Cody Ford is a rising senior majoring in Politics & International Relations, as well as Finance

(What is From the Field? Click here to read the intro for this latest segment to our student blog series!)

I am going to be completely upfront with everyone, before this trip Ecuador wasn’t a place on my travel bucket list. I have been blessed with the opportunity to travel around the globe and see many remarkable places, and in my mind, Ecuador didn’t match what I would call remarkable. But, after having the opportunity to travel through this breathtaking country and interact with its truly beautiful people, I can now proudly say that I was wrong about everything. During our travels, I had the opportunity to truly learn what it means to adapt to an entirely new place and feel uncomfortable – but the kind of discomfort that allows you to grow. I also learned about the importance of community, both with the people I traveled with and also within the places that we went. I am forever grateful that I took the opportunity to travel to Ecuador with Dr. Lauermann and the rest of the class, this trip has become a defining part of my college experience and I am so ready to travel back in the near future.

When thinking about the professional development I experienced while in Ecuador, the one that comes to the forefront of my mind is learning to feel okay with being uncomfortable. I have always found myself in a position where I never necessarily felt uncomfortable jumping into new experiences: from being elected to serve my campus as Student Body Vice President, interning in one of the most cut-throat investment banks in the world, or even deciding to attend college across the country from my home. But being in an entirely new country for a purpose other than tourist activities had me feeling a tad bit uneasy. I had done the reading and prepared to the best of my ability, but thinking about meeting with the important community leaders, visiting the National Assembly, and touring the Presidential Palace added a new layer to the travel experience that I had yet to experience. But it was in these experiences that I was able to learn and grow the most because I had no preconceived notions or knowledge that would affect my learning. Getting to connect with the Love On Foundation and working with their students for a short while was a truly amazing experience, even if I was simply helping them glue paper, and while trying to do it in my very beginner level Spanish, it was still an impactful event that I will carry forward throughout my professional experiences. This trip showed me that even in the midst of not knowing, there is always a path to follow even if you cannot necessarily see it. And regardless of the destination, the journey is what makes it all worth it.

It is hard to describe the feelings I felt while in Ecuador, but what I can remember is sharing those feelings with everyone that I was on the trip with. From being in awe of the Cotopaxi volcano with everyone and watching in wonder from the rooftop of our hotel in Riobamba as its snowcapped peak would peek through the clouds. This trip would have not been the same had I experienced it with another group. Seeing Dr. Lauermann’s passion for Latin America, and specifically Ecuador, truly shaped my mindset going into this trip, and I can say that it rubbed off on all of us. The same is true for all the amazing community members we met while abroad. Everywhere we went we were brought in with open arms and shown an immense amount of hospitality, even if we were only visiting for a short time. Traveling throughout the highlands of Chimborazo, from the city of Riobamba to the capital of Quito, with the group was a true blessing. From exploring Parque La Carolina, the Central Park of Quito, to enjoying an espresso in the many coffee shops we visited, we embodied what it meant to be more than a tourist, we tried to truly embrace everywhere we traveled and look beyond the veil and see this beautiful country for all it truly is.

The beauty of this county is one of the many things that struck me the most. I can say that one of my favorite experiences was when we traveled to Teleferico Quito and rode in a cable car to the top of Guagua Pichincha. Once we got to the top it was a truly breathtaking view of the vast city and the vast mountains that surround the city. Standing on the edge and feeling the wind blow through my hair while overlooking the historic city is an experience I wouldn’t trade for the world. And to top it all off, in the heat of the moment, we all decided to hike towards the peak. I always thought that I was a relatively fit person but trying to hike up a mountain at 13,000 feet put me into my place. However, regardless of how out of breath, I was, standing in the literal clouds and basking in the glory of creation.

Overall, I am forever grateful that I decided to go out on a limb a class that involved traveling to an entirely new country and experiencing an entirely new culture. Dr. Lauermann’s overview of the class in the fall semester was definitely true, and some of the experience was even better than what she showed off. Getting to travel the country with new friends and experience all the beauty in both the creation and the community have cemented Ecuador as one of my favorite travel experiences. I was able to learn so much due to the vulnerability that I allowed myself to feel while abroad, and those experiences have impacted me in more ways than one. But I think my biggest takeaway is the importance of community. We are not called to be individualistic and isolated from people, but instead called to fellowship with all people, and it is when we adopt this mindset that we can see the heavenly beauty in all things.

Dr. Robin Lauermann, professor of politics, edits this series

 

I am pleased to introduce a long-awaited segment for our student blog series, From the Field!  Why long awaited, you may ask?  The seeds for the experiences shared in these upcoming blog posts stretch back to 2018 and involved, unsurprisingly, a pandemic delay.

In February 2018 I traveled to Quito Ecuador in my then role as associate dean of general education and common learning.  I was there to conduct a site visit to discern whether conditions and programming with a potential new partner, Living and Learning International, would allow Messiah University to again send students for semester-long experiences to Ecuador.  Not only did we end up approving LLI’s Ecuador site as an off-campus semester option for students, I learned about additional opportunities that would let me reconnect with the aspect that first drew me to the field of political science – learning multiple languages – while providing a different way for students to gain international experience.

Over the next year, as I began my transition back to faculty, I proposed a new type of course – one in which travel was an intentional but only partial component of the course.  Students would have a traditional classroom experience in the first half of the semester, learning about the arc of international relations between the United States and the Latin American region. We would then spend an intensive experiential week of learning in Ecuador. Having met our contact hours at that point, students would only need to focus on policy research during the second half of the the term.  (Note to fellow teachers – since it was a new type of experience and I was then an administrator, that process would involve developing parameters for others who would want to offer such courses and getting them approved through our university governance.)

Although the class ran for the first time in Spring 2020, our travel was canceled three days before departure due to – yes, COVID.  I was able to partner with LLI and an external funding source to host a 4 part global lecture series, in which students heard from several in-country speakers related to the latter course topics of indigenous communities, dollarization, human rights, and intraregional organizations.  Although not quite what we envisioned, we had some really enriching conversations and I would begin to build relationships with some of the non-profit directors who spoke with us.  It would be two years until the next attempt for this course, but another opportunity would arise to deepen my connections and further shape the next iteration of the course.

With travel still suspended in the 2020-21 academic year, I pivoted from plans to co-lead a cross-cultural to France and instead developed a virtual cross-cultural course on Culture and Civil Society in Ecuador.  I was determined to design an educational curriculum that could offer a meaningful cross-cultural experience despite the online nature of the course.  Partnering with LLI, the three week course included one week of academic foundations – readings as well as lectures by me and directors of several non-profits from Ecuador, along with several teams working on projects for those partners in the second and third weeks of the course.  The group projects went phenomenally well producing websites, a fundraising campaign, and research on non-profit and fundraising status in the US.  (You can read a bit more here in this article published in Messiah University’s Bridge magazine.)  This experience would have a formative influence on the second attempt to have the US-Latin American Relations course travel to Ecuador.  As planning began for this spring’s course, I learned that one of the non-profit directors with whom we had worked in the prior course  – Paúl Cevallos of the Love On Foundation – would be coordinating the meetings for the class in-country.

With the pandemic still persisting, planning remained uncertain, but on March 5, my students and I departed for Quito!  I will leave their words to share about our time in-country.  However, my very successful experiences in facilitating the group projects the prior spring encouraged me to change the planned policy research paper to another virtual group project. The students spent the remainder of the semester developing a strategic plan for growth for Love On.  Their presentation and researched information was well done; I know it will make a difference to help Love On continue their work of educating and supporting vulnerable children.  I also know that these experiences made a significant difference in the life of myself and the students.  I look forward to continuing to lead such important experiences and am thankful for the staff at LLI, including our host Israel Rodriguez, who helped manage the on the ground logistics and became a part of our class community.

Read on to learn more about the in-country journey of our students!

 

Isabel Villegas is a senior studying Politics & International Relations and Spanish

(This post is the next in Readings in Reconciliation.  Click to learn more about the segment and the series, From the Field.)

COVID-19 has existed for only two years, yet has already changed the world insurmountably. The novel virus has disrupted global markets, shaken political institutions, and transformed social structures. Certainly, no country will ever be quite the same in the aftermath of the pandemic. Assessing this permanently-altered state of the international system, journalist Fareed Zakaria penned a list of insights to navigate this new environment in his book, Ten Lessons for a Post-Pandemic World. Although in some ways the piece feels like it may have been written prematurely, the book as a whole does an excellent job at raising awareness of some of the world’s most pressing issues, in order to help humanity discern their collective steps
moving forward.

Perhaps one of the most significant and critical takeaways from Zakaria’s book is the fact that, in this pandemic era, the world has — and will only continue to — change at a rapid pace. Notes Zakaria, “human beings have been developing their societies … at unprecedented speed. It is as
if we have built the fastest race car ever and are driving it through unknown, unmarked terrain” (28). Advances in technology, dynamic political relationships, and even environmental transformations are somewhat inevitable at this point in human history. It is now up to
individuals and societies to make the decision of whether or not they will prepare accordingly. Zakaria concludes his race car metaphor, stating, “it’s time to install [airbags] and buy some insurance. And above all, it’s time to buckle up” (28). Most individuals have some degree of wariness when it comes to change and the upheaval that it has the potential to bring, but Zakaria aptly warns that it is not only impossible but also unwise to avoid it.

Overall, Zakaria’s insights are astute and well-informed, but one cannot help but occasionally wonder if his reflections come too early. His book was only published in 2020, the very same year that the global pandemic began. One could argue that not enough time has passed
between the circumstances he describes and his analysis of them. History and lived experience alone could demonstrate that clarity and understanding of a situation increases and improves with the passing of time. In some ways, Zakaria’s predictions about the state of the world moving
forward are at best mere speculations. And while his reasonings are thoroughly supported by data and statistics, if the pandemic era has demonstrated anything it is that the future is unpredictable. As Zakaria even admits himself in his book, “nothing is written” (246).
The lessons he presents surely ought to be appreciated, but one also should take them with a grain of salt.

Zakaria’s book has certain implications for students of politics as well. For young people interested in the workings of government or global affairs, the lessons found in this book provide useful knowledge on new realities of the world. Phenomena such as the rise in artificial
intelligence, climate change, and strife between the United States and China all ought to be understood if one hopes to truly make positive contributions to the field of politics. More importantly though, Zakaria is honest in his assessment of these trends, but never in a way that
may cause students to feel discouraged. Rather, he charges his audience to take the reins of their collective destiny, and steer it in a direction that promotes the common good. The effects of the pandemic can never be undone, but that is not to say that individuals must sit idly by or refuse to adapt to circumstances. The future is in the hands of those who wish to impact it, which is ultimately a truth that should inspire faith, hope, and purposeful action.

Pierson Castor is a rising senior studying politics & international relations as well as biblical studies

 

(This post is the next in Readings in Reconciliation.  Click to learn more about the segment and the series, From the Field.)

 

The Covid-19 pandemic has revealed much about the world’s current trajectory. It has also revealed the opportunity we have to ensure a bright future. But will we take it? Will we learn the lessons necessary to overcome our current state? These are the questions Fareed Zakaria asks in his book Ten Lessons for a Post-Pandemic World. Zakaria discusses a variety of topics, such as free markets, urbanization, and technology. The biggest takeaway is that the world is changing; urbanization and technology will continue to have a growing impact on our lives. While this may be scary to some, it actually brings about new and exciting opportunities for humanity, if only we choose to utilize it. Though it may seem paradoxical considering the pandemic, the world is less isolated than ever before. This should inspire us toward solidarity and unity, not withdrawal.

One of Zakaria’s biggest themes is the size and scope of government. He writes, “Simply enlarging the size of government does little to solve societal problems. Good government is about limited power but clear lines of authority. It is about giving officials autonomy, discretion, and the ability to exercise their own judgment” (Zakaria 53). I certainly agree with this understanding, for I doubt that most of our current problems are the result of government overstepping its appropriate bounds. Rather, I believe the problem is us as the electorate enabling partisan politicians who constantly choose party over the public good. I wonder whether we shall ever acquire the will to reverse course and allow the government to meet the demands of the 21st century.

One area in which I slightly disagree with Zakaria is on the relationship between markets and government, which he describes as a pendulum swing. Since the Reagan administration, the dominant view in the United States has been that “government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.” It is certainly this understanding with which I most align, but not because I doubt the need for government intervention. We live in a fallen world, and because free markets are a reflection of the people in them, markets are sometimes in need of correcting. Nevertheless, unlike other economic systems, capitalism recognizes the innate selfishness of man and utilizes it for the common good. Though it can sometimes allow for monopolies, it reduces the likelihood of concentrated power because of the government’s minimized role. Zakaria argues that the Covid-19 pandemic reveals the need for a stronger government role: “A weak, malfunctioning state, highly unequal access to health care, relief mechanisms that help people with capital and connections much more than those who work for their wages. The disillusionment began with the global financial crisis” (64). I wonder, however, whether Covid-19 revealed the need for a greater government role or necessitated it. In other words, do we need the government to take a more active role in our lives generally, or do we need it to temporarily step up and help us address this particular problem? I would argue the latter. After all, before the pandemic, the United States possessed the greatest economy in world history. It did not need government assistance until a public health crisis obstructed things.

All in all, this book has opened my eyes to a lot of the trends developing in the world, as well as the need for certain reforms. Covid-19 has revealed many inadequacies in our system, especially regarding infrastructure and health care. I think it is important that we address these problems, and I doubt we will have a greater opportunity than this present one. Additionally, I think this book—in explaining how the pandemic has added to particular divisions—reveals the need to listen to our fellow countrymen and seek a greater understanding of others’ struggles. The world is more interconnected than it has ever been, yet we can still go our entire lives blissfully unaware of what ails those in different parts of the country. Unless we task ourselves with stepping outside of the little bubbles in which we live, polarization, inequality, and hostility will increase. It is this lesson from the book that has most impacted me and my view of our current plight.

Allela Girma is a senior, majoring in Politics and International Relations, as well as Economics

 

(This post is the next in Readings in Reconciliation.  Click to learn more about the segment and the series, From the Field.)

There are many flaws in the human systems we have created. Those flaws act as indicators of when we need to diverge from normality and be intentional about what kind of change we need. Although we may not always agree on the adjustments we would like in human systems such as congress or capitalism, I believe that discussing the imperfections of our human systems is the only act that will lead to growth. Ten Lessons for a Post-Pandemic World contains many valuable lessons, but the main point is that “nothing is written” (369). Indeed, as long as we keep recognizing the flaws in our systems and keep discussing all possible solutions, change and growth are inevitable.

In recent years, we have started to move away from our binary biases and nurture the complexities in difficult political conversations. Because political parties have been taken over by activists who are more and more extreme in their views, it may seem as though Americans are unable to agree on anything, as elections scholar Morris Fiorina notes (18:24). However, an increasing number of individuals with completely different political viewpoints, have shown more interest in compromise rather than victory. I believe that the reason for this shift is that we are collectively recognizing the flaws in the human systems we have created. For example, more and more individuals from different sides of the political spectrum are now agreeing that neither of these extremes, capitalism or socialism, creates ideal societies. We are recognizing the flaws in capitalism and calling for more incorporation of socialist ideals.

The challenge with creating a blend of socialism and capitalism is making “it possible for citizens to face that environment of global competition […] with the tools, training, and safety nets that will allow them to flourish”(p.123). In other words, it is difficult to protect the satisfaction we get from competition while acknowledging the role of government in protecting the citizens who could not “get ahead”, those who because of issues such as structural inequalities, failed at winning the game of competition. I believe that the main dilemma of this book is between the need for change and the attachment we have to certain aspects of the current system. Recognizing that change is required is not hard, but determining how much change we need is complicated. Moreover, the key to reconstructing human systems is to understand the complexities around human behavior especially when it comes to trust.

Nations-states understand the need for cooperation but do not trust each other enough to do so. Most people believe that if they “cooperate, they will achieve better outcomes and more durable solutions than they could acting alone. ”(p.342). Although I agree with this statement, I also believe it does not get at the heart of the issue which is a lack of trust. To cooperate, you need to trust that others will deliver on their part of the deal. Game theory has shown us that while we can get a good outcome if we both corporate, I can get an even better outcome if I manage to “betray” the other while he chooses to comply. The world is a lot like game theory. Leaders are either trying to get ahead by finding a way to betray the other or looking out for the next betrayal. I understand that in international relations, “trust” is a relative concept that increases or declines based on the interactions nation-states have with each other. Although complete trust between any two nation-states is highly unlikely, some level of trust is possible with concrete trust-building measures.

Politics is a study of how we make decisions to coexist with one another. When we change, as individuals, we make different decisions on how we want to coexist in the same space. The systems we have set up are not set in stone. They will keep changing and evolving as we change our mindsets. This book made me appreciate the fact that “nothing is written.” Our ability to adapt our systems as we adapt ourselves is key to maintaining efficiency. Our adaptability is an essential component of the ever-changing field of politics.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dr. Robin Lauermann, professor of politics, edits this series

 

(This post is the first of a set on Fareed Zakaria’s Ten Lessons for a Post-Pandemic World.  Click to learn more about the segment and the series, From the Field.)

As I worked with colleagues to select books for the capstone this past fall, it seemed fitting that we should include an analysis related to our global experiences in the pandemic as a means to tie elements of international relations to the current events.  Fareed Zakaria’s Ten Lessons for a Post-Pandemic World engaged students on the varied implications of COVID-19, from health to digital life to economics – and, of course. government.  Read on for their insights!

Dan Walsh is a senior majoring in Politics and International Relations and minoring in Business

 

(This post offers the a second student analysis of Twilight of Democracy. Click to learn more about the segment and the series, From the Field.)

Historian Anne Applebaum takes her readers to a society on the brink in her latest work Twilight of Democracy. Society, according to Applebaum, is on the brink of becoming more authoritarian and straying from the liberal democracy which has come to define the post-World War II order. Applebaum focuses on a series of events that have all occurred since the financial crisis of the late 2000s to warn of the behavior of various western countries. These trends reflect the subtitle of Applebaum’s book comes in “The Authoritarian Lure”- she sees democracy being lured away to a more autocratic system, a development that she presents by critiquing the rise of populism on the political right in places like Eastern Europe, The United Kingdom, and The United States.

Applebaum sets this thesis up by comparing two dinner parties in her home country of Poland. The first dinner party that takes place at the turn of the millennium is filled with hope and joy for the future of the world and Polish democracy. Applebaum then takes readers to today where another dinner party is taking place much more somber and with many new guests as the political developments of the last decade have destroyed many of the friendships of old.  Applebaum’s thesis that democracy is being lured away towards a more autocratic system has more hype than substance.

Several countries such as Poland and Hungary have made some steps that can be conceived as worrisome while places like Great Britain lack substance almost entirely. The steps that many states like Poland and Hungary have taken involve purging state-run media of dissenting opinions and making sure the media toes the party line (35). Perhaps the most disturbing bit of evidence from Poland supporting Applebaum’s central idea has been changes to the court system. The court system in addition to several other aspects of the administrative state has seen purges of those who have been unfriendly to the ruling party. (5) These events are worrisome and should be looked at under intense scrutiny especially if they continue as a trend. However, at this point, my agreement with Applebaum dissipates. My disagreement with Applebaum is two-fold, first, there are several events that she cites as worrisome for democracy that I do not believe are worrisome in the slightest, and second is the notion that democracy must be liberal.[1]

Applebaum’s claim that we should worry about a drift toward autocracy in Eastern Europe does not extend past this region – her complaints about Great Britain and The United States lack that same merit. (19-20) In Britain, the event cited as a worrisome drift is a referendum on the United Kingdom leaving the European Union otherwise known as Brexit. Brexit, a referendum decided by the people, was quite democratic. Brexit was supported by a variety of different political actors from the great philosopher Roger Scruton who wrote passionately about why England should leave the EU (81-83) Leaving the European Union allowed for Britain to set its own rules and regulations in areas previously determined by European Bureaucrats. This vote on Brexit itself was an expression of sovereignty for the British people, not one which inches towards authoritarianism but in fact, one which makes democracy and elections all the more important for British citizens. Applebaum mentions how some Brexiteers had more nefarious motives to undermine democracy as mentioned in the 2019 Tory platform, but does not convince her audience.[2] (103) In the United States, the lynchpin for Applebaum is the election of Donald Trump. The election of Donald Trump, like Brexit months before it, sent shockwaves through the political world. Despite this election shocking the world Trump’s presidency was largely typical for a Republican president, tax cuts were passed and a focus was on placing socially conservative judges onto the court.[3] In both the case of Donald Trump and Brexit the media fervor surrounding the event was large but any true institutional damage and inching towards totalitarianism was minimal at most.

For our author Anne Applebaum, the focus is on one particular strain of government, liberal democracy. There are various types of governmental regimes oligarchs, monarchies, republics, and democracies to name a few. Since the end of the Cold War one governmental style, liberal democracy, has been the dominant strain and been seen as the model to which all societies should mold.[4]  Poland and its fellow Visegrád Group country Hungary have been moving away from liberal democracy toward a more illiberal “Christian” democracy. This move has been done for the most part democratically with Hungary allowing Hungarians living abroad to participate in elections. It is clear that these societies have different values[5] than many of their western counterparts but that should not be of concern as long as it is done democratically. If the global community decides to attack these democracies because they lack the commitment to “liberal values”, then these countries may very well become autocratic and fall more in league with true autocracies like Russia.[6]

The past few months have been quite turbulent for countries like Poland and Hungary but have proven to the world their value. With a truly authoritarian regime attacking its democratic neighbor as is the case right now with Russia and Ukraine respectively, Poland has shown its values on a national stage. Instead of drifting towards its authoritarian neighbor Poland has stepped up taking millions of women and children from Ukraine in as refugees and doing what it can to support its neighbor with supplies. This is one of Poland’s finest hours in recent memory and shows to the world that it may not share some of the West’s liberal values, it is a strong bulwark against authoritarianism and what a fantastic ally they are to the United States and NATO.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] This liberalism discussed is not economic liberalism but Millian/Rousseau liberalism which is signified by an open, pluralistic society.

[2] My biggest problem with this section on Brexit is not some of the real concerns brought up by Applebaum but the failure to separate figures who seek to undermine democracy from figures I view more sympathetically that truly care about the United Kingdom like Scruton. In between the 20 or so pages between pages 80-100, I did not perceive any real delineation mentioned between the various pro-leave groups which I believe hurts her argument.

[3] This is reference to the presidency of Donald Trump specifically and not any events or attitudes expressed after his electoral loss in 2020.

[4] Here I am referencing Fukuyama and his work The End of History and The Last Man.

[5] Societies will have various beliefs and they should be allowed to as long those beliefs are not infringing on human rights like what has been seen in China with the internment of Uighurs.

[6] Russia is truly authoritarian state and if the E.U. and global community attack Hungary, Poland, Brazil, and other countries because they do not share a commitment to things such as “LGBT Rights” then these countries which our allies may well fall into the arms of adversaries like Russia and the self-proclaimed “lion of Christianity.

Autumn Miller is a senior studying History and Politics & International Relations

(This post is the next in the segment Readings in Reconciliation and focuses on Adam Grant’s Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know.   Click to learn more about the segment and the series, From the Field. Note: this segment ran in the fall, but we have added some additional posts as a result of student presentations in the 2022 Humanities Symposium.)

Adam Grant is an organizational psychologist and noted as one of Fortune’s 40 under 40. His book Think Again primarily focuses on the main idea of training oneself to be able to change the way one thinks. He starts by describing the terrible disaster of the Man Gulch Fire in 1949 and the smokejumpers who lost their lives. A dismal way to approach the prologue, but Grant does provide a seedling of light with the survival of Wagner Dodge, who was one of three to make it out. Grant uses the idea to highlight Dodge survived because of his ability to think outside of the box (2). For firefighters, Grant explains it feels wrong to shed the equipment someone may need to fight fires, but it was the equipment weighing the smokejumpers down and eventually led to their demise. While a troubling way to garner the reader’s attention, it was an interesting way for Grant to present an extreme argument for why we need to be able to think again. Lives may not be at stake, but the transferable ideas are where the value lies. However, there is always caution in the application process.

A major key point imperative to pull from the text is it is okay to change one’s views. Changing views does not meant someone was wrong, but there is learning and growth done on behalf of the individual. Grant writes, “Changing your mind doesn’t make you a flip-flopper or a hypocrite. It means you were open to learning,” (102). A lot of people worry about what the outside world thinks of them and will try to stay with a belief they may not agree with so they will fit in and feel as if they belong (126). It is important to be comfortable with changing one’s beliefs, because less anxiety is created when realizing what one might believe in, no longer feels right to them. Then the experience becomes a lesson learned and the individual has grown cognitively. Grant also suggests while it is good to change our own views, we should try to persuade others to think again, which will encourage better intellectual dialogue (102). The reader is left to decide the ethics.

Grant supplies fabulous reasons for why the reader should think again, however, he also does allow for the reader to encourage others to think again as well. While the idea is great in theory, the encouragement can lead to a slippery slope of believing an individual is entitled to force others to change their thoughts if they do not agree with them. The encouragement becomes especially questionable if the individual does not go about the conversation in a civil manner and causes the opposing person to lock down and resist (104). There is no value gained from being a logic bully and forcing one’s own beliefs down the other person’s throat (104). Maintaining a logic bully stance will never produce the action desired out of the other person. The action will achieve the opposite, and often in a knee-jerk reaction with falsehoods.

Falsehoods have come to pervade the public forum, which include using grotesque stereotypes to make a point of the opponent. Grant presents a convincing argument for why stereotypes have become such a problem in the modern culture. History has always been a game of the in and the out crowd. If you were in the out crowd, then your life was marginally worse than those who fit society’s standards. As humans there is the deep motivation to belong to a larger body (126). The desire leads to group polarization which is interacting with individuals who share and affirm our beliefs, regardless of how detrimental they may be (127). It is incredibly difficult to break these stereotypes, and while Grant never explicitly mentions having empathy for the other side, in the study between the Yankee and Red Sox fans who were asked to see how arbitrary their animosity was were able to put aside their differences (134). Empathy is the most important key to breaking stereotypes in today’s world. To walk a mile in someone else’s shoes will provide anyone with the perspective completely unknown to them before. Hopefully, from the experience with empathy, the aggressor learns from their mistakes and begins to understand how the other half lives.

The one part of politics that is frustrating for individuals on both sides is the lack of being able to reconsider their ideas. As the next generation, we need to be prepared to see policy issues from all sides. Sometimes the preparation requires stepping out of our normal thought patterns to “think again” about how we see the world. If both parties can try to have empathy for the other side instead of grotesquely stereotyping one another, there would not be as much gridlock in Congress as there is now. The deep tensions currently running through our country would not be there and democracy could run as modern political theorists intended. Which was to allow the people to have a say in government while encouraging the free exchange of ideas in the marketplace.

Dr. Robin Lauermann, Professor of Politics and International Relations & Chair of History, Politics, and International Relations, pens this series.

(What is Civic Mind?  Read our welcome post for the series!)

At the end of January, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf vetoed a plan proposed for the redrawing of congressional district boundaries (redistricting), setting up for the state courts to rule.  Although the plan was generated by an expert in redistricting issues, some observers were concerned that it favored the Republican party, which currently holds the majority in the state legislature.  Pennsylvania also experienced challenges to the map draw after the 2010 census.  Despite changes in its process resulting from that experience, the events show that the pursuit of political equality – in the form of “one person, one vote” – is challenging to achieve. Within the federal government, the U.S. House of Representatives was intended as the most connected to the people, and also based on state population.

As a result, the founders set up a process to allow the composition of the House to reflect population shifts over time.  Unless you live in Rhode Island, Wyoming or another state with a small population that only receives the minimum of one member in the House, your state government is currently navigating the process of redistricting.  Following the constitutionally required census that occurs every ten years, the number of seats for the US House of Representatives is adjusted (reapportioned) across the states.  Save for states that have enough people to merit the one seat minimum, states that have grown may gain seats and those that have shrunk may lose seats.   As a result, those states that experience change must figure out how to divide their territory among the number of required seats.[1] For much of our history, this process has drawn significant scrutiny; it should, as it impacts one of the most central elements of democracy, how voters interests are translated by elections for Congress to represent them.

Legislation does exist to guide some elements of the process, at the federal level and in a majority of states.   Most notably, the maps must have equal populations – as close as possible – across the districts within a state; this expectation promotes the value of each voice in the political process, a hallmark of democracy.   Also important to democratic systems, protections for minority populations seek to curb their exclusion by the majority.  Spatially, many states require not only that smaller political boundaries within states be protected, but also that the units not be widely spread (compact) or disconnected (contiguous).  Despite the debate over the new maps drawn each decade, the current legislative guidelines allow those with political power to use the process to reinforce their advantages.

Attempts to gain political advantage through redistricting stretch back to the early years of United States history.  Known as gerrymandering after Elbridge Gerry, who is associated with one of the early politically suspect maps, the concern raises questions about how votes count.  Individuals negatively impacted by the process have had difficulty seeking remedies.  Despite the successful challenges to racial gerrymandering beginning with the Shaw v Reno (1995), it remains difficult to address because of overlap of some historically marginalized groups with specific political parties. Opponents of partisan gerrymandering have had more difficulty because, in all but eight states, the legislatures draw the boundaries, which means that those parties with a majority have the votes to promote the passage of the plan that advantages their members.  Few states have any provisions to promote political competition – whether it be between parties or against incumbents more specifically.  Furthermore, since first raised in the 1960s, the federal courts have been very reluctant to enter the fray, affirming the “political” nature of this issue in Rucho v Common Cause (2019).  The result is that this influence shapes the extent to which voters can achieve representation, especially if the aggregate results do not reflect the distribution of voters in the nation. Several reform ideas have emerged in response.

Among the most straightforward options that have emerged, several states have set up independent commissions that take the process out of the hands of elected officials.  Currently, only nine states have such a body, though a few more have state level ones for similar processes to set boundaries for the state legislative districts.  Decisions by these bodies are not, unlike those made by legislatures, influenced by which party has the majority at the time the maps are approved.  The result is a much more competitive and authentically representative electoral process.

Other efforts advocate for more extensive reform that can better reflect social groups in ways that would either lessen the impact of district boundaries or remove them altogether.  Ranked choice voting, discussed in this prior Civic Mind post, encourages the participation of smaller party candidates without voters needing to be concerned that they waste a vote if their most preferred candidate does not win.  A conversion to multimember districts, whether at the state level or in segments of the states, would allow multiple parties to win based on their proportional support in the electorate.  In each case, the goal is to promote political competition, accountability and representation.

Although these options appear attractive in theory and example, implementing them is far from simple. For ranked choice voting, though keeping the geographic boundaries for a variety of positions, including legislative ones, requires significant effort to get the intended results.  First, advocates must ensure that voter education is a critical element of the process to ensure they use their ballot accurately.  In addition, perhaps more importantly, efforts need to focus not only on getting voters to the polls, but encouraging them to complete all the potential rank entries, otherwise, their vote becomes moot as soon as the candidates chosen are eliminated.  Multi-member districts, which use a proportional ranked choice voting, also require empowering voters to understand and use the process correctly to achieve the intended outcomes.  Multi-member districts exist in several states, but have not been applied at the national level.

Regardless of the strengths and weaknesses of each approach – commission, district type and ballot type – citizens should be encouraged.  The vast majority of statutes governing elections are set at the state level, where citizens have much greater influence in the process.  As such, they may learn about the processes that exist their states and others for federal and state elections via the National Conference of State Legislatures, communicate with their members and participate in communication campaigns with organizations advocating reform.  In addition, we have a much greater opportunity to make informed decisions because we can use data from existing structures to promote changes that are more likely to work, rather than guessing what might or might not happen.

Currently the Pennsylvania redistricting process sits with its state supreme court.  On February 9th the court suspended the window for candidates to gather signatures to get on the ballot, as it is scheduled to hear arguments on the challenge to the map beginning February 18th.  This development is not new territory for the state.  In 2018, the state supreme court overturned the prior map, and the U.S. Supreme Court refused to step into the issue, leaving the state court decision to stand.  Pennsylvania might be wise to extent the use of commission for the state legislative districts to the congressional ones.  Ultimately, concerns about voter ability to gain voice through representation in the electoral process could, if not addressed, destabilize the system if individuals lose confidence in it and seek other means to promote change.

 

 

 

[1] This process is necessary because Congress capped the number of representatives at 435 in the 1929 Permanent Reapportionment Act.  Minor fluctuations occurred initially when Alaska and Hawaii became states, but the number reset after the subsequent census.

Colleen Quinn is a senior studying Politics & International Relations as well as French.

(This post offers the a second student analysis of Twilight of Democracy. Click to learn more about the segment and the series, From the Field.)

In a time where our government seeks to promote democracy across the world, Twilight of Democracy is a warning not to forget about protecting domestic democracy. In this book, author Anne Applebaum informs readers of the dangers of authoritarianism and populism, and how a country that described itself as democratic can fall under the control of a right-wing party that has taken away safeguards to ensure a democratic process in a short amount of time.

Anne Applebaum wrestles with the idea of why individuals allow authoritarian leaders to take control. She discusses the fall of Poland into right-wing, controlled state. She voices her concern with the state of the nation with a populist leader in control, and the subsequent loss of checks and balances that prevent one party from taking control. In Poland, the Law and Justice Party is in power, a Right-Wing party dismantling the checks and balances of democracy in Poland, and promoting a homogenous society. These checks would protect minorities and immigrant populations from the nationalistic tendencies of right-wing populists. Although factions can cause some tension and divide among the electorate, diversity of ideas, as well as a platform for that diversity is one of the best protections against an authoritarian state.

Although Applebaum successfully covers Polish democratic backsliding, I think she misses the presence of resilient established democracies in her writing about America. While our democracy may not look the same as it did one hundred years ago, or even twenty-five years ago, as our world evolves, democracies need to evolve with it, or they risk extinction. After 9/11, when American democracy was tested, America rose to the occasion and demonstrated that an attack to democracy would not go without response. While the America of the twenty-first century may be different than the founders imagined it to be, the people are still in control of who holds the power.

The danger of scapegoating is one aspect of the book with which I particularly resonated, because I have seen leaders use this tactic to gain support throughout history. To highlight the danger of scapegoating, Applebaum uses the example of the brother of the deceased Polish president, who spun a tale that his brother (the president) was taken out by the opposing party, which somehow allowed him to become the next president. The people were desperate for leadership and in a vulnerable state, so they accepted whatever information was given to them (43). Even though the story of the president being taken out by the opposing party was completely fabricated, a scapegoat provides a simple answer to a large problem: who should succeed the previous leader? (11). If the public was allowed to think for themselves and process the death of their leader before choosing a new one, they might have elected a more democratic leader, instead of the man who fed them lies to gain their sympathy.

In her book, Applebaum also shares her perspective on how the new Law and Justice government quickly replaced members of the government with individuals who supported the right wing leaders. She emphasizes how easily and quickly a nation can go from democratic to authoritarian, and how the citizens will even support authoritarianism, given proper persuasion and circumstances. As I read Applebaum’s findings, I was greatly reminded of my research into French politics and government. I have found that much of the polarization and divide between immigrants from Muslim-majority nations and the native French is caused by laïcité, or secularism, leading to a populist right-wing movement that seeks to keep out Muslims, or more support for right-wing parties, spanning the past two decades. This exclusion seems similar to what Applebaum was describing in Poland, as well as the Dreyfus Affair in France in the 1890s (172-78). If we do not promote diversity of political opinion, we will see a rise of right-wing administrations and parties as we have across Europe, and a return to nationalistic ideals that seek to exclude certain populations from the national identity.

Applebaum’s Twilight of Democracy is a valuable warning for all democratic nations. It may be difficult to catch the signs of authoritarianism in real time, but Applebaum’s observations give readers a glimpse into how a seemingly invincible nation can deteriorate into a state that hardly resembles a democracy.  Maintaining awareness for these shifts, and developing strategies to respond to the underlying issues that often lead to support for them, requires persistent vigilance.