The Great Debate: Jo and Graydon on Politics

The Great Debate: Jo and Graydon on Politics

In February, as the Democratic primary elections unfolded, seniors Jo Stephens and Groydon Davies debated some of the most pressing political issues of the 2020 election. This debate was held through an email exchange and was moderated by sophomore Merritt Brazell. [Editor’s note: this debate was held before Hammond transitioned to online learning.]

1.) Recently, Virginia passed some of the most restrictive gun policies in the country. To what degree, if any, should the government place restrictions on firearms?

JO: The Second Amendment of the United States Constitution guarantees American citizens the right to possess firearms if they so choose. However, at the time this amendment was written, guns were not the weapons of mass destruction we now have access to. The government’s primary responsibility is to protect the people, and it is difficult to do so when assault weapons are bought and sold with little regulation. As a result, I am of the opinion that private citizens should not be allowed to own assault weapons, nor should they be allowed to own any firearm without stringent background checks. Congress should also close the gun show loophole and ban all of the following people from owning any type of firearm: convicted violent criminals, domestic abusers, and people with a history of severe mental health issues.                                                                                                  

GRAYDON: I believe that the main problem with gun violence is not the regulation of firearm sales but the lack of required mental health background checks before someone can purchase any weapon. With that being said, there is a clear problem in many states, including South Carolina, where it is too easy to buy a firearm because of loopholes that allow people to legally purchase guns from individuals rather than vendors. This loophole makes it a lot harder to run any mental health background checks, which could cause a lot more mass shootings. Dr. Joe Park from the National Department of Behavioral Health said “under a broad definition [of mental illness], persons with mild depression, adjustment problems, substance abuse, or personality disorders would be counted. And then nearly all of the mass shootings are committed by persons with mental illness.” On this issue I agree most with President Trump. However, I do still believe that gun sales should be regulated more by limiting sales to vendors who run background checks.

2.) Rising to prominence this year, high school student Greta Thunberg has called out some of the world’s most prominent politicians and demanded action on climate change. Should the government take a more active role in preventing climate change?   

JO: Climate change is one of the most serious issues the world faces today. We are staring down the gauntlet of unprecedented damage to the natural world, which will directly impact the well-being of humankind. The government needs to take steps to prevent the destruction of nature; increased funding for the Environmental Protection Agency is a must, as is at least a partial ban on fracking. Additionally, government subsidies should be given to farmers who grow organic food in a sustainable manner, rather than to those who use chemical pesticides and fertilizers. Also, alternative forms of energy – such as solar and wind power– must be implemented throughout the country. Most importantly, the government needs to place restrictions on the amount of carbon emissions a company can produce, which would encourage them to find more sustainable options.

GRAYDON: I would be naïve to say that humans have not changed the environment and the climate, and I do believe that climate change is a real problem that needs to be addressed by the U.S. government. However, I do not believe that the government needs to spend any more money than it already is to prevent climate change. Regulations on climate change and greenhouse gas emissions, such as the one that President Obama failed to pass in his last term, are very hard to pass especially when there is a Republican majority in either house of Congress. These regulations can be shot down by a congressional review act, which only needs a simple majority from both houses. These regulations are slowed even more because of the government has to hire environmentalists to complete detailed Environmental Impact reports to pass any environmental regulations. In this year’s budget, the Trump administration has increased its funding of the EPA to $6.658 billion, while still focusing more on the economy than the environment.

3.) President Trump has recently found himself under fire for his immigration policies, most specifically the fact that he reinstated his travel checks from the Middle East. Does the government have the right to limit travelers from these countries, based on nationality and religion?                             

JO: No. The federal government has no right to ban people from coming to the United States based on nationality and religion – that is blatant discrimination. People should only be denied entry to America if they pose a specific, dangerous threat to American citizens. According to Time Magazine, since 9/11, domestic extremists– such as Dylan Roof, Adam Lanza, Stephen Paddock, and Patrick Crusius – have been responsible for three times as many acts of terrorism or mass violence as individuals from foreign countries. To say that Middle Eastern travel checks keep America safer is, at best, incredibly ignorant and at worst, outright racism.

GRAYDON: President Trump’s Travel Ban was upheld by the Supreme Court. It confirmed that the President does have the constitutional power to secure the country’s boarders. The Commander in Chief has an obligation to take an extreme measure to protect U.S. citizens at a time where terrorism is at an all-time high in the Middle East. Airline hijackings are not as prevalent anymore, and about 95% of terrorist attacks take place in the Middle East; however, the U.S. is still a target of large terrorist organizations and extremists. I would say that it is better to be safe than to be blown up by an Islamic extremist. The Chief Justice also made it clear that President Trump’s travel ban was not undermined by any personal vendetta against all Muslims, as many Democrats claim. The most liberal Justice, Sonia Sotomayor, made a passionate claim that compared the Travel Ban to the U.S. internment of Japanese-Americans, upheld by Korematsu v. U.S. This ridiculous claim completely ignores the fact that the people who were wrongfully detained in Japanese-American internment camps were already U.S. citizens. The Travel Ban did not take away rights from any U.S. citizens or anyone with a travel visa, including Muslims like Ismail Einashe. The Muslim journalist, who lost his right to travel to the U.S. with his standard visa under the Obama administration, was worried that Trump’s ban would deny any Muslims from traveling with visas or green cards. While the number of visas issued under the ban was lower from Muslim countries, visas were still issued for people who were not deemed security threats.

4.) Many students struggle to pay back student loan debt. Should the government take an active role in helping students pay back their loans, and should the government make education more affordable or free?

JO: College admissions should not be based on a student’s financial situation; however, because college is so expensive and financial aid is oftentimes limited, many people who deserve to go to college cannot. Additionally, students typically graduate with debts from student loans that they have to pay back – depending on how much these loans are worth, people can get stuck paying them off for the rest of their lives. At the very least, public colleges and universities should be free for students who are accepted, which would prevent students from having to take out loans and insure that students from lower-income backgrounds have an equal opportunity to pursue higher education.

GRAYDON: The Government should absolutely not make any effort to make college “free.” First of all, there is no such thing as free college. The money for education has to come from somewhere, and in systems proposed by democratic candidates like Bernie Sanders the money would come from tax dollars. Sanders has also proposed eliminating all $1.6 trillion of U.S. student debt. Sanders says that the money for this would come from his proposed Wall Street Tax, which would raise levies on stocks, bonds, and derivatives. This kind of tax could potentially destroy the stock market that has thrived under the Trump administration. The Government already pays for K-12 education through tax dollars, but beyond that higher education should be payed for by students and their families.

5.) The Supreme Court recently ruled in favor of a bakery that refused to bake a cake for a same sex couple based on the baker’s religious beliefs. Do you agree with this decision? Why or why not?               

JO: While the First Amendment does give people the right to practice their religion, this is not an excuse for discrimination. The baker in question, as a Christian who interprets the Bible’s message towards homosexuality as being in violation of God’s word, has every right to hold these beliefs. What these individuals do not have the right to do, however, is force their beliefs onto other people by refusing them service. I disagree with the Supreme Court’s decision on two levels; first, I find their decision morally wrong. Secondly, and more importantly in the eyes of the Court, the Fourteenth Amendment clearly states that people cannot be discriminated against because of who they are – sexual orientation is included in that.

GRAYDON: I agree with the decision of the Supreme Court. Businesses have the right to refuse service to people, and people have the right to choose from any number of businesses. That is one of the biggest aspects of Capitalism: people have different options to choose from for their goods and services. It is also my belief that the government has as little role as possible in the marketplace. Besides, if a baker does not want you to pay them for their service because of their beliefs, they are probably not going to bake you a great cake anyways. Thankfully, we live in a country where you can simply find a different business who is willing to work for you.