Unruh Associates and the Political Student Assembly hosted a political debate last Thursday evening to discuss the issues of climate change, reproductive rights and impeachment. The Trojan Advocates for Political Progress, USC College Republicans, USC College Democrats and the Trojans for Liberty were invited to debate these issues at the Franklin Suites in the Ronald Tutor Campus Center.
With the upcoming presidential race and increased political polarization across the nation, the debate served as an exercise in what civil discourse can look like across the political aisle.
“Our whole goal is to foster conversation and let all the voices on campus be heard,” said Unruh Associates’ Publicity Director Deven Patel, “It’s really to give students an outlet to talk about their political views in a safe space.”
According to a Pew Research study, 38% of Democrats held “very unfavorable” views of Republicans in 2014, compared to 29% in 2004 and 16% in 1994. This trend was basically the same amongst Republicans, with 43% holding “very unfavorable” views of Democrats in 2014, compared to 21% in 2004 and 17% in 1994. Hosting debates like these may be an effective method of having opposing parties communicate with each other.
“I, personally, don’t see an issue with staying within your own echo chamber,” said TAPP Director of Communications Ana Tessier, “Of course, I think you need to have discussions with people who think differently than you, but I think that means talking with people who have different policy views, similar to this debate; but I don’t think you have to put people in situations where they are hearing hateful speech.”
The first issue the debaters discussed was climate change. They soon found a common consensus that climate change is at least to some extent the product of human actions.
“We can all agree that there is a human cause - whether or not scientists agree that we need to take drastic measures right now is something that is not yet decided,” posited Will Borie from Trojans for Liberty, “We need to pick policies that will actually have a good effect.”
“We must accept science, and tell our leaders that they should govern as if our lives depended on it because they do,” added Simon Luu from TAPP. “The environment affects all of us, and it is going to take a unified effort to combat it.”
“There is an urgency to this debate,” emphasized Cody Herman from the USC College Democrats. “We heard from the UN Climate Report that we have 10 years before we hit a brink point where if we don’t act we will see drastic effects.”
The debaters all also expressed concern over the transition from fossil fuel to clean energy sources, and the effects it could have on at-risk communities.
“Fossil fuels provide a means of life for people in impoverished countries, so we must also look at the human cost of moving away from energy too quickly,” said Borie.
The issue of the Green New Deal, however, divided opinion most clearly.
“This is a classic example of the government thinking it knows what’s best for our country when it doesn’t,” argued Borie, “We should have no subsidies for ethanol, coal, or oil, treat all energy sources the same and let the market decide what is best.”
“The Green New Deal is fundamentally non-binding,” countered Herman, “but all we’re saying is that we should be supporting environmental measures that help our society.”
Luu concurred, adding that “The Green New Deal will revitalize the economy and protect workers.”
Next up in the debate was the issue of reproductive rights, which saw the most heated moments of the night.
“Abortion rights [are] the right to legal murder. Life starts at fertilization,” claimed Cody Underwood from Trojans for Liberty in his opening statement, “The scientific consensus is that life begins at conception.”
Sydney Ross from the USC College Democrats was quick to point out that organizations like Planned Parenthood provide a wealth of reproductive health services besides abortion.
“96% of what Planned Parenthood does is not abortions, it provides essential reproductive services,” said Ross.
But the debaters at times found it difficult to get past fundamental differences in viewpoint.
“The government has used the Fourteenth Amendment to justify the killings of millions of babies,” said Kathleen Looney from the USC College Republicans, “I am 100 percent in support of the government supporting women, but not in the murder of children.”
“You’re wrong. You’re just wrong,” said Ross, who appeared at a loss for words at Looney’s stance.
When asked if the government should stop funding Planned Parenthood, Underwood agreed.
“If there is enough demand for the services of Planned Parenthood, the free market will provide that and the government doesn’t need to be involved,” he said.
“If you look at it, the free market will overlook lower-income people because they are already being overlooked by our current private health care system,” countered Adrika Yousuf from TAPP.
Finally, the debaters discussed impeachment.
Michael Pozzi from Trojans for Liberty surprised many audience members when he agreed that President Trump should be impeached.
“But what for? Not for a quid pro quo that is dubious at best. But for war crimes, such as the genocide in Yemen, the same thing that our past four presidents should have been impeached for,” said Pozzi.
Andrew Binder from the USC College Democrats agreed that Trump should be impeached, but placed the quid pro quo as the central reason for the impeachment.
“There is a grave concern that the President of the United States has abused the power of the office for his personal gain,” said Binder, “The abuse of power has reached such egregious levels that impeachment is necessary.”
Brendan Morey from TAPP agreed with Binder and emphasized the importance of taking a stand against President Trump for the health of our democracy.
“Norms are eroded not in one fell swoop, but when no one is willing to draw a line,” said Morey.
Looney, however, was totally opposed to any talk of impeachment.
“He’s absolutely not supposed to be impeached,” said Looney, “I don’t think all the testimonies from Trump administration officials matter because those are just the opinions about what Trump’s intentions are.”
“These are Trump’s diplomatic staff that are testifying, they are not just random people. Witnesses tend to be extremely important in criminal proceedings” replied Binder. "Bipartisan support will emerge just as it did in the Nixon impeachment inquiry, and I think that’s what we’ll see with this. ”