By Rishi Shah
The Student Government Election Readiness Task Force hosted the “Where do we go from here: Politics and the Next Generation” discussion on Wednesday, Oct 28. Moderated by Dr. Alex Garlick, professor of political science, this event featured live dialogue between representatives from the College Democrats and the College Republicans student organizations.
Speakers from the College Democrats included sophomore and president of the organization, Yanni Rigos, and junior Meagan Warner, both of whom are political science majors. Those from the College Republicans included the president of the organization, and two other members as well, wishing to remain anonymous.
The questions posed by Garlick were asked to both sides, and each organization had two minutes to respond. The topics varied, with questions relating to the Covid-19 pandemic, economy, climate change, the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett, racial justice movements and social media echo chambers.
The back-and-forth was largely civil, with both sides expressing their views until their time was up. Those in the virtual audience were able to submit questions that would later be answered by both the College Democrats and the College Republicans.
When it came to questions regarding the Covid-19 pandemic, the College Democrats held the opinion that President Trump’s handling of the situation was highly inadequate. Warner was opposed to the state-led response that the Republican party espoused, saying that states like New Jersey and New York would be in “extreme peril” if they had governors that did not put public health first.
Citing the 10th Amendment, the College Republicans believed that as a federalist nation, the power to respond to the pandemic should be left to the states. They also referenced the “nursing home debacle” that he said took place in New York and New Jersey, and said that every state has different needs.
When Garlick asked the College Republicans what they thought of the recent confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett, students said that she will have a great impact on the country as an originalist. Students stated opposition to judicial activism and said that they supported Barrett’s strict reading of the Constitution. They concluded by stating their belief that the Supreme Court should not mesh with the legislative or executive branches and should stick to its role as an interpreter of constitutionality.
Warner of the College Democrats said that Barrett would not be allowed to vote, let alone serve on the Supreme Court, if the Constitution was followed to the word. She also opposed the confirmation in general, referencing the fact that the 52 Republican senators who voted in favor represent less people than the 48 Democratic senators who voted against.
Another intriguing question was why each presidential candidate was the right choice to lead and advance the cause of racial justice in the country. Rigos of the College Democrats expressed his opposition to President Trump’s efforts to remove racial sensitivity trainings and tell the Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by.”
He contrasted this with Joe Biden’s desire for law and order with accountability. Warner brought up Biden’s change of heart regarding the 1994 crime bill as evidence of his ability to overcome challenges and adapt to the times. She also claimed that before the bill was passed, many Black people were in favor of it and pressured their representatives to pass it.
When responding to the same question, the College Republicans felt that racial sensitivity trainings were not helpful to defuse tense situations, and that training for better disarmament techniques is needed instead. Students said that it was “sad to see” Black businesses being burned down by protests, and that the country needed a candidate grounded in law and order to restore peace. Responding to Warner’s claim about support for the 1994 crime bill at the time, the College Republicans said that Black people were not aware of the ramifications the bill would have.
Before the event concluded, both sides were asked a question that forced them to reach across the aisle and name one policy the other candidate had that they agreed with. The College Republicans said that he was unable to think of anything off the top of his head, but he eventually said that he supported Biden’s tax cuts for the middle class and his refusal to fully adopt Medicare for all. They also supported the 1994 crime bill due to its tough-on-crime nature, which elicited a response from one of the audience members on the Zoom chat expressing their shock at his statement.
Rigos of the College Democrats answered this question by expressing his support for President Trump’s actions on criminal justice reform, while Warner said she supported the peace treaties with Israel in the Middle East.
The discussion could be seen as a microcosm of the discourse that led to the election on Nov. 3. Featuring civil discourse between two highly polarized sides, though, it provided hope that there is room for growth and mature political conversations.