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As part of the Conference on World Affairs being held on campus this week, panelists Joe Sexton, Mary G. Wilson, Scott C. Miller and Marilinda Garcia spoke and answered questions on Tuesday related to the issues being discussed — and not discussed — in the 2016 election. The panel, entitled “Issues that Matter in this Election,” was one of many CWA panels discussing the current state of American politics. Moderator Alan Rudy began the presentation by asking each panelist what they believe are the most important issues facing America.
Sexton, the senior editor of Propublica, proposed that a growing “appetite for order” and a desire to respond to partisan conflicts with punishment is what has led to stronger support for anti-establishment candidates like Donald Trump. He also argued that there is only one issue important right now, the question of “Who the fuck are we?,” which he considers an essential question to answer for a country that is becoming increasingly divided and supportive of extreme candidates. Sexton suggested to audience members to look at the American people and American culture as a whole if unity on big issues is to be achieved.
Mary G. Wilson, who is a prominent member of the League of Women Voters, spoke about the dangers of voting restrictions, citing the recent Republican primary in Arizona as an example of increasing challenges being added to the democratic process. She also advocated for more people to vote and be more informed, claiming most people only have one or two issues that are important to them, when in fact, every issue should be important to voters.
Founder of Circles U.S.A., Scott C. Miller, made the case that poverty is the biggest issue facing the American public, and that many aid programs aimed at reducing poverty are failing to do so. According to Miller, the problem is that a majority of workers aren’t properly informed when it comes to economics, likening the situation to “being thrown into the ocean without swimming lessons.” Miller also emphasized the need for older generations to stop delaying important changes, especially in regard to climate change and poverty.
Former New Hampshire State Legislator Marilinda Garcia talked about the media and how it has changed the way we look at important issues, claiming emotions have now become more important than logic and facts. She believes “ratings and clicks” are now determining the way we feel about policy, and causing people to demand dramatic changes to the system.
In the question portion, the four panelists were asked if social issues are dominant in this election. Sexton pointed out that fear drives elections, and that social change is hard for many to be on board with. Garcia argued that social and economic issues “go hand in hand,” as both depend and relate to each other.
When asked about whether or not the U.S. is dividing, the panelists all agreed that in fact it is. Miller put the most succinctly, saying, “Yes. That’s my answer.”
Sexton urged the audience to ponder the question, “How big is that other America?,” in reference to the size of opposition to one’s preferred political side. Garcia proposed that the divisions are not necessarily permanent, as we are very unaware of our own future.