Hope Students with Differing Views Seek Civility in Politics

After the historic events surrounding the inauguration of President Trump in our nation’s capitol, students Alexandra Piper and James Rogers are back at work interning and learning as members of the Hope College Washington Honors Semester. After 48 hours of celebration and contention, after two days of being part of the peaceful transfer of power and the peaceful Women’s March on Washington the next day, Rogers — a Republican — and Piper — a Democrat — recognize they have one and the same job. While that work may not come with a paycheck, it does come with a reality check. Their sentiment is this:

It is time, long overdue, for Americans on both sides to give and show grace. It’s time — after a combative election, after a presidential inauguration, after a momentous march — to be about the work of listening and respecting.

Piper and Rogers know they are both small and opposing cogs in the vast political machine that propels two sides of this democracy, but they’ll do their part to respectfully listen and understand.

It won’t be easy; Piper and Rogers know this. After all, there is over a year and a half — maybe more — of turbulence to navigate. Rogers admits that Trump’s rhetoric played a part in national fear and unease but he’s hoping for a new start. Piper recognizes that the Women’s March, while giving her a strong sense of community and freedom, lacked a certain cohesiveness due to its numerous platforms. And though they are both small and opposing cogs in the vast political machine that propels two sides of our democracy, they’ll do their part to respectfully listen and understand in a city rife with angst and tension. Both students applied to Hope’s off-campus D.C. experience back in the fall of 2015, never foreseeing the national divide and political climate they’d be wading into. Today, the two want nothing more than for our nation to heal.

Senior Alex Piper, a history and political science major, participated in this past weekend’s Women’s March.

“I have great hopes for better communication and understanding,” says Piper, a senior who took part in the Women’s March and is interning at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. “People are getting  shut down so quickly on both sides. Shutting down President Trump as president is not the way to move forward. We may heavily disagree but we must respect his job as president. At the same time, I also hope his administration would look at these marches and look at these concerns and sit down with different people and listen. I’d hope for that for any political appointee, no matter their party.”

Junior James Rogers, far right, with Hope friends, Murray and Dawson Sales at the inauguration of President Trump.

“People aren’t giving each other enough grace,” declares Rogers, a junior who attended the inauguration. “Increasingly, people are not separating politics from the actual person. The politics becomes the person. So, my goal is to listen better, to have more positive and productive conversations with people I don’t agree with. That means being willing to put yourself out there. It means being willing to be vulnerable.”

And it means for someone else to be willing to do the same. Rogers sees that happening with his fellow D.C. students on a regular basis, but he also found such an encounter in an Uber ride the day after the inauguration. Traveling back into the city to return the rented tuxedo that he wore for the black-tie, bipartisan Michigan Inaugural Gala, Rogers struck up a cordial conversation with his self-identified liberal/progressive driver. They each calmly spoke of their political differences as well as their shared sadness over the current derision in America.

“And we were able to bond over that mutual feeling of loss — the loss of respect and understanding — yet we came from polar opposite ends of the political spectrum,” remembers Rogers, a management major and political science minor who is interning at the Heritage Foundation. “I experienced a good impression of a young Democrat and I hope she experienced a good impression of a young Republican. And I left the car feeling good about that, and I thought, the more I can do that, the better we’ll all be.”

Part of the Hope contingent at the bi-partisan Michigan Inaugural Gala held at the National Museum of American History. Dr. Virginia Beard is second from the left.

Twenty other Hope students on the Washington Honors semester feel much the same way as Rogers and Piper, reports Dr. Virginia Beard, associate professor of political science and this year’s director of the program, even though the student group is virtually split 50-50 along Republican and Democratic lines. With Beard’s guidance, all are unpacking what they’ve seen and felt since the start of the semester. With tensions high and political banter non-stop, all are working as best they can to be objective and not overly ideological, she says. But it’s not been without some tough talks.

“I’m exhausted from the weekend,” Beard admits, “but I’m very glad I’m here with these students — and they are all wonderful — to help them step back and process and talk about what is going on here. We have conservatives and liberals living under one roof this spring term, yet we are having good, difficult conversations together.”

All are working as best they can to be objective and not overly ideological. But it’s not been without some tough talks.

The conversations won’t end when the semester is over so insisting that students listen as scholars and grace-givers is a priority for Beard. Healthy, thoughtful conclusions tend to result “when more than anything else,” she concludes, “we engage one another as co-image-bearers of Christ.”

Inaugurations become history and marches end, but as Beard and her students in D.C. see it, the love and grace of Jesus must abide.

Curious to learn more about the Washington Honors Semester? Follow our students’ D.C. adventures on Instagram.

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