“Contentious, emotional, combative, and polarizing.”

The 2016 presidential campaign marked an unprecedented moment in the United States’ history. To help understand this campaign and consider what the future for governance may be, Dr. Kenneth P. Ruscio, president of Washington & Lee University, put together a panel of political scientists for a discussion titled “After the Vote,” which was held on Thursday, Nov. 10.

“Tonight, it’s our intention to step back from the rush of events and commentary that we’ve seen to-date and reflect on what has transpired and perhaps most important, assess how the trajectory of this campaign and the results have shaped the trajectory of government for the future,” said Ruscio in his opening remarks.

Ruscio, a former dean of the Jepson School, began planning for the event over the summer as part of his role as 2016–17 Jepson School leader-in-residence, a program through which the Jepson School invites local, state, and national leaders to play an active role in the Jepson community.

Panelists for the event were Dr. James W. Ceaser, professor of politics at the University of Virginia; Dr. Diana M. Owen, associate professor of political science at Georgetown University; and Dr. Robert S. Strong, William Lyne Wilson professor of politics at Washington & Lee University.

Ruscio began the discussion by asking panelists about their initial thoughts before turning to more specific notes about the nature of the campaign, communications, shifts in the electorate, and the roles of the press and social media.

“I think the conclusion is that the ‘party of the people’ is not the party of the people,” said Ceaser, responding to a question from Ruscio about the state of American political parties.

“We’ve seen the role of social media in elections increase both on the side of campaigns who are using it to get their message out, and on the part of the public, who is using it to get the information about the campaigns,” said Owen.

Following the moderated questions, Ruscio opened the floor to audience members to ask questions and lines quickly formed at the microphone as people expressed their hopes for and anxieties about the future. As he concluded the program, Ruscio pointed to institutions of higher education as the hope for the successful continuation of American democracy.

“There are two historical purposes that higher education serves in this country. One is to produce achieving individuals so that they can be productive in the economic marketplace,” Ruscio said. “That second purpose of higher education—to educate citizens and leaders who will be effective in the political system in our complex democracy—I think that purpose should now rise in ascendency. We have an obligation to produce not just productive citizens–productive, yes—but also citizens.” 

---