The 2016 election of President Donald Trump brought political controversy to the UC Berkeley campus, and now that an impeachment inquiry is underway, campus and city of Berkeley officials have noted that the controversy is likely to continue into the forthcoming election year.
In September, an anonymous whistleblower complaint prompted House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to open up an investigation into Trump’s July 25 phone call with Ukranian President Volodymyr Zelensky. With an investigation underway, Berkeley officials and UC Berkeley students have mixed feelings.
“It is deeply concerning the extent of the gaslighting that is taking place in an attempt to undermine the impeachment process,” said Stefan Elgstrand, Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín’s spokesperson, in an email. “From attacking witnesses in real-time through tweets to supporting the long-debunked conspiracy theory created by the Russian government that claims Ukraine had interfered in the 2016 election, this narrative only further intensifies the division that has polluted our politics over the last few years.”
Berkeley City Councilmember Kate Harrison sees the controversy surrounding the current administration as fostering “cynicism” among the politically engaged population in Berkeley.
The 2016 election also left a mark on the UC Berkeley campus and has dissuaded some politically minded students from wanting to pursue careers in the federal government, according to Varsha Sarveshwar, the ASUC external affairs vice president.
“The Trump administration has tried to rescind the DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) program — the 1,700 (campus) students who are currently DACA recipients may lose that status,” Sarveshwar said. “Everything we’re doing right now is about trying to prevent bad things from happening as opposed to making good things happen, which is an unfortunate situation to be in.”
Campus political science associate professor Terri Bimes said although there is strong evidence pointing toward an alleged “quid pro quo” transaction between Trump and Zelensky, the frequent mention of impeachment since Trump’s election in 2016 might somewhat deflate the argument for the current inquiry, making it easier to dismiss the allegations as a partisan move by Democrats.
Berkeley College Republicans is one campus organization to have taken such a stance on the issue. Rudra Reddy, BCR external vice president and former Daily Californian columnist, said in an email that the launch of an impeachment inquiry is an attempt by congressional Democrats to cast doubt on Trump moving into the 2020 election year.
“What makes the stench of partisanship stronger is the fact that they’ve chosen to impeach the President on a policy area where the executive has the most discretion, foreign policy,” Reddy said in the email. “The restrictions placed on House Republicans when they attempt to subpoena witnesses or testimony further substantiate the claim that this a partisan attempt to weaken President Trump going into next year’s election.”
Although the impeachment inquiry may play a part in Democratic campaigning for 2020, Bimes said she suspects it will not be the main concern.
Bimes added that she has seen a willingness among students to set aside objections and engage in productive political discourse.
“A lot of times, Berkeley students are framed as being strident. … I’m very impressed by my students and how willing they are to look to the other side,” Bimes said. “A classroom can bring together students of different ideological viewpoints. I don’t think there’s a lot of places like that that exist.”