Questions for the Candidates… and Ourselves

The three presidential debates were exhausting disappointments. Among the factors limiting their quality was the exclusion of third-party candidates and the narrow range of questions that fell into a bipartisan consensus of militarism and American exceptionalism.

Opening the debates to third party candidates – as Democracy Now has done with their exceptional “Expanding the Debate” coverage — broadens the range of ideas and perspectives significantly. This gives the American people the opportunity not only to decide whom to vote for, but also to form or refine our own views. A broader range of voices not only stimulates our minds and imaginations, but allows us to see and know more about each other.

And so does a broader range of topics. In the 3 debates, no questions were asked about climate change, education, or money in politics, to name a few significant neglected areas.

With that in mind, I have thought of some questions that I would like to ask all of the candidates. While candidates typically promise to make our country “stronger” or “more prosperous,” I want to focus on how to make the United States humbler, more compassionate, and more cooperative. I want to live in a country that repents of her atrocities and uses her gifts for the good of the whole world, not as an “exceptional nation” but as a thread in the beautiful tapestry of lands and peoples that make up our planet. We have challenges on local, national, and international scales that can only be met with thoughtfulness, empathy, generosity, and self-giving, so how do we nurture these values? Presidential debates should be an opportunity to ask those seeking positions of leadership these essential questions, but they should also be opportunities for us to contemplate our own answers, and the beginnings of dialogues with our neighbors. So without further ado, here are 10 questions I wish the debates would have asked all the candidates.

Reclaiming Our Democracy:

  1. A 2014 study by professors Martin Gilens of Princeton University and Benjamin I. Page of Northwestern University confirmed what many have suspected, that the United States is no longer a democracy but an oligarchy. The report claims, “When a majority of citizens disagrees with economic elites and/or with organised interests, they generally lose. Moreover, because of the strong status quo bias built into the US political system, even when fairly large majorities of Americans favour policy change, they generally do not get it.” What steps will you take to ensure that money does not play an inordinate role in policy decisions and the concerns of citizens are considered regardless of economic status?
  1. Three and a half years ago, the 1965 Voting Rights Act was largely stripped of its power in a split Supreme Court decision. Now voter ID requirements and polling place closings are disenfranchising large segments of the population, particularly minorities and the indigent. Will you appoint judges who will reinstate the Voting Rights Act and work to expand enfranchisement so that all eligible citizens will have a voice in the democratic process?

Education:

  1. Since the recession, one area that has received significant cuts in federal spending is public education. Title 1 funding, which supplements impoverished schools, has been slashed by 11 percent during the Obama administration, and state budgets across the country are reducing money for public schools. What will you do to ensure that all students, not simply those whose families can afford private alternatives, have the opportunity for a quality education?
  1. Recently, the fact that a McGraw-Hill textbook referred to African slaves as “workers” under the heading of “Immigration” drew national attention. Beyond the inaccuracy, the decision to downplay the gravity of slavery reflects a cultural reluctance to teach our children the errors of our past, as well as the continued emphasis on Euro-centric culture to the marginalization of the many diverse traditions that make up our nation. How will you promote education that honestly reflects the experiences and contributions of our multi-cultural nation and facilitates informed critique of our past for the betterment of our future?

Racial Relations:

  1. The Black Lives Matter movement grew out of substantial evidence – in the form of extrajudicial police killings, mass incarceration, discrepancies in housing and employment opportunities, and much more – that black lives functionally do not matter in terms of United States policy and procedure. What will you do to ensure that black lives, as well as Native and Latin-American lives subjected to similar discrimination, do matter and enjoy equal protection under the law?
  1. Are you willing to facilitate a national Truth and Reconciliation Commission to foster understanding of the tragic legacies of violence toward and marginalization of Native and African Americans, with the goal of reparation and reconciliation?

The Environment

  1. The Dakota Access Pipeline, along with being another instance in a long tradition of stealing Native American land, threatens to poison the Missouri River if it should leak. Global warming, exacerbated by fracking used to obtain the oil the pipeline will transfer, enhances the possibility of a leak through increasing the likelihood of natural disaster. Dakota Access is just one of many pipelines made or in the making. Like other pipelines, it cuts directly through the land of those who are impoverished and do not have money to fight against the devastating environmental impacts its construction will have. Should construction of the Dakota Access pipeline still be underway when you take office, would you halt it and make an effort to reduce our dependency on oil and other fossil fuels?
  1. 2016 is set to be the hottest year ever recorded. The severity of global warming requires immediate changes to heal our relationship with the earth. Accordingly, how will you help create the green energy jobs necessary to meet our energy needs as well as help those employed in the fossil fuel industry transition to jobs in green energy?

National and Global Peace and Security

  1. The global War on Terror is creating enemies of the United States around the globe as families are displaced or blown apart. Violence creates enmity and erodes safety. How will you make reparations in countries that have been devastated by U.S. imperialism and violence so as to halt our own terrorism and reduce the motivation of terrorism by others?
  1. Would you be willing to create a Department of Peace to encourage national and  international trust and cooperation, so that we may work with our brothers and sisters near and far to meet the challenges of global warming, dwindling natural resources, poverty, and more affecting the world-wide community?

I am sure everyone can think of more questions to ask, and I acknowledge that these questions come from my own perspective. Nevertheless, these are questions I would like to pose to leaders and potential leaders in order to build a more thoughtful nation and a more peaceful world.

But more importantly, these are questions we can continue to ask ourselves, and, in our own limited capacities, and our less-limited collective capacity, we can act on some of the solutions we come to in dialogue with one-another. We can work toward racial understanding and healing. We can advocate for demilitarization in our neighborhoods and communities. We can befriend immigrants and members of other religions to make bombing overseas that much more unthinkable. We can learn how to live in ways that will better preserve our delicate planet.

At best, elections are times to take stock of our national situation and our relationship to the rest of the world, both the people and the land itself. They are times to think critically and set goals for our future. It is our responsibility not only to choose our representatives, but to let it be known what we believe so that we may be represented, so that our nation reflects the values of the people and not just the wealthiest. But it is also our responsibility to understand our own power to be the change, the healing, the hope we wish to see in our communities, our nation, and our world, long after Election Day has passed.

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