With a Democratic majority in the U.S. House of Representatives and a Republican majority in the Senate, Americans are currently living under a divided government.
The Center for Civic Justice held a community dialogue on the topic of divided government on Monday, Feb. 25. Students, faculty and staff discussed some of the ways in which we can address the issue as a community.
The event opened up with an overview of the purpose and format of the event from Yark Beyan, event facilitator and senior political science major at SBU. “Everyone is encouraged to participate and all major options should be considered fairly,” she said. “You are also encouraged to have fun in an open and respective manner.”
A video titled “A House Divided” was shown which spoke about three options for breaking the gridlock in Washington D.C.: “reduce dangerous, toxic talk,” “make fairer rules for politics and follow them” and “take control and make decisions closer to home.” According to the video, “Partisan divides are so bad that we [society] can’t even talk to one another without being bitter or defensive.”
As attendees entered, they were broken off into small groups where they had 20-minute guided conversations about the benefits, drawbacks, trade-offs and challenges of each of the three options.
The debate over option one, or to “reduce dangerous, toxic talk,” centered on whether or not media, online companies and important institutions should have the power to not produce content that contains uncivil and abusive language. Other students thought those decision-makers shouldn’t have the power to determine what people can or can’t say about each other or about public issues. Regarding this option, students brought up topics such as censorship, the anonymity that the internet allows and whether people are too easily offended in today’s society.
On the topic of censorship, freshman biochemistry major, Michael Dilluvio, said, “We must first learn how to communicate with one another. We learn this from a young age and then lose it as we come to adulthood. The problem isn’t with us not being allowed to express ourselves, but rather the way in which we chose to do so.”
In their discussion of option two, “make fairer rules for politics and follow them,” students debated changes that would eliminate voter suppression, limit money in politics and allow non-partisan commissions to draw Congressional districts.
One student shared how she believed that polling should be more flexible so that the voter suppression rate decreases. “We should make longer hours for voting because many adults work all day, and may not find the time in their daily schedule,” she said.
Finally, in discussing option three, “take control and make decisions closer to home,” students deliberated the pros and cons of decentralized government versus centralized government. Some students felt that increasing the powers of state and local governments would be beneficial. Others argued that this would produce a patchwork of rules on major national challenges which would harm the country as a whole. In particular, they focused on the consequences this would create for welfare programs.
“No matter a local government or national government, either way, there will be some sort of corruption involved,” freshman biology major, John O’Hare, said.
After all the options were discussed, each group was asked to put their differing views aside and come to a consensus on which option would be best for the nation to focus on in order to resolve the issues caused by a divided government.
“My favorite part of the dialogue was getting to know the people in our group and seeing how people got comfortable as the discussion progressed,” said Lakshta Kundal, a freshman geology major said.
Each student was motivated to participate, as the discussion went in a circle. “My group had an insightful conversation and I loved hearing everyone speak. I also got to hear from the right-wing’s view on the border wall, which was different,” said Sabrina DuQuesnay, a freshman political science major at SBU.
Students who didn’t usually participate in discussions involving the government even found the discussion appealing. “I usually shy away from political talk, but it was nice to hear various views and agree on one option in the end. It was eye-opening,” said Eunice Kim, a freshman biology major at SBU.