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​Actively participate in the debate

Tonight, the first presidential debate of the 2016 elections will be aired from Hofstra University. Amidst midterms, papers and homework, students may recognize that their time is a finite resource and may not feel inclined to watch the presidential debate, dismissing this election as a foregone conclusion even though recent polls do not support this. Despite the hyper-politicization of this year’s election, however, we encourage students to truly engage with tonight’s debate.

Like many college campuses, Duke can function as a political island, and as a result, political dialogue on campus often manifests itself as different from broader, national discussions. Listening to the candidates weigh in on issues during the debate will allow students to gain some new perspective or continue to keep a pulse on how these issues affect the national political landscape. For many students who have not thought deeply about a broad range of political issues, the debate can help them develop a more nuanced understanding.

To facilitate an engagement with the debate, before tuning in to watch, students should pinpoint key issues—and their own viewpoints on the issues—that they hope to hear the candidates expand upon during the debate. While this election cycle places immigration policy on the forefront of our national consciousness, other issues such as climate change and student loans may resonate with us more as students.

Furthermore, the debate provides an opportunity to consider opposing views in productive ways. American politics is increasingly polarized at all levels, and an unfortunate consequence of this development is increased ideological inflexibility. At the national level, this attitude is reflected in the oppositionalism evident in discourse of our representatives. Presumably, all groups in the political dialogue share goals of justice and prosperity for America in some abstract sense. However, being situated in certain geographic, demographic or socioeconomic contexts can lead to strikingly different solutions to common problems. If groups could highlight and focus on the commonalities in their positions, political dialogue would be more productive. While this may not seem feasible on a national level, we can aim to achieve this form of understanding as individuals.

As a step toward this goal, we recommend watching the debate with other students, especially those with different ideologies. The debate watch party hosted in the Devil’s Krafthouse presents a unique opportunity to watch the debates in a diverse and engaged crowd with analysis by Mike Munger to provide expert perspective on the history of national presidential debates. Of course, we recognize that for some groups, the current political discourse can be toxic. In some sense, the debate may not provide a platform for reasoned debate but rather hateful speech directed at particular groups, and some students may find language used during the debate to be viscerally uncomfortable and potentially traumatizing.

However, students who are not directly impacted by this kind of speech should be paying attention, and should continue the dialogue once the debate finishes. The debate provides a springboard for more in-depth conversations during which students can engage with their political differences. Such open-minded conversations grant the structure for the type of practical dialogue we hope will advance our country toward the goals we share in one way or another.


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