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Pizza, Pop & Politics lecture zeroes in on ‘Peer to Peer Politics’

| Wednesday, April 18, 2018

ND Votes hosted its final Pizza, Pop & Politics of the year Tuesday evening, concluding a year of informal lectures from a range of positions on the political spectrum. This week’s installment, “Peer to Peer Politics,” highlighted three seniors who completed theses related to politics in today’s society.

Senior Michael Finan spoke about his research regarding the white working class’ unforeseen influence on the outcome of the 2016 presidential election. The 2016 election was not unprecedented but a reflection of recent voting trends, Finan said.

“The white working class over the past twenty years has been becoming more Republican,” Finan said. “You can see back in 1992, if you were in the white working class you were actually more likely to identify as a Democrat, and they’ve kind of shifted from a democratic stronghold — blue collar, union workers — to now identifying and voting for Republicans.”

This shift led to Donald Trump’s 39 point advantage over Hillary Clinton among white working class voters, Finan said. Finan’s thesis seeks to explain the difference between the voting trends of the white working class base and the white college educated base. He looked at party identification, prominent election issues like economic concerns, moral traditionalism and racial resentment, which he said could not fully explain the gap in voting tendencies. Because of that, he added a third factor: feeling thermometers that measure voters’ attitude toward the candidates.

“There’s a lot of debate about the issues, but I don’t think there’s as much attention about the role of the candidates themselves and the role their characteristics played,” Finan said.

Positive feelings toward Trump far outweighed negative feelings toward Clinton, belying the narrative that sexism drove Clinton’s loss, Finan said. He concluded that white working class voters are more likely to have a weak party identification and to focus more on the issues and candidates in a particular election.

“In the long run, ultimately, I think the Democrats will have to find support elsewhere and the Republicans are going to have to try to incorporate the white working class into the coalition that they have right now,” Finan said.

Senior Sarah Tomas Morgan’s thesis discussed the capabilities approach to human development formulated by philosopher Martha Nussbaum and its effect on the United Nations’ sustainable global development goals and the greater involvement of civil society in their creation. The capabilities approach, Tomas Morgan said, is set apart from other comparative methods because of its emphasis on the individual and individual freedoms.

“Every individual is an end in and of herself in the capabilities approach,” Tomas Morgan said. “It does not attempt to total or average societal well-being, but rather to compare societies based on the opportunities available to each person. This focus on the individual creates a respect for self-definition, a pluralism of values and a concern for social injustice and inequality in society.”

Nussbaum’s theory outlines 10 capabilities deemed necessary to a dignified human life, including health, bodily integrity, practical reason, and control over one’s own environment, Tomas Morgan noted.

“They’re answers to the question: What is a person, an individual, able to do and to be?” Tomas Morgan said. “They’re opportunities to choose and to act — a set of substantial freedoms. They’re not just abilities that reside in a person, but they’re freedoms and opportunities created by a combination of personal ability and the political social and economic environment.”

It is therefore the task of an effective government to secure a base level of these freedoms for all citizens so they can pursue a “dignified and minimally flourishing life,” Tomas Morgan said. The way to implement such freedoms is through the involvement of civil society, which played a central role in creating the sustainable development goals the UN set forth in 2015 and is necessary to creating a better life for all members of any community, Tomas Morgan concluded.

“Deliberative democracy grounds democracy in the exchange of reason for the purpose of democratic decision making,” Tomas Morgan said. “The primary aim of all these bodies is the same — to enhance both the rational justification for and the popular sanction for political decisions.”

Senior Roge Karma discussed the dichotomy of the American narrative, which pits the narrative of the nation as a source of oppression and against that of American exceptionalism. Neither of these narratives, Karma said, truly capture American history. Karma’s thesis explores the question of ideal civic education from the perspective of creating the ideal citizen. The two central parts of that education, Karma said, are estrangement and love.

“Civic estrangement is the intellectual or emotional experience of grasping fundamental contradictions between what a given society states are its ideals and reality,” Karma said. “As a result, the perceptive citizen is no longer at home, no longer at one with the nation, but recognizes it as strange, foreign, not in harmony. It’s a disjunctive experience. You don’t feel at home because the ideals that you identify with are not being lived up to.”

This estrangement is necessary to identifying the gaps between a nation’s ideals and its realities, Karma said. Patriotic love, on the other hand, is necessary to fixing those gaps — together, Karma said they create an ideal citizen willing to criticize and also fix his nation.

“How I define patriotic love is as ends-oriented,” he said. “It operates with the ideal of the nation in mind. So what I love about my nation isn’t necessarily everything it does, but what it stands for, what it aspires towards. I argue that this form of patriotic love is actually necessary in order to be willing to close the gap between ideals and realities. If we’re trying to cultivate the ideal citizen, we can’t rely on self-interest. I can’t just fight and struggle for an issue because it affects me.”

Karma examined what he said is the most popular American history textbook used in high schools today, ’American Pageant,’ focusing specifically on foreign policy in the Woodrow Wilson era, and found it pushed an agenda of American exceptionalism that failed his criteria for creating an ideal citizen.

“What this narrative serves to do is it puts forward an affirmative national narrative trying to cultivate a sense of love for country,” Karma said. “But in doing so, it conflates American ideals and realities. It leaves no room for critical thinking, no room for empathy, no room for estrangement. If you believe that every one of your nation’s actions are going to be necessarily just and good, how are you ever going to spot a gap between their ideals and those realities?”

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