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.

Gen. Wesley Clark on the military and democracy

  • Do you think military service has changed in America? If so, do you think that change is good or bad?
  • Do you think it’s a problem that a vast majority of our military comes from a shrinking portion of society compared to when a draft was in place?
  • General Clark speaks about the importance of all young people being involved in the protection of the nation or service in some way. Do you think this is something we should require from young people?
  • General Clark also speak about the need for national service in terms other than military. Can you think of any way to implement such a program?
  • Do you agree with General Clarks’s stance on this and his support of Kaepernick?
  • During the episode, the issue of a “warrior ethos” is brought up where the military is becoming more combat minded. What do you think about this?
  • Lastly, what changes would you make to the military today to improve it?

Protecting democracy from foreign interference

  • Do you believe that Russia and other foreign entities are trying to interfere with our democratic norms and institutions? Why or why not?
  • How much damage do you think these attacks can have on our country?
  • Do you think you’ve come across any Russian “bots” on social media?
  • During the interview, Laura stated that she wants social media companies to take more action to prevent these attacks. Do you think they have a responsibility to take action? If so, what should they be doing?
  • Are you concerned that in an effort to limit the effectiveness of these attacks we might infringe upon our own rights such as freedom of speech?
  • Do you think our institutions will survive these attacks going forward?

Will Millennials disrupt democracy?

  • Do you think Millennials are politically active?
  • If so, do you see them engaged more traditionally in campaigns and voting or non-traditionally in the form of protests?
  • How do you think Millennials world views will translate into public policy?
  • If you are not a Millennial, what is the biggest difference you see between this younger generation and your own? Also, what similarities do you see?
  • What do you think the political views of this generation will look like in 20 years?

When states sue the federal government

  • What do you think should be the balance between the states and federal government in terms of power?
  • Do you think states should be active in legal action against the federal government?
  • Do you think that state attorneys general are becoming too political?
  • Do you see state as a shield to protect a state’s residents against federal overreach?

How “if it bleeds, it leads” impacts democracy

  • Why do you think the general public has largely supported more punitive measures over the last several decades?
  • Do you think the saying ‘if it bleeds, it leads’ holds true? What role do you think media has here?
  • What other changes would you make to the current criminal justice system?
  • Is it antithetical to a democratic society to have so many people incarcerated?
  • We have a very high recidivism rate. This means once you’ve been to jail, you’re likely to end up going back due to a parole violation or another violation. How do you think the system can better prepare convicts to get out and stay out?
  • Going forward, do you think our incarceration rate will decrease?

A story about democracy, told through 20 million traffic stops

  • Do you believe that there is racial bias in policing in America?
  • Based on your own experience with law enforcement, do you trust the police?
  • Do your interactions with law enforcement impact your view of the government and your willingness to engage in democracy?
  • Do you think the aim of police should be to solve crime or try to prevent crime?
  • Do you think policing in America is getting better? Why or why not?

Breaking the silence in Syria

  • How significant do you think groups like Aziz’s were in pushing back ISIS?
  • Given their access to information locally in the city, do you think they are a better new source than a foreign outlet such as CNN?
  • What was your initial reaction with Aziz mentioned that friends and family had been killed while trying to do their work as citizen journalists?
  • Does what they went through and are still going through change your view of journalists?
  • Does listening to the struggles of Aziz and his organization change your perception of democracy in America?
  • Would you be willing to take on the challenges and risks of covering the actions of ISIS if you were in Aziz’s situation?

Citizenship, patriotism, and democracy in the classroom

  • What was your civics education like? Does anything you learned still stick with you today?
  • What role should the formal education system play in creating civically engaged and aware young people?
  • How should teachers and the field of education in general react to concepts such as “fake news” and alternative facts?
  • When a significant current event happens, should teachers and professors take time away from the structured curriculum to address it?
  • Given the access that students have to information outside of the classroom, how should a teacher handle a student who brings in a theory or an idea into the classroom from the internet?
  • What role should parents have in deciding how controversial subjects are addressed in the classroom?
  • People often complain today about the state of political rhetoric. What if anything can be done within K-12 education to help change this for the future generations?

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?

A conversation about conversation

  • Do you find it difficult to talk about controversial topics with those around you?
  • Do you think it is good for our democracy that we address these difficult issues with those who may disagree with us?
  • What do you think are elements of a good dialogue?
  • Do you think people can manage to create productive dialogue alone or do you like the idea of having a referee of sorts to manage the discussion?
  • What impact do you think social media has had on our ability to engage in conversation?
  • Given the polarization in society, what do you think political conversations will look like in the near future?
  • Are there any topics that you yourself would avoid talking about with someone with a different view from you? If so, why?

Ten thousand democracies

  • What role do you see school boards playing in a democracy?
  • Why do you think people choose to become active in their local school boards?
  • Should governing training be required for school board members?
  • Given the apparent ability of school boards to reach compromises, what lessons should larger governing bodies, such as the national legislatures, take from local school boards?
  • Robert spoke to how many school districts avoid partisan divides because of their homogeneity and lack of racial or economic diversity. Do you think this is a good thing or should district become more diverse?

It’s good to be counted

  • Do you think it is necessary for a democracy to have this sort of information that the census gathers?
  • How often do you think the census should be performed?
  • Do you think the citizenship question should be added to the census? Why or why not?
  • If you could add a question to the census, what would it be?
  • Do you plan on participating in the 2020 census? Why or why not?

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?