Former US Senators speak on political climate in America

A congressional staffer holds a handful of small American flags to pass out as Democratic members of the House of Representatives rally for action on gun safety legislation after the deadly mass shooting in Las Vegas this week, at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2017. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

Former United States Senate majority leaders Tom Daschle (D-South Dakota) and Trent Lott (R-Mississippi) spoke Wednesday night at the University of Connecticut on overcoming broken politics in Washington and across America.

Both Daschle and Lott focused many of their comments on what they saw as the importance and current lack of bipartisanship in Washington.

“We’re going through one of the most challenging and polarizing times in our country’s history,” Daschle said. “There are those who believe they were sent to Washington just to stand their ground, and that to compromise is to capitulate.”

Daschle cited a Pew Research Center finding that America is currently the most polarized its been since the Civil War.

Lott said that when he served in the senate, he was often accused of being a compromiser and a dealmaker, but that he never took those accusations as insults because he thought a senator’s job was to compromise.

Lott said that, despite the current polarization in America, he still has hope for the country.

“We’re in a little bit of a bind right now- our parties and people are more divided than ever before,” Lott said. “But [Daschle and I are] here because we still care about America and its people. I still believe our country has created the best form of government, and that the presidency in America is stronger than any president.”

The former senators gave their thoughts on the 2016 election and how they believe it divided America.

Daschle explained that there were a large number of Democrats who voted for President Trump because they wanted someone who was different from traditional Washington politicians, and that there were a large number of Republicans who voted for Hillary Clinton because they believed she was the only candidate who would run the country competently.

“In the last election, what I think mattered more than whether you were a Republican or Democrat was whether you wanted an insider or an outsider,” Daschle said.

Lott said that during his time in the Senate he watched senators on both sides of the aisle become increasingly hostile toward each other, and that because of that, he could see America’s current divisiveness coming.

“It had been coming and building for years, in part because it was no longer enough to defeat your opponent. You had to destroy him,” Lott said.

Both former senators spoke on their hopes that future legislators will learn to work with each other, rather than trying to destroy each other.

“We need a lot of constructive people, people who will forget whether they’re Republican or Democrat and instead focus on being constructive rather than deconstructive,” Daschle said.

Lott said that there is a lot of peer pressure in Washington to not compromise.

“It would surprise me if (current Senate majority and minority leaders) Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer talk at all. Not to get too religious, but I think they need to pray together,” Lott said.

When asked if the recent shooting in Las Vegas will affect America’s gun control laws, both former senators expressed hope that congress will pass legislation for stricter background checks.

“Senators should put their heads together and see what they can do,” Lott said. “Let’s stop arguing over it, and let’s fix it,” he said.

UConn students said the talk gave them hope for the country’s future.

“They talked more about the issues than I was expecting, which I appreciated. It’s obviously nice to see people from across the aisle coming together and being able to agree, especially because the struggle that there is now to reach across the aisle is absolutely insane,” seventh-semester Theatre Studies major Max Helfand said.

The senators’ appearance was part of the Edmund Fusco Contemporary Issues Forum, an annual event sponsored by the Fusco family that brings scholars, leaders and policy-makers to UConn to share their knowledge and perspectives with the community.

Past speakers have included Hillary Rodham Clinton and presidential historian and best-selling author Michael Beschloss.


Gabriella DeBenedictis is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at gabriella.debenedictis@uconn.edu.