On Wednesday, Dawson’s Department of Political Science, the Law Society and Justice profile, Office of International Development, and the American Consulate General in Montreal brought in two former congressmen to discuss American politics in front of an audience. 5B.16 was full, filled with politics classes and students curious about the American political process. The two Congressmen are also visiting the University Club of Montreal, Université de Montréal, and Université de Québec à Montréal.
Professor Chris Bourne moderated the debate, which was more of a question session.
First, the two former congressmen introduced themselves.
Californian Representative Steve Kuykendall is a Republican and always has been. However, his distaste for the Republican nominee became evident very quickly. He flagged the discontent within the American populace while emphasizing the importance and rigidity of American political institutions.
North Carolinian Representative Martin Lancaster is a Democrat who strongly supports his party’s nominee. He mentioned the historically high disapproval ratings of both candidates but made the difference between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump clear.
Then, there were four planted questions within the audience.
The first was regarding NAFTA and Trump’s criticism of the so-called free trade policy.
Rep. Kuykendall (R) stated his support for NAFTA. He criticized Trump for lessening the legitimacy of America’s word to other nations, and for not proposing alternatives or ways to leave the agreement. Rep. Lancaster (D) seconded Rep. Kuykendall’s comments.
The second question, asked by Lara from the Law, Society, and Justice profile, was about what solutions they would propose to the grievances of the poor or working class, particularly poor or working class people of colour.
Rep. Lancaster (D) addressed the latter half of the question. He criticized Trump’s racism, but told the audience that those sentiments were only felt by a distinct minority of the population (although the poll numbers seem to indicate otherwise).
Rep. Kuykendall (R) discussed the disenfranchisement felt by both Trump and Sanders supporters. He also discussed the role that gender plays and cited the wage gap (to my prejudiced surprise).
The third question was on gun violence.
Both Representatives agreed with the Second Amendment right to bear arms, but do not think that the constitution guarantees unfettered access to weapons. Both agreed with background checks and other restrictions.
The fourth question concerned the consequences of political controversies and the repercussions of this toxic presidential campaign.
Rep. Lancaster (D) flagged social media’s role in blowing controversies up–in the 19th century, controversial comments would get little coverage outside of the room that they were spoken to.
Rep. Kuykendall (R) felt that the main consequence will be felt within the Republican party. After 16 “qualified” candidates fell one by one to the reality show star and real-estate “tycoon” (quotation marks mine) and his “buffoonery” (to quote Kuykendall), the Republican establishment is rethinking how to run campaigns, and more importantly, what the values of the Republican party are. Kuyendall said he isn’t alone in this being the “first time the Republican nominee is someone I won’t support. Period.”
Subsequently, the floor was opened up to questions.
Although Rep. Kuykendall (R) was quite inclusive and seemed well informed on the nature of race and gender relations in America, when asked about policy brutality, he argued that the current tensions between black communities and police forces are that police forces are overworked. Therefore, America ought to have larger police forces, but many states and municipalities don’t want to spend the money. He argued that with more neighbourhood patrols, communities would get to know the officers, and relations would improve. However, many critics argue that without tackling implicit bias, increased police force or police presence will only increase distrust, and possibly violence.
Rep. Lancaster’s (D) touches on the notion of implicit bias but mainly addresses police training. He criticized the current mentality of “shoot first; ask questions later.” Training police to deescalate conflict better is key to decreasing violence against black Americans.
Yours truly asked the two congressmen whether Trump had hit his ceiling of support, or if that’s just something we tell ourselves repeatedly, as we’re continually proven wrong by Trump’s successes.
Rep. Kuykendall (R) admitted that each of Trump’s victories confused him. He criticized the press for not taking Trump seriously for the first three to four months, allowing him to gain unchallenged traction amongst voters. Kuykendall said polling data seems to indicate the ceiling has been reached but was hesitant to commit to saying it had.
Rep. Lancaster (D) argued that Trump just doesn’t have the base support. He won each primary by narrowly beating the other candidates, often not even securing a majority. Further, Lancaster argued Trump does not have the ability to persuade the moderates, as seen in the first debate. Therefore, it seems unlikely that Trump wins, or at least Lancaster hopes not.
Other questions were asked regarding the Second Amendment, immigration, the DNC’s alleged preference for Clinton’s victory, for which the answers played into an overarching theme–that the two former congressmen were fairly centrist and agreed far more than they disagreed.
I caught up with Rep. Lancaster (D) after the debate. We discussed race, gender, and the increased polarization within America’s political process.
Lancaster bemoaned the utter inefficiency of a gridlocked House and Senate. He told me about his experience in Congress (1987-1995) where friendships across the aisle were commonplace. I asked if he thought that President Obama’s race fed into the increased polarization, similarly Clinton’s gender in this election cycle. His response: “absolutely.”
Our conversation didn’t end on a very positive note–it’s hard to find solutions to deep-seated biases, but at least Trump seems to be dipping in the polls.