Midterms Mayhem Episode 1: Key issues precede upcoming elections

This is the first installment of Midterms Mayhem, a podcast where Aquila staff members discuss the 2022 midterm elections with upper school community members. In this episode, Aquila reporters Ella, Emma and Anika talk with U.S. history teacher James Tate, Emmett Chung (12) and Trisha Variyar (12) about some of the key issues in the upcoming elections. 

Ella: Welcome to “Midterms Mayhem,” our podcast about this year’s midterm elections.

Emma: I’m Emma.

Anika: I’m Anika.

Ella: I’m Ella.

Emma: And our first episode, “Key Issues” focuses on the events, developments and people influencing election results.

Anika: Today we’ll be hearing from Mr. Tate as well as seniors Emmett Chung and Trisha Variyar.

Ella: Alright, so before we jump into the questions, could everyone introduce themselves?

Tate: I’m Mr. [James] Tate, I teach AP U.S. History.

Emmett: Hi, I’m Emmett. I’m a senior.

Trisha: Hello, I’m Trisha. I’m also a senior.

Ella: Awesome. So we have some ideas of key issues that we wanted to discuss. But before we jump into those, what would you say are some of the key issues affecting this year’s midterms?

Trisha: The economy is one. Originally was the circumstances surrounding COVID, and now it’s a lot of inflation that’s kind of plaguing the nation.

Emmett: Definitely agree with Trisha there. And when it comes to those sort of frontline issues, there’s been a lot about crime in major cities, especially this year, that law and order argument has been a big part of some campaigning.

Tate: Yeah, economics is also, I would agree that’s a major component of the upcoming elections. I think you can never forget that so much of it is the perceptions of what is important. It’s not just there are these ranked order of issues that are important. It’s like what people perceive at a particular time to be important. So a lot of that is affected by current events and the news cycle and what is being pumped on social media. So I think I agree that economics is the big issue, but beware, because that could be usurped at any moment.

Emmett: Yeah, I guess we, of course, need to address the war in Ukraine, as well as our recent falling out with the Saudis over oil.

Trisha: In addition, there has been a lot of discourse surrounding like Roe v. Wade, and especially the Supreme Court decision that’s recently gone out, and there’s been a lot of campaigning and fundraising from both sides of the aisles.

Emmett: And then as the President has called him, “the former guy,” still might be a factor, not only in his endorsements, but the investigations that he’s currently facing.

Emma: So all of you mentioned the economy as being one of the major issues. How exactly do you think that it’s going to affect voters or outcomes of the election?

Emmett: Voters generally are going to ascribe whatever happens to the economy to the party in power, even though sometimes it’d be part of the economy is out of the control of President Biden. Like, you know, he couldn’t have predicted that Putin was going to invade Ukraine or that the pandemic was going to happen, but that’s one of the major factors that has most pundits predicting, at least that the House will flip to the Republicans, and that the Senate is also a toss up.

Trisha: I’d say that we can ascribe a little bit of blame to the Biden administration in terms of their economic policies, especially considering the economic policy of the Biden presidency, in general, it’s been really focused on pumping money into the economy. There have been multiple COVID relief packages that he’s passed, people are going to be like, “I don’t really think that what this person is doing is working necessarily,” even if they don’t understand the economics behind it, and vote for the other party.

Tate: It’s funny because one of his chief economic advisors is a woman, really, really smart woman named Cecilia Rouse. I saw her in a debate a number of years ago, and she made a very interesting point during that debate: economics is really hard to track cause and effect, right. If an administration passes a certain debt relief bill or a stimulus package or COVID relief, right, it’s really hard to keep track of what effects come from this package. Can you attribute anything that happens in the future definitively to the package that was caused. And the voters are going to blame the Biden administration, but is Biden truly to blame? Was Trump? Was Obama before him? I can’t say.

Emmett: And when it comes to a lot of hot button issues like this, like inflation or immigration, it’s a lot easier to be in the opposition and just attacking without having to actually, you know, make the policy happen.

Anika: As Trisha mentioned earlier, Roe v. Wade was overturned the June, so what effect do you guys think that will have on midterm results?

Emmett: Well, I think a lot of people were definitely overreacting in both directions when the decision first came out, you know, “the Republicans have completely lost suburban women for this election,” “Abortion is going to be the number one issue,” “We are going to be in the nineteeth century again, when it comes to abortion rights.” And while that is, to some extent true, the abortion issue has sort of faded in terms of how prominent it’s been compared to the economy over the last couple of weeks.

Trisha: I also think that there isn’t really a party that is doing a really good job on this issue. I know that immediately after the bill was passed, a lot of major prominent Democrats asked for money and asked for a fundraiser. And I have never seen social media turn on people so quickly as they did on those Democrats that were like, “Hey, we kind of want laws to protect us, and we don’t really want to be giving you money right now.”

Tate: Yeah, I totally agree with what you’re saying. For me, the tragedy of this is that it’s another example of where we are in terms of really polarized black and white thinking. I have not heard anyone in the cultural narrative point out the standard set in Roe v. Wade was in fact itself a pretty decent compromise on the issue of abortion. It itself is a compromise on the issue of abortion, right, it established the trimester system that we usually refer to when we talk about pregnancies, and it creates kind of a balance of this management, well, the right to privacy, which is not in the Constitution, but which is sort of implicitly in the Constitution, and the state’s interest in preserving life. People rushed to sort of take to the battlements of this issue, that it really makes me, as a lover of history, weep, because compromise is so rare and such a good thing.

Trisha: I think that kind of speaks to the polarizing nature and how increasingly polarized our country has become, especially with the emergence of social media. Like one thing that we’re really focused on is how social media kind of pushes people to the extremes. There’s no common foundation, common compromise, common ideology that we share that you can build upon when people are pushed to this extreme.

Tate: Well, there is like, I think it’s a safe generalization to say that, with a few exceptions, pretty much everyone is trying to make the world a better place, right. That no one wakes up in the morning and says, you know, “I’m trying to make the world a worse place.” Just people have different ideas about like, what the common good is what the right policy is.

Emmett: One other issue I don’t think we’ve touched on yet is the democracy issue. There are still hundreds of people who are going to win county election official positions, or secretaries of state all over the country who believe that the 2020 election was stolen. And that is setting us up on a not so good direction.

Trisha: I think that this isn’t the first time in our history, where we’ve had somewhat of a fractured democracy. And I think that immediately, like after the Civil War, obviously, our democracy was kind of fractured. Like the McCarthyism era and communism, and that whole era, that was also another example of some sort of undermining of democracy. And I think that from all of those eras, we’ve always been able to, overcome those struggles, and I have reason to believe that we will also be able to overcome these struggles that we’re currently having.

Tate: Bravo to that. And I would add also, I think you see, throughout U.S. history, you see repeated iterations of this disgruntled people who deny the legitimacy of some business of the Americans, right. The American Revolution itself, is that kind of an activity, right. So this is like a proud tradition that predates the actual country of the United States of America to begin with, I think it’s kind of woven into the fabric of America and our type of politics.

Ella: I think Trisha and Emmett may have touched on this a little bit earlier, but what role do you think President Trump has played in all of this?

Emmett: One thing that’s here to stay from the 2020 election is increased use of mail and voting, which means that whenever we talk about Election Day for the rest of our lives, it really means Election Week, and sometimes month, where these the results are going to come in slowly, and depending on what’s getting counted first, either side can immediately overreact once the results are 10% in. And with a number of Senate races, for example, with Trump ally candidates, like Herschel Walker, or Dr. Oz, or Adam Laxalt in Nevada, there is the concern that if the results are very close, or if one of them were to lose, that we could see a similar situation to the 2020 election with court battle, and asserting that the other side cheated, and just things that overall are going to diminish people’s trust in the electoral process.

Trisha: I think that Trump kind of revolutionized the way that presidents communicate with the American people, kind of similar to how like Roosevelt with his Fireside Chats over radio kind of changed the way that presidents communicate with the American people, being able to get direct messages to them without having to come through a newspaper. I think that Trump did kind of the same thing with Twitter and using that to communicate with people and not having to have it go through like the news or the media or a press conference. And I think that that has been a strategy that’s been employed by a lot of other candidates, especially now, utilizing social media to communicate with the public and talk about their policies through that or react to things through that.

Tate: We might well ask if that’s a good thing. You know, one of the aspects that often gets pointed out in representative governments as a good thing, is the deliberative part of a deliberative democracy, right, the idea that we need to take time to think about issues, and we should not have an instantaneous response, like a communication should not be that fast. In other words, we should take time to think about things, we should hear a perspective and then consider that perspective.

Emmett: Yeah, like the millions of people who watched the debate [on Oct. 26] for the Pennsylvania Senate, most of them saw it through 30-second on Twitter. So that adds to Mr. Tate’s point that people aren’t actually considering positions at all. Elections are becoming more candidate-focused to the point that people might have just disregarded John Fetterman’s, positions during the debates, simply because — in addition to the stroke that he suffered in May — he also was just not as entertaining or engaging of a public speaker, as you know, reality TV show host Mehmet Oz or Donald Trump. And as Trisha was mentioning, yeah, when you have social media really distorting and reinforcing certain narratives, that also has a really damaging effect.

Emma: So with all these issues that you’ve discussed, what would you guys say are your predictions for the ultimate outcome of the midterms? Given that I think most of you guys have said that the Democrats in general are in danger, what could they have done or could do right now to change that?

Trisha: Kind of answers your question, but I think that there’s gonna be a lot more battleground states than there were in previous years. So I think that even if the outcome of the elections doesn’t necessarily change, like for example, even if Texas maintains red, even if Oregon maintains its blueness, I think that the actual fight between the candidates is going to be a lot closer.

Emmett: I think there’s this soul searching that a lot of center-left parties have been encountering in other countries, is that there’s this inherent dilemma between trying to maintain your bases of support, which generally come from a combination of working class, those blue-collar voters that delivered the election to Trump in 2016, and minority voters, as well as young people.

Tate: So quickly, to address the question, I think the Democrats need to do two things if they want to right the ship. One, they need to pay attention to the big important issues, which they have sort of relegated to kind of like fringe issues. Over the past couple of election cycles, like all issues are important if people think they’re important. But some are more important than others, like the Democrats need to right the economy, period. Number two, the Democrats have a really bad problem right now with what I’m beginning to call like the gerontocratic part, meaning all of the people who are in charge of the Democratic Party are very old, and they’ve been in charge of the Democratic for a very long time. And they do not seem to be willing to cede any sort of influence or power to the younger generations of Democrats, many of whom are much more dynamic, much more interesting. They’re willing to sort of reach into a different, more more unusual bag of tools to try to address today’s problems, which I think is all to the good. I think they need to recognize that, like, their future is younger.

Trisha: Kinda to the point that both of you are mentioning, I think that this country can be split into four major ideological backgrounds. I think that on the Democrat side, you have more of the traditional Democrat, like a Joe Manchin, for example, or like a Kyrsten Sinema, like those very centrist Democrats, and you have more of the progressive side of the Democratic Party with like, Bernie Sanders or AOC. I think that right now under the Democratic Party, coming up with the united policy front that they’re trying to do is very hard when you believe two different things. And I think that kind of bleeds over into its voters where people are like, “Why aren’t you doing anything?” And they aren’t doing anything because the Democratic Party is constantly fighting to see which ideological background they’re going to appeal to at that time.

Ella: All right, I think we’re gonna wrap it up here. Do you guys have any final thoughts that you’d like to share?

Emmett: If you’re over 18, vote. If you’re not, well, you can pre-register to vote. So you can at least pre-register and maybe at least turn on some cable news on Election Night. Instead of gaming that night, you can watch some riveting election results with Steve Kornacki.

Everyone: Thank you!

Ella: Thank you so much for listening to our first episode of “Midterms Mayhem.”

Emma: If you would like to be featured in the next episode, or you know a friend who might be interested, please feel free to send us an email at [email protected]

Anika: Thank you again for joining us today, and we’ll see you next time!