As American politics has become increasingly divided and divisive, particularly since the election of President Donald Trump, commentators on both sides of the aisle have grappled with how best to operate among these divisions.
That issue is the topic of FOCUS St. Louis’ “Being an Agent for Change in a Divided America” event, which will be held Friday at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. The event’s keynote speakers, Republican commentator and writer Bill Kristol and progressive journalist and writer Sarah Kendzior, both joined executive producer Alex Heuer on Thursday’s St. Louis on the Air.
Kristol, who founded the now-defunct conservative publication The Weekly Standard and has since become an outspoken critic of Trump, said that though the American political system seems broken at the moment, there are other institutions in which people can voice their opinions, and that it is important that even in divisive times people are vocal with those beliefs.
“The civic sector, the not-for-profit sector, the business sector, universities, churches, lots of institutions are rising to some degree to the challenge today, and that's a great thing, even more important than if our politics were healthier,” Kristol said. “So I think citizens have plenty of spaces in which they can really do some good for their fellow citizens and for the country. In politics I would say it's very important to not be passive, not be fatalistic. Really speak up for what you believe and work for what you believe.”
Kendzior, who studied authoritarian dictatorships as a doctoral student at Washington University, said that it is vital for people across ideologies to agree on certain core values, but also to preserve diversity of opinion and political debate.
“When I see common ground in terms of everyone being exactly on the same page all the time, I think of the dictatorships that I studied as a PhD student,” she said. “I spent a lot of time studying countries like Uzbekistan where 95 percent of people would vote for the president and it was a magical distillation of the people's will. Common ground in that sense is not a good thing. Common ground in that sense freaks me out.”
Kendzior added that many of the issues plaguing the United States today have deeper roots than its current political leaders, and it will likely take a variety of approaches to solve them.
“I think that diversity in approach is our strength. We all bring different skills and abilities and attributes to the table. We all have different limitations,” she said. “These are deep systemic problems that will require a lot of people to rise up and confront them in different ways. And I hope people don't lose themselves in the horror of the moment that we're living in.”
Listen to the full conversation:
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