The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

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The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

OPINION: An “existential crisis” in American politics

Existential+crises+in+American+politics+seem+to+happen+once+every+century.+
SMU Daily Campus
“Existential crises” in American politics seem to happen once every century.

Dr. Jeffrey Engel, director of SMU’s Center for Presidential History, distinguishes three presidents and their “existential crises” that shaped the presidency and the world at large: George Washington with the founding of the United States, Abe Lincoln with the Civil War, and Franklin Roosevelt with an economic depression.

Calculate the frequency of these existential crises, and you’ll see they happen once every century. With that math in mind, it makes sense that our country is experiencing one now.

The current crisis is not an unfamiliar issue. In fact, it is the culmination of the three previous existential crises. In today’s crisis, Americans struggle to interpret founding documents in a modern setting while also overcoming ideological differences and economic issues like inflation.

The upcoming election inflames this crisis. Donald Trump’s candidacy has raised questions about presidential qualifications as he deals with multiple indictments. The big question is whether or not Trump can lead a nation behind bars, not if he can run a campaign. In 1920, labor leader Eugene V. Debs campaigned from an Atlanta prison, proving the feat possible. But Debs did not win and thus was unable to prove if one can be commander in chief from prison.

No founding document defines if someone can assume the presidency while donning an orange jumpsuit. The absence of a definite “yes” or “no” leads to individual interpretation. This distinguishes those who think incarceration is Trump’s last straw and those who are emboldened by the indictments.

This kind of division ruptures a nation. Polls from the Pew Research Center show just how divided the country is. One poll found that about eight in ten voters, both Democrat and Republican, name differences in core American values as a division point.

Oh, and we can’t forget about inflation, the cherry on top of this crisis sundae. In 2022, a New York Times article nailed down three primary causes of inflation: strong demand, fewer goods, and pressures on the service sector. More recently, The Times reported that inflation is speeding up. I’m no Tom Friedman so I won’t even try to hypothesize an exit strategy from inflation, but I can say it’s an added stressor to the current crisis.

A remedy for this crisis can be found in a leader able to look beyond party lines. Our nation needs to redefine the core American values to include feelings of respect, understanding, and most importantly, compromise. These values should be the cornerstone of American politics and shouldn’t be viewed as uncharacteristic of a leader. Implementation of compromise will allow the country to mend divisions. And who knows? Maybe we can fix inflation too.

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About the Contributor
Katie Bergelin, Podcast Producer
As podcast producer, Katie creates engaging podcasts for The DC’s Pony Pod, an award-winning series that can be heard on Spotify. You can catch episodes of “Ask the Expert,” a series that focuses on experts at SMU and in the DFW area. You can also listen to “Money Talks” and “The Reel Deal,” two other series on the Pony Pod that Katie hosts and produces. On “Money Talks,” listeners can expect conversations about unique perspectives in business, finance, and entrepreneurship including a fun but serious episode discussing the viral “girl math” phenomenon. Dive into “The Reel Deal” for a deep conversation with industry professionals about whether the entertainment industry portrays their careers accurately (Yes, Chef!). Katie also works with students interested in developing their own podcasts for production with The DC.You can email her at [email protected] with podcast pitches and other inquiries. You can email her at [email protected].