Professor and Associate Provost Austin Sarat gathered four alumni experts on Zoom in the days after the 2020 election. During the wide-ranging conversation, he posed questions about why down-ballot Republicans overperformed Donald Trump. “Why he lost,” said Tom Davis ’71, “was his lack of discipline as a candidate and his personal proclivities, which killed him with suburban women and stepped on his message more days than not.

Among other questions, Sarat also asked how Joe Biden, who thanked Black voters in his victory speech, can confront white supremacy. “There is a time and place for conciliatory measures, but when it comes to making sure that we are protecting the very people that he thanked, there has to be deliberate action” through policymaking, said Chloe McKenzie ’14.

Near the end of the hour, Sarat asked each panelist for one election takeaway:


An illustration of three women holding hands

An illustration of a group of people and an American flag

An illustration of people holding up board with two people on top of that

An illustration of an elephant holding an olive branch to a donkey

Chloe McKenzie ’14

Chloe McKenzie ’14, a Ph.D. candidate in social work research at the University of Kentucky (see her Fall 2020 Amherst magazine article “The Real Power of Money”), focused on the essential organizing work of women of color in Biden’s win: “Black, Indigenous and Hispanic women should be leading more campaigns and grassroots, ground-level work.”

Jennifer Peter ’90

Jennifer Peter ’90, Boston Globe managing editor, talked about historic voter turnout: “The power of democracy. So many people waited in line, waited in the rain, waited in snow. People on both sides felt like it was important for their voice to be heard.

Paul Smith ’76

Paul Smith ’76, Amherst trustee, Georgetown law professor and vice president for litigation and strategy at the Campaign Legal Center: “I come away with a positive assessment of the commitment of the American people to democracy and the formation of a remarkable multiracial coalition to support a really interesting ticket that won.”

Tom Davis ’74

Retired U.S. Rep. Tom Davis ’74 (R-Va.): “Biden is probably a one-term president … [so] you don’t need to destroy him if you’re a sitting Republican. Let’s sit down and deal and see what makes sense for both of us.”


Illustrations by James Yang