By Peter Hagenlocher

Panelists, from left to right: Mark Sappenfield (Editor), Story Hinckley (political correspondent), Scott Peterson (Middle East correspondent), and Yvonne Zipp (Monitor Daily editor).

Principia College hosted its 19th Monitor Night Live event on Thursday, Feb. 6 in order to bring some clarity to the uptick in political polarization with a panel titled, “Picking a President: Is There Truth or Just Opinion?” 

Brought in to help unpack this vast topic were staffers directly from the Christian Science Monitor: Editor Mark Sappenfield, political correspondent Story Hinckley, Monitor Daily editor Yvonne Zipp, and Middle East correspondent Scott Peterson. Each of these members came with their own expertise and knowledge to add to the discussion. 

The panel kicked off with Hinckley’s personal stories about unravelling the culture of Trump’s presidency. The Monitor has given Hinckley the opportunity to follow the campaign trail closely, allowing her to interact with Americans on both the political left and right. One thing she noticed was a unique phenomenon surrounding Trump rallies. 

Wanamaker Hall was standing-room only as students, faculty, and visitors gathered to hear the panelists speak.

“The people who get there really early, there’s this interesting culture around the rallies that…it’s more than just a political event, it’s a social cultural event,” Hinckley said.

These are the types of devoted voters that will camp outside the events waiting to be the first ones inside. For them, their truth is tied to their fervent support for the president. Their earnest following of Trump is something that has molded the Republican party, Hinckley has observed.

 As Hinckley engaged with more of Trump’s supporters, she was able to find an optimistic  perspective on the situation. 

“On both sides of the political spectrum, people just want to be heard,” Hinckley said. “…These people had felt really isolated and shunned for a long time by a lot of people, and now they feel like they have a community and a club.”

Peterson utilizes his expertise on reporting in the Middle East to make important connections between community and its effects outside of the United States. 

“There was a large community of Kurds who rose up against Saddam Hussein who felt like they had a promise from President George H. W. Bush to support them as they rose up, and that support never materialized,” Peterson said. He recounted his experience watching the Kurds flee from Hussein’s forces as American planes flew overhead without providing assistance. The Kurds’ feelings of betrayal manifested with their repeated mantra to Peterson: “Where’s Bush?” 

Peterson (middle) captivated the audience with his visceral stories of covering conflict around the world.

Peterson’s story shifted to the recent assassination of Iran’s Gen. Qasem Soleimani, which was ordered by Trump. Regarding this, Peterson pointed out, “We don’t actually know the full fallout from this, which is probably not going to take just months, or even years, but possibly decades in terms of the kind of revenge.”

Zipp spoke to the political ideologies that divide her family members, with her father supporting Trump and her brother decidedly not. Together, Zipp’s family looks to unconditional love to help bridge this gap. 

Zipp (right) and her personal relationship to polarization prompted an audience member to share his own experience with having a politically-divided family.

This sense of togetherness is an ideal that each Monitor panelist agreed sets the publication apart. Rather than perpetrating a narrative meant to divide, the Monitor prides itself on being open and willing to have honest discussions with all. 

Sappenfield expanded on this ideal. He shared that, after a conversation with Yale sociologist Nicolas Christakis a few years ago, he was moved by the following quote: “The evolutionary arc universe is long, but it bends towards goodness.” Pushing Christakis further, Sappenfield had a dialogue with the sociologist about how humans are predisposed to find commonness in the humanity and goodness we all share. 

Provoked by this, senior Sam Hills asked Sappenfield, “What is the relationship between metaphysical truth and journalistic truth?” Sappenfield was only briefly taken aback by the depth of the question but was quick to respond with an equally profound answer. 

Sappenfield (left) gave sincere responses to multiple questions asked by audience members.

“When you reduce things down to their essence there’s a core that all humanity agrees on and sees as progressive, and not progressive as in the kind of left-right sense, but as in helping human progress,” Sappenfield said. “You can distill those things down into qualities that all of humanity…universally says is a positive thing.”

This year’s Monitor Night Live panel addressed the narrative that the current political climate is inundated with opinionated beliefs that each hold as their own truths. In this environment, the Monitor knows how important it is to find and embrace the facts. The eloquence and thoughtfulness of the panelists inspired many in the (very full) audience to engage in open-minded conversations, realize our community, and find our core truths.

Images courtesy of David McCook

Image courtesy of Dana Cadey