The discussion hosted by the Wilder School was dedicated to the topical phenomena of popular politics in the United States today. With the current political turbulence and an acute confrontation during the presidential election, the issues of popular politics are particularly important for the members of the American society, and the academic environment becomes an adequate forum where they can be discussed. The importance of addressing these issues in a university setting was emphasized by Michael Rao, the president of Virginia Commonwealth University, who said that there is a lot of skepticism in politics today, and the social dialog is deteriorated by the growing harshness of the conflicting parties. In this situation, universities should become the places where difficult issues are addressed because universities foster critical thinking and civilized discussion. After this short introduction, the floor was given to the speakers, among which there were politicians and academics.
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One of the main themes of the speeches and one of the focuses of the following discussion was representation. It is a known fact that American Revolution started from the request for representation: the colonies refused to pay taxes as long as they could not participate in the decision-making in the Parliament. It shows that the American democracy is largely based on the concept of proper representation. Today, the perceived lack of representation has led to one of the most significant political conflicts within the American society associated with the unlikely presidency of Donald Trump. There are apparently many people in the United States who have been frustrated as they felt that they were not adequately represented, i.e. their needs were not addressed by the government, and those people have constituted a considerable portion of Trump’s supporters. As Governor L. Douglas Wilder said, “Sometimes those people need to stand up and be heard.” This is an important point in the modern history of the United States where what the people want is being rediscovered. The speakers have agreed that the government should be more attentive to the voices of those who claim that they are not being heard.
Another important issue discussed at the meeting was civil engagement. Some speakers stressed that proper governance in a democratic system is impossible without feedback, and the government that discourages engagement is likely to fail in various ways—particularly in providing stability and development. Dr. Meghan Gough suggested that universities are places where engagement can be encouraged and promoted, and one of the instruments for that is diversity. Environments that feature diversity are likely to shape patterns of peaceful and constructive collaboration, which is a crucial component of civil engagement. Also, ensuring that people are interested and willing to participate in political and social discussions and processes is what governments should do, which is why diversity is important on the societal level, too.
Finally, there was an impressing fact at the end: according to surveys, 30 years ago, 70 percent of Americans would not mind their children marrying a supporter of a political party different from theirs. Today, 65 % of Americans say they would be annoyed if their children decided to marry a supporter of a different party. The polarization is progressing, and this is a threat to the country’s development in the nearest future. This is why there should be more open discussions like the one held in the Wilder School, as this is a way to achieve mutual understanding and comprehension of the important social and political processes of the modern world.