Trumped-up Trepidation: On Politics and Princeton Part V

The day after Election Day was grim. A dreary rainshower cast a dark mood over the campus. Students seemed forlorn as they walked to classes. Few smiled as I passed by. It was as though everyone were fatigued from a long day of work—though I’m sure that hangovers from Election night parties were partly responsible. The shocking news of the election results had plunged the school into a depression.

In the wake of Donald Trump’s victory, there have been a wide range of reactions. For this post, I will try to chronicle the various responses to this historic election and their repercussions.


Very few conservatives on campus openly supported Trump. I can only think of one. The College Republicans took a neutral stance on his candidacy, neither endorsing nor repudiating him. For the record, Harvard rejected and Yale endorsed. A number quietly hoped that he would lose the presidency but that the Republicans would make major gains in Congress. However, after seeing the results of the election, few were unhappy with the outcome.

The best explanation of their views can be found in this Prince article. Note that the first interviewee was my partner for the past Whig-Clio debate.

I’ve also heard many conservative comments on the coming Trump administration at James Madison Program dinners. For the most part, they believe that Speaker Ryan will drive the domestic agenda. They seem to be excited about that. As for foreign policy, no one is quite sure what will happen.


The world is coming to an end. The sky is falling. The 2012 Mayan apocalypse was off by four years.

Princeton liberals, which is a majority of the school, have been in a melancholy state for the past month. They have written many letters to the “Prince” expressing their dismay. Several anti-Trump rallies were held across the campus. To me, this does not make any sense because New Jersey is a strongly blue state.

Ever since November 8, they have perceived the country as a group of backwards misogynistic racist white male hicks living in the center of the country who want to retain their power. While this does not apply to all liberals here, it is the tacit message that they have communicated.

The Sanctuary Campus Movement

Trump has vowed to repeal the Differed Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy. This program was implemented by the Obama administration and prevents certain undocumented people (or illegal immigrants if you prefer) from being deported. Liberals have since called for Princeton to become a sanctuary campus, meaning that the University would not comply with federal authorities who are trying to remove these students unless presented with a warrant or subpoena. An online petition received a few thousand signatures.

President Eisgruber e-mailed the following message to all students in response:

To the Princeton community,

Over the past two weeks, many people on campus and beyond have expressed concerns about the future of Princetonians covered by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which permits undocumented students to continue their studies here without fear of deportation.  I appreciate these concerns and share them.  While we cannot know at this point what will happen in the coming months, the president-elect said during his campaign that he might end DACA and deport students who had been protected by it.

That would be a tragic mistake.  DACA is a wise, humane, and beneficial policy.  It enables law-abiding young people who have grown up in the United States to develop their talents and contribute productively to this country, which is their home.  Princeton University has consistently supported DACA, and I both hope and believe that the policy can be sustained.  Though I usually do not sign petitions or mass letters, I joined a group of more than 100 college and university presidents who last week issued a statement supporting DACA.  That statement now has 300 signatories.

I have received a number of letters and petitions urging Princeton to do all it can to support its undocumented students if DACA is suspended or repealed.  We will do so to the maximum extent that the law allows.  Our efforts will be aided by policies already in place to protect the privacy and safety of every member of the University community.  For example, we do not disclose private information about our students, faculty, or staff to law enforcement officers unless we are presented with a subpoena or comparably binding requirement.  We are actively reviewing this policy and other policies and practices to ensure that they fully protect all of our students, faculty, and staff, including our DACA students.  We will also ensure that affected members of our community know where they can turn for guidance and support on matters related to immigration, including to the very knowledgeable staff of the Davis International Center.

Some of the correspondence reaching me has asked Princeton to declare itself a “sanctuary campus.”  Immigration lawyers with whom we have consulted have told us that this concept has no basis in law, and that colleges and universities have no authority to exempt any part of their campuses from the nation’s immigration laws.

As a constitutional scholar myself, I agree with that judgment and believe that it connects to one of the country’s most basic principles:  its commitment to the rule of law.  That principle deserves special attention in this uncertain and contentious time.  In a country that respects the rule of law, every person and every official, no matter what office he or she may hold, is subject to the law and must respect the rights of others.  Princeton University will invoke that principle in courts and elsewhere to protect the rights of its community and the individuals within it.  But we jeopardize our ability to make those arguments effectively, and may even put our DACA students at greater risk, if we suggest that our campus is beyond the law’s reach.

I hope you will permit me to close on a more personal note.  Both of my parents immigrated to this country, and I have devoted much of my adult life to writing and teaching about the rights of religious minorities.  I am deeply troubled by the hostility that was expressed toward immigrants and toward Muslims and other religious minorities during the recent election campaign.  But I am heartened by our community’s vigorous affirmation of the commitment to inclusivity that is fundamental not only to our University but also to America’s constitutional values.  I am glad to stand with other members of our community on behalf of DACA and the rights and well-being of all our students, faculty, and staff.

Chris Eisgruber

With this message, President Eisgruber ended the possibility of Princeton becoming a sanctuary campus. Harvard has also issued a similar statement.

Regardless, a number of other universities across the country have declared themselves to be sanctuary campuses.

My Opinion

I completely agree with President Eisgruber. The sanctuary campus movement is nothing more than a publicity stunt. It would infuriate federal authorities and would not protect undocumented students from the full force of the law that President-elect Trump will wield on January 20, 2017. Very little, if anything, would prevent him from pursuing warrants and subpoenas if removing illegal aliens is an issue that he truly cares about.

Students should instead invest their time in persuading Congress to oppose Trump. Several alumni are serving in both houses and a few are even in his cabinet and transition team. They would have a greater amount of influence in changing his intentions than the sanctuary campus movement ever will.


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