Healing the Divide: Advice from Our Panelists

Healing the Divide: Advice from Our Panelists

April 25, 2017

Democracy in America is broken.

That was the general opinion from the panel of political experts we gathered to present “The First 100 Days: Governing Across the Great Divide” at Western New England University last week. The program, offered through Glenmeadow Learning, took a close look at President Donald Trump’s actions in office thus far—and the response on Capitol Hill and across the country.

“It’s hard to think of a 100-day period that’s been more action-packed than this one,” said Bill Scher, our moderator, who is a contributing editor to POLITICO Magazine and the founder of the blog liberaloasis.com.

Bill told a packed audience of roughly 100 area residents that Americans have seen thus far from the new administration failed healthcare legislation, threats of war, and even allegations—and counter-allegations—of scandal. “For some, it seems a lot longer than the 92 days it’s been so far,” he said.

In the most respectful way, in a truly nonpartisan platform, panelists with different views of Trump and his administration offered answers to dozens of questions that plague the country at this time—questions such as: How can our political representatives govern in such a polarized country? Are Republicans ready to lead? Are Democrats ready to compromise? And is the problem Washington, or is it all of us?

In addition to Bill, panelists included Tim Vercellotti, professor of political science at Western New England University and director of the Western New England University Polling Institute; Tony Cignoli, a political consultant who was actively involved in the 2016 election and has interviewed President Trump on multiple occasions; Ron Chimelis, a columnist for the Springfield Republican; and Marie Angelides, an immigration attorney with her own firm and Chair of the Longmeadow Select Board.

Marie was the sole Republican on the panel, and the only Trump supporter, but there was no finger pointing, blaming or controversy of any kind during the two-hour discussion and question-and-answer period. Panelists remained unbiased and, in agreement that the lack of cooperation between the executive and legislative branches of government is unprecedented and must be repaired.

“There are a lot of problems, and they have to step up to the plate and do the right thing,” Marie said, noting that the lack of trust in government is at an all-time peak. “We need to get involved and write letters on what we do and don’t like. Congressmen need to step forward and work with constituents. They’ve got to come in and start taking bites of the problem.”

Ron said, “Pick your fights, and pick them very carefully. If you think this wall (on the Mexican border) is really important to oppose, oppose him on it, but don’t oppose everything as a reflex action. Force Trump to decide what he’s going to stand for. He talks a good game, but he does want to get things done. Tell Democrats not to simply oppose him.”

Tony said to watch, and communicate concerns, to U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, who Tony said is in a position of authority now in Congress. “He has common sense and can speak to get something done. He does his homework. He dives into (the issues) and has a strong understanding of them. His power is immense. This man listens.”

Tony said Trump confounded the country because no one took his candidacy seriously; every remark he made or issue he stepped into was perceived as the last nail in his coffin. But Trump, Tony said, understood the pain Americans are feeling, and he well tapped into it.

On the issue of immigration, Marie said she would describe it as status quo at this time and less dramatic than it’s being portrayed in the media. “I’m not saying the system isn’t broken,” she said. “It’s been broken for years.” She said she thinks incremental change needs to begin with focusing on amending the laws on the books and increasing the visa numbers for spouses and children of citizens and green card holders.

Ron, who has spent his career in print media, said he wants to see the media doing a more respectful job of covering the Trump administration. “They’ve made mistakes in the campaign. They didn’t take him seriously at the outset,” he said, noting that he can’t conceive of the lack of objectivity he sees of late in the media, and that it is causing a lack of trust in the Fourth Estate.

Tim said in order to improve his chances at congressional success, Trump will need to improve his ratings. As of the event last week, Trump had the lowest approval rating in the polls for the first 100 days in office of any president in modern times. “That matters because poll ratings translate into political capital,” Tim said. “If you’re trying to get things done, more is better.”

The First 100 Days was the second program in the spring Glenmeadow Learning series. Glenmeadow Learning is one of many free programs Glenmeadow offers to members of the wider community. And these programs represent only one facet of the life plan community’s mission to serve seniors across the region and to operate as a socially accountable organization.

Our next program will be held on Tuesday, May 23 from 10 a.m. to noon at Bay Path University’s East Campus. In “Writing Your Life: An Author’s Tips on Crafting a Memoir,” we’ll present author John Sheirer, who will talk about his creative writing life, read from his memoirs and offer participants guidance on writing a memoir.

To register, go to www.glenmeadow.org and click on the Events tab, or call 413-567-7800.

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