On Tuesday, April 9 Tom Ehrlich came to the Norma Walker Hall in the Keene State College Alumni Center to discuss how and why college students should become actively engaged in politics and public policy issues.
“Our country does require a strong commitment of time, energy and effort by all of us to ensure that the values of our founders are maintained: The values of decency, compassion, caring for the most vulnerable among us and I can’t think of a more important time in my life time than right now to do that,” Ehrlich said.
Ehrlich blamed the political division that he sees in America on multiple factors, including bipartisanship, outrageous claims by both of the major parties, and differing definitions of the word truth.
“The sense of a nation united by common beliefs has been shattered and this divisiveness has crippled our ability as a nation to resolve pressing public policy matters,” Ehrlich said.
Despite the urgency of Ehrlich’s message, not everything was doom and gloom. Ehrlich also stressed that American democracy has been in peril before and that the country has not only survived, but emerged from the crisis stronger than ever.
“We had a president of the United States who was rigid, dictatorial, racist, unable to heal a country riveted by political divisiveness, posed bullheaded opposition to any efforts to advance civil rights and liberties, and exacerbated the polarizations that had beset the country. Time and again he sided with the forces of hate and bigotry” said Ehrlich. Ehrlich said that this presidency was especially disastrous because he succeeded a president who championed civil rights, was a moral leader, and made healing national divide a priority. “The racist president was of course, Andrew Johnson.” said Ehrlich.
Ehrlich discussed how Johnson succeeded President Lincoln and exacerbated the already problematic political division in America after the Civil War. Johnson escaped impeachment by a single vote. 100 years later the United States again faced a constitutional crisis during the presidency of Richard Nixon. In 1972 The Watergate Scandal shed light on the multiple abuses of power by President Nixon and other members of his administration. Ehrlich stressed how the eras surrounding the Civil War and the Vietnam War saw similar levels of political division in the United States to today and that the periods after these constitutional crises were some of the strongest for American democracy.
“American democracy has always been a contact sport. Words like cooperation and consensus sound appealing, but our democracy has survived and thrived from one generation to the next not on the basis of harmony but rather on intense conflict mediated generally by sheer commitment to democratic values,” Ehrlich said.
KSC senior Tristan Slicer attended the event for his “Writing in the Media” class. Slicer discussed his personal political involvement. “I work with the New Hampshire Youth Movement. We focus on organizing young people and electing officials based around values that young people hold” said Slicer.
Ehrlich compared the current political crisis to Sputnik. The launch of Sputnik pressed the U.S. to invest more time and resources into STEM education to keep up with the Soviet Union during the Space Race. The current political crisis could serve as a catalyst for increased political awareness and education, which would lead to healing American democracy. Ehrlich lamented the lack of political education and awareness that most college kids hold.
“There are no quick fixes to American democracy such as making election day a national holiday or moving elections to the 4th of July. Multiple overlapping interventions are needed,” Ehrlich said.
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