A newly organized cohort of nine student Democrats has teamed up with the Young Republicans Club of Trinity Palmer School (TPS) in Miami, Florida, to discuss controversial topics in a series of scheduled talks over Skype.
Malcolm Zuckerman and Jiho Lee (both ’18) founded the Young Democrats Club a day after Donald Trump won the presidential election, and Malcolm found himself “confused” at the result.
“I thought if we reached out to Republicans, we’d be able to better understand why people voted the way they did,” Malcolm said.
That day, Malcolm sought out Jiho to join him as co-president of the club because he knew from their discussions of The Economist that they shared the same political views.
Jiho said the premise of the club—hearing opinions from politically engaged students in less liberal schools—intrigued him.
“I thought the concept of being able to reach out to a conservative school and share our thoughts would be beneficial not only for my own understanding, but for our community as a whole,” Jiho said.
So far the club has met four times (most recently at 7 a.m. in the Conference Room Friday), but it plans to schedule more regular meetings throughout this year and next. In each meeting, the Young Democrats attempt to gain insight into the other political party by video-chatting with TPS. For example, during a 5o-minute call on March 30—their first Skype session—the two clubs discussed Obamacare, global warming, and gay rights.
Jiho said he particularly enjoyed their conversation about gay rights.
“Although they genuinely believed in gay rights, they believed that if a bakery wanted to refuse service to a gay couple, they should be able to,” he said. “Their logic was that the government shouldn’t dictate who sells to whom and that the free market would end up punishing the bakery for refusing to sell to the gay couple because the gay couple’s money would be spent at another competing bakery.”
Jiho added that he did not agree with this stance, as he believes the government should have an active role in protecting the rights of a citizen.
While Jiho said he was glad both clubs were able to discuss—and not debate—political topics, Malcolm added that the groups decided to avoid the topic of President Trump for the first meetings, which have instead centered on other matters, like energy policy.
“Donald Trump might be too polarizing to stimulate any good discussion, although that could of course change in the future,” Malcolm said. “By talking about Trump, we’d just have a complete divide, and if we avoid that, we can find common ground.”
The Young Democrats Club found their partner club through Faculty Advisor Rob Leith’s friend, Ward Ghory, the Head of Harley School in Rochester, New York, who shared a list of schools with predominantly Republican students. From those, the club settled on TPS in Miami, Florida, simply because it was first on the list, Mr. Leith said.
Each member had to understand the importance of discussing and listening to each other, Mr. Leith added. Malcolm sent people he knew and thought would fit these parameters email invitations to the club.
Maggie Foot ’18 said she joined for reasons similar to Malcolm’s in creating the club.
“I was curious to hear these people explain their opinions,” she said. “I think that more conversations between Republicans and Democrats should be happening because too often the other side is demonized; having casual conversation helps humanize and lessen the divide between parties.”
Mr. Leith stressed the timeliness of the club.
“This is important because I think after the election, students, especially on the Democratic side, felt like they were powerless, and they needed an outlet to find a way to accomplish something,” he said. “This is that outlet.”