Kinder Institute events provide safe space for political discussions

In a divided America, people are continuously searching for common ground and the Kinder Institute is trying to help.

The Kinder Institute on Constitutional Democracy specializes in politics. Located in Jesse Hall, room 410, the Kinder Institute is a center for all things historical, political and social. According to its website, the Institute is “dedicated to excellence in research, teaching, and community engagement on the subjects of American political thought, history, and institutions, with a particular emphasis on the ideas and events of the American Founding and their continued global impact and relevance today.”

Part of providing “excellence in teaching” is hosting discussions that are free to the public. On Oct. 12, 2018, the Kinder Institute hosted “The Polarizers: Postwar Architects of Our Partisan Era.” At the event, Colgate University assistant professor of Political Science Sam Rosenfeld spoke about the origins of the toxic polarization that plagues today’s politics. He also discussed that it was not a product of political shifts, but rather of deliberate efforts by postwar activists.

Participants in the discussion all seemed to share common interests over the wellbeing of our nation and its political system. Coming to the Institute allowed them to develop and share these interests in a respectful manner.

 “It seems we can’t seem to get ahold of the we, instead of the me,” said Boyd Terry, a surgeon in the UM System, who attends Kinder Institute presentations regularly because he enjoys being intellectually stimulated by the discussions that occurs.

Others attended out of a concern for the current status of political discourse in the U.S.

“I’ve always been interested in the polarization of politics, and I’ve lived a fairly short life, at the age of 22,” said MU student Greer Wetherington. “With the extent that I’ve been involved, it’s been polarized and increasingly so.”

 Even with the efforts of the institute, some believe a return to “normal” may not happen.

“I don’t think that we will step back. I’m a historian, so I don’t really predict the future,” said Jeffery L. Pasley, associate director of the Kinder Institute, who assists in scheduling and putting on these events. “But I think that the electorate is extremely polarized and often uses the party as a scapegoat, to externalize the fact that we as people have bitter disagreements.”