Notre Dame Forum event focuses on bipartisanship and current issues

Senators Todd Young of Indiana and Chris Coons of Delaware visited campus for a conversation moderated by University President Fr. John  Jenkins, C.S.C. in DeBartolo Performing Arts Center on October 27. The event, titled “Civility and Bipartisanship in a Time of Polarization and Gridlock,” was presented as part of the Notre Dame Forum, the current focus of which is “The Future of Democracy.” 

The Notre Dame Forum, established in 2005 by Fr. Jenkins, focuses on the state of democracy in the United States and across the world. At a forum event earlier this year, Justice Elena Kagan joined Dean Marcus Cole of Notre Dame Law School in conversation in late September.

Fr. Jenkins prefaced the conversation, saying, “Our aim through these conversations is to foster respectful dialogue and reflection on the rising threats here at home and abroad and how democracy can be reinvigorated in the U.S. and the world.”

 Republican Senator Todd Young of Indiana has served in the U.S. Senate since 2016 and sits on the Senate Committees on Finance; Commerce, Science and Transportation; and Small Business and Entrepreneurship. Democratic Senator Chris Coons of Delaware has been in office since 2010, and he chairs the Senate’s Select Committee on Ethics. Coons also serves on the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship and holds senior positions on the Appropriations; Foreign Relations; and Judiciary Committees.

Both senators have a strong track record of bipartisan bills and are recipients of the Legislative Action Award from the Bipartisan Policy Center. Senator Young emphasized that Congress has recently had significant bipartisan legislative achievements, including legislation on “infrastructure, chips, science, postal reform, and the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act—all done through collaboration across the aisle.”

Fr. Jenkins first focused on the recent tension in the House of Representatives, particularly since the removal of House Speaker Kevin McCarthy. Both senators bemoaned the lack of constructive collaboration among elected representatives. A recurring theme was the rejection or overturning of what Senator Young termed “regular order,” or “the process that is laid out in our rules and by the law.”

When discussing the major geopolitical challenges and dangers throughout Russia and the Middle East, Senator Coons emphasized the need for the United States to show that it is a useful and trustworthy ally. He stated, “Our principal challenge now is to not give any truth to the argument Xi Jinping is making around the world that our political dysfunction makes us a declining and weak power.” He focused on the need for the United States to demonstrate to the international community that it is a “nation capable of inspiring another generation of people globally.”

Other topics of conversation were the dangers and developments of artificial intelligence, the influence and regulation of social media, and the increase in loneliness and isolation among American youth. The interpersonal dynamic of the Senate was also discussed throughout the event: Senator Young commented on Senator Chuck Schumer’s personal use of flip-phones and Senator Coons spoke about Senator Ted Cruz, referring to some of Cruz’s legislative tactics as “annoying.” But Coons concluded, “even someone who is such an obstructionist, if you take the time to listen, you can come out the other side of an hour together, going, ‘I understand you now more, and I am more willing to extend my hand,’ and hopefully, a hand extended will come back.” 

Dean Sarah Mustillo of the College of Arts and Letters told the Rover, “The university’s new strategic framework emphasizes that crises in democratic governance are one of the critical issues of our age. As one of the country’s most trusted institutions of higher education, Notre Dame is uniquely positioned to be a convener of bipartisan conversations about a shared democratic future.” Throughout the event, all three panelists emphasized that Notre Dame has a particularly important role to play in the restoration of civil discourse.

Fr. Jenkins and Dean Mustillo each presented a vision of Notre Dame as a defender of liberal democracy. Senior economics and political science major Lisandro Berry-Gaviria echoed this sentiment, telling the Rover, “Notre Dame is uniquely equipped to foster this kind of fruitful dialogue primarily because our faith-based culture helps us see each other as human beings first and political animals second.” Berry-Gaviria continued, “I feel like it was the kind of conversation that helps raise the level of public discourse in America.”

The presentation was interrupted at its conclusion by protestors who chanted “Ceasefire now!” and blocked exit aisles of Leighton Concert Hall, but the speakers were able to conclude their remarks without major disruption. DPAC did not respond to a request for comment on the event and their policies on demonstrations and protests.

A recording of the conversation is available for viewing at the Notre Dame Forum’s website.

Catalina Scheider Galiñanes is a junior from the Washington, D.C. area majoring in economics and political science with a minor in constitutional studies. She is available to discuss liberalism, Virginia elections, and country music at

Photo Credit: The Irish Rover

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