Professor of History Sharon Ullman will be moderating an expert panel of journalists and academics at 7 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 19. as they discuss the many issues tied to the upcoming national election.
Ullman gives a preview of the event in a brief Q&A.
This event is being sponsored by the Center for New Media and Politics. What's considered "new media" and how does it differ from previous types of media in terms of its political impact?
In 2010, Carol Hager, Nate Wright, and I created a working group on New Media in Politics. We were watching the impact of internet platforms—from political blogging to Facebook to Twitter—on the wider political landscape and thought it would be an important conversation moving forward. Remember, both Facebook and Twitter were relatively new social media sites at the time—they both went public in 2006. Our first panelists were all bloggers and experts on the emerging role of the internet in national politics. A decade later, it’s clear that we were onto something dramatic and, frankly, probably beyond the scope of our original imagination. These forms of “new” media are not quite so new anymore, but there is ongoing adaptation and response. Witness the rise of TikTok this year. Or the emerging policies on Facebook and Twitter in response to criticism of them for disseminating dangerous misinformation and hate speech.
What are some of the issues you anticipate the panelists talking about?
This is a terrific group of panelists with a wide array of expertise across the spectrum of possible political issues this year. Cristina Beltrán from NYU has a new book coming out on the humanitarian crisis caused by the current border policy. Swarthmore's Nina Johnson works on race, politics, and policies of incarceration. Matthew R. Kerbel from Villanova is the author of nine books about American politiics and media. Will Bunch, of course, offers his thoughtful opinions regularly in The Philadelphia Inquirer. And Duncan Black offers his insightful opinions on just about every topic imaginable on his blog Eschaton.
I assume the key issues that have animated recent months—on social justice, police violence, and the unequal impacts of the pandemic—will be talked about. I’m interested in asking them how they do see the differences in social media this time around versus in 2016. And I’m personally struck by how much gender is still an important determiner of political ideology—as it was in 2016—but in a different context. I’d like to hear their thoughts on that. Of course, we hope the audience will send in their questions as well. Although we are a webinar, we are live and participants can email questions to Nate Wright (firstname.lastname@example.org) who will funnel them to me in real time. Naturally, with only 90 minutes, we won't be able to address everything we’d like, but having moderated a version of this panel for several election cycles, I can attest that the conversation will be dynamic and interesting.
The title of this event is "Democracy in the Balance." What is it about this particular election that may be viewed as a threat to American democracy?
This is a claim both sides are making, actually. The President is insisting that the methods many states brought in to encourage voting by mail in order to ease the dangers of voting in person during the pandemic are unfair. So he argues that democracy is being undermined and is challenging almost every current new rule in court. The Democrats—and others who are not Democrats but who support the Democratic party nominee—see many actions by the Trump administration as an assault on the independent operations of the three branches of government and worry that the President and, in particular, his attorney general, have authoritarian impulses which will be more fully unleashed if he wins a second term. So each side has insisted that this election is critical to the future of democracy in this country.
What do you think the chances are that America will know who the next President of the United States will be by the end of Nov. 3? If we won't know, how do you see that situation playing out?
I’m an historian, not a pundit. So I wouldn’t trust me on this. I think there is some chance that we will know on Nov. 3. If Joe Biden’s vote comes close to meeting the current polling (as it stands today as I write–a few weeks before the election ), it may be apparent by late night on Nov. 3. Of course, the extent of the Democrat’s victory in the House in 2018 was not clear the night of that election—it looked like a mild blue shift instead of the tsunami it turned out to be. That only became clear over the next week or so. So, it’s possible that even a landslide will not be immediately apparent. By the way, the idea of knowing who won the election on the same night is, of course, a modern convenience. For most of this country’s history, presidential election results took weeks to tabulate. That’s why you have the weird stretched out dates for the electoral college to meet and certify the election and why the original inauguration was in March (they only moved it to January in 1937). I wish people would relax a bit on the count taking longer. The extra time to do that is built into the original system. Still, I assume that anything less than an obvious overwhelming victory on Nov. 3 for either Biden or Trump—in both the electoral college and the popular vote—will end up in court. The President has basically committed to that course of action. And on what happens then…I know as much…and as little…as anyone else.