Looking Back on Issues, Period–2016

4 Serious Discussions on the 2016 Presidential Contest.

Issues, Period [I,P] is a political discussion program and had its first live streaming broadcast on RADio568 in the 2016 spring semester.  Planning began the previous semester as a collaboration of the English. Public Management, and Political Sciences Departments, as well as JJAY student leaders of the Political Science Students Association and Pi Sigma Alpha, the National Political Science Honor Society.

Issues-Period copyIn a series of four programs students and faculty discussed the values, ideas, and issues that influence the citizenry of the U.S. Democracy.

During the Spring 2016 semester, I,P moderators–Thamana Hussain and Daniela Vidal talked with student leaders from the Veteran’s Association. JJ Dreamers. Social Justice [SoJust], and the Democratic and Republican Clubs.  They were joined by Prof. Heath Brown, Public Management Dept, and Prof. Brian Arbour of the Political Science Department both of whom added historical, analytical, and critical overview to the ongoing discussion.  [NOTE: Prof. Brown hosts a podcast called New Books in Political Science where he interviews new authors about their political science publications. RADio568 rebroadcasts these interviews weekday afternoons.]

The 2016 Presidential contest topics that were covered  included: Illegal immigration; foreign policy; the NY Primary; and the social justice issues surrounding Black Lives Matter. All programs were broadcast live on RADio568.com and are available via the “Podcasts Archive”  at http://www.radio568.com

Each program began with a critical and historical overview by either Prof. Brown or Arbour, a summary of the stances of the presidential candidates on the particular issue in question, a discussion with a JJAY student guest on how this issue affects the student body, and a summary of what was covered delivered by one of the professors.

It was a great pleasure to watch as our two student moderators took over the organization and running of the on-air programming.  We will be losing Ms. Hussain who will attending New York Law School in the Fall with a special focus on women’s rights advocacy.  Ms. Vidal will be returning to I, P along with Professors Brown and Arbour.

Though planning for the programming in 2016/17 is far from finalized, I would like to suggest some directions we might explore up to and past the November vote.

I,P will continue to address trending issues as the nation decides on a new president.  But it seems clear that after the contest these conversations will take on very different tones depending on who is elected.  It is foolish to anticipate a Trump loss.  U.S. political style is a weird breed of democratic decision-making and getting weirder.  Unlike any other presidential election cycle, the Trump/Clinton choice highlights a need to examine what sort of democracy we have become and how we got here.  For this reason I propose that  I,P   include in its portfolio broader concepts on the nature of the U.S. Democracy and how these big ideas impact American justice–a central trope of John Jay College public relations.  That said — here are some areas that I would like the I,P team to consider for the next two semesters:

What is the role of the U.S. President?  Trump makes an interesting argument that a democratic leader in our times is actually a businessman who can make the best “deals” for his constituents.  This attitude seems to be a logical outcome of the Conservative movement in the U.S. — one that follows the Tea Party agenda of less government.  The natural state of the businessman and capitalist is to understand that we are all playing the same game of survival, and as the head of the country, the President-as-businessman is responsible fo protecting the country’s holdings and its citizens from those who are cheating us and from the “obvious” threat of the invading hoard.  It is a way of seeing government whose outcome was described recently by Paul Krugman of the NY Times  See “Donald Trump is the embodiment of the GOP  — a party of grifters.”

Historically, though, U.S. Presidents have taken on very different roles — Politician and Entertainer — true, but also — Communicator in times of national dis/stress — Defender of minorities and the weak  — Advocator for positive social policies — Visionary who sees the bigger picture and establishes a national definition and imagination for the best ways forward for a country that leads the world militarily and economically.

What is the role of U.S. politicians?   For many of our fellow citizens, “politics” and “politician” are pejoratives. Politicians are liars who take money from Wall Street and exist to establish personal power positions.  The politician is a strategist and self-promoter; she pretends to have selfless communal goals.  It is a common trope that elections are a never-ending cycle of selling a product to citizen consumers and that politicians need to be part entertainer to remain in the public’s eye.

Habermas defined the politician as a self and public promoter — an advocator for policies that push personal goals and the agenda of her constituents.  This seems to be an honest and effective place to start this discussion.  Do politicians have to communicate the whole truth?  Is truth-telling a politician’s responsibility?   Rather, don’t politicians hold up certain ways of seeing social problems that reflect the ideals, cultures, and best interests of their constituents?   Or, as argued in Profiles in Courage [1961] by J.F. Kennedy, does each politician have a duty to her own conscience, despite what the people back home are yelling for?

What is the responsibilities / role of a citizen in the U.S. Democracy?  What are the rights and duties of a U.S. citizen?  Have those rights and duties changed over time, and if so, what are they now in an age of social media?   Has the idea of “citizen” changed since the founding of this nation.   Have we turned away from the Enlightenment to become media-driven, “consumer citizens”?  There are at least two ways of thinking about the citizen as consumer.  To be a consumer is to make choices for oneself based on agency and knowledge.  For instance, the cataclysmic rise of greenhouse gas, encourages citizens to choose a sustainable environment.  But this idea of citizen as “consumer” can be seen pejoratively –such that politicians become salesmen whose role is to satisfy the buyer with attractive products:

Politicians are perceived more as ‘service providers’, performing a managerial role in relation to national policies with greater or lesser efficiency. In seeking the acquiescence of citizens, they are carried further towards … kinds of ‘branding’, product differentiation and publicity strategies.  [John Corner, “Media, Power and Culture” in Media Studies (2007)]

Taken this way the “citizen” makes choices based on norms arising out of late capitalism.  As such, the voter-as-buyer’ imagination is formed within a commercial / corporate field; and each of us chooses our leaders based on mass mediated propaganda propagating within hegemonic structures that pre/form the outcomes.

What is the responsibility / role of news and entertainment media in U.S. politics and formation of an American Democracy?  De Tocqueville argued that the press has a democratic responsibility to educate the public on social conditions.  What is the role of the fourth estate in the age of Face Book as disseminator of trending news?  Does unbiased reporting enable or encourage citizens to make educated decisions?  Or should the press take a stance against a demagogue who presents himself as a presidential candidate and is on the cusp of winning the election?   Is the U.S. citizen capable of making decisions on the facts and critical thinking?  Of dispassionately deciding what is best for the entire republic?  Bob Garfield [On the Media] has been arguing for an activated press to “wake up” the electorate to the realistic possibility of a Trump presidency and how such a despotic ruler would change the American democracy.  See “Sad! Should journalists rethink how to cover Donald Trump?”

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These are big questions, but that is a fact that should not deter the I,P team from attempting in-depth, complex examinations–about our society–now and into our students’ futures.

Up to the November election, we must talk about these basic questions–before the unthinkable becomes reality.  We must have conversations in our classrooms.  But, additionally, as an academic and civic community, we must find public spaces to think critically, to recognize our various world views, and to describe our feelings about our political system and those social and historical forces impacting the decision we make when we vote — or not vote.

Issues, Period can provide that space.

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More ideas — What questions might we investigate in Fall 2016 as we approach the choosing of a new U.S. President:

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