Potomac’s political clubs respond to the momentous events sweeping our country: YAF and YDP leaders speak out for civil discourse 

Isabel Engel and Billy Marin

In an increasingly divided country, fostering healthy political discourse is more important than ever. In his inaugural address, President (!) Biden said “Disagreement must not lead to disunion. And I pledge this to you: I will be a president for all Americans.” To fulfill Biden’s appeal for unity, one of the first, and most important steps, is listening to the viewpoints of those with whom we politically disagree. With this in mind, two of the Current’s executive editors conducted email interviews with the leaders of the clubs Young Americans for Freedom (YAF) and Young Democrats of Potomac (YDP). We wanted to know how their views have been affected by a tumultuous election season, an insurrection at the Capitol, and the Presidential Inauguration. Read on to hear their thoughts and be reminded of the importance of coming together amidst political turbulence. 

The responses below are from the leaders of Young Americans for Freedom (YAF): Will Edens, Charlotte Henry, and Chris Joe; and the leaders of Young Democrats of Potomac (YDP): Axel Gyllenhoff, Natalie Moosher, Caroline Osbourne, Michael Sweeney, and Andrew Ruggeri. Their responses have been edited for clarity and length.

     1. How has your club reacted to the recent events in American politics, namely the election, the insurrection at the Capitol, and the inauguration?

YAF: One of the biggest things that we have discussed as a club is our fear for the future of the two-party system and the further prejudice against Republicans/conservatives in our country. The two parties have become so polarized that it is quite difficult to agree with every aspect of what they may be pushing for. Somebody’s political alignment creates an inherent prejudice towards that person on a much greater scale than it used to. We are happy, however, that all of the craziness leading up to the inauguration has now passed because we believe in this country and its democratic practices; without Trump’s presence, we can stop doubting the legitimacy of our elections based on little to no evidence.

YDP: Our club will continue to provide a space for discussion, so that we can all hear from people with different perspectives on issues that are incredibly troubling The large scale spread of election misinformation from Trump and his media allies was the direct cause of the domestic terrorist attack on the Capitol on January 6. The inauguration proved the strength of American democracy and showed that the vast majority of Americans’ desire to uphold our systems and practices. 

     2. How should Potomac, from administrators to student leaders like yourselves, help to foster productive civil discourse amidst politically turbulent times?

YAF: Potomac should help foster more conversations about these politically turbulent times because it is so important to understand what is happening in society, to voice our opinions, and to learn from others. The opt-in conversations that we have been doing recently are a great start to facilitating productive civil discourse; we should not force these sometimes controversial discussions on people who may have very strong feelings or those who even feel worn out by the recent political havoc. But, some students and teachers, we know, really would love the opportunity to process events with a group of people. 

YDP: We think that the most important things students can do are discuss and process. The administration and student leaders have done a great job creating environments for discussion, especially with the barriers of Zoom. In the future, we think it would be beneficial for students to have more time to process and reflect on today’s historical events. 

     3. This election brought up unprecedented allegations of voter fraud; what do you and fellow club members think about how this relates to the state of American democracy now and moving forward?

YAF: Voter fraud is definitely a huge threat to democracy and the many unprecedented allegations during this election, we feel, have bolstered public distrust of the government. Even after several court cases that proved no fraud took place, Trump still insisted that the Democrats somehow rigged the election. To Trump’s strongest supporters, Biden’s win is a fraud because his voters should not count, to begin with, and because the Democratic Party is not a legitimate political institution that should be allowed to wield power even if they did.  It would have been fair of Trump, if he felt there was truly voter fraud, to bring it to court, but it dragged on for far too long as he continually kept pursuing court cases that could find no evidence of legitimate fraud. This only fueled the fire in die-hard Trump supporters and disrupted a crucial democratic process.

YDP: We feel that both sides of the political spectrum need to work together to end political misinformation and propaganda in order to have a functioning and peaceful democracy. These completely false allegations of voter fraud have sparked a blatant attack on our democracy and our government. These actions are utterly unacceptable and we need to hold those who have spread lies of voter fraud accountable. It is vital that the Potomac community seek out reliable political information and double-check its sources. 

     4. What were the causes of the Capitol insurrection, and what was your reaction to the event? Do you see this as the culmination of four years of a Trump presidency, or an isolated incident pertaining to the controversial election?

YAF: Personally, we believe that the protests, more like acts of terrorism, on the capital were absolutely horrifying. The people taking part are a complete disgrace to the Republican party and are contradicting themselves in their condemnation of the BLM movement for destroying property and using violence against the police. As conservatives, we are scared for the future of the Republican party because now they will be associated with these barbaric and terrorist acts. We view this terrorist act as not a party conflict but what happens when people give in to one person and believe that they are the only one fit to run the country. We are horrified by Trump’s acceptance of these acts because it shows how far he will go to retain power. This incident was definitely ignited by the controversial election as Trump continued to give his supporters false hope by continually telling them that the “election wasn’t over” and by pursuing many court cases with little evidence. By disrupting a democratic practice and norm, the protestors and Trump disregard the rule of law which may inspire further acts of violence when people are upset when a free and fair election may come to results that people do not favor.

YDP: The Capitol insurrection was most definitely caused by false allegations of voter fraud and former President Trump’s violent words. The false voter fraud allegations have been a culmination of the Trump administration. Trump continuously chose his personal motives over the American people’s needs, resulting in a nation deeply ingrained in Trump’s delusion. 

     5. In an ideal world, should Trump have attended the inauguration? What does his absence mean for American democracy and a peaceful transition of power?

YAF: Yes, we do believe that he should have attended the inauguration to uphold a democratic tradition and norm. His absence only will further cement the idea to the people involved in events, such as the Capital insurrection, that he is the only one fit to run the country. 

YDP: Trump should have absolutely attended the inauguration, upholding a tradition that has been in place for 150 years. His attendance would have signified acceptance of his loss and a peaceful transition of power. Instead, he continues to signal to his supporters his rejection of our democracy and election systems. 

     6. What are your thoughts on the current impeachment process? What role does it play in hindering or furthering the healing of democracy? 

YAF: We feel as though the current impeachment process is instrumental in healing our democracy. It is protected by the Constitution and is an important method to hold politicians/persons in power accountable for their actions and violating public trust.

YDP: While the impeachment process will certainly be a distraction in the early days of Biden’s presidency, it is important to recognize the critical message it sends. It is a concrete defense of democracy in a time when it has so clearly been threatened. Unfortunately, the immediate byproduct of a potential conviction will likely be further polarization, however, it is the first step in holding our leaders accountable for their actions. Donald Trump should not and can not be exempt from punishment simply because he is no longer a sitting president.

     7. How should the Biden administration handle the events of the past few months, from election season to the attack on the Capitol? What are the most significant challenges/issues it will face in its first 100 days? 

YAF: The Biden administration should work to push our country to unity and eliminate the recent tendency for the President to criminalize the other party. As a country, we should not forget the many disastrous events of the past few months but rather use them as a wake-up call to acknowledge how volatile our political environment has become. One of the most significant challenges to the Biden administration in the first 100 days is to make decisions that satisfy both sides of the political aisle. Another significant challenge is to carefully manage and make accessible to all the distribution of the coronavirus vaccine. 

YDP: We support President Biden’s decision to withhold commentary on Trump’s impeachment and instead focus on a message of unity. Biden has repeatedly stated that he will be a president for everyone, regardless of their political affiliation, which is a clear departure from the rhetoric of the Trump administration and an enormous step in the right direction. Apart from this, the most urgent matter to be addressed is the global health crisis. The Biden administration’s stated goal of vaccinating 100 million people in the first 100 days will be the single biggest challenge that they face, but it is also the most important of their initiatives.

     8. What is the role of bipartisanship and unity in our heavily divided country? What is the line between moving forward and forgetting the challenges we’ve faced? 

YAF: As mentioned earlier, we feel as though our heavily divided country has contributed to our greatest political problems. Bipartisanship, in an ideal world, means different perspectives contributing to politics and working to incorporate policies that can help a variety of persons instead of catering to one group. We feel like our political parties have increasingly become disdainful of each other, and that everybody should really reflect on the many challenges that have arisen as a result of the great divide between political parties that has made us forget that political parties are in place to help the country grow, not crumble.

YDP: Bipartisanship and unity are incredibly important in making legislative progress and restoring the respect that people have lost for each other based on politics. Obviously, the division that we have all witnessed is not purely a result of Trump, and it would be irresponsible to reduce it to that. The politically stubborn and overly righteous sentiment that has emerged has been growing long before 2016 and we saw the physical manifestation of it at the Capitol on January 6. While the siege of the Capitol was a disgusting assault of democracy, it also carried an immediate unifying power with it. We saw this as Republican figures in the Senate, ranging from Lindsey Graham to Kelly Loeffler, reconsidered their initial promise to object to the result of the election and, again, when the pattern of voting along party lines was broken within Congress on the impeachment vote. Leaders like Rep. Liz Cheney and Rep. Adam Kinzinger have taken the first step towards restoring the political collaboration that recently seemed like something of the past.