Interviews

Last Monday, I had a chance to sit down with Northwestern President, Dr. Morton Schapiro. Our conversation touched on the American political system, the importance of both safe spaces and uncomfortable learning, and why students need humility. I’ve broken the interview up into three parts and have edited it slightly for clarity.

 The American System, and Why it Works:

Our written values are exemplary:

What does it mean for all men to be created equal? Well, the founders were men, white men, property owners, and that (should) give (us) a lot to think about. (But) freedom of religion, freedom of expression, individual liberty are great things. I think that the values we have in the U.S., that we have written down but don’t always live, are good ways to live. One of my fields is development economics, and I’ve spent time in seventeen countries. I’ve been in a lot of countries where I’ve said, “Man, they could use a Constitution like ours.”

Property rights and rule of law are fundamental to any country:

I hope being an American would mean to respect basic human rights. It hasn’t always been that way in this country. But beyond that, I also think the rule of law is so important, specifically respecting property rights. I’ve worked in countries where socialist governments nationalized everything overnight. It was such a disaster. You have to respect individual liberty, you have to respect property. If you have laws, you have to abide by them.

One of my colleagues wrote a new book about the culture of economic growth. He argues that some countries have developed and others haven’t, even today, because of respect for laws. In so many countries, the laws are situational. There’s an expediency for the judiciary, for the executive branch. We don’t have that in this country. We don’t always agree on the law, but it is great to be in a country where the law matters. If you don’t protect property rights, you don’t get any investment in capital, human or physical.

Checks and balances:

After the election, I said I had a lot of faith in checks and balances, particularly the independent judiciary. A lot of people said, “That won’t happen.” Well, checks and balances have worked. “So-called” judges have maintained their independence in a beautiful way. Congress has been more of a mixed bag. I think the brilliance of our founding is really that system of checks and balances. (It means) that if there’s a President who has certain kinds of views that aren’t consistent with a lot of other people’s, there’s a limit to what they can do. It’s still not perfect. The President still has the nuclear codes, but it’s a lot better than a lot of the places I’ve been.  Continue reading A Conversation with Northwestern University President, Dr. Morton Schapiro

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This is the fourth and final interview from my time in Mishawaka, Indiana. I am not revealing anything about these interviewees in order to highlight the fact that people’s answers often align and don’t depend on party line. This interview focused largely on the importance of people being moderates and compromising.

Her vision of citizenship:

I look at citizenship on a local level, not a national level. So, my keys to being a good citizen are community engagement and involvement. I know that’s a little shortsighted, but that’s just my bent.

The needed ingredient for good national citizenship:

But to be a good citizen on the global level, you need to have some tolerance. I think you need to be willing to be moderate. You can’t have an alt-left or an alt-right and get anything done. You have to listen to the other point view, and think about what’s good for the country, not necessarily what’s good for you. Continue reading Mishawaka Interview 4: The Need for Moderates

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This interview is the third in a series of interviews from Mishawaka, Indiana (you can find the first here and the second here). I’m not revealing any information about these interviewees until the end of the series in order to highlight the similarities of what they say (and so as not to bias readers about what their political leanings might be).

His thoughts on the media:

I try to stay up on current events, but I try not to watch the news because it jades my view of community. I never know what to trust. The inaccuracies and political bias on both sides are absurd. I’m not smart enough to know what’s true or what’s not.

On his efforts to stay informed:

I try to watch BBC World. It gives more of a broad spectrum globally of what’s important. It gives an understanding of how the world sees America. I was in India during the last election, and it was crazy to see the reactions when Trump won. BBC World doesn’t feel as jaded. I do also pick up the local newspaper. Because I’m a nerd, I’ll even go on the city’s website to read the minutes about hot topics such as education. I don’t do that all the time. Continue reading Mishawaka Interview 3: BBC World, Christ, and Love

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This is the second interview in a series of four interviews from Mishawaka, Indiana (the first is here). I am not sharing any political or personal information about these interviewees until the end of the series in order to capture how similar people’s messages are.

On his/her strengths as a citizen:

I think I’m the best that I can be right now. I think I do a good job of not getting involved in the negativity that surrounds politics. My spouse will have the news on in the morning, and I’ll say, “Why do you watch that?” I go and turn on shows like Leave it to Beaver instead. I also spend 20-25 hours volunteering at church. I write manuals, I organize, I’m here on Sundays. I love it.

Why Granger Community Church is a good citizen of its community:

GCC is a starter church. I was raised very, very Catholic. When I first came here, I didn’t really want to come. I was dating a person who said they’d heard great things about the church. I walked through the door reluctantly, and I heard and saw awesome things. They do a lot of community stuff. One of the things my wife and I help with is called “financial peace.” The church has put several hundred people through this course on managing their money. A lot of people say it helped them get a house and manager their finances. Continue reading Mishawaka Interview 2: Turn the TV Off

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For this set of interviews from Mishawaka, I am going to post the interviews with no information about the interviewees. After I’ve published all four, I am going to reveal their name, gender, age, and who they voted for. I found in these interviews that people of very different political leanings had very similar ideas and messages. Hopefully, readers will be surprised by people’s political leanings at the end, or, at the least, see how similar many peoples’ civic ideas are regardless of politics.

How this person could improve as a citizen:

I could do a better job of being involved in my community. I have three teenagers, and I’m not actively involved in their high school. I could also be better at being aware of my community and city. I am pretty good at being aware at the national level, and even the state level, but for my actual city, I just check out. We don’t have the best school board here, and I’m aware of it, but I need to think about what I need to do to fix it, and then do it.

On how religion impacts him/her as a citizen:

A part of community for me is understanding my identity in Christ and God, and that’s tied to my identity as a citizen at large. Continue reading Mishawaka Interview 1: Christ, Community, and Listening

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Adriel works in marketing for MOGO, a bike sharing company in Detroit. He had some incredible thoughts on how Detroit can improve, how we are still looking to live up to the ideas laid out at our founding, and how we can stop treating our country like a zero sum game.

Why he’s a good citizen:

I think I’m a good citizen. For years, I’ve been active on a social activism level. But also, I’m a participant. I’m interested in local politics, but downtown has also been my playground since I was sixteen. I’m one of those people who wants to go to shows at the DIA, and wants to go local bars and support them. I want to do things in my city.

From a social justice standpoint, I’ve worked with organizations that have tried to better life in the city for people. I’ve worked with Allied Media Projects, which is about using media as a tool for social justice. I also work with Equality Michigan, which deals with LGBTQ rights and issues in the city and state.

But his neighbors are better citizens:

Are they as active as I am? Is that the barometer? No. But they’re good citizens in a whole different way. When my dog gets out of the yard, they call me. We all call each other, look out for each other and each other’s homes. We give each other a call, say hi to each other, and tell each other the neighborhood news. I actually think that maybe is more symbolic of being a good citizen than the stuff I do.

I really think being a good citizen is on the micro level. It doesn’t mean you need to volunteer for 100 hours. It means you have a rapport with the other citizens around you. In a macro sense, that shows you have a concern about bigger issues, such as safety and a general concern for your fellow human beings. If one of my neighbors says, “Hey, how’s it going? How are you?” when I’m going to the car, that isn’t just being a good neighbor, it shows a concern for me and other people. Those types of things are what makes a neighborhood, a “neighbor” “hood.” And cutting the grass and keeping your home matter, too. You’re contributing to the health of a neighborhood, the happiness of a place. They’re those types of things that don’t require a lot of resources or know how or energy. It’s a bunch of small stuff that builds up to a bigger picture. Continue reading “Stop acting like this is a zero sum game”

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Aisha is a 39 year-old digital media consultant who lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Her experience growing up in a rural area has made her think hard about the keys to community and how we can improve racial relations so that we all have an equal say.

On what she realized about being a good citizen:

I think that sometimes we, myself included, have a tendency to be anti-social. I grew up in a very rural area, so houses were a quarter-mile apart. It’s not like I had a quote-on-quote neighbor. So, moving into an urban area, I was very secluded. I didn’t really talk to my neighbors. I didn’t really know my neighbors. It wasn’t until years later that I realized if I’m going to be apart of a community, I need to engage. I need to get know the people who live next door and across the street. Our kids engage at schools, so why shouldn’t we as parents? I think one of the best ways to improve as a citizen is just to get to know people and to engage with them more.

Race relations in her rural town were not good:

Growing up in a rural area, there were some incidents that were a little intimidating. I remember there were multiple times when people wrote racial slurs on our mailboxes and threw trash in our yards.  Continue reading Equal Opportunity to Make Equal Contributions

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Nicholas is a hot dog vendor in downtown Detroit. Having growing up in Detroit and spent time in other places, he has strong ideas about how the city can improve and how other people see him.

What Detroit’s citizens can do to improve the city:

I think that some people (are) complacent with the status quo of dirtiness and the lack of services. Citizens should do more clean up. Be cognizant of cleaning up your neighborhood. Everything starts at home and with yourself. If you want everyone else to do something nice, start it at home. Make sure your home and yard is clean. You start at your neighborhood, and it goes out. Everyone starts to catch that vibe of everything looking clean and nice. It puts a smile on people’s faces.

What Detroit’s citizens need from their leaders:

Politicians need to bring more real jobs into the city for Detroit citizens, not for people coming from outside the city. Their (the people from the suburbs’) tax dollars (via the city tax) are appreciated. But they’re not living here, so you miss out on the property tax. It doesn’t work out as well as it’s supposed to.  Continue reading When People Cross the Street

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Mike and Floyd are long-time residents of Bowling Green, Ohio. Mike is a lawyer and a former chair of the local Republican Party. Floyd is a business owner. They both think that Bowling Green is an amazing community but that certain things, namely civics education and access to opportunity, have changed across the country.

On what makes Bowling Green special:

Floyd: I think we have a particularly good community, where most everyone is a good citizen. People do their share when it’s necessary and when they need to come forward. In another life, I worked in retail for a chain, and I moved around every year. This community works better than anywhere I’ve ever been. There’s normally a Democrat sitting where you’re sitting, and we have coffee every day. That’s what makes this community special.  Continue reading Community, Civics, and the Changing American Dream

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Blake is a veteran of the U.S. Army and a student at Bowling Green State University. His time in Afghanistan and his experience helping young people with drug problems have given him a firm idea on what to do to be a good citizen and what makes a bad citizen.

On the ideas that make someone automatically a bad citizen:

There are a lot of bad citizens in this country. One of my roommates is exceptionally racist. He’s very vocal with his caustic viewpoints. I think that is destructive for a community. I’ve fought for the freedom of speech. But if you’re willing to think that way, you can’t be a good citizen. I don’t think anyone who wants to take away other citizens’ rights (like he does) can be a good citizen.

His thoughts on the distinction between a good citizen and a good person:

If you don’t serve your fellow citizens in some way, shape, or form, you don’t qualify as a good citizen. Being respectful is important. But it just makes you a good person (and there’s a difference between being a good person and a good citizen). Right now, I think what Wal-Mart is doing for Hurricane Harvey is great citizenship. The things Wal-Mart is doing – sending money down, supplies down – things that it is in no way obligated to do, is (exemplary).

There’s a lot of people that aren’t doing anything. That don’t care. And, to me, that’s invaluable. You can’t say you’re a citizen of the country if you don’t want to vote, if you don’t want to be active. Continue reading Our Duty to One Another

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