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It only took a few days after the Nov. 3 presidential election, but former Vice President Joe Biden became the projected winner of the 2020 election to become the 46th President of the United States after an electoral vote of 306-232 beating out incumbent President Donald Trump, but not without some pushback in the following weeks.
Christopher Williams, an Assistant Professor of Political Science here at UA Little Rock who specializes in elections, public opinion and democratic governance, says that Biden’s win was “absolutely” historic.
“It represents a clear break from the often radical-right and anti-system policies of Trump,” he said. “The election of Joe Biden likely means a return to the existing global order. At the domestic level, we can expect to see major differences in immigration policy, education policy, tax policy, environmental policy, trade policy, etc.”
Drew Martin, the chair of the UA Little Rock College Republicans Chapter, says that the Presidential race is not quite over yet, and points locally to why there should be some concern with the projected results.
“Fraud and incompetence in elections are always a concern,” he said. “Locally we know that 327 ballots were counted in Pulaski County that should not have been. The director of elections (Bryan Poe) admits that, and two house races have margins well within these bounds.”
Martin is referring to 327 absentee ballots in Pulaski County that had been disqualified accidentally being included with absentee ballots when being added to unofficial totals.
“The problem with proving these cases in court is the necessity of a paper trail, and we have not clearly seen that in many of the states where Joe Biden maintains slim leads,” Martin said. “There is a constitutional question at play in Pennsylvania as it relates to segregated ballots. I do believe though that President Trump’s case will and should have its time in court so the Judicial Branch can make its decision.”
Williams disagrees with Martin, Trump and many Republicans claiming fraud, saying that there is a slim chance this election was fraudulent.
Fraud or not, Martin says that Biden’s win isn’t as victorious as many might think.
“There is still the decision to be held in the judicial branch; but make no mistake about the results of the election: this was not a Biden mandate,” he said. “We were told across the country that Joe Biden would win in a landslide with coattails electing many more Democrats to the Senate and House, and that simply is not the case.”
Currently, President Trump still has not conceded the election, which Williams says will have both short term and long term effects.
“The short term regards the outcome of this specific election,” he said. “In reality, Trump refusing to concede will likely have little effect on the outcome of this election. On Dec. 14, the electors will meet and elect Joe Biden, this will be certified by Congress and on Jan. 20, 2021, Joe Biden will become President. If Trump refuses to leave, he will likely be escorted out of the White House by the Secret Service.”
Williams says that the long term effects of President Trump not conceding may have large effects on the health of American democracy.
“Democracy only survives when elites (e.g. candidates, parties, media, etc.) agree to the rules of the game,” he said. “They drive the public in accepting the outcome of elections and the peaceful transfer of power, which are imperative for democracy. Trump and others in the Republican Party undermining this election leads to many in the public believing the election was not legitimate, which makes them more likely to believe that future elections are not legitimate. It also increases the likelihood of violence.”
Williams and Martin both agree that this election has caused the country to become even more divided than before.
“I think what you see is a country that is divided ideologically,” Martin said. “There is so much more that unites us, but you would not know that from looking at the election results. For now, I think we (the Republican Party) need to focus on the two senate runoffs in Georgia, so that we preserve the Republican Senate.”
Martin is referring to the two runoff elections in Georgia, between current Republican Senator David Perdue against Democratic challenger Jon Ossoff and current Republican Senator Kelly Loeffler against Democrat challenger Rev. Raphael Warnock, which both Martin and Williams agree will have a major impact on the outcome of the election as Democrats need to win both these races in order to gain control of the Senate.
“Changes under the Biden administration will, in part, be determined by the outcome of the two Senate races in Georgia,” Williams said. “If the Democrats lose at least one of those seats, the Republicans will control the Senate, and that significantly restricts what Biden can get done as he won’t have unified government.”
Even if Republicans don’t have a substantial victory in the federal elections, Martin points out that they did have some here in the state of Arkansas.
“We here in Arkansas had a fantastic night for Republicans,” he said. “We re-elected Congressman French Hill by double digits and we expanded our majorities in the state house and senate by multiple seats each. This state ‘Democratic’ up and down the ballot a decade ago, but the Democratic Party of Arkansas has essentially given up on the working people in this state, not even contesting many races and sometimes running half-hearted campaigns. I believe the Republican Party of Arkansas is ready for the years ahead, and the Democrats have a lot of soul searching to do.”
In the federal government, Williams says that a lot of changes may come under the Biden administration as opposed to the previous one, even if he doesn’t have a unified government.
“Under all conditions, I expect the U.S to immediately rejoin the Paris [Climate] Accord,” Williams said. “I also expect Biden to reinstitute DACA. If Biden doesn’t enjoy unified government, he will also likely use an Executive Order to cancel substantial student loan debt. If he does enjoy a unified government, I expect student loan debt will be cancelled through legislative means along with a repeal of parts of the Trump tax cut. Further, I would expect some movement on passing a Voting Rights Act and even statehood for Washington, D.C.”
Martin, however, says that there is a real concern about Biden’s lack of vision from a legislative standpoint.
“Biden’s initial moves post-election give the appearance that he will govern much the same as his former boss, President Barack Obama,” he said. “However, he has no clear vision, no clear agenda, no clear first move. I believe that concerned many voters who saw him as a Trojan horse for leftist ideology, which you will see a hard push from the far left of the Democrat party to influence the Biden Administration.”
Martin says that the Biden Administration will be a huge contrast from Trump’s four years in office from an accomplishment perspective.
“The Trump Administration, whether you liked the bluster or not, was filled with accomplishments,” he said. “Record low unemployment for Americans of all backgrounds, an American-centered foreign policy where we kept our word to our allies, criminal justice reform, circuit and Supreme Court judges who embrace the Constitution, and historic funding for HBCU’s (Historically Black Colleges and Universities). I expect the Biden years to be quiet and to honestly pass no major legislation, instead, relying on executive orders to put together whatever they can deem as satisfactory. The Biden years will be quieter, but they also will not deliver results for the American people.”
Whatever the results of the election might be, it was a historic win for all Americans when it comes to engagement and voter turnout as we saw the highest percentage of eligible voters vote since the election of 1900 with both Biden and Trump breaking the record for most votes for an individual candidate (formerly held by Obama in 2008).
“Voter turnout was exceptionally high, but what is interesting is that it was high on both the right and the left,” Williams said. “Republicans turned out in huge numbers, with Democrats showing up in even greater numbers. On the Democratic side, this comes down to anger with Trump’s policies, Trump’s mismanagement of the pandemic, and an extensive Democratic organization, led by people like Stacey Abrams in Georgia, encouraging voter turnout. On the Republican side, it appears that a substantial amount of the voter turnout was driven by Trump himself. In 2018, Democrats in statewide races did better in almost every swing state than Joe Biden did. This is because Republican turnout was substantially lower in 2018 than in 2020. This indicates that Trump brought a huge number of Republican voters to the polls.”
Martin on the other hand points to social media as another factor in why voter turnout was so high in this election.
“Politics continues to consume more and more of our lives as we continue to consume more of it,” he said. “Nobody could open Facebook or Instagram without constant reminders about voting. Every celebrity, from Youtube stars to Hollywood A-listers, repeatedly hit voters with the same reminders.”
Martin, like Williams, also points to events of 2020 as major factors as well.
“We also cannot take COVID out of the picture,” Martin said. “We saw during the George Floyd protests during the summer that being socially distanced for long periods of time spurs people to get outside and to become involved in causes they care about, on both sides. Campaigns also continue to reinvent the wheel on get out the vote efforts, making use of increased absentee voting among other items.”
The Forum reached out to the UA Little Rock College Democrats Chapter for comment but did not get a response.
While the COVID-19 pandemic has canceled numerous sports games in the past seven months, pool closures left swimming and diving teams across the nation with very little options for practices and meets.
The pool closures for the spring and most of the summer forced Amy Burgess, the UA Little Rock Head Swimming & Diving coach, to come up with new ways for the team to stay in shape during the off season.
“Though some sports were able to continue training on their own during the spring and summer, pools remained closed for most of the spring and early summer so our training was done out of the water, which as you can imagine is not quite the same,” she said.
Burgess made the team workout outside of the water with weights and running, aka “dryland,” and although they are allowed in the water now, there are still some restrictions the team has in place.
“We are keeping roommates together during most practices, wearing masks in the weight room and alternating which side of the pool each lane trains in to keep distance between everyone,” Burgess said.
With most of the team back home after UA Little Rock closed its campus on March 12, the team had to do their workouts all on their own, including senior Lily Kerr who had to go back to her home in South Carolina.
“I didn’t have access to a pool because the majority of facilities were mandated to close,” Kerr said. “As a result of this during the spring I did a lot of dryland workouts and did interval-based running to maintain my endurance as I am a distance swimmer.”
The time out of the water was difficult for Kerr since swimming helps her cope during stressful times, especially in the middle of a global pandemic.
“Swimming has always been something I can turn to take my mind off of other aspects of my daily life and it is an activity I truly enjoy doing,” she said. “It was very hard mentally to not be able to participate in the sport that I love. I think the biggest challenge for myself and the team as a whole during the pandemic is not having access to a pool.”
However, luckily enough for Kerr, the pools in South Carolina opened back up in May, allowing her to practice with her former club team after two months out of the water.
“Being able to get in the water was something I was very fortunate to participate in as many of my teammates were not able to practice whatsoever,” she said. “It was very difficult to be out of the water for two months because that is the longest I have ever gone without swimming before.”
Not all of Kerr’s teammates were as lucky as her, including sophomore Sylvia Shaw, who had a difficult time finding an open pool in her home state of Oklahoma.
“I’m from a non-swim state, so there aren’t very many options for club teams or pools,” she said. “My state went into a two-month lockdown and I wasn’t able to swim at all for that time. Even when the lockdown was lifted, the pool still remained closed for maintenance purposes. That meant I had to find other ways to get cardio in so I wouldn’t lose everything.”
While Shaw was able to do her dryland workouts, it wasn’t the same as being able to practice in the water.
“As a swimmer, running is a lot harder and doesn’t have the same muscle focus so it’s nowhere near as beneficial as getting actual pool time,” she said.
According to both Shaw and Kerr, any significant time out of water can have a huge impact on a swimmer’s performance.
“Swimming is different from any other sport for the reasoning that if you take any amount of time off you can start to lose the feel of the water very quickly,” Kerr said. “I was told as a club swimmer that for every day out of the pool it takes two days to get back to where you were as a swimmer. As a result of this, I think it was really difficult for the team to start to get back to the mental and physical standpoint that we were in before the pandemic occurred.”
The amount of time Shaw spent out of the water, she says, definitely had a huge impact on her both psychically and emotionally.
“It was discouraging hearing about other teammates who got to practice on a regular schedule or at least three times a week because I felt really behind,” Shaw said. “I didn’t get in a pool until the end of June and I felt super rusty. Even when I did get in the pool I only could swim one to two times a week or biweekly.”
Even with the school year beginning, Shaw’s luck still seems to keep going south.
“The UA Little Rock pool had maintenance issues when we first got back to school so we still haven’t had a normal practice schedule,” she said. “For the past month we’ve been going to other pools or doing dryland to try and keep in shape. I’m nowhere near the shape I was this time last year but I should bounce back pretty fast.”
The pandemic has also had an impact on the meet schedule for the team. The team’s season usually begins in late September or early October, but due to the pandemic, it got shifted to January 2021 with their conference championship moving to April instead of February.
“We are still working on final details for a schedule,” Burgess said. “We will not compete in as many dual meets as we normally do. Moving our season allows us more time to train as a team and get everyone back in competitive shape.”
Kerr says that the season change not only allowed for the girls to focus more on their technique and strength work training during the offseason, which helped the girls become psychically stronger in and out of the pool, but also helped their bonds become stronger as well.
“The change in when our season occurs has allowed the team to have more time to get to know each other as we have been able to take part in events outside of the pool to better understand our teammates,” she said.
One of the more memorable events put on by the team was a socially distant canoe trip down the Caddo River in southwest Arkansas.
“The beginning of the year is always a time we focus on growing and developing as a team so incorporating the new with the returners and COVID-19 put a new challenge on getting together,” Burgess said. “We brainstormed as a staff to see what we could do and landed on a canoe trip down the Caddo River.”
All the swimmers, including Burgess, say that the canoe trip was a huge success.
“It was a great way to keep our distance but also work together as we navigated the chilly waters,” Burgess said. “It was many people’s first time and great to see them work together and improve as they made their way down.”
The bonding was especially important as the team saw 12 new freshmen girls get added to the 2020-2021 roster, which presented another hurdle for Burgess as a coach during the pandemic.
“Having a few more on the team creates a few more challenges during this time,” she said. “However, we are so fortunate that our aquatic facility allows us to easily space out. The weight room is where things get tight and we have had to create more groups than normal. It is sort of like putting a giant puzzle together, but everyone including the freshmen have been very fluid though everything. We were all so excited to be back together and start training as a team that it makes it all worthwhile.”
Kerr says that the freshmen are more than welcomed editions to the Trojan Swimming & Diving team.
“This new group of girls have already made a significant impact on our team and I am so excited to see how their contributions can help us to grow as a team this season,” Kerr said. “The team is working hard both in and out of the classroom and we are very excited and eager for in-season practices and meets to begin in January.”
Many UA Little Rock history professors are in disagreement with President Donald Trump after his statements at the first White House Conference on American History on Sept. 17 over the creation of “patriotic education” and his announcement on the development of a “pro-American curriculum.”
At the conference, President Trump announced that he will develop a grant and soon sign an executive order to establish a national commission to promote “patriotic education” in schools called the “1776 Commission” which will celebrate “the truth about [America’s] great history.”
“We must clear away the twisted web of lies in our schools and classrooms, and teach our children the magnificent truth about our country,” Trump said in his speech. “We want our sons and daughters to know that they are the citizens of the most exceptional nation in the history of the world.”
Trump said in his speech that it is “left-wing indoctrination” in schools that teaches students to think poorly of America, but many history professors at UA Little Rock, including Kristin Mann, a professor who is currently teaching Teaching Applications in History and Social Studies this semester.
“I disagree with the president’s remarks about students being indoctrinated or taught to think badly of their country in schools,” she said. “One of the remarkable things about our country is that we can openly acknowledge and learn about the times when individuals, groups, and national, state and local governments haven’t lived up to the ideals of our Constitution, including things like liberty and ‘equal justice under the law’, as mentioned by the President in his remarks.”
Barclay Key, an American history professor here at UA Little Rock currently teaching US History Since 1877, shares a similar response to President Trump’s speech.
“I disagreed with his generalizations about how history is taught,” he said. “If history classes in Arkansas are the site of left-wing indoctrination, then teachers here are failing miserably.”
Key does, however, agree with one part of President Trump’s speech in which he brought up the critical race theory with a controversial social media post by the Smithsonian Institution, in which the institution quickly apologized for.
“A perfect example of critical race theory was recently published by the Smithsonian Institution,” Trump said. “This document alleged that concepts such as hard work, rational thinking, the nuclear family and belief in God were not values that unite all Americans, but were instead aspects of ‘whiteness.’ This is offensive and outrageous to Americans of every ethnicity, and it is especially harmful to children of minority backgrounds who should be uplifted, not disparaged.”
As someone who teaches students how to teach history to students across the country, Mann has a problem with Trump’s use of the term “patriotic education” when describing how he believes history classes should be taught.
“Words like ‘traditional’ and ‘patriotic’ mean different things in a multi-ethnic, pluralistic society like ours,” she said. “We should be teaching students about both oppression and freedom, about the principles of American democracy, but also about times in which those ideals haven’t been extended to everyone. We teach multiple perspectives on the past and present to prepare students for active participation in our democracy now and in the future.”
Mann also agrees Trump’s criticisms of history education are nothing new and that these types of conversations always come up whenever the country is polarized.
“Because of our Constitution, we can study and learn and protest and criticize freely,” she said. “One of the main purposes of education in a democracy like the U.S. is to prepare students to think critically, to learn about others different than they are, to engage so that they can be informed and participate in civic life.”
The day after President Trump’s speech, Mann had her students in her Teaching Applications in History and Social Studies class read, analyze and discuss the full text of the speech like she does with all pieces of sources and speeches in her class.
“We analyzed his speech looking at the text within the context of the time period in which it was written and the speaker’s position, while also considering the intended audience and the purpose,” she said. “The speech is a product of a specific moment in U.S. History with an election very near, a resurgence in the culture wars, and conversations about whose stories we tell when we teach about our country’s past.”
Mann says that the part of Trump’s speech that generated the most discussion in her class is when Trump brought up the New York Times’ 1619 Project, which is a project that aims to reframe the United States’ history by placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of Black Americans at the very center of the United States’ national narrative.
“We must clear away the twisted web of lies in our schools and classrooms, and teach our children the magnificent truth about our country,” Trump said. “The left has warped, distorted and defiled the American story with deceptions, falsehoods and lies. There is no better example than the New York Times’ totally discredited 1619 Project. This project rewrites American history to teach our children that we were founded on the principle of oppression, not freedom. Nothing could be further from the truth. America’s founding set in motion the unstoppable chain of events that abolished slavery, secured civil rights, defeated communism and fascism, and built the most fair, equal, and prosperous nation in human history.”
Mann says that all of her students disagree with Trump’s statements; disagreeing with his claims of left-wing indoctrination and his use of the word “truth.”
“I had comments from students like ‘it is important for us to learn about the good and the bad in our history so that we can understand how we got to where we are today,” Mann said. “Several students noted that both freedom and oppression run throughout our history.”
Mann also had her students focus on the part of President Trump’s speech where he said “the only path to national unity is through our shared identity as Americans. That is why it is so urgent that we finally restore patriotic education to our schools.“
“We talked about how, in many other countries around the world, the national government writes national curriculum standards and publishes textbooks and materials, while in the United States, education is not specifically mentioned in the Constitution, and is left to local control,” Mann said. “We also discussed what elements of shared identity we think we have or should have as Americans. We talked about how one person’s idea of patriotism can be very different from another’s.”
As for President Trump’s potential executive order to create the “patriotic education” in the class rooms, both Mann and Key feel that it won’t have much affect on the future of history education in America.
“I anticipate that any executive order that he signs will have minimal effects on teaching history,” Key said. “Individual states write curriculum guidelines for K-12 students, and teachers are generally expected to follow them. College instructors have specific objectives to meet for core classes, and US history courses are supposed to include instruction on the Constitution. I’m not concerned about this executive order, except to the extent that an unknowing public might believe what the president says about anything, including the teaching of history.”