Campus News

Bethel president and professors express hopes and fears for Trump administration

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We are currently beginning our third full week of Donald Trump’s being President-elect of the United States. Since the announcement was made early last Wednesday morning, Nov. 9, reports have flooded television networks and radio networks of nationwide protests and riots protesting Trump’s election. There is even currently a petition circulating online ( with over 4 million people urging the electoral college electors to “ignore their states' votes and cast their ballots for Secretary Clinton.” To say our nation is divided on this decision is a gross understatement. But while riots, protests and petitions boil nationwide, how is our little school in Mishawaka, Ind. responding to this groundbreaking election? The Bethel Beacon talked with Bethel College president Gregg Chenoweth as well as assistant professor of criminal justice Tom LaFountain and executive student council advisor David Schmidt to see what their reactions to the 2016 presidential decisions were. In addition, they were asked how a Trump presidency could affect Bethel. Chenoweth said he stayed up until 3:30 a.m, when the counting was finished. “I was surprised, like most people, with the result,” he said. Chenoweth said former Republican-nominee candidate, Jeb Bush said during his 2016 campaign trail: “You can’t insult your way to the presidency.” “That’s why I was surprised that (Trump) was still elected,” said Chenoweth, “but I also read articles by Christian leaders across the nation about Donald Trump’s candidacy, and I understood their point.” Chenoweth specifically mentioned Dr. James Dobson, founder of the conservative Christian organization Focus on the Family. “One of the articles he wrote reminded citizens that you’re not always voting for the character of the person, but their policies,” said Chenoweth, “and if one or the other candidate is more likely to protect religious freedom, then you can hold your nose over their character issues and black in an oval in your vote for religious liberty.” LaFountain talked a bit about what was going through his mind as he watched election night unfold. “It was certainly [a] surprise,” he said. “I kind of followed along with the polls and actually believed there would be a Clinton victory. I was wrong.” Schmidt was working the polls that day, and by law was not permitted to have any access to the state of the election until he was finished. He came home afterwards and tuned into the TV news anchors announcing each candidate's projected victorious states. “[News anchors] started announcing the typical states that Trump would win and the ones that Hillary would win, but then came Florida,” said Schmidt. “I have to admire Chuck Todd, (NBC News,) for starting to notice that Hillary was struggling a bit and this thing may turn the other way…I would say that Florida was definitely the turning point in the election as I was watching it. I mean there’s so much data flowing in, but to me Florida’s ‘going red’ meant that he had a very, very good shot.” Schmidt confessed that Trump's electoral college victory came as a bit of a shock. “My prediction goal was to try to be as non-partisan as I could,” said Schmidt. “On Monday, I thought that there was a better than 40 percent chance that Trump would get the majority of the votes…I didn’t think he would win at the electoral college. That was quite a surprise to me.” While Trump did win the electoral college vote, Clinton technically got more individual votes than he did. This has led many to question his legitimacy as commander-in-chief. LaFountain spoke a bit about this vote count situation. “I was interested to see, and actually I just saw that (Clinton) is pulling ahead of (Trump) still as far as the popular vote is concerned,” said LaFountain, “but it was an electoral college, and…the way that system works is how we elect our president, so it doesn’t always jive with what people think.” LaFountain did say he found the final election numbers surprising, as he didn’t think it would be as close as it actually was. Schmidt said that he’s thankful the election numbers weren’t any closer in the electoral college. “I think we all can be grateful that the numbers weren’t close in the electoral college, and I would have said the same thing if Clinton would have won, too,” he said. “If it would have been closer, then there may [have been] even more protesting, court cases and craziness all over the place. We don’t need any more trauma.” Part of the reason the final results are so surprising is the fact that the polls had shown Clinton with a lead over Trump in the days leading up to Nov. 8. LaFountain claimed the results’ inconsistency with polls was due to the wrong people being polled. “Mostly these polls are geared towards the most likely voters,” he said, “and from that data the most likely voters are going to be people who have a little more money and are going to be better educated, meaning they've gone to college…those weren't the people coming in and voting for Trump. It was people who are blue-collar working people…[who are] lower middle class, and those people were coming out and voting, and I don't think that they were represented in polls that were taken leading up to the election." Chenoweth gave his reason why he feels Trump pulled ahead in the end. “Even if people are flummoxed by Donald Trump…there’s no doubt he’s a complete outsider,” said Chenoweth. “And I think people are just so frustrated with the way our government works, they’re willing to try almost anything, even if the style of that candidate is crass.” LaFountain echoed this sentiment. “I also thought to myself that this is kind of an indictment against what’s going on really in Washington,” he said. “People are wanting change, they don’t care what kind of change, just as long as it’s change." Schmidt had a few observations on the current system of election, namely the delay between the election of the President in November and the inauguration in January. “I think there is an unattended genius for the election being held in November and the inauguration being held in January,” he said. “It gives the new leader a chance to gather his/her Cabinet, emotions to go through their full cycle and let people get their frustration out of the way.” Chenoweth said that he’d told some friends that he feels that Trump may be able to accomplish some things that others wouldn’t be able to, but that he’ll “probably do it in a way that solves one problem and creates two more, because of his style.” One such problem is Trump’s infamous claim to build a wall along the United States/Mexico border. Chenoweth used that as an example for the “solve one problem/create two more” principle he mentioned. “If he does, in fact, build the wall on the Mexico border, and if he does, in fact, force Mexico to pay for it, indirectly…that would solve a problem on the head count, how many people enter our country illegally,” said Chenoweth. “But, if you do it in a way that lacks any kind of diplomacy, you can create new problems.” Potential consequences Chenoweth mentioned are angering Canada by creating a pattern that threatens them or angering Caribbean import countries, as well as putting chilling effects on international relations. Chenoweth summed all this up with simply, “style does matter.” So how will Trump’s policies affect the nation as a whole? Schmidt said that he feels Trump didn’t have a lot of strong, well-thought out policies during his campaign. “I don’t think Trump is a person who ran his campaign with a list of detailed policies that he planned to complete,” said Schmidt. “He had goals in mind that he wished to approach in symbolic fashion. He’s not going to actually build a wall, but he does want to do something measurably about border security. He says he’s going to cut taxes, but threw out ideas that were not tax law.” Schmidt went on, “The test for Trump is going to be what team he puts together. Unlike most national political figures, he probably has much more private sector contacts…We may see a Cabinet with less government experience, but more business experience…I will be looking for the use of [vice president-elect Mike] Pence. Pence was effective in Indiana and the House and its leadership. He knows things, if Trump uses him as a key advisor, then I think we [may] have an effective government.” LaFountain said he feels that under Trump’s policies, big businesses will be all right, since those policies will be more geared toward big business. The real worries are in store for those on the other end. “I think the people at the lower end are probably going to suffer through depressed wages and, hopefully not, but possibly unemployment,” he said. LaFountain said that his main concern regarding a Trump administration is foreign policy. He said many people don’t realize that foreign relations is really the area in which the U.S. President has the most power. “My thoughts are that it may follow a more business strategy than a national safety strategy,” said LaFountain, “and that [Trump] may make deals with countries that traditionally we have not had deals with or have not trusted. And that could be to our detriment.” LaFountain went into a bit more detail regarding the popular topic of immigration and what that may look like under our new President. “You’ve got to think about it in terms of trade,” he said, “but immigration still has a lot to do with foreign policy, particularly when you think about how we’re going to relate to Mexico with our new giant wall. But the thing is, quite honestly, Trump did what he does best, a sales job. And whether those promises will be kept, well, politicians always have problems with keeping promises, so I really don’t think most of them are going to come true.” Chenoweth said that, apart from the “solve a problem/create two more” situation, he really doesn’t know how Trump’s presidency may affect the nation. As far as Trump’s effects on Bethel, he said that while he doesn’t know what direct effects Trump may have on Bethel, there was some major concern among Christian colleges over Hillary Clinton’s candidacy due to debt-free college. “Many college presidents had been talking with one another, and I had even talked with some elected officials prior to the election [and asked] ‘is there something we should prepare for here?’ Because how do you compete with free?” said Chenoweth. He mentioned schools such as Ivy Tech, which already have very low tuition. On top of this, many students, with government help, can attend these schools full time for free. Chenoweth said the officials he spoke with claimed Clinton’s debt-free college proposal would never pass Congress simply because there is no way to pay for a program such as that. Chenoweth said that as for Trump’s plans for education policy, we haven’t heard much from him. Chenoweth said all he’s heard from Trump regarding education is speculation. Schmidt said that the main way he thinks Trump’s administration will affect Bethel is through a decrease in regulations by the U.S. Department of Education. “It will be interesting to see how the marginalization of schools is affected,” said Schmidt. “I don’t think [Bethel] has to be just like Huntington or IWU or Taylor or anyone else in the private portion of schools.” In addition to this, Schmidt also mentioned the changing definition of “inclusion” for schools. “There is an expanding scope of what inclusion means,” said Schmidt. “For inclusion to be given and preference given for classes. I’m entirely on board for non-discrimination…We are a community based on Biblical Christianity.” LaFountain said that Trump’s influence on Bethel all depends on which of his promises he decides to keep. “If he keeps his promise to the conservative evangelical population, then it should work out fine for Bethel,” he said. “A lot of the things that would affect us as far as funding from the government and having to meet certain criteria that match what the Obama administration was looking at, those issues will probably turn to a more conservative view, which means that we will probably be able to function the way we do right now without having to worry about losing any kind of federal funding.” As for what may happen if Trump decides not to keep his promise, LaFountain said that he feels that a Republican-controlled Congress may help keep the status quo when it comes to the government’s relationship with the conservative evangelical population. “I’m not sure that you’ll see a rollback on anything that we’re doing right now,” he said. “I’m not sure whether Congress will, even though they have a Republican majority in the House and Senate, if Republicans will all work together or not because [the] Republican party still has factions within itself that are still kind of unresolved.” LaFountain said that he doesn’t have any concerns about Bethel’s relationship with government as of right now. “The way it stands now, there might be issues further down the road," said LaFountain, “but if you’re asking me, [at this time] I think we’re all right, right now.” Chenoweth said that he currently has one major worry about Bethel’s relationship with government at the moment: executive orders given under the administration of President Barack Obama that deal with educational policies that have put pressure on Bethel. An example Chenoweth gave was a letter, jointly signed by the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Education, that was sent to all college presidents in America. This letter announced that the two departments would be reinterpreting the 1972 Title IX act on nondiscrimination in higher education. “They would now reinterpret nondiscrimination on sex as meaning whatever an individual student announces as their sexual identity,” said Chenoweth. “Up to the point of that letter, it had always referred to their birth sex, their biological sex.” Following this order, 88 LGBTQ organizations petitioned the National Collegiate Athletics Association to dissociate themselves from any religiously affiliated school because, according to Chenoweth, “they presumed religiously affiliated colleges discriminate against LGBT citizens.” Following that order, a board meeting in January at Bethel, for almost two days, focused almost exclusively on understanding the issue as it relates to doctrine and Bethel’s policies while still wanting to be hospitable to same-sex attracted students. Chenoweth said that since executive orders are given by an individual rather than Congressional action, they can be removed by an individual without Congressional action. Chenoweth feels that Trump may remove some of the Obama administration’s executive orders. As for personal concerns about the new presidency, Schmidt said his main concern is Trump’s focus. “I’m concerned that (Trump) may miss the opportunity to make a difference by a lack of focus,” he said. “I would prefer that he do a half a dozen things really well than to try to tackle two dozen things. He may become a victim of baiting. Look for people to set him up with accusations and tasks that distract him, but his ability to recover will be crucial.” LaFountain said his main concerns for a Trump administration is the economy and foreign policy. “I am not real happy with him cozying up with certain countries that we have had problems with in the past,” he said. “And, quite honestly, I’m not sure what that’s going to lead to, and how that’s going to work out. Because that’s the area that the President has the most power to do something. That’s the one that’s probably more worrisome of the two, as opposed to the economy, which still has a lot to do with what Congress decides and how they pass legislation.” As for his economic concerns, LaFountain went back to his concerns about a Trump government being geared toward large businesses. LaFountain said that he’s not entirely sure what will happen to small business under the new President. “I watch what’s happening with people that they’re talking about putting into the administration, Cabinet positions and whatnot,” he said, “and you see a lot of CEOs and a lot of heads of a lot of the big companies, and not all the time do the big companies have the same concerns as the smaller companies do. And I worry about how the smaller companies will fare in a market that’s geared for the big guys.” Finally, we asked what advice our subjects would give to students who may be struggling with the adjustment to a Trump presidency. “I’ve been through a number of bad elections, and this isn’t the worst one,” said Schmidt. “Observe and work on it off campus, not necessarily on campus, and do something to make a difference.” “Easiest answer is simply [the] country’s been around for a while now,” said LaFountain, “we’ve had rough times, we’ve had good times and we seem to come out the other end either way. So, I wouldn’t get too upset. Certainly vote, make your voice heard any way you can, no matter which way you feel about it, but know that the Founding Fathers did a pretty good job of putting the country together, and they thought a lot about situations like this. And in four years, we’ll see what happens.” LaFountain said that he’s not advocating moving to Canada or revolution, but that we have what we have right now, and that the Congressional elections in two years will be our next chance to make changes, rather than waiting four years for the next Presidential election. Chenoweth said his first thought is “I understand.” “You’re not alone in feeling that way,” he said, “you’re not alone in feeling that way now or in our almost 250 years of American history. That tension a person feels after a presidential election is actually…not uncommon.” Chenoweth said that winners of elections seldom win more than 55 percent of the American vote, which means that almost half of the people are against whoever wins. “My point is, the controversy shouldn’t be unsettling,” said Chenoweth. “There’s always been controversy, so the point is, how do we live in that controversy?” One final observation Schmidt had on Trump was the opposition he’ll be facing this year. “One difference between Trump and Obama, was that in 2008 even Obama’s opponents wished him well,” he said, “They wanted to wish him well. They kept the approval high. With Trump they will see boxing gloves responses. My concern [or] prediction was that the political left side can sometimes be the dangerous side, so had she have been elected there may have been even more rioting and such.” For action students could take now under the new administration, Chenoweth had this to say: “My first hope for America is not government," said Chenoweth. "My first hope for America is that Christians, who are the church, realize, fully realize, what Jesus invited us to pray. When the disciples asked Him how should we pray, He modeled it for us. ‘May Your will be done on earth just as it is in Heaven.’ So that’s the kingdom of God on earth, so I think that’s what I would encourage students to do, is ask ourselves, regardless of government policy, what could I already participate in that brings to bear God’s kingdom on earth, so that the way we live with one another is just like Heaven?”
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