By Charly Frisk
In an increasingly divisive political climate, civil dialogue is desperately in demand.
On Wednesday, Jan. 23, Congressman Tom Emmer visited CSB to partake in a discussion regarding pressing political issues and providing insight on President Trump’s first year — allowing all those in attendance an opportunity to critically review Washington.
“We wanted to have a discussion. That’s the most important thing of all. In this whole thing, there is so much division and so much yelling; we wanted to show how you can have a civil conversation even if people don’t agree,” economics professor Louis Johnston said regarding the discussion with Emmer.
Liz Fedor, the editor of Twin Cities Business Magazine, moderated a forum between Emmer, Johnston and the audience.
Before the event, coordinators compiled and combined nearly 50 questions from the audience who hoped to gain clarity about issues relating to the current political state. The audience was composed of various faculty, students and a sizeable audience from the public. The discussion served to provide insight into various governmental issues of concern to the audience. The panel discussions included the fate of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), sexual assault allegations made against government officials, environmental concerns— specifically renewable energy— and the economic impact of the new tax bill.
“The [topics] that seemed toget a lot of attention, which we kind of expected, were DACA and sexual assault,” senior Kathryn Hockman said. “The DACA part got pretty heated in regards to crowd interaction with congressman Emmer because Prof. Johnson was refuting Emmer’s points, and the audience was refuting Emmer’s points. He was arguing that illegal immigration is hurting the economy and they were saying that it wasn’t. And that’s when it got pretty heated, and that’s when we had people putting up signs.”
While the event mainly focused on hearing insight from the civil answers provided by both Emmer and Johnston, there were opportunities for the public to voice their opinion.
“While he talked about some of the more controversial issues like DACA or the environment, we had a couple of people reach out to us and ask if they could protest the event, so they sat along the back,” CSB senior and McCarthy Center Student Coordinator Maya Hermerding said, “They were rather vocal during certain times, they would retort with questions.”
While Gorecki 204 C faced moments of tense atmosphere throughout the discussion, the audience remained respectful despite potentially differentiating views — effectively forging positive relationships between seemingly divided parties.
“I think we live in such a politically divided time that you need to hear both perspectives,” Hockman said. “You need to be willing to see the other side and not necessarily agree with it but understand it and where they are coming from.”
While all the members sitting in the audience may not have agreed with Emmer’s statements, the audience respectfully listened and contributed to the dialogue constructively.
“I thought the conversation was very polite, even relaxed. We both said what we thought, so we didn’t avoid disagreement, we simply voiced it,” Prof. Johnston said.
While there was some disagreement, the conversation with Emmer succeeded in providing a civil and meaningful discussion about pressing political issues.
“Overall, talking after the event with a couple of people, we realized we don’t agree with him. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t think he is a good guy, I think he is a stand-up politician, I think he fights for what he believes in and what his constituents ask him to vote for. At the end of the day, that is sometimes all you can ask for; a very decent and upstanding politician,” Hermerding said.