Three Young Celebrity Leaders Will Launch Seminary Series on Future of Democracy
By Donald Gilpin
With Election Day 2022 approaching and memories of recent past elections still vivid, the precarious state of democracy in the U.S. has been a big topic in the media. That topic will be the theme of a series of conversations, “The Future of American Democracy,” at Princeton Theological Seminary (PTS) starting on October 13 at 4:30 p.m. with a conversation featuring three young leaders who have been wrestling with the challenges of hyper-polarization throughout the country.
Jane Coaston, columnist for The New York Times and host of the podcast “The Argument”; Michigan Republican Congressman Peter Meijer, one of 10 Republican members of Congress who voted to impeach President Donald Trump during Trump’s second impeachment; and Symone Sanders-Townsend, former chief spokesperson for U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris and host of SYMONE on MSNBC, will be panelists for the conversation at the PTS Wright Library.
“This will be a wide conversation with people whose own life experience is really related to the theme of the series,” said PTS Associate Professor of American Christianity Heath W. Carter, who will moderate the conversation. “For the last five years there’s been a lot of talk, a lot of concern about American democracy, and the theme of polarization in particular.”
He continued, “People are worried that American democracy is failing, and we wanted to host a broad conversation to consider how we reached this point where America is so divided and how do we move forward from here. I think Princeton residents will be really intrigued by what these panelists have to say.”
Described by a PTS press release as “eminent young leaders whose professional lives have been shaped by the sharp edges of our polarized society,” Coaston, Meijer, and Sanders-Townsend will consider such questions as “How did we become so divided?” “How do we sustain government of and by an ever-more divided people?” and “Where do we go from here?”
Recently on “The Argument” Coaston has hosted prominent New York Times columnists and other luminaries discussing such subjects as feminism after Dobbs, high school required reading, and “Trump, Dr. Oz, and Our Political Cult of Celebrity.” She was previously the senior politics reporter at Vox, focusing on conservatism and the Republican Party.
Her work has appeared on MSNBC, CNN, and NPR, and in National Review, The Washington Post, The Ringer, ESPN Magazine, and other publications. She was a resident fellow at the University of Chicago’s Institute of Politics, attended the University of Michigan, and now lives in Washington, D.C.
Heath emphasized the significance of Coaston’s podcast “The Argument.” “Some people would say this is old fashioned, taking a controversial topic and bringing people with different views on to talk about it,” he said. “Jane is going to talk about the value she sees in that kind of conversation.”
Meijer, who recently lost to a former Trump administration official in the Republican primary for his seat in Congress, was a sergeant in Iraq, ran advisory operations for an NGO in Afghanistan, and served as acting deputy director for Afghanistan, delivering emergency assistance to aid workers. He graduated from Columbia University and received his MBA from New York University before returning to Michigan to work in urban redevelopment and real estate.
Elected to the United States House of Representatives in 2020, Meijer is a member of the Problem Solvers Caucus, a bipartisan group working to find common ground on key issues.
“Meijer made history right in the beginning of his first term by voting to impeach the president of his own party,” said Heath. “We’ll talk with Peter Meijer about the direction of the Republican Party and what he sees as the future for that Party.”
Sanders-Townsend served as national press secretary for Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign in 2016. Three years later she published her first book, No, You Shut Up: Speaking Truth to Power and Reclaiming America, and served as senior advisor for Joe Biden’s 2020 presidential campaign. She was a senior member of the Biden-Harris administration as deputy assistant to the president and senior advisor and chief spokesperson for the vice president.
Her show every weekend on MSNBC provides essential context and discourse on pressing issues of the day. Sanders-Townsend is a former political commentator for CNN and resident fellow of both Harvard’s Institute of Politics at the Kennedy School and the University of Southern California’s Center for the Political Future.
“Sanders-Townsend has really traveled across the Democratic coalition, working across the different factions or wings within the Democratic Party,” said Heath. “She brings a fascinating lens onto the world.”
PTS Director of Strategic Initiatives Thais Carter noted, “All three panelists are young people in their early 30s. When you think about people in public service, these aren’t old hacks reflecting on where democracy went wrong. These are people who really have skin in the game.”
“In a moment defined by cascading crises, many across the nation and world are wondering aloud about the future of American democracy,” a PTS press release stated. “Increasingly Republicans and Democrats alike see members of the other party as not just wrong on key issues, but — according to the Pew Research Center — as immoral, dishonest, closed-minded, and a threat to the nation’s well-being. The reverberations of extreme polarization are felt far from the realm of politics, in schools and churches and local communities where some seem ready to give up entirely on the age-old art of persuasion.”
In addition to the in-person event, 4:30 to 6 p.m. in the PTS Wright Library, the October 13 conversation will be available virtually via livestream. See firstname.lastname@example.org for registration and more information.