The State of the Disunion: Reflections on Rubio's Georgetown Visit

JOSHUA MARIN-MORA: “Disunion” is for a lot of people a fitting description of the political climate of 2018. All over the country people talk about the divisiveness, hatred, and anger in American politics and there are a lot of people on all sides of the political spectrum who feel the symptoms of the climate in each of their own ways from being at the receiving end of personal attacks to feeling exhausted, to getting frustrated, etc. Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida visited the Hilltop tonight to have a discussion hosted by the Georgetown Institute of Politics and Public Service and the Georgetown University College Republicans to reflect on the current state of the politics of our country. He said things that some might have already considered, but I still think are important to explore.

The conversation began with the question: “Is there space for aspirational politics today?” “I hope so, but that’s not what works right now.” Bipartisanship just isn’t attractive right now. Moderates aren’t attractive right now. Why aren’t they? The senator first highlighted the role of the media. The different media outlets get more ratings when they cover what many would take as outrageous, and doing so isn’t bad for business. Coupled with that is a change in how people view people. People would know one another as more than just their political opinion but now people are increasingly self-selecting. This is seen in where they choose to only get their news and with whom they socialize all based on political beliefs and as a result, they can become isolated in their own “echo chambers.” “If the only thing that you know about another person is a political issue you feel passionate about, it’s easy to dislike that person.” This results in conflict and that then “drives coverage which then drives politicians.” None of this is unique to one particular side of the aisle.

One might then pose the question, how does the nation move away from this nasty partisanship? Well, as paradoxical as it might sound, that might not be the best solution because partisanship actually is a good thing. There are important issues this country faces and there are important issues that we all care about. However, this country was founded by people who disagree politically and still today it is critical that we debate and argue these matters coherently from our respective sides in order to help this country move forward. The senator says at the root of it all is acknowledging that we share and will continue to share this country and therefore forcefully we need to work together where we can for our own good. Unfortunately this in and of itself is not easy and the senator noted that a part of the difficulty is that when reaching out to the other side one can face a lot of pressure: from both one’s own side and from the other side, and that’s a problem.

When the Q & A opened up, one student asked, “How do immigrants and the kids of immigrants pursue the American dream when in an increasingly xenophobic environment they are often made to feel otherized and less American?” The senator said that it shouldn’t be like that and reflected on the broader issue of how if 2% of the population is xenophobic they get 50-60% of the coverage. He does not believe that the American people at large believe these things. This poses an interesting dilemma: how do we not ignore the fact that there are people saying and believing horrible things but at the same time not convert them into celebrities? To get the attention, they know they have to be provocative and then we must ask ourselves what is their importance and the role they play in our country? The senator believes that we should not ignore them completely, but at the same time not emphasize their importance. The senator then went further and said that we don’t know enough about people who aren’t like us. What would learning about others accomplish? This will allow people to know one another as people, not as statistics or a check box on the census document. This is interesting because it reflects the isolation we see in today’s politics; the symptoms of being caught in our own echo chambers.

The conversation ended with “give us something to be optimistic about our politics.” “The people sitting in the audience.” The senator rooted his optimism on his hope in the next generation. He noted that what we have been exposed to has made us collaborators, and that as we engage in society through our professions and our daily lives that collaboration will be key as we move past these times. In addition, he reminded us to have hope in America. Yes there are challenges but he cautioned us to not allow them to eclipse knowing that there is also opportunity. A lot of making the 21st century better than the 20th is going to fall on the shoulders of the future generations.

A lot was covered in the hour Senator Rubio spent with us but those were some of my takeaways. I think there are indeed important questions we need to be asking ourselves. I do believe that rather than always pointing fingers we also need to look at the three fingers that point right back to us. After all, we make our country how we want it to be. Politics is everywhere now and the policies enacted by our government are fair game for criticism. However, individually, what role do we see ourselves playing in our communities? What is the nature of our echo chambers? Do we find that we actively work to not be around people with whom we may vehemently disagree or are we just not being exposed to them? How often do we make judgements based on stereotypes? How do we approach the disagreements and are we willing to see if there are places where we can agree? How will this influence our lawmakers? This country is our country, and we should look forward to getting into the arena to passionately and coherently debate our arguments about the issues we care about. I guess it’s just, how much do we know about one another and where can that take us? In the end let’s not forget, we the people hold a lot more power than we may at times think and there’s a reason for that.

Max Magid