By Sarah Nicell || Layout Assistant
Following the final debate of the presidential campaign season, Americans have temporarily escaped the verbal tensions between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden. However, on Wednesday, Franklin & Marshall students had the opportunity to watch their peers discuss critical topics, many of which matched the caliber of a real presidential debate, and ultimately engage in student-led civil discourse. The event was titled 2020 Debate: College Edition and featured a three-way conversation between F&M ACLU, College Dems, and Young Americans for Liberty.
A neutral moderator ensured that the atmosphere remained respectful and offered one to three questions on six different topics. Four to five individuals were permitted to speak per category (at least one from each participating club), and each had three minutes to speak their mind. A recap of the varying subjects up for debate is summarized below.
What can we do as a nation to improve our response to COVID-19? Are we doing enough?
President Daniel Rotante (‘21) and member Sara Hole (‘22) primarily focused on the fact that the U.S. government is not equipped to handle the pandemic, emphasizing the skepticism and distrust of authority that many libertarians share.
Rotante claimed that “the larger the government gets, the more inefficient it is,” noting the politicization of COVID-19 and how the federal government cannot handle an issue this large. He compared the current circumstances to swine flu under Obama, arguing that if the prior virus had been more lethal, the previous administration would have been in a similar position.
After calling out “Democratic states,” such as Phil Murphy’s New Jersey, for their initial poor handling of the virus with nursing homes, Rotante elaborated, “Most things are opened up in a rather safe way. That’s how it should have been from the start.”
The YAL ultimately believed that the federal government is an inadequate source to rely on to fix this pandemic, argued by Sara Hole’s claim that the handling of the pandemic should be left to the state and local government levels (a claim which Mo Soto of F&M ACLU refuted, noting that state-level management was how the pandemic unfolded, and it was not enough).
David Leibowitz (‘22) took the lead on this subject, starting with the statement: “Here [in the U.S.], we love freedom so much, we defy the government, and still call it [COVID-19] a hoax.” The College Democrats called for the federal government to take action, enforce safety protocols, and ensure that the American people are taking the virus seriously.
Their belief that the government must take control of the situation and enforce measures that skeptical citizens have avoided directly contrasts the people-driven approach of the YAL.
F&M’s ACLU primarily agreed with the claims of the College Dems. Lacking a clear strategy for attacking the virus, a holistic approach to guaranteeing that Americans wear masks and follow safety guidelines, or a non-divisive leader, according to the ACLU, sets the U.S. behind what is necessary to save lives.
“I think it’s a matter of the national government not doing enough. It’s the fact that we didn’t have a unified approach in the beginning,” Mo Soto (‘21) argued.
The YAL again centralized their argument on the skepticism towards a powerful federal government. “When it comes to healthcare… we have to introduce more competition across state lines. The more we expand the government, the more inefficient it’s going to be,” said Daniel Rotante.
They also found socialized medicine to be a wrong move, cementing the YAL’s position against expanding federal systems. “Obamacare was incredibly unpopular until Trump said he was going to take it away,” Rotante added when the subject of Obamacare was introduced, claiming that strengthening this institution would not be the right move to make at this point in time.
Instead, he emphasized the importance of prioritizing the perspective of American doctors rather than politicians, elaborating, “I trust doctors far more than I trust government bureaucrats.”
Rachel St. Louis (‘21) began her argument on healthcare through the lens of the current situation with COVID-19, ultimately claiming that aspects of socialized medicine could have been highly beneficial when presently there have been nine million people infected with the virus. “I think it’s ridiculous for the President to attack socialized healthcare during a pandemic.”
St. Louis emphasized that the average citizen pays “a lot” for their healthcare despite the fact that the well-being of the American people should ultimately be included in the promise of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” in the Declaration of Independence.
However, she claimed that she was “not calling for socialism.” Instead, her main focus of this conversation was on the importance of introducing a public option, a compromise that she asserted would be most advantageous.
“This was the exact, perfect time to demonstrate why we need a Medicare for All system,” David Leibowitz concluded. “[We are a] third world country on this issue.”
In response to the claim made by Dzenis Alagic (‘21) (read below) that other nations have faced problematic consequences to socialized medicine, Sarah Laterza (‘21), the President of F&M ACLU, countered, “There are so many countries in the world, so many developed countries, that spend less on socialized healthcare.”
Her main argument was to say that the benefits of socialized healthcare may, in the end, outweigh the costs.
Dzenis Alagic works in healthcare as an EMT and does not belong to any of the three clubs listed. However, he mostly sided with the YAL (as an independent), and argued “Being realistic about it, moving into socialized healthcare… it usually leads to lower-quality care.”
He claimed that other countries with socialized medicine, like the Netherlands, have a smaller population and subsidize healthcare through oil reserves.
What should the government do to make the country more resilient to threats of climate change?
“I don’t think the government is going to be the one to save us from climate change,” Daniel Rotante stated, pushing his main idea of the night that we cannot rely on authority to save us or to fix the nation’s problems.
Other steps, such as becoming “less reliant on the Middle East for oil,” were claimed to be essential for reducing the U.S.’s negative impacts on the planet.
“Arbitrarily banning things like natural gas is a big step in the wrong direction,” Rotante finished, emphasizing a certain reluctance to move in favor of something as drastic as the Green New Deal.
David Leibowitz, on the other hand, stressed the importance of the deal in saving the planet in a way that simultaneously increases productivity: “A green new deal is important in the way that we can address the issue and provide new jobs.”
This path, the College Dems argued, was the best first step “to end the end of the world.”
The F&M ACLU primarily agreed with the College Democrats on this topic, but the club also commented on the intersectionality between climate and race, emphasizing the fact that BIPOC groups are often subject to the worst of the consequences of climate change and environmental issues such as pollution.
SUBJECT: Race Relations
How should we tackle the issue of police brutality and racism in the criminal justice system?
The Young Americans for Liberty group emphasized the need to be cautious about how people frame “defunding the police.” Though they conceded that police brutality is a major problem, they seemed to have concerns regarding the complete restructuring of modern police, some claiming that nonlethal weapons are not always effective.
Rachel St. Louis started off her argument with the claim that, “Black Lives Matter is not a political statement.” Here she emphasized the problematic nature of using marginalized communities as pawns of politics, arguing that human rights should not be a question of partisanship. She acknowledged that many politicians, such as President Trump, repeatedly refuse to verbally confirm that “black lives matter,” which she notes is a large problem for American unity.
“I could have been Breonna Taylor,” admitted St. Louis.
Touching upon instances of brutality outside of the Western world, Rachel stated, “The African content is bleeding.” She emphasized a need to expand our focus to racial injustices beyond the U.S.’s police brutality and violence.
The College Dems also took the time to explain what defunding the police truly means, claiming that the U.S. must move toward community-oriented policing to avoid unwarranted attacks on racial minorities and those with mental illness.
“I don’t think law enforcement gets to decide who lives and who dies,” Rachel St. Louis concluded.
Mo Soto began by addressing the recent protests in West Philadelphia: “It’s upsetting that we still live in a time where people are killed by the police on the basis of their skin color.” After acknowledging the brutality committed against black communities daily, he also noted that “killing people is never the answer” regarding the riots that have erupted following news of police brutality.
“The big thing is that we need a complete reframing of what the police are and what their job is,” Mo argued, emphasizing that the current state of affairs within policing is inadequate to serve the people without constant injustice toward marginalized communities. “Stop using militarized tactics and reimagine the role of the police.”
Soto also stressed the importance of “mental health and drug addiction resources” when the presence of police officers is not necessary and may impede the success of the case.
The F&M ACLU also called for reductions in “prison and jail populations,” ultimately indicating a move toward sentencing, bail, and prison reform.
Speaking as another individual who works in healthcare with EMS, Mariana Squicciarini (‘21) explained that even when patients “come at their providers,” there is no way to justify the violence committed against those with mental health issues by the police. She emphasized that in her occupation, people sign up for a career of service, and the result should never be the death of those who require aid.
This subject was the first and only question in which all sides found a great deal of agreement. President Daniel Rotante began with the statement that “the immigration system is definitely broken,” arguing “We need to put partisanship aside on this.”
“It shouldn’t be a billion hoops to work through [to get citizenship],” Rotante continued, condemning the problematic nature of the institution of immigration as it currently stands in the United States.
However, Daniel Rotante concluded that he believes that if an immigrant commits a serious crime, they should be deported.
The College Democrats opened with the point that the U.S. is likely “violating UN laws and principles” through child separation, subsequently recognizing that this was an Obama-Era policy.
Rachel St. Louis argued that the United States must create an “easier and cheaper way to get naturalization and citizenship.”
St. Louis also claimed that individuals who complain about immigrants must first acknowledge that they are working jobs that may be seen as unfavorable for the average citizen. “For people who are saying that they [illegal immigrants] are stealing our jobs, do you want to work their jobs? They are putting food on your table.” Rachel also argued against the notion that illegal immigrants fail to pay taxes, elaborating on the details of the costs and payments that they constantly must pay to survive in the U.S.
F&M’s ACLU called the American immigration system a “human rights issue” that often entails “racial profiling and excessive force.”
Mo Soto detailed, “ICE has detained and deported record numbers of people.” He subsequently condemned child separation policies and claimed them to be an infringement on the rights of “not just citizens but all people.”
President Sarah Laterza continued the ACLU’s argument by bringing up the fact that “In 2013 83% of people deported were not given a hearing in front of a judge.” She noted this to be a violation of human rights and unjust in the deportation of people looking for a better life for themselves and their families.
SUBJECT: Supreme Court and Amy Coney Barrett’s Confirmation
Sara Hole was quick to defend the nomination and confirmation of Justice Coney Barrett, claiming, “There is entirely nothing unconstitutional about the Supreme Court nomination of Amy Coney Barrett.” She emphasized that no law limits nominations based on proximity to an election, and therefore, nothing wrong with her subsequent confirmation.
When discussing the possibility of former Vice President Joe Biden’s packing of the court, Daniel Rotante noted, “I think that it is important to keep the institution and the balance of the Supreme Court.” Both Sara and Daniel defended the importance of precedent and explained how disruption of tradition would result in negative consequences.
Upon the instance of Coney Barrett’s qualifications being put up for debate, Mike Waszen (‘22) argued firmly: “Amy Coney Barrett is a brilliant woman.” He praised her well-spoken nature, her performance during the confirmation hearings, and her desire to defend the Constitution of the United States.
Emphasizing the fact that during a pandemic, constant quarantining, global unrest, and national protests against police brutality, the College Democrats illustrated that the concept of precedent has been turned on its side. Fears of a lack of separation between church and state, threats to abortion access, and an overturn of Obergefell v. Hodges exist due to the claimed untimely nomination of Amy Coney Barrett.
Rachel St. Louis raised concerns of the GOP’s hypocrisy by nominating and confirming a judge far closer to an election, where millions have already voted than President Obama did in 2016 when Republicans refused to even hold a confirmation hearing for then nominated chief judge Merrick Garland.
Again, F&M’s ACLU favored the argument of the College Democrats.
Speaking on the new justice’s inexperience, Mo Soto noted, “Amy Coney Barrett has been a judge for the same amount of time I have been in college.”
First Year Sarah Nicell is a Layout Assistant. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.