Third TED Dialogue focuses on bridging the political divide

Zef Vataj, Crier Staff

The Saint Anselm College community has been participating in open political discussions through screenings of a series of talks called the TED Dialogues.

TED Dialogues is an open discussion forum where leaders gather for a spirited conversation. Their new series addresses the international political climate, and is an “urgent response to a dangerously divisive time.” Each episode is available for viewing on Facebook Live, and recently Saint Anselm students engaged with faculty to watch the talk and discuss.

On March 1, TED hosted the third episode featuring Gretchen Carlson and David Brooks, for a talk on bridging the political divide. Carlson is a journalist formerly of Fox News and David Brooks is a columnist for the New York Times. They explore the reasons for our political polarization, and discuss how we can move forward during this decisive political moment.

They began with the rise of Trump, a topic centered on why voters felt attached to a political outsider and how the President ultimately got elected. Ultimately, Brooks and Carlson stated two reasons contributed to this outcome. Anger, both financially and at Washington, and the marketing skill of President Trump.

Economic isolation and displacement has fermented tension among middle class families across the country, mainly in areas where jobs have left. While Brooks called Trump’s scapegoating of countries like Mexico and China irrational, he said he understood the appeal.

Carlson also stressed the importance of frustration toward Washington, and the growing dysfunction in our nation’s capital. Voters were tired of being let down by elected officials who pass fewer laws each year, while continuing to campaign and raise money. Carlson stated that anger explains the Trump voter’s psyche, and the non-political nature of his candidacy became the perfect vehicle for that anger to turn into action.

Brooks and Carlson argue that Trump’s grandiose character and celebrity appeal also attracted voters who see political correctness as a hindrance to our society. Hyperbole became Trump’s most effective weapon, and Carlson recalls a time when Trump falsely claimed that the “Apprentice” was the #1 show on television. She scoffed at the claim, because it wasn’t true, but she realized then that Trump spoke that way on purpose, because it energized and mobilized aspiring voters.

Carlson also touched on Trump’s disdain of the political establishment, underscoring the fact that he isn’t really a conservative. His trillion dollar infrastructure package and paid maternity leave are nationalist policies, and this allowed Trump to cut through the partisan politics of Washington. At his core, Carlson argues that the President is a nationalist, a point reiterated by Brooks as well.

Brooks points to Stephen Bannon as a key indicator of the President’s worldview. Now Chief Strategist at the White House, Bannon is a former Naval Officer and Goldman Sachs banker. He ran the controversial alt-right website “Breitbart” and is by all accounts, President Trump’s closest advisor. Brooks believes that Bannon’s view of America – the outstretched, overspent bastion of globalism – is directly correlated to Trump’s rhetoric.

Movements in France, Poland and Germany have reflected the same sentiment, and the Brexit vote in England did the same. Brooks argues that the anti-trade, anti-immigrant policies of the Trump White House reveal Bannon’s nationalist influence is deep and wide ranging.

However, Brooks takes exception to Trump’s nostalgic view of America. He argues that the most successful American visionaries have always focused on the future and not on re-creating the past. Hamilton saw the government as a vehicle for social mobility, while Lincoln and Roosevelt spoke repeatedly of future improvement. Trump’s message, Brooks claims, is inherently nostalgic and harkens back to a time when America was great but no longer is today. Hamilton’s energetic, risk taking ethos is simply missing from the 45th President and this greatly concerns Brooks.

The moral character of the President was also a topic of great intrigue. Brooks stated that the disparaging comments Trump’s made about women, POWs, disabled people and immigrants disqualified him from being the moral authority that America needs. Carlson retorted with a focus on policy, claiming that the media over-amplified these controversies and that men and women in flyover country simply do not care. Its political correctness, Carlson argues, that most offends voters who are afraid of terrorism and cultural deterioration.

The audience in New York where this talk was filmed had a chance to ask questions, and one member touched on the disparaging nature of labeling people as “PC” or “bigots”. Carlson and Brooks both agree that such denominations are poisonous to the political process, and the country has to find a common ground on issues of social controversy.

Another member of the audience wondered if there would be any motivation for the GOP to condemn Trump in the future. Again, both Carlson and Brooks agree, Republicans are forever wedded to this President. After a well-received Joint Address to Congress, the President is more popular among Republicans than ever. The rise of Trump may not have been helped by leaders in the GOP, but his success as President is certainly tied to their cooperation. Health care, tax reform and immigration policy are issues where Trump and the GOP must work together.