Wednesday, Sept. 23, representatives from the Young Democrats, Young Independents, Young Democratic Socialists of America and the College Republicans gathered on Zoom to participate in a debate hosted by the Alma Mater Productions Impact Committee and moderated by the Debate Society.
Each club selected two representatives to speak during the debate. Six discussion topics were preselected by the Debate Society, followed by several questions posed by members of the College of William and Mary community.
The debate moderators Peter Heller ’23, Jeremiah Foltz ’22 and Daniela Lacalle ’22 announced the question, and each club’s representatives were allocated two minutes to respond. After each group was able to verbalize their initial response, they were then given a one-minute long period for rebuttals.
The first topic addressed was the United States’ response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
A representative for the College Republicans Lance Lawson ’24 said that praise and blame lay on both sides of the partisan divide. Regarding praise, Lawson singled out the Republican Governor of Ohio Mike DeWine and the Democratic Governor of Virginia Ralph Northam in support of their handling of the pandemic. Lance went on to commend President Donald Trump for giving autonomy to state governments.
“Local politicians know how to serve local communities more than distant Washington bureaucrats,” Lawson said. “Solutions must be different for different states.”
The Young Independents representative Kieran Mangla ’23 took a similar stance, arguing that it was essential to move past pointing fingers and begin working on solutions. However, Mangla added that the federal government did need to provide guidelines for state governments. Mangla pointed to the federalist nature of the U.S political structure.
“We all agree, a blanket, catch-all solution by the federal government would be impossible,” Mangla said. “The federal government should issue guidelines, but then must respect the decisions of governors.”
Both the YDSA and the Young Democrats had conflicting opinions on Trump’s COVID-19 response compared to the College Republicans and Young Independents stances, arguing for the importance of accountability. Young Democrats representative Max Markel ’22 stated that Trump’s response to the U.S. had been disastrous, highlighting the President’s refusal to endorse the scientific consensus on masks.
YDSA representative Aidan White ’23 echoed similar sentiments of the disorganized response of the federal government, citing how the government’s response caused damages to the economy.
“The U.S. government had led us into weird, semi-shutdowns, in which they didn’t fully shut down the economy, which still led to massive damages to the economy, and also didn’t slow down the spread of the virus,” White said.
The representatives were next asked to comment on the recent Black Lives Matter protests and criminal justice reform.
Salaar Khan ’24, a representative for the Young Dems, discussed the need for investment in communities of color, police reform and the passage of a new Voting Rights Act to honor the memory of recently deceased U.S. congressman and civil rights leader John Lewis. Khan also praised the ongoing peaceful protests, saying that the movement makes sure the country can finally live up to its founding ideals of the Constitution.
In his response, White outlined an argument towards the defunding and total abolishment of both police and prisons, which gained more national attention over the summer in response to the murder of George Floyd in late May. White stated that simply reforming these institutions is not enough and that both parties were responsible for the rise of mass incarceration in America.
On the other side of the argument, Lawson of the College Republicans made the claim that the Black Lives Matter movement was a Marxist plot against Black Americans.
“BLM is not a racial justice group, it is a Marxist group,” Lawson said. “They are communists, they ain’t here to help African Americans, they’re here to spread the failed ideology of communism, an ideology that has killed millions of people.”
Lawson went on by describing property damage and individuals killed during riots, arguing that the BLM movement was the reason for the riots and does not help the communities it claims to serve.
Lawson’s remarks drew heated responses from both the YDSA and the Young Dems. White of the YDSA pointed to the long history of civil disobedience in America dating back to the Boston Tea Party, and went on to lay the blame for much of the violence that had occurred at the feet of the police.
Markel also called out Lawson, stating that Lawson was misrepresenting the movement.
“BLM is not a f—ing Marxist organization,” Markel said. “It is an extremely decentralized, nationwide series of protests against police brutality. Your comments are f—ing offensive.”
After the debate became more heated, the topic then shifted to a discussion over gun control. Unlike the previous two topics, the YDSA, the Young Independents and the College Republicans were all able to find some common ground. Mark Lédeczi-Domonkos ’24 of the College Republicans discussed the Second Amendment’s role in preventing tyranny. Mangla of the Young Independents and Colin Cochran ’21 of the YDSA concurred, with Cochran emphasizing that some may need guns to protect themselves against a fascist state.
In response to an audience question about transgender rights, Lédeczi-Domonkos of the College Republicans condemned the Trump Administration’s ban on transgender individuals in the military.
“The restrictions placed on trans people in the military by the current administration is just not okay,” Lédeczi-Domonkos said. “There’s a lot of transphobia on both the left and the right, especially among some feminists, who want to remove transgender people from the movement.”
Cochran of the YDSA agreed and discussed the need for access to gender affirming surgeries for transgender individuals. Khan of the Young Dems and Aidan Kennedy ’23 of the Young Independents both voiced their support for equal rights for transgender individuals.
“All Americans deserve equal protection under the law,” Kennedy said. “Trans rights are human rights.”
The debate closed with a final question asking the representatives what they admired most about the other clubs represented at the debate. Young Independents representative Mangla praised the YDSA’s representatives for their depth of knowledge about socialism and the Young Democrats for their awareness of Biden’s platform. The College Republicans were praised by Mangla for their courage in coming out and presenting their opinions.
White of YDSA voiced his admiration for the Young Democrats.
“As a former member of the club, I feel obligated to praise them,” White said. “We share a very similar passion for protecting the inherent value that every human has to offer this world.”
The Young Independents were praised for their criticism of partisan politics, while the College Republicans were admired for their understanding of the material effects of political power. Khan of the Young Dems complimented the YDSA for identifying many of the same problems as the Young Democrats and the Young Independents for asking the right questions. The College Republicans were praised for recognizing issues with their own party.
Lawson of the College Republicans praised the Young Dems for protecting the most vulnerable, and the YDSA for their willingness to take an independent stance on the issues.
“You guys really rock in the fashion department,” Lawson said. “On top of that, during polarizing times, you guys have kept your heads.”
Editor’s Note: The Flat Hat would like to clarify that Aidan White ’23 is a staff writer for the paper. His involvement with the AMP Debate is not on behalf of the paper’s interest.