On November 7, 2016, the editor-in-chief of Ball Bearings, Alex Kincaid, facilitated a panel on civility and polarization in politics. The panel consisted of James Wells, the Student Government Association president; Kristen McCauliff, a professor of communications studies; Shauna Reynolds, president of Call to Action; Jessica Ratel-Khan, communications director for Ball State University Democrats; Dan Canan, a former mayor of Muncie; and Doug Eckerty, a Republican Senator for the Indiana General Assembly. The event was part of an ongoing conversation about polarization in politics and was tied in to the print magazine, “Why We Think We’re Right.”
Alex Kincaid: So, the first question that I want to address to all of you is this: The definition of civility is courtesy in behavior and speech. I want to ask each of you what civility in a political campaign looks like to you.
Dan Canan: No negative campaigning was a policy I always had. If you have to drag yourself down. If you can’t build yourself up and what you’re running on. If you can’t make a good, articulate case for that, you need to get out of the race. That’s just my political opinion. And a lot need to get out of the race.
Alex Kincaid: Does anyone else want to add on to that?
Shauna Reynolds: I guess for me, it’s about not attacking the individual candidate. But like, more so attacking policy. It more becomes like, against an individual person, the less I’m in support of any kind of, like you said, “negative ad.”
So what I said, just to reiterate, is that I don’t like it when politicians attack a person, like an individual, I want it to be more about policy, and more about what is going on in the political arena as opposed to an individual, like attacks a particular individual.
Jessica Ratel-Khan: I think as far as civility in a political campaign goes, I think it’s important to—it’s hard to definitely outline it—but I think being aware of the policies, as Shauna laid out, and attacking those. Trying not to go for like, ad hominem attacks, I think that would also be beneficial. And not necessarily like attacking the supporters of the specific candidate, I think that would be important as well.
James Wells: Taking the high road. Just talking about the issues, and actually doing the thing that the voters want our leaders to do. And that is to be leaders, and to show it by the example in how they speak, in how they act, toward one another. I know that even the student government campaign here at Ball State, we try to not attack each other and actually try to do our darn hardest to talk about the issues and not have to go into that whole negative attacks against each other because that does nobody, now I’m about to use incorrect grammar, but it does nobody any good.
Kristen McCauliff: I think candidates who are running a campaign should approach conversation the way that we hope each other would approach the conversation, and that is with a certain level of humility and friendship. I’m really big on this idea of citizens and politicians as friends. We don’t always agree with our friends, but we certainly address their issues and we approach the conversations with a generous and open spirit and it’s something that I encourage my students to do, and it’s something that I think the politicians could probably do a better job of.
Doug Eckerty: Yes we could. I don’t know about you or how you feel, but I’m particularly troubled by what I’ve seen in this presidential campaign and the personal attacks that have gone on. You see it also in the senate attacks here in the state of Indiana, in that particular office. And to a lesser degree, the governor’s office. I often wonder what it would look like if one opponent chose not to go negative. Because I’ve heard the promises a thousand times as a view, that I’m not going to go negative. And this may be the only living human being that’s ever done it, I don’t know. But the human nature is to attack back when you’ve been attacked, and to clear your record. I don’t know exactly how you clear your record, or point out what you perceived to be a deficiency in somebody else’s record, without yourself being thought of as negative.
So it’s not quite as easy of a trick as you might think. Again, this is probably one of the only living human beings to have ever done it [Dan Canan].
Alex Kincaid: So I’d like to ask you, what do you focus on in your campaigning if you are very adamant that you will not be negative toward the other side?
Dan Canan: Before I always interview, I always have three issues. Pretty much three issues that we would decide, the three times I ran, that were the issues that I was going to work on. Infrastructure improvements, police, whatever the order. So when someone asks you a question that’s negative, you never answer that question. You say, well I really appreciate that question, and I realize that’s a concern, however, that’s not what I’m running on. What I’m running on are the three issues and I think it’s very important that … you always just kind of come back to what the positives are. Once you start down that road of I’m going to say bad thing about you, then it just escalates.
I realize it was an entirely different climate. I ran the first time in ‘95 and so, a few in this room were here then, the majority were not. I know the climate has changed. Social media wasn’t there when I ran, we did the radio, we did a lot of newspaper ads, and there was a little bit of news that was on the cable channels. So you didn’t have all of the instantaneous reaction that you have right now, but if you’re going to get down in the gutter with them, you’re going to end up with mud on you. And my theory was, my wife and I have talked many times, if that’s how we had to win, we didn’t want to win. It wasn’t that important. I had another job, and I could go do something else. If I had to give up my personal integrity to win, it wasn’t worth it.
Alex Kincaid: So based on all of your responses, what could have been improved upon in the presidential campaigns this year? It all seems that you think the same thing, that there shouldn’t be negativity, that they should stand by their policy. What do you think could’ve improved?
Doug Eckerty: Better candidates.
Dan Canan: Very rarely has anybody ever asked me to talk anymore, so I’ve got all this pent up conversation I’d like to have. My wife doesn’t like to hear me talk anymore, and Marcus, our dog, he’ll listen for just a short period of time, then he wanders somewhere else. Getting involved. I mean, the whole thing is you can’t sit back and say, ‘Well gee, in four years it’s going to get better.’ No, it’s not. I don’t even know who the candidates will be, but it’ll probably worsen for you.
James Wells: Coming from Gary, Indiana, we got our news from the Chicago news area. If you’re from the Chicago area you know that every election cycle, every single candidate in the Chicago area is attacking each other and it’s like a blood bath. After awhile, you just dread turning on the TV because the same commercial attacking the same person over and over again just comes on and on. You get tired of it. I think when it comes down to it, not only do we need better candidates, we also, as citizens and voters, need to hold those candidates accountable and really light a fire under them to take the higher road and talk about the policies. Because when it comes election day and we’re looking at the names and we don’t get a spark of “Oh they stand on this policy,” or “They believe in this.” All we have is “Oh they have this big character flaw.” It does us no justice whatsoever.
Jessica Ratel-Khan: Yeah, I think going off of that a bit, I think it is also like a two-way street. I think that candidates also have an obligation to their supporters to direct them in the right direction. So I think we saw a lot in this candidate cycle is Trump egging on his supporters, so there is a lot of violence at rallies that we saw. Or after it came out that if only women voted Clinton would be elected, the hashtag: get rid of the 19th Amendment, or something of that sort, started trending on Twitter. So I think it is a two-way road. A lot needs to be said about holding candidates accountable but also them holding their supporters accountable as well.
Shauna Reynolds: Yeah, I definitely agree with everything that’s been said as far as making sure the supporters and candidates are on the same understanding of what we want to see and projecting that as this is how I’m acting, and this is how I want you to take in regard to other people, and people who oppose your views and people who are on the other side I also in every debate, I have sat there watching and thinking never have I wanted candidates to talk about policy more than I do right now. Because it was just them arguing with each other about things in my opinion didn’t really matter. It wasn’t anything about what they were going to do in office, especially in the third debate, it wasn’t about anything that they had planned. And I really wanted it to be that boring debate that you have to watch because your teacher tells you to like it was back in 2008 and 2012.
Alex Kincaid: So a lot of what I’ve heard is that we need to hold our politicians accountable. How do we do that? How do we go about holding them accountable for their actions and telling them that we want to hear about policy and not this negativity?
Shauna Reynolds: I mean getting involved in campaigns is really important, and making sure that your voice is heard. Something we do in Call to Action once every year is write our politicians, write them letters. Make phone calls, make sure that they know what we stand for and what we want. The big thing just comes from getting involved in politics.
Jessica Ratel-Khan: I think that stems from the local level too. I think Congress’s approval rating is at 11 percent yet we keep on voting the same people back into office. I think getting involved at the local level, having conversations with our peers about local politics and having more interest in that will often lead to like a bottom upper approach and being able to hold other politicians accountable as well.
James Wells: Yeah, definitely make your voice heard, I know that as Student Body President when I get an email from a student about something that I probably had a misunderstanding on that affects me and that holds me accountable and it really does the trick and I have to like go back and review and what is was that I said and if I was offensive even if deep in my heart I never knew it was offensive and the next time it comes around I’m more educated and I think we have to not only hold our candidates and politicians accountable but we also have to educate them and to let them know hey this was offensive you might want to think about it the next time that you do or the next time that you say it and if you continue to build that up along up with your fellow voters and your fellow citizens that does so much good in the long run when you make your voice heard.
Kristen McCauliff: I think we have an obligation to take to social media and other outlets and do it in a civil and respectful way and I think it is important to vote, obviously, but I also think you’re probably going to want your voice to be heard in other avenues that are maybe less institutionalized. And in order to do that I always encourage people to maybe get out of their own echo chambers. So check yourself and your own knowledge and your attitude and your own opinions before you posting wildy and checking other people’s facts and attitudes. So i have made a conscious effort to get out of my own echo chamber which is really difficult both because of my political affiliation, my race, my class, and so I try to read a variety of publications and follow a variety public intellectuals and politicians that i maybe wouldn’t follow otherwise and it’s amazing when you are informed of what everyone thinks how much easier it is to converse with them and provide these checks and balances that the rest of the panelists have talked about.
Dan Canan: When you say keep your politicians accountable, to me that means that they’re probably not an honest person. They’re going to go left of center, and I don’t mean left of center politically, but i mean they’re going to go out of bounds and unless we really keep a good eye on them. If that’s the case we have a politician there, we have a bad office holder. But what James said, providing good information, just because a person is elected office that doesn’t come with a whole lot of brilliance and a whole lot of knowledge about what is going on in all situations. I think providing good information reaching out to different groups to try to find whats going on- that’s very important. If you’re in a position, and it’s a good office holder, they’re going to be accepting of information the more people that are sending-i never liked, if i would get a letter and it looked like there had been 100 of them printed, 100 different people had signed the bottom and I saw that by time the second one came through the mail box they all went in the trash. A handwritten letter, now that’s old, that’s old school. Now it’s emails, but however you communicate, making sure it is only a personal level and you’re communicating with that person and providing information. If you’re trying to keep a politician accountable it’s kind of the guy who is waiting to get a drink when nobody is looking. That’s my opinion.
Doug Eckerty: I don’t know what that means. Believe it or not, we do listen to folks that contact us. Really nothing makes me happier than for someone to reach out to me and say “Hey I got a problem with something that you said or a move that you’ve made. But, it all depends on how you do it. There’ people who adamantly disagree with a position you’ve taken, a move you’ve made who will come and talk to you and are very sincere and really want to explain themselves and really try to understand where you came from. Those are wonderful conversations to have. They’re very enlightening for me to hear that. What I don’t like, what none of us likes, is when a person wants to yell at you and call you names. A few years ago, there was a really contentious issue in the State House and people were unhappy with my position. So I wrote a letter that the Star Press published and I explained the issue, the background as I knew it, the information that I had available to me at the time, and how I felt about it personally. Well my constituents were saying why I wrote it the way I did. I received phone calls saying “Hey thank you I think you did a nice job with that.” I received probably close to 100 of “You’re a liar. You’re a bigot. You’re a this or that.” They would hang up and swear and cuss at my wife. They say, “I know your children. I know where they work.” It just goes on and on. And I’m going to tell you, if you come at me like that, I am done talking to you. I’m just done. So you come talk to me with a sincere heart and a genuine attitude and you try to express your opinion, I’ve got all day. I want to hear what you have to say.
Dan Canan: If I could add one thing I thought of when Doug was talking, I’ve always had an open door policy, if someone wanted to come up and talk to me and I had the time to sit down and talk to them, but when they got done I would always ask the question, “What is your solution?” So, if there is a problem that you want to talk about, think about that problem and then present a solution to them, maybe it’s not workable, you can talk about what’s not workable, but don’t just go up there and bellyache, this is the problem and this is what I see as a solution. Let’s talk about that. Give them something to talk about.
Alex Kincaid: Going off of what Kristen said earlier, getting out of your own echo chamber. Besides just exposing yourself to points of view that you might not have considered, how else can we get out of that echo chamber and quit polarizing politics further and further?
Kristen McCauliff: In some ways, it’s a learned behavior. So, I don’t believe that we always have to be polarized. I am someone who feels incredibly passionate about particular elements of identity politics. I’ve tried hard and I’m not always successful to be a person that listens and approaches conversations with an open and generous heart. That doesn’t mean that I don’t think I’m right about a lot of the issues, I do, but I do think that political civility and approaching citizen and institutionalized politics with an open and generous heart is a learned behavior and it is a practice that we can maintain and nurture in ourselves. So no one expects to be like an awesome basketball player like the first time they go out on the court. I don’t think that we should expect that we’re an awesome citizen or public intellectual the first time that we open our mouths to speak. So, I do think it is something that we need to nurture in ourselves, we need to read, we need to learn, we need to cultivate our performance of citizenship and some people cultivate that in ways that I don’t necessarily agree with. But to be an angry and bitter person, that takes a lot of work too so I guess I would just prefer to spend my time working to be an open and generous and kind person who is also politically informed and passionate.
James Wells: I think when I started becoming a political junkie back in sixth grade and all throughout high school, I tried my hardest to look at both sides of an issue or all sides of an issue. And to this day, even as liberal as I am, I still see common ground in a lot of things that conservatives have to say and it’s not that because they’re conservative I’m not going to go that way, but it’s just that I feel that certain stances on certain issues match up with what I want. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to ignore somebody from the get-go. I try my hardest to listen to the other side as much as possible because if you listen as much as possible you can find some common theme, common experience, common view on life or an issue that you hadn’t even thought existed. I remember when I interned at the State House for Senator Earline Rogers, I examined the way she would talk to her colleagues. Being in the minority that she was in the democratic caucus which only had 10 senators in the Senate and the Republicans basically run the place. She was able to pass a number of legislation all because of the way she would talk to her colleagues to find what it was they shared in common. And often times there were senators that came from Gary and she would use that against them and say, “Hey, you’re from Gary, you were born here. You have an obligation to do all you can to help save this city.” And it comes down to just having conversations and forcing yourself, even if you don’t like it, just do it. You will grow as a person in the long run.
Jessica Ratel-Khan: Yeah, I think on campus that is also a way we can get involved with different organizations we may not typically get involved in beforehand, so in order to break our echo chambers we can stop hanging out with the groups and people that we identify with, but instead seek out diversification and those that we may not initially agree with. But, by building relationships with people, I think it is easier to understand and become friends with them and learn about their politics from there.
Shauna Reynolds: Yeah, I definitely agree with everything that’s been said. In addition, to kind of echo something that Senator Eckerty said, we can’t yell at people who disagree with us. That doesn’t work. We see that on campus when “hate preachers” come on campus and say things like, “all gay people are going to Hell” and “Everybody’s a sinner.” Counteracting those and yelling back doesn’t get us anywhere. We don’t see improvement in that. Nobody is learning anything. So if you’re going to have those discussions and try to talk to other people and educate people on where you stand on a political issue, you have to be understanding and say, “I’m going to listen to what you have to say as well and we’re going to do this in a way that’s not yelling at each other and being angry because that’s not going to get us anywhere.”
Alex Kincaid: Do either of you want to comment on this question?
Dan Canan: I guess from an elected official’s standpoint, it kind of comes down to when you’re supporting a candidate, is it candidate who is strictly ready to draw lines in the sand or are they more interested in getting things accomplished and working across the lines? My theory was I rather win half of the battle than lose the war. Sometimes that means somebody else gets the credit, but that’s okay if that is what’s best for the constituents that you are representing. To me it was just an easier way to govern. Who needs to go in and fight all of the time. Let’s figure we have some common ground. Because I have found there are some [Republicans] that are 100 percent [Republicans] and there are some [Democrats] that are 100 percent [Democrats]. But the majority of the people work in the middle. Give them something to bite on. And some of the time they have to have a win, and sometimes you have to have a win. But majority are more interested in accomplishing a goal at the end of the day. If you’re more interested in accomplishing something, at the end of the day you need to work together. Compromise to me is a very positive word and in politics it’s not used [that way].
Doug Eckerty: Can I ask a question? Is that allowed? I want to ask James a question, I’m going to put you on a limb. James and I worked together this year. He worked for Earline Rogers who absolutely horrifies me.
Dan Canan: It’s true.
Doug Eckerty: Yeah she’s tough. She’s as tough as they come. She is very good at her job. The Republicans are the super majority there which means there is a whole bunch of us and very few of the Democrats. How are the democrats treated as a whole, you think?
James Wells: What surprised me was that the Democrats were treated with respect. Even though there were only ten, and the Republicans had forty. I was surprised to see down at the State House, how well both sides get along. If you go through the vote records, it’s online, you will see how often the entire chamber votes together. It’s not just Republicans vs. Democrats all of the time. I was surprised to see how many times Democrats and Republicans voted together. And sometimes, Republicans voted with Democrats and sometimes Democrats voted with Republicans. I remember hearing the story of when Senator Rogers lost her leadership position in the Democratic caucus one point in time because she voted with the Republicans on the Toll Roll bill. And the Toll Roll was designed to restructure, prioritize it, but it was also benefitting Gary, IN, in the long run. She cared more about her hometown than she did about her own party. And she was willing to put it all on the line. Sometimes we have to rise above the whole party fray and do what we were sent to do.
Dan Canan: I can’t speak to local politics, I’ve never been in it. But I suspect very strongly that the federal level is not this way at the Statehouse, especially in the Senate, we have absolute rules of decor. Period. You will address the other members with absolute respect and dignity at all times or you will be called down and censored on the spot in front of everybody. Right now. No questions asked. You don’t get to complain. You don’t get to appeal. You just get hammer dropped on you. I love it. It’s absolutely great. It promotes civility and doesn’t allow us to get out of line. Senator Rogers, who James worked for, my second year down there, she and I spent forty-five minutes on the floor one day arguing. Not once did either of us get out of line. I was scared to get out of line. We are argued. I mean we went at it forty-five minutes. And she won. She beat the stuffings out of me. No questions about it. I was not a happy camper. And after the session was over that day, she called me in the hall and gave me the biggest hug and told me she loved me and said, “Next time you’ll probably win.”And that’s just how we got along, and we still get along to this day. She is as tough as anybody I know, or I’ve met. But she’s fair and works hard. I absolutely respect her because she is fair and honest.
Alex Kincaid: Do you think the civility of a politician affects their ability to lead?
Dan Canan: I would say absolutely. It should affect the ability of the people who follow them.
James Wells: I think for all—well I was told when I was growing up, there were Student Council races and running for the class president position and I was always told, like “Hey, you have to hold yourself to a higher standard because often times if you lower yourself below that of the expectations of the office, then you’re constituents are going to use that as an excuse to get out of line as well.” “ Well, the president was cussing, why can’t I cuss?” And I think leadership positions show not only a lot about the person themselves, but it shows a lot about the group and the society as a whole. If we—since we live in democracy, when we elect our leaders, we are together coming to show that ‘This is who we are as a people.’ If we are electing people who are going to do nothing but argue and never get anything done, then that shows a lot about ourselves. If we are electing people who are going to do their hardest to actually work across the aisle and actually research and go out of their way and educate themselves on the issues and to bring us together, that says a lot about ourselves too.
Alex Kincaid: Okay, well, jumping off of what you just said, we have elected the most unfavorable candidates in history. What could have been done differently so that we didn’t get to this point?
James Wells: Whoo, okay. Hm. I think it would have to go back a couple of years back to when President Obama was first elected and when he was first sworn in. I think we had a grave opportunity, Democrats and Republicans, to work together and really have some respect for each other, in the public sphere at least. I think we have let so many loud voices from the back come to the front; voices of dissent, voices of disrespect, voices of hatred, take the fray that we have allowed this to get to the point of where it is. I also think that, as far as Democrat side of things, I think that, even though I’m a Hillary supporter, I think that there should have been some more candidates to challenge Secretary Clinton and really hammer away at her at her doing the race and really hold her to her standards of positions of the past to really shape her into the nominee that we all could have- well most of us on this side of things could have accepted. And I think at the end of the day, if we were in the position that we could have ran at the national level, we should have. If we don’t like the choices we have, then there’s only one clear choice: yourself.
Kristen McCauliff: I wanna push back against the question, just a little bit. If you look at exit and polling data from Nevada and Florida and certain places in North Carolina, there are a lot of people who are really excited about these candidates and the demographic breakdown is different on each side of the aisle, but Latino voters, particularly, in Nevada and Florida, first-time non-college educated voters in other places in the country. So, I do think we want to be careful about categorizing the pollists as, you know, all disenfranchised and disillusioned with the candidates. Certainly, there are a lot of people who are unhappy with the choice, but there are quite a lot of people who are quite energized by this race, and so, I think sometimes the more productive way of thinking about it might be, you know, how do these people who feel equally passionate about the respective candidates, or equally dissatisfied with the candidates they end up with, you know, work toward a solution. But, I do think we want to be careful about categorizing everyone who’s voting as dissatisfied.
Dan Canan: It’s easy to say we need better candidates. One thing is, recently I was out in Washington, D.C. doing some business and two congressmen, independently of each other, made identical comments: the satisfaction of the percentage of Congress is extremely low and it keeps getting lower and lower and lower. You have all discourse in the national elections now, they both echoed a legitimate concern that at some point does the American public lose faith in our political system all together? Where’s the tipping point? How much longer can we continue beating each other up? How much longer does this go on? And does the point ever come that the majority of the people or even a large percentage of the people lose total faith in the federal government? What happens at that point and time? If Donald Trump doesn’t stand for anything else, he stands for there’s a lot of anger out there and he’s said a lot of things that I’m not real proud of, but people have seized onto that. And I don’t know if they’ve seized onto that so much because they’re so much in agreement with him as they’re just so dissatisfied with the status quo of what’s going on. That ought to be a wake up call to everybody that the system is good, we have a great system– it does work. You’ve got to be involved, you have to- if you can get out there and vote, you have to vote. But I’m concerned with where we’re going, I mean, I remember some good candidates out there. I remember Ronald Reagan and O’Neal and different parties and the story always was that they fought all day long but at the end of the day they would have a drink and they realized compromise is good. We’ve gotten completely away from that and I think there’s a whole bunch of people to blame for that. You can blame the media, you can blame the newscast. You can blame a lot of different things. You can the fact that if you have a thousand people and one of them is mouthy, that’s the one that’s going to be on the newscast that night. So it does concern me. My theory is we would all like to see someone else in the oval office than one of the two running. But they have no interest in getting involved. They don’t want to get in the middle of this. Somehow we have to change the roles of the game. I don’t know how to do that.
Doug Eckerty: I will say this, I won’t know much about it at the local level, but at the state level, the media makes my job almost impossible. Literally, almost impossible. The speed at which things happen, the inaccuracy in which things are reported, the box that it puts the other party in. I have been in meetings with my democratic colleagues where we have hammered out agreements on difficult issues only for one of us to be ambushed by a media person in the hallway unexpectedly. It’s one thing to be prepared when you know they’re coming at you with something, it’s kind of a different animal to just catch it off the cub on the fly. I’ve seen this happen more times than I can shake a stick at, that you’ve walked out of a room, you’ve hammered out a compromise and you’re good to go. Okay? Someone from the media asks you a question, you answer the question, it’s on the six o’clock news. So now the vocal constituent base of either party goes ballistic. And the compromise unravels. It just stops. Here’s sort of the ugly truth. Then nobody wants to say anything. Then nobody wants to talk together anymore because there are certain factions in either party, doesn’t make a difference which one, who will seize upon what you have said and will use that against you in the national election in a backwards and perverse way. It’s not even accurate to what happened. So it just shuts everything down. And I can only imagine, I thought this a million times, how much worse that must be in Washington, D.C. than it is here. It just has to be a thousand times worse, cause everybody wants to draw the bright line. Everybody wants to have their moment on the TV with the microphone in their hand. And people don’t always behave in their best possible way when they’ve got a microphone in their hand or there are cameras in their face. Sometimes they say things they regret, but they won’t take it back, and here’s the ugly truth, it might cost me one of two things. It might cost me a donor. It might cost me an election.
Alex Kincaid: Does anyone else have any comments on this question?
Jessica Ratel-Khan: Can you repeat the question?
Alex Kincaid: I asked: How did we get to this point where we elected the most unfavorable candidates.
Jessica Ratel-Khan: Oh, okay. Well, I think, from at least the democratic side of things, in terms of Hillary’s favorability, I think Bernie staying in the race for a long time had a lot of polarization in terms of how we view her. I think a lot of Bernie supporters wound up getting upset when it was finally called for her. And then, also, I think it’s important to know that when Hillary Clinton is actually running for an office, her polls about her favorability are very low, but when she actually gets into that office, they end up actually going up. So, that’s just something to consider, I guess.
Shauna Reynolds: So, I think part of what plays into negative views of candidates is that we are all very passionate about issues, and very particular issues. Coming from being a member of the LGBT community, those things really matter to me. Issues that surround that world matter to me a lot. So, following up on where a particular candidate stands on an issue I care a lot about matters. So, if there’s a candidate that’s particularly against that, it’s hard for me to support them. And I think when we see that divide between all those really, really polarizing issues is where we see negative feedback on particular candidates because we want people to align with our views and what we think is right. So, when they don’t in every aspect, it’s hard for us to support them.
James Wells: I was just reading an article this morning about the working class in America and it just reminded me kind of of how we got here and what I think plays a part of it is that I remember going back to the ‘08 campaign and how when the economy was tanking and going down, a lot of posters and analysts on CBN and MSNBC and Fox News kept on saying that the voters are going to vote with how they feel with their pocket. And over time, you kind of see that with a lot of the working class. They don’t have jobs anymore like they used to and I think there’s this deep anger in the American voter that just at least wants to have some faith that they are going to be able to make a living and support their family and not have to worry about student loans, whether or not the factory is going to be open or if they are going to be able to make a living or not. Or if they’re going to have to go back and live with their parents. Our society has changed so much that now it’s being reflected in this election. And I think that has a lot to do with how we have gotten to this point, why we are so angry at our own nominees for each party.
Alex Kincaid: So, we talked a lot about how we’re very disillusioned with the state of politics and the state of the government. What can we do, moving forward, to get rid of that disillusionment? How can we restore faith in our political system?
Dan Canan: I’ll give it a shot. I would kind of think about this– what would you do if I could wave the magic wand and I could change things. And I got thinking, you know, college students like movements, they like to start movements, they like to be involved. So I was thinking, what would happen if at Ball State University, the college Democrats and the college Republicans came together and said “We’re going to start a movement called something like ‘I support this ad’’ So your tag line becomes “I support this ad.” So, what you do is you start analyzing the candidates, not so much on their issues but on more positive. You know, are they speaking positive messages, are they negative? And you start rating them on that and you start supporting them, maybe not so much on their ideas, this is a little counterproductive, but what we’re trying to do is get away from all of the negative that’s going on out there. We’ve got to quit supporting the negative. If the person that throws the most blood keeps winning, then that’s going to continue to get thrown out there. So, the Republicans and the Democrats come together and they start this movement. We’re going to start rating the campaigns, or maybe just start on the local level, I don’t know how you’d do it, and you start a movement to basically– you know there’s a fine line between talking about things that your opponent does that are noteworthy and that are truthful and just throwing a bunch of lies out there. But start analyzing the ads and said “This candidate is becoming less negative is the right term,” I don’t know. At some point someone’s gotta say that they’ve had enough before anything will change.
Dan Canan: … This candidate is becoming less [of] a threat. I don’t know if that works or not. But at some point, there has to be a point, enough people have to stand up and say we’ve had enough, before anything will change.
Doug Eckerty: I don’t know. I really don’t know. I don’t know how we got the point where we have the two candidates we have for president, I don’t have a clue. My wife and I have talked about that until we’re just tired of talking about it. Change the political system? I sort of, I guess, my theory is, at the national level, I don’t think we’ve reached the bottom yet. And I think until we reach the bottom, we don’t change much. I just think it’s going to keep getting worse until we get to the bottom.
Kristen McCauliff: I think that there’s a way to look at the history of the political parties, especially the last eight to twelve years, to provide some answers on how we ended up here, but I don’t know that we’ll all ever agree on exactly how these fissions and these fractions came about. But I do think that there are ways for your voices to be heard. You could be on nonprofit boards, that make a lot of decisions that affect your community. Christina Hale, who’s running for lieutenant governor with John Gregg, has a, I don’t know if it’s a platform, but it’s something that she’s pretty passionate about, that she’s working with women across the board in the state legislature called “Bring a Girl,” where women and young girls, are coming to political events to learn about how to get more involved in government. So, I think it’s a long game for me, trying to restructure and reeducate the pollists in a way that represents, not only, hopefully my political beliefs, but also what I value about rhetoric and political discourse.
James Wells: I think after tomorrow, we need to remember that democracy doesn’t end at the ballot box. What I mean by that is that after we cast our vote, it doesn’t mean our job as citizens is over once the presidential race is called or any other race is called. I think, going back to what the mayor said, like, start a movement. I remember at the State House, they gave out award to about five different legislators there, and they were talking about how we need to do more to honor leaders who go above party line and actually work to become statesmen or stateswomen. I think we need to celebrate our democracy early on, even in elementary, middle, and high school. We need to really encourage students to participate in their class elections and really teach them civics. I wish, going back and looking back, that my school put more effort into really honoring the system, honoring the process and teaching us, as classmates, how we can have meaningful discussions and disagree, but at the end of the day, we don’t have to be at each other’s throats. I think it starts very early on in the schools, how we move forward from here.
Jessica Ratel-Khan: Yeah, and I think, an effect of disillusionment is often apathy, where we don’t care about what’s going on with the government, we just think it’s all bad, so we don’t want to participate. Going off of what Kristen said, I think it’s extremely important to find those issues that we care about, as almost like a gateway to getting involved with politics, and I think that can have a real effect on disillusionment. So, starting at the college level, if you care about something, there are plenty of clubs, like Call to Action if you care about LGBT issues, or Spectrum. There are different clubs out there that cater to our interests and can serve almost a gateway to either nonprofits or issues that we care about after we leave college.
Shauna Reynolds: I agree, with like, the things that people have said, and I think one of the big things about this particular election cycle that excited me was that people got involved, and people were interested and talked about it. Like, granted, I was a junior [or] senior in high school when the last election happened, and I was in middle school for the one before that. But this was like, the most I’ve ever talked about politics with my family, talked about it with my friends; we got really involved, and people cared way more, I think, this year than they have ever before, as far as, especially the younger generations go. So, I think maintaining that amount of caring about what happens and your involvement is really important going into the next few years. After tomorrow, everything is decided and we have a new president.
Alex Kincaid: James, you mentioned earlier that if people aren’t satisfied with their choices that they should get involved themselves. I feel like that we’ve seen a lot of support for third parties this election, but people still consider third parties a wasted vote. If we continue that mentality, we’re just going to continue with the two-party system, so what are your thoughts on third parties? How should people look at those?
James Wells: I was thinking about this, a couple weeks back. You know, when I think about third parties, I think about the European system and how they’re… They really don’t let corporations or individuals control a party, the government funds it, and they somewhat of a functioning system. I think after this election, I think if people really care about third parties, then leave the two party system. Become part of a third party or an independent party. If you’re passionate about, going back to what Jess said about an issue, such as the environment, then we know the Green Party is there for that. Or you care about having less government involvement, like Libertarians, then leave the two-party system and join those parties. The Democratic Party and the Republican Party survive off of numbers. And I think it would be a great check and balance system toward the Democratic and Republican two-party system if more smaller parties started to chip away at the strangle that the two party system has on government. Of course, I don’t know how much of a difference that’s going to make tomorrow, but come Wednesday, get involved in a party that aligns more to your perspective and your political philosophy. But also remember too, that while it’s good to disagree, do it respectfully and find that compromise and work together.
Kristen McCauliff: I think third parties are good for increasing dialogue. Sometimes third parties make me feel uncomfortable as a political critic or a media critic because the ideologically, pure, kind of, philosophy that espouse they do sometimes doesn’t translate well to pragmatic politics. But I think that it’s, for me, more dialogue is always good. And so, if you don’t find the issues that you’re looking for in the mainstream parties, then, by all means, explore other avenues. But I do think it’s time for mainstream parties to start asking themselves how they can incorporate the fringes, maybe, of their supporters.
Dan Canan: If we’re talking about races, like senator races where they’re at district, third party might make sense then in a certain district. If we’re talking about the presidential, national election, we’re probably not ready for a third party yet to have, to really put a third party individual in office. And it’s like Doug said, maybe when we hit rock bottom that we can come to that point in time. For some of us, some of the rules that are in place, I can’t remember exactly what it was, but Johnson, that gentleman who was running third party for president, he had to have about 12 percent of the polls before he could actually participate in the debate, so he was completely shut out of the process. So, if a true third party is going to be there, what James said, you know, there’s too much money that sometimes goes in for a Republican or Democrats and all these special interests, and they add that they’re able to put out there and you know, that’s got to be reigned back somewhat. But the playing field’s got to be leveled out a little bit too because part of it’s just, my theory on politics, a lot of it is just strictly name recognition, not so much all these… I used to think everyone sits around and they read all the positions that every candidate has, they really make informed decisions, and I’m sure that some people do that, but a lot of it, I always call it the “warm and fuzzies.” He seems like a nice guy, or she seems like a nice person. Yeah, but they believe this… Well, they’re just a nice, you know… They always seem like a nice person. We got to get beyond that and… So I don’t know that the third party’s ready yet, on the national level, but they shouldn’t stop trying.
James Wells: Taking a trip down history, I think I was just watching on Hulu finally, “The Race to the White House” and how President Lincoln got that. But didn’t the Republican party start off almost like a third party? And I think they started off taking seats on the lower levels and working their way up and eventually their first candidate, which was successful, their first successful candidate was probably the one person who saved the country, and that was Abraham Lincoln. So I think there’s a strong possibility of third party candidates there. They need, I think, their focus needs to start on taking up seats in Congress or seats at the State House level and showing that they’re capable of governing just as well as Democrats or Republicans.
Alex Kincaid: So I want to talk about how the makeup of America is drastically changing. By the year 2044, it’s projected that there will be no majority race. How do you think this generation that’s being raised right now is going to influence the state of politics when there is no white majority in America?
Kristen McCauliff: I think it will be great. You know, I think younger voters will have higher and more strident expectations regarding how their candidates behave and how they govern. I think more diverse identities and more diverse ideas will lead to better policy making. So there have been quite a few articles making their rounds, not necessarily about Hillary Clinton, but maybe inspired because there’s a woman running for president, about a feminist governing style and you know, I think that we have a lot to learn from people who are not of the dominant race or gender or class or sexuality makeup. So, I’m excited.
Dan Canan: I would say, if anything, it probably opens the door for more third party candidates. As we become a more diverse populous across the United States and the voting block will probably open the door for obviously, different viewpoints and different candidates and probably different parties at that point in time.
Doug Eckerty: It should lead to much more dialogue, as you said, but I think maybe a much higher level of overall understanding amongst all of us, which will be critical. If we don’t come out of that, as a byproduct of the dialogue, then the dialogue was wasted. It would be interesting to see how…I don’t think anyone really knows how it will play itself out, it’s never happened before. So, it will be interesting to watch it play itself out. You may get to see it, but I’ll be dead, I’m pretty sure. Dan may proceed me, but… I hope you guys get to see that work itself through, I really do.
James Wells: Honestly, I don’t know, just as Senator said, like this is the first time… You look at the empires in history, there’s always one group of people controlling the vast majority of the land. I think this is going to be the first time, in human history, that so many different groups of people are now at the same table. And I think for me, at least, as an African-American, to know the history of our country and how anybody who shares the same skin color as me, how we have come such a long way to just, not too long ago, receive the right to vote and to receive full citizenship… I think that’s going to be a great opportunity to affect policy change that reflects what is needed in America and not just have programs for the sake of pushing minorities on the same level, but actually have policies that adhere to a general consensus of all Americans and that really helps this nation build up even further.
Jessica Ratel-Khan: I think it will also add a lot for the purpose of intersectionality, so different identities that overlap with one another. So I think, in the past, we saw a lot when there’s, like, one minority group that gains popularity, like oftentimes, like it does a lot to move the movement forward, but there are also intersectional identities that get left behind. So, for example, like moving forward to have women have equal pay is very important, but also there are Latino women and black women who aren’t paid as much as white women. So, I think in terms of policy, having more diversity also leads to more intersectionality, which I think is very important with the policy process as well.
Shauna Reynolds: Like Kristen, I’m very excited for this to happen. I want to see how things will go and the changes that will happen because of it. Because the hope is that as our national demographics change, in regard to race, sexual orientation, gender, those people will then be in office and we’ll see policy changes around those demographics as well. We’ll see changes in the way that we address race, we’ll see changes in the way that we address sexual orientation and gender identity, and I’m really looking forward to seeing those things happen and seeing where our country goes in regard to the issues that are going to change based on having those intersectional identities in political arenas.
James Wells: To go off of that, actually, I think it already exists. If we look at Canada, with the Prime Minister, when he appointed his cabinet, he had half women, half men, and he appointed Muslims, African Canadians, and people in every single demographic and I think, I don’t know what it does for policy change at least, and we may have to look back at the policies that Prime Minister Trudeau has implemented, but I think it pushes society to accept that new normal, that it’s okay to have all of these different voices and all of these different people that don’t look the same at the table, and it’s not the end of the world, and fire won’t be coming down from the heavens, But it’s okay. And I think once we get that for America, it will help our society and our culture to become more accepting of one another
Alex Kincaid: So, historically, minorities have voted Democratic, and we actually have a story in our new print magazine: America, The Plurality, where a source speculates that the Republican party is going to have to start from the ground up because historically, they haven’t had much minority support. What do you guys think about the state of the Republican party when this shift does take place?
Dan Canan: I think sometimes, the republican party at the national level puts themselves in very strict beliefs and they need to look at the country, they need to look at what it’s becoming, do they want to win elections and win half the war or do they want to sit off to the side and lose? It’s my frank opinion.
Doug Eckerty: Yeah, they’re kind of an endangered species. They certainly could be, I don’t think there’s any question about that. I’m just gonna go off the path a little bit but I can tell you an interesting little story about what’s happening. We kind of wrested out the state house the last few years with LGBT issues and I’ve come to this conclusion: If it were not for the people from the extreme religious bend who descend upon the state, from out of state, by the hundreds, if not thousands, and yell and scream at us and carry on like idiots. And if it were not for the national LGBT folks who come in here and do exactly the same thing on the other side. We could have reached a logical, rational, Hoosier solution to that problem. I honestly truly believe that. So two years ago, I kind of embarked on a journey. I have met seven times with members of the LGBT communities and the transgender folks, and have developed some really neat friendships with those people. So now we understand each other, we talk on a regular basis, we trust each other. And we’re working, we just had a meeting a month ago, we’re working on some solutions with some bills to try to bring forward these issues and try to solve them in a realistic rational way that works for everybody. But, I can tell you what’ll happen maybe, we’ll have the same thing happen again, we’ll have people from both sides of the spectrum who don’t even live in the state, who will make it darn near impossible for us to pull it off. They will so polarize and so antagonize the members of the general assembly that we’ll probably figure out a way to punt it and not have to do anything. Which is a tremendous disservice, not to just the LGBT folks, but to the citizens of the state of Indiana as a whole. So what you see in the media is not always what’s going on. All they want to show you is the rancor and the uncivil discourse that takes place, which is very minimal, as James can tell you. Extremely minimal, rare, actually. And you’ll see no reporting, whatsoever, of rational logical people sitting down discussing the issues trying to reach a solution. You won’t see it. But it does exist. And we try. Not everybody tries, but a lot of us try.
Shauna Reynolds: So, obviously I’m going to follow that up. I definitely think there are two sides, and the very religious right is definitely against LGBT issues to kind of focus on that. And the media definitely covers what is more interesting and what is going to sell newspapers, and sell magazines, and what’s going to get people to turn the tv to that channel. But I think it’s part of the accountability of a politician to remember that those extremists on either side don’t reflect the majority of people, and it’s important that they kind of drown some of that out and make the decision that’s best for everybody, and kind of ignore that as much as they can. Because otherwise we’re going to be stuck with bills that, or nothing’s going to get done, as you said, and no choice is going to be made, because we have to support each other. Obviously I’m on the side of equality, I’m on the side of LGBT+ people, they deserve rights, they deserve the same equality and freedoms that everybody else has. But I think it’s important that politicians can make those choices and decisions that reflect the community and reflect positive outlooks in the future and don’t allow for discrimination.
Alex Kincaid: Okay, well I’d like to conclude my questions by asking you all: Why is is so important that Ball State students get out and vote tomorrow?
Shauna Reynolds: Well, personally, I’m not actually from Indiana, I’m from Missouri, so I voted absentee and mailed in my ballot, but it’s so important to make sure your voice is heard. And make sure you do your research on the rest of the candidates on the ballot, you’re voting on more than just the president. You’re voting on your governor, your lieutenant governor, your attorney general. There’s so many different things on the ballot and so many things that affect your more personally. Every single house of representatives seat in the state of Indiana is up for election this year, all one hundred, so find out who your representatives are, find out who your senators are, and make sure that your voice is heard in the election.
Jessica Ratel-Khan: Yeah, I think that everyone can have an issue that they are passionate about that they can apply to the election and have that be the reason that they are going to vote. But me and my girlfriend, actually, are driving two hours south just so that she can vote because her absentee application didn’t get there, or there’s a problem with it or something like that. So if we can drive four hours round trip, you can go vote.
James Wells: Well, tomorrow is the season finale of America, so… But on a lighter note, a more serious note, I’m reminded of a story that I was told growing up about how, at least for an african american experience, about how for us, so many people died, were whipped, marched, just so I could have the right to vote, just like anybody else in this room. And whether I like the candidates or not, I have an obligation to pay off that debt they took on upon themselves. They didn’t have a country that saw them as equal, and they passed on a country that sees me, I hope at least, as equal or as close to equal as the rest of it. So for me, it’s important to get out there and vote because so many people from African Americans to women to immigrants they have done so much to build this country, and to continue what our founding fathers started, and as Hamilton became so popular this year and I listen to the songs, and saw how imperfect our founding fathers were, and how flawed they were, despite all, I feel like, when you look back on history, they had it so much worse. They had to start a whole new country. We still have a country. All we have to do is just go vote. They had to dispel a whole entire country just so they could be independent. We owe it to our founding fathers, who came together, who compromised, who were bitter toward one another, to our ancestors who slaved away, to our moms and grandmothers to the women who came before them who marched in the streets, to everyone else who has continued on this American experiment. And as Benjamin Franklin said when he was asked what kind of country or government we were going to have, he said a republic, if we can keep it. So let’s keep it. Because this is our government, our country. It doesn’t belong to anyone else.
Kristen McCauliff: I will be enthusiastically voting tomorrow at the national level as well as the state and local level, so if for some reason you’re not enthusiastic about one of those levels I hope that you find another level that you are excited about. But I also think that what’s important about engaging in that civic ritual is that it will hopefully build enthusiasm for other arenas of participation. So, I don’t know if this is allowed to be said on a panel about democracy but, I think we really fetishize voting. And while it’s important, and I’m glad that you do it, and I hope that you do it, I also think that there’s a lot of action that needs to happen in the four years in between voting, and in between the two years. And I love Ball State students. I think that you’re creative, I think you’re passionate and empathetic, and so you’re exactly the voices that our elected officials should want to have at the ballot boxes.
Dan Canan: Vote so you can complain. If you don’t vote, you have no, I don’t want to hear anything out of you for four years, when it comes around again. It’s as simple as that. People come to my office, and I would never ask what party they voted, but I say, “Well, did you vote?” “Well, I…” And if you want to complain, you need to vote. I don’t care who you vote for, just go vote.
Doug Eckerty: That was classy, Dan, that was great. You have a sacred obligation to do so. People have died so you could do it. People have died so you could do it.
Alex Kincaid: Please join me in thanking our panelists.