D5 Class 5.2

Feb 25

Talk It Out

In a recent New Yorker article, historian Jill Lepore argued that the current crisis of faith in democracy isn't the first the world has faced. If you have trouble getting access, I've added the essay to the readings posted on the Lecture class's Blackboard site.

Lepore's article details parallels between the present day and the 1920s and 30s, an era of economic collapse that saw the rise of both Communist and Fascist regimes. But Lepore finds reason for hope in the vigorous public debates about democracy's future that arose in the 1930s in the US: "It’s a paradox of democracy that the best way to defend it is to attack it, to ask more of it, by way of criticism, protest, and dissent."

Homework: post a brief, 1¶ response to one of the following prompts.

  • Lepore doesn't insist too strongly on the historical parallel between the early 20th century and the present day. How close a parallel do you see between the worldwide threats to democracy in the 1920s and 30s and anxieties today? In answering, focus on a particular instance.
  • Lepore suggests that questioning democracy is the best way to save it, pointing to the impact of public forums that spread across the US starting in Des Moines, Iowa. How might we apply the lessons of 1930s civic debate to our present difficulties? In answering, make a specific proposal.
  • After reading Lepore's account of 1930s civic debates, held in lecture halls and broadcast over the radio, some might question whether new media have rendered that lesson obsolete. Is a 1930s solution still viable in the era of social networking? In answering, focus narrowly, noting a particular aspect of modern-day interaction on Facebook, Twitter, etc.

19 responses to “D5 Class 5.2

    • In the article “The Last Time Democracy Almost Died” by Jill Lepore, the continuation of the battle between morality of words and intention of actions from the early 20th century to the present is made vividly clear. The particular quote from Jimmy Stewart to the American Congress in 1939, could just as easily be spoken at the Capitol today. Stewart pleads that “its not too late”, declaring that “great principles don’t get lost once they come to light”. These words are spoken on the brink of the Second World War, after the Treaty of Versailles and Woodrow Wilson’s 10 Points directly emphasize the “great principles” of democracy. The fact that democracy has been outlined does not mean it survives in practice, that is evident as much today as it was in 1939. After a turbulent last presidency, a global pandemic, and battles for equality on all bases rage on without a clear ending point, the question of whether great principles can stand on their own is raised just like it was in the early 20th century.

    • Lepore states, “It’s a paradox of democracy that the best way to defend it is to attack it, to ask more of it, by way of criticism, protest, and dissent”. The first amendment of the Constitution of the United States guarenteens the right to peacefully assemble and petition the Government. It is a fundamental piece of our society that democracy works when everyone’s voice is allowed to be heard. With tactics in place to increase the difficultly to vote and more and more fearmongering to discourage voters it is important to continue trying to stay seen. It is important that, with the spread of false facts, we learn to think for ourselves and question what lawmakers are doing. It is written in our Declaration of Independence that the government is to “derive their just powers from the consent of the governed”. In order for democracy to achieve the heights it can, it is necessary to not take the government’s words as the final say. We have to remember that they work for us.

    • Civic debate is a true reflection of what makes America what it is. Without our absolute freedom to express our First Amendment rights and freedom of speech, our democracy would crumble. For the people, by the people is the foundation of our establishment; the 1930’s debates were a pure form of democracy in action.

      In today’s tense political climate, I believe conversation is exactly what is needed. Sympathetic and civil communication has the power to unify and propel entire nations and their histories. I find that today many of our youth are divided. We believe that the opposite side is always completely wrong and painted as the enemy. However, it is to my understanding and practice that as long as people set aside their differences and sit down to just have a simple conversation, they will find they have so much in common and will agree on most fundamental things. This political polarization has left American youth at each other‘s necks instead of unified under a common goal of prosperity and success as American citizens. With more attention to the possibility of humanizing opposite opinions and logic through using the power of debate and communication, as used in the 30’s, there becomes an immense capacity to solve any and all of our problems.

    • The debates that occurred in the debates in Des Moines, Iowa, were groundbreaking for that time, and for good reason. They allowed anyone, from anywhere, to argue anything freely in front of their peers. Furthermore, once the debates became popular on a national scale, people all over the country were able to hear discussions about controversial topics- and, most importantly, they heard from normal citizens; people like them. In today’s society, being able to hear from people in similar situations debate topics- not just present them- would largely help people understand the important issues. If radio stations were to broadcast both sides of a debate, no matter which way they lean politically, average citizens would be able to listen to all points of view, and therefore form their own opinion more wisely and inevitably become more informed about the world around them.

    • In a contemporary New Yorker article, “The Last Time Democracy Almost Died”, Jill Lepore writes about the importance of questioning democracy and how it is the only feasible way to save the diminishing American democracy. She signals the significant effects of the 1930s debates that spread all across the states from Des Moines, Iowa. At these forums, citizens were able to freely express their thoughts on the American system of government, actively making an effort to advance the standard of living. Although we are currently in 2021, and these forums took place nearly a century ago, there is no better time than now to implement another form of public debate into our daily lives to strengthen our withering democracy. Lepore makes clear that public debate is highly impactful at strengthening democracy, so we should make these forums the new norm. To start off, communities can form small groups where they discuss politics and major issues throughout the country and how the government should tackle them. Like a domino effect, this communal effort will spread throughout the states, allowing for more people to come out and discuss modern-day issues. Eventually, like the forums in Des Moines, more and more people will become aware of the importance of participating in these debates, as it is regarding the future of our country.

    • Implementing a 1930’s style debate forum would work best on social media where Americans can potentially hear opinions from other Americans across the nation. As it stands, social media divides people more politically more than it connects. With just one tap of the “block” or “mute” button, people can silence the opposing sides opinion out for good, but if social media platforms reworked themselves with connecting people in mind a new level of communication could be achieved. I stress nation-wide social media events over local level communication because often times people in specific areas share the same believes so there would be a lot of echo rather than actual discourse in debates. Creating a new-found interest in democracy where people have to hear each other out rather than blocking is an effective way to revitalize our nation’s democratic efforts.

    • In “The Last Time Democracy Almost Died” article published by The New Yorker, author Jill Lepore recalls the groundbreaking 1933 political forum that exemplified the pinnacle of American democracy: debate. While John W. Studebaker’s advocacy for the freedom of expression manifested in representative political conversations still reigns historically impactful, the possibility for such respectful and effectual debates on a widescale level remains uncertain in the modern day. Though the rise of social media does connect citizens across the country in ongoing political discussions, the potential to establish forums are repeatedly overlooked. Social media platforms such as Tiktok and Facebook only further polarize divided political parties as algorithms curate more radical, narrow content for each individual. The key difference between our current day society and that of the 1930’s is the gradual disintegration of the moderate sector. Politicians and journalistic news sources alike have evaded the moderate sector entirely in attempts to appeal to the growing polarized parties. If we were to use social media to facilitate respectful and intellectual political debates, it is best done so on a smaller scale within our communities . Creating a conversation with the masses, though effective in shedding light to unaware and misinformed citizens, can be overwhelming and lead to further polarization. We’ve seen this within the past year with the rise of the Black Live’s Matter movement. However, certain liberal social media presences, such as Jubilee on YouTube, have established forums that often disarm aggressive citizens and create dialogue that allows for better understanding of the other side. The series “Middle Ground” takes six people on opposing sides and sits them down to find shared commonalities and engage in conversation on a controversial topic in a more humane way. Video’s that follow a similar “Middle Ground” format have allowed me to take part in my own conversations in the comment sections, where I can learn about the experiences of others that shape political divides. If we apply a similar tone of intent to listen and learn in our own community forums, I think our society might have a slim chance of eradicating these political divisions.

    • In general, discussion and debate allows for all (or at least multiple) sides of an argument to be brought to the table, which in turn allows for a better solution to come to light. However, in the present day, the likelihood of such happening is slim. Although we seem to be in a more interconnected world than ever (considering the internet and social media), it seems that politically and ideologically we are in actuality more divided. The media seems to be dominated by people who are either so far left or so far right that they are simply incapable of coming together for a genuine discussion, (by which I mean a discussion in which people from all sides make valid arguments based on valid facts and truly consider everyone else’s point of view). But, it seems that if the suppression of discussion and ideas continues, democracy and free thinking itself may fail. To prevent this, we must find a way to assuage people from either side to listen with complete openness, which is a most difficult task to be sure. Perhaps though, if there were to be such discussions amongst well-liked, well-respected individuals broadcasted very publicly, people would be more inclined to follow suit and be less quick to dismiss opposing sides.

    • A 1930s solution is not viable in today’s age of social networking. The creation of social media, specifically on a network such as Facebook, users are able to listen and watch from so many sources. Back in the 1930s, civic debates held in lecture halls and on the radio were mostly the only times when ordinary citizens were able to hear what opposing parties had to say. Now, with just a click of a button, users are able to access hundreds of news sources that give out their own different opinions without having the opposing party have a say. Facebook’s engine even has a way to somehow label their users to a certain political stance based on what articles and videos they click on; then they recommend similar articles and videos. Users are then only viewing what they want and not hear what the opposing party has to say. Because of this, interaction between people on Facebook with opposing views don’t even want to hear what the other has to say because they automatically think the other one is wrong.

    • The method for discussing democracy used in the 1930s seems to be the best way to discuss these topics–even today. By hosting a physical in-person event, people are able to interact with the debate. Only those who really are passionate about something will participate. Those on the radio can only listen, and not point out their opinion. In the case of social media, everyone has a voice. This is both good and bad, however, the negative aspects seem to outweigh the positive ones. Social media turns into heated arguments where people point fingers, threaten, and argue with one another. Meaningful debates are hard to find under the social media umbrella. By making these forums a tune-in only for most, it can be an opportunity to learn, listen, and agree or disagree–privately. This takes away to problems with social media. To make the debates work in a digital age, a live-stream of a live event would probably be the best option. Discouraging conversation is not the best option, but attacking is bad, and that seems to be the majority of social media conversations.

    • In Lepore’s account of the 1930s, civic debates were held in lecture halls and broadcasted over the radio. It helped “the people of the community of every political affiliation, creed, and economic view have an opportunity to participate freely.” This allowed democracy to continue in a time where Fascism and Communism were overbearing on American society. In today’s era, there are many, because of the incredibly large-scale use of social media today, that would not even bother attending such a thing as a civic debate. Interactions on Facebook and Twitter often target political audiences or are politicians issuing political attacks. There is no enlightened sense of discussing topics freely in a formal manner when there are many who would denounce your opinion. A good example of this is Cancel Culture, where people are publicly shamed for their opinions. We as a society have come to a point where many people believe so strongly that there is only one side to things that they refute the majority of the others. The idea of professional discussions that can occur over debates, especially over political issues, seems to be more chaotic than productive, looking at the recent presidential debates.

    • I would say that a 1930s solution is, unfortunately, no longer a viable solution in the current era of social media and networking. The sphere of influence during the 1930s was extremely limited, especially compared to the world we live in today where we are surrounded by opinions, influence, and disinformation. For example, civic debates are no longer what they say on the tin, they are rather a tool for viral clips to ensue, when one party ‘roasts’ the other, resulting in a ‘victory’ for the Left or Right. As a result, ferocious insults are thrown back and forth in a Twitter argument, which takes us back further from the point at which we started. This is seen no clearer than in Presidential debates, where Donald Trump decided to take the opportunity to make jokes and attack the other side rather than take part in an effective democratic debate. This was evident in the debates for the 2020 election, where Trump said “You (Biden) graduated either the lowest or almost the lowest in your class, don’t use the word smart with me”. The toxicity in a debate between people on the Left and Right means the very essence of democracy in the 1930s, to speak about it, is no longer possible as people are too proud to defend their views, instead of allowing public discourse to effectively occur. We can clearly see that the 1930s solution is no longer a viable option, indeed we may now be reaching the end of our known democracy with the world arguably more divided than ever before.

    • In the article “The Last Time Democracy Almost Died” by Jill Lepore, the author describes how different platforms were in the 1930s. If a political event, civic debate, or otherwise was held in a lecture hall, those in the audience were forced to listen and only the extremely interested participated. The other source was radio, in which people could obviously only listen. Unfortunately, I think society is past the point of returning to the 1930s solution. The age of social media is both toxic and valuable. Everybody’s voices can be heard which allows for positive voices to be heard that wouldn’t have been before, but that also means it is extremely easy for false information to be spread which is incredibly dangerous. Especially in the last four years, there seems to be a gap created so large that people believe there to be only two sides. Civil conversations about politics are rare, and violence as a result is unfortunately not. It seems that we are at a turning point when it comes to democracy, as we face a more divided world than we have ever encountered.

    • We live in probably the most technologically advanced society to date, however that comes with its consequences. There are both advantages and disadvantages when using social media as a means to talk about politics. Politics is, and always has been, a touchy subject because it has a direct impact on people’s lives. The advantage and disadvantage of social media and politics are how fast information spreads. During the BLM protests over the summer, thousands of protestors shared their experiences at protests. As a result, these protestors got millions of views from people both in and out of the United States. The drawback of social media however, is the spread of misinformation. It is easy to share information without looking at the specific study/ statistic, especially if it favors your point of view. With the right people, the 1930s option is a good way to talk about politics. However, a lot of people tend to use social media as an escape from reality, so if social media becomes increasingly political, then the 1930s approach would be pointless.

    • Anything put on the internet can be reached by millions of people worldwide in seconds. The technological advancement of social networking makes the 1930’s solution to democracy irrelevant. The 1930s did not have famous apps in the likes of Instagram and Twitter where people would openly communicate with each other about any topic. The effortlessness in communicating with someone can sometimes lead to a heated argument and can completely change the original topic they were debating on. Twitter is a popular example because of the fact that it is one of the only social media apps that is just writing. Many of those users when arguing can start mixing their emotions with logic and their emotional feeling towards the subject can influence their response, which I believe cannot be a validated.

    • During the time of the 1920s to 1930s, in-person lectures and broadcast radio are the two most popular ways to discuss and debate about democracy. Today, social media enable people to interact in a much faster way. However, this also leads to some problems. People on the internet are always defensive and aggressive. If you express a different opinion, you are likely to be blamed for your different opinion. Cyber-bullying is much more common than real-world bullying because people are less likely to be caught on the internet. We always feel like what people say on the internet is the majority opinion. However, only a minority of people constantly expressing their ideas online.

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