After the Election: Professors discuss future of American political discourse

History professor Micki EcElya, Political Science professor Evelyn Simien, PBS's The Open Mind host Alexander Heffner and Philosphy professor Michael Lynch, participate in a forum titled After the election: Picking up the pieces in Laurel Hall on Thursday evening. The event centered on how we as America can move forward following the election that divided the country. (Amar Batra/The Daily Campus)

In Laurel Hall Thursday night several University of Connecticut professors held a forum titled ‘After the Election: Picking up the Pieces’ to discuss how America can “recover meaningful public discourse” following a contentious presidential election.

Professor of philosophy Michael Lynch moderated the three panelists: professor of history Micki McElya, professor of political science Evelyn Simien and Alexander Heffner, host of PBS’s “The Open Mind.”

Lynch opened the forum by addressing the crowded lecture hall, summarizing the main topic of discussion.

“Democracies all need passionate citizens, we all know that. But they also need to listen to each other,” Lynch said. “Public discourse in this country is shattered”.

For close to an hour and a half, the four spoke about the way politics is discussed in the United States in the wake of the recent election of Donald Trump and the divisive campaign season leading up to it.

“We’re all pretty broken, fractured and divided,” Simien said.

Simien cautioned frustrated Americans that, though difficult, they must maintain grace and humility in political disagreements.

“Not unlike any relationship you’ve been in where someone has expressed very deep, hurtful words, you can choose to either hold on to that,” Simien said. “Or you can let it go.”

The panelists saw examples of this in recent events. Clinton, Simien said, was a model of grace in her concession to opponent Donald Trump.

Heffner said that similar behavior in current president Barack Obama gave him hope for our national political discourse.

“I saw the appearance of stability today in the behavior of the in-going and out-going president,” he said, referring to the recent meeting between Obama and Trump.

Simien emphasized the need to accept the current political situation and reflect on it.

“We are not in a place to change the electoral outcome. We cannot go back in time,” Simien said.

Instead, Simien said, Americans should reflect on what they did and didn’t do this election season and think about what they can do now that the election is over.

“Post-election we have to think about, ‘How do I as a citizen uphold my end of the bargain?’,” Simien said.

Heffner strongly agreed.

“I second that notion that politics begins the day after the election,” Heffner said.

The audience, who filled the hall almost to capacity, responded well and was engaged in the discussion.

“I think that these discussions are really important,” commented Rhiannon Hoffman, a third semester student at UConn.

Another student, a fifth-year senior named Jessica LeClerc agreed.

“I was incensed at the results of the election and needed to find spaces in which I can express my dissatisfaction with what has occurred and try to help both myself and other make sense of it all,” LeClerc said.


Oliver Peabody is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at oliver.peabody@uconn.edu.