3 November 2020: Yale-NUS Presidential Election Webinar Series — Harnessing diverse perspectives through lively discussions

By Akanksha Madan

As an institution that seeks to harness diverse perspectives among its community, Yale-NUS College has been abuzz with lively debate about the upcoming United States (US) Presidential Election. In the past month, the College virtually hosted an expert panel and a student mock debate amid the election season.

Moderated by the Dean of the Social Science (Division of the Faculty of Arts and Science) and Charles C. and Dorathea S. Dilley Professor of Political Science at Yale University Alan Gerber, an expert panel convened over Zoom on 15 October 2020 to discuss the implications of the impending election for American politics, political institutions, and foreign policy.

The panel comprised three academics from Yale University — Stanley Resor Professor of Political Science Jacob Hacker, Professor of Political Science Isabela Mares, Sterling Professor of Political Science Emeritus David Mayhew — and Mr Steve Okun, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of APAC Advisors, Senior Advisor of McLarty Associates and Governor on the Board of the American Chamber of Commerce in Singapore.

“The first thing to say is that this is a very unusual election. We might even say an unprecedented one, given that it’s taking place against the backdrop of a pandemic of a scale we have not seen in over a century. That not only laid bare America’s extreme levels of inequality, economic inequality, but also laid bare racial inequality in a way that has been intensified, of course, by the protests in the wake of George Floyd’s killing in Minnesota,” said Prof Hacker.

Other panellists also highlighted the significance of this election. While Prof Mares was concerned about the election’s immediate repercussions, in terms of the possibility of election fraud, voter demobilisation, and election day violence, Mr Okun spoke about how this election, irrespective of the outcome, furthers the complication and toughening of US-China relations.

Responding to Prof Gerber’s prediction that the election will most likely result in a unified Democratic government, with a narrow majority in the Senate, Prof Mayhew said, “If they do take over, they face something like the problem that President Obama did in 2009, that is to clean up some existing major issues including the coronavirus and the stuttering of the economy.”

This spirit of discussion continued on 29 October 2020, when two student teams from the Yale-NUS Debate Society, faced off in a live-streamed mock debate, supported by the US Embassy Singapore. Team Trump, represented by Anna Nielsen (Class of 2023), Mitchell Palmer and Ian Qiu (both from Class of 2024), and Team Biden, consisting of Steven Sy (Class of 2022), Celine Lee and Nicholas Tan (both from Class of 2024), went head-on to challenge and discuss each other’s views and policy positions.

An opening address by Mr Cain Harrelson, Deputy Public Affairs Officer of the US Embassy Singapore, preceded the debate. He said, “It is great to see so much interest in the American democratic process and the policy issues that will shape all of our futures. [Irrespective of the election outcome], the US and Singapore will continue to be close. We know that when Singaporeans and Americans work together, we are all better off. Yale-NUS College is a perfect example of that viable collaboration, which strengthens our people ties, and offers opportunities to students and faculty to experience different perspectives in diverse cultural settings.”

During the session, a wide audience comprising students, parents, alumni, and members of the public tuned in from across the globe to view the debate.

The teams discussed issues such as COVID-19 response and healthcare, policing, protest, racial tensions, international relations and foreign policy among others. The session was moderated by Yale-NUS Assistant Professor of Social Sciences (Political Science) Steven Matthew Oliver.  While Team Trump focused on tax cuts, deregulation, making America self-reliant, and a strong anti-China platform, Team Biden emphasised spending plans, increased regulation, America’s international leadership, and the need to engage China.

Moderated by Assistant Professor Steven Matthew Oliver, Celine Lee (Class of 2024) and Anna Nielsen (Class of 2023) debated on America’s COVID-19 response, healthcare and other critical topics.

Faculty analyst and Yale-NUS Assistant Professor of Social Sciences (Political Science) Rohan Mukherjee noted the difference in perspectives between both teams at the end of the debate, “The diametrically opposite positions of the two teams [represent] the increasingly polarised nature of political discourse in America today. What was common between both teams was their emphasis on American values, but, of course, they both came at it from completely opposite points of view.”

Faculty analysts, Assistant Professor Rohan Mukherjee and Senior Lecturer of Social Sciences (Global Affairs) Catherine Sanger, answered questions from virtual attendees after the debate.

Such sessions held by the College enable individuals with different points of view to come together for the common goal of critical discourse and thinking, be it about the US Presidential Election, or other local and global issues. In the coming months, the College will continue to organise more activities where diverse perspectives are shared and conversations can continue to grow.

Watch the recording of the expert panel:

Watch the recording of the mock debate: