On Thursday, Oct. 29, Macalester College hosted an online event in the Big Questions series. The panelists discussed what the aftermath of the elections will look like, under the supervision of host President Suzanne Rivera. Around 700 Macalester students, alumni, staff members, parents and other viewers joined the event.
The evening started with the question of why democracy is important. Macalester political science professor Adrienne Christiansen, one of the panelists, said she’s scared by a progressive fragilisation of democracy in the United States.
“The last six months challenged the core values of the country like never before,” Christiansen said.
Both Christiansen and Director of the Dean Rusk International Studies Program at Davidson College Jane Zimmerman ’84 agreed that George Floyd’s killing at the hands of the Minneapolis Police Department and the ensuing protests — as well as a history of police brutality in the U.S. — illustrate the challenges that not only the U.S., but the world as a whole, face with regard to democracy.
Zimmerman said that she believes we are witnessing a “worldwide problem that has come to roost.”
Zimmerman noted that people around the world have their eyes fixed on their screens, closely watching the coming elections.
Christiansen, too, pointed out the unique importance of these elections — for the first time in her career, she said, she saw students, mostly international, debate on the failure of the U.S. to live up to its ideals.
Zimmerman underscored that point, saying that the world wants the U.S. back.
“They want us to listen and not be dictating,” Zimmerman said.
With all these eyes and ears zeroed in on the U. S., both panelists agreed that the need and responsibility to go vote have become pressing. Christiansen argued that an uncertain election outcome in the coming days will bring the country into nothing but chaos, tumult and tentativeness.
The panel ended with a question and answer session. One alum raised a concern that President Donald Trump may refuse to relinquish power if he loses the election. Christiansen said she does not think there will be a coup, but has no idea about what will happen.
Zimmerman emphasized the importance of a peaceful election.
“There needs to be unity,” Zimmerman said. “If they turn us against each other, that’s how they tear us apart.”
No matter the outcome of these elections, Christiansen said the country will need to rethink its values and find long term solutions, such as rebuilding civic education so Americans gain a broader set of tools to analyze the information they receive.
“Values worth preserving, such as the Declaration of Independence, have to come with the cost of actually fulfilling them,” Christiansen said.
Zimmerman echoed this idea that the U.S. Constitution’s resilience will be tested.
“We need health care, social security, Medicare,” Zimmerman said. “We need a reckoning in terms of systemic racism.”
Rivera chimed in on this train of thought, as well.
“Freedom of speech does not mean freedom of consequences,” Rivera said.
The panel ended with a peace prayer.