Discussion/Reflection Questions

Whether you are discussing these questions with others or reflecting on your own, we hope that they will help you reflect on each episode and think critically about the topics discussed and how they impact democracy.

Behind the scenes of the “Year of the Woman”

  • How important is diversity in a legislature for a democracy?
  • How (if at all) do you think our democracy would change if there were more women in office?
  • Rebecca mentioned that female candidates are a harder time raising money. Why do you think this is?
  • What do you think is the best way to elect more women into office?
  • According to Rebecca, many group that support female candidates use abortion as a litmus test to determine whether or not to endorse someone. What do you think about this policy?
  • Beyond women, are there other groups you feel need to have a higher level of representation in elected office?

Middle America, Part 2: Grassroots organizing and rebooting democracy

  • What is the relationship between social engagement and political engagement?
  • How does the populism Salena Zito described differ from the populism behind the groups Lara observed?
  • Lara argues that local grassroots groups have been overlooked by the media and national political parties. Do you agree? If so, why do you think it’s happening? 
  • Both Republican and Democratic grassroots appear to want to make America great again. Can both visions of America coexist? Is there a possibility that these two less ideological groups merge into a new political coalition?
  • Lara said that many of the grassroots groups she observed are lead by middle class women.. Do you think the tone or activities of these groups would be different if they were run by younger women? Or by men?

Middle America, Part 1: Populism and the Trump voter

  • Many of the voters Salena interviewed said that the 2016 election was about something more than Donald Trump. What were those bigger ideas?
  • Did Trump create the new coalition Salena describes, or was he in the right place at the right time?
  • What does the new coalition Salena describes say about the future of political parties in the U.S.?
  • Think about a time when you went outside of your comfort zone to attend an event or have a conversation. How did you feel and what did you learn?
  • Will Trump be re-elected in 2020?

Satire is good for more than just a few laughs

  • Do you think political satire is good for a democratic society?
  • Does you reaction to a satirical piece depend on the ideological viewpoint of the author?
  • Do you believe that the First Amendment should protect satire as free speech?
  • If so, should be limits on that protection?
  • How do you think political satire has changed over the last 20 years?
  • What role, if any, do you see satire having played in the current state of the partisan divide in America?
  • How do you see political satire changing in the future?

Generation Z and the future of democracy

  • What is your position on teenagers and young adults getting involved in political activism?
  • Lilly Caldawell talked about students walking out of class in protest over current political policies. Do you think this is activity that should be encouraged among children? Why or why not?
  • Cian pointed out that his generation is largely more progressive ideologically. Do you think this is true?
  • The march in DC and similar events involving minor children has centered around the issue of school shootings. Do you think this youth activism movement is a one topic event or do you think this is something we can expect to see from these kids spreading out to other topics?
  • There has been a lot of criticism of the devolution in political rhetoric amongst adults surrounding the 2016 election. Do you see any of these problems developing in this youth political activism?
  • Several students talked about getting over the fear of political activism and how they have actually been encouraged to do this. If given the opportunity as a child, would you have been politically active? If so, what issue would you have focused on?

How Democracies Die author Daniel Ziblatt 

  • What is the biggest threat facing democracy?
  • Daniel Ziblatt points out that the current problems with democracy developed before Donald Trump. If you think our democracy is in decline, what do you think is the cause?
  • What do you think is responsible for the nasty political rhetoric we see today?
  • Daniel also expressed concern that Trump displays rhetoric similar to that of authoritarian leaders in other countries. Do you agree?
  • Daniel sees political parties as having a considerable role in the current problems in America. What role should parties play in a democracy?
  • In their book,How Democracies Die, the authors introduce the term “grinding work” to describe the difficult process of governing in a democracy. What does this term mean to you?
  • In the Mood of the Nation answers, Daniel stated that the inability of people to engage in debate is what makes him most angry in American politics today. Why do you think people aren’t able to engage in civil political debate with someone whom they disagree with?
  • Will democratic norms continue to erode?

What can Pennsylvania voters do about gerrymandering?

  • Is it harmful to democracy for electoral districts to be drawn along partisan lines?
  • Chris Satullo credited advancements in computer software and technology with the ability to expose the gerrymandering problem in Pennsylvania. What other problems in government today do you think technology could help groups like the Committee of Seventy and others address and ultimately solve?
  • Chris also mentioned the importance of students getting involved with projects like this. What role do you think students can have going forward in projects such as this and holding government accountable to the public?
  • As we approach the next census and the next around of redistricting, do you think gerrymandering will continue to be a problem?
  • Do you think voters will hold their elected officials accountable for gerrymandering in Pennsylvania and around the country?

Fake news, clickbait, and the future of local journalism

  • What is the role of a free press in a democracy?
  • Can a news or media entity that doesn’t engage in ‘click bait’ survive in the current media climate?
  • What do you believe has caused the trend of primarily web based outlets turning to “click bait” as a way to increase cite traffic and ultimately ad revenue?
  • The use of the phrase “fake news” stems from people not trusting news reporting to be unbiased. How can the news industry change this?
  • Current polling shows that people trust their local news reporting more than national news outlets. Why do you think this is?
  • Is it ok for journalists to reveal bias in reporting if they are upfront about it in their work?
  • Is it possible to have truly objective journalism?

Checking the President’s power

  • Do House and Senate committee hearings actually enable the legislative branch to check the power of the executive?
  • If not, how could they be improved to better enable them to serve this purpose of holding that branch accountable?
  • Doug Kriner pointed out that these committees have a broad authority to investigate any topic they want. Is this a good thing or should this process be more formal such as actual legal investigation by the Department of Justice?
  • Do you think the use of these committees to investigate matters has become too political?
  • The two most well known congressional investigations as of late were the Benghazi investigation and the investigation into whether Russia interfered with the election. Do you believe these were matters that the legislative branch should have been looking into?
  • Given how partisan Congress is, would you trust findings from a committee investigation if they found wrong doing in one of the high profile investigations mentioned in the last question?

Is Colin Kaepernick a good democrat?

  • Are sports political? Should they be?
  • Is this protest by Kapernick and other players during the anthem disrespectful of the flag or does it honor the values the flag represents?
  • Was president Trump right to interject himself into this debate by tweeting his opposition to the protest?
  • Football players in high school and college participated in this protest, but they were either suspended or otherwise punished for kneeing during the anthem. Do you think it was right or wrong for these schools to prohibit their players from protesting?
  • The protest led by Kapernick was focused on social justice and police policies. Do you think the reception of this protest would have been different if he were protesting a different matter such as abortion or religious freedom?
  • The NFL has since created a policy where players will be punished if they don’t stand for the anthem while on the field prior to the game. What are your thoughts on this policy?
  • Will the trend of athletes using their platform to share their political views increase or die out with the Kapernick protest?