daniel Billings, who is from the United Kingdom, said Europeans generally did not have a favorable view of Trump as president, and that Biden is going to improve foreigners’ perception of Americans. 

“He’s bringing back a bit of decency to this office, to this country,” Billings said.

Billings also recognized that Trump won a sizable portion of the electorate, which meant that Biden’s win was only a “political victory,” not a “moral victory.” 

Given how many voters cast their ballot for Trump, empathy is essential, he said.

“It’s a complicated election. You got to detest the man but you can’t really detest 70 million Americans. Life is confusing,” he said.  

Sophomore Eliot Merriner, a Republican, said he is disappointed about the result of the presidential election but not too concerned, since he thought Republicans were successful on the state level and in the Senate. 

Those victories, along with federal judges appointed by Trump, will stymie Biden’s attempt to make serious changes during his term, Merriner said.

“And I think despite the fact that Trump did not win the presidency, I thought there were a lot of trends in the voter demographics that looked promising for the future,” he said, noting that Trump improved his support among Hispanic and Black voters in some parts of the country.

“To me, that speaks well of a lot of underlying ideologies,” he said. “We’ll see what happens in 2024.”

Like Merriner, first-year Clay Bromley supported Trump. He is a member of ROTC, and he said he voted for Trump because the president’s policies helped military members and veterans. 

He also said he had accepted the results, despite Trump’s refusal to concede. 

“He lost, but I’m not upset about it because that means the majority of people decided that it would be a better vote for them,” he said. “And I think that’s exactly how it should be.” 

Looking ahead, Bromley hopes that Biden doesn’t pack the Supreme Court by adding more seats. He also wants Biden to support military and defense spending. 

Sophomore Sarah Zimmerman said she’s glad the election is over. 

“Regardless of what political party you support, it was an incredibly stressful time as a whole for everybody,” she said. 

Zimmerman also said she is “beyond thrilled” about Biden’s victory.

“I was anxious about the election because I thought that if Trump won, that would mean losing human rights, losing what our country stands for, the dignity of the United States and so many other things. So Biden winning is definitely a win for the country and all of its citizens.” 

She acknowledged that tensions would probably remain as long as Trump is still in the White House. 

“I don’t think Trump is going to be someone to back down or give up his power, which even he has stated, which I think is going to create a lot of increased tension for about a month,” she said.

Once he leaves, the country will have some “peace” and be able to “move forward and grow” again, she said. 

First-year Jamael Smith was relieved to hear Biden won, he wrote in a message to The Chronicle. 

“Right now, I don't think I've ever felt prouder of our country than I do right now—we were given a choice between division and unity and we chose unity.”

He wrote that he hopes a Biden administration will “mend the wounds of the past four years.” 

“While these issues definitely won't go away under Biden, it's nice to know that we'll have a leader willing to address them and work to help this country heal,” Smith wrote. 

Anisha Reddy and Parker Harris contributed reporting.  

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