A Lesson for Americans from Comparative Politics: Emotional Decision-Making May Endanger Democracy

By:  Dr. Robin Lauermann, Assistant Dean of General Education, Common Learning and Advising; Professor of Politics

A while ago and far away, a democracy shattered; on April 5 1992, the constitutionally-elected president, Alberto Fujimori, committed an auto-golpe (self-coup), washing away the footholds of democracy that had developed within Peru. Fujimori won office in 1990, convincing the Peruvian people that he was the best candidate to respond to domestic terrorism and economic woes. However, after facing increasing criticism, he shut down government, closing Congress and the courts, because of disagreement. What followed seems bizarre, but was the reality for Peru: using polling technology, Fujimori brought legitimacy to his actions by garnering the support of over 70% of the public. This support continued even in the face of his use of extreme repressive tactics, not only against the insurgents who physically threatened the Peruvian people, but also against those who were democratic critics. Moreover, Fujimori continued repressive tactics even after the return of democratic rule, until he was later removed from power when he attempted to run for an unconstitutional third term. This experience, which has occurred in similar forms elsewhere in Latin America and across the globe, serves as a historical lesson for humanity: populism should not be confused with adherence to democracy; the will of the people, should never be confused with citizens’ rights to articulate perspectives in the service of the common good.

In recent years – including this election – we have heard the term “populism” used in reference to American politics. Candidates, like Mr. Trump, have developed popularity because of their ability to identify and espouse concerns held by individuals who are frustrated with the political system and concerned about the problems that face our society. However, recognizing – and even voicing – those concerns does not equate to a candidate who has sound enough policy knowledge and background in order to successfully identify the actual roots of social, economic and political problems and, thus, solve them. Populists across history and globe have, at many times, created a false sense of democracy, as they have generated popular support by tapping into larger emotions and used evidence from polling to claim mandates for their campaigns and actions. This approach is sometimes called plebiscitary democracy, and is considered quite shallow, as compared with the greater expected level of deliberation in representative democracy. As a political scientist, I affirm that polls conducted with proper methods, can yield reliable information, at least much more reliable than impressions, gut instincts or wishful thinking. However, much more analysis and information is needed to know why people believe what they do, as well as which actions the governments should pursue to solve a problem, preferably without the creation of significant new ones, which may result from oversimplified responses.

For thousands of years, proponents of democracy, as well as its practical advocates – from the works of Aristotle to John Stuart Mill to my own – have focused on a concept of democracy that is not simply about majority rule, but rather one that involves deliberation to produce outcomes that have both legitimacy resulting from due process, as well as argument and evidence supporting them. In fact, our founders intentionally created a republican form of government, similar to the polity for which Aristotle advocated, in order to restrain the passions and impulses that might strike the public, because emotions are a natural part of humanity. James Madison best articulated this rationale in Federalist 10, indicating that the proposed (and adopted) government under the new constitution would “refine and enlarge the public views by passing them through the medium of a chosen body of citizens, whose wisdom may best discern the true interest of their country, and whose patriotism and love of justice will be least likely to sacrifice it to temporary or partial considerations.” In this way, emotional reactions would be hampered, limiting policies adopted as knee-jerk reactions. However, the founders also rightly recognized that leaders, as humans subject to the same weaknesses as the rest of us, also might abuse the public interest; for this reason, among others, we have the accountability mechanisms of elections.

However, as we evaluate and choose candidates for whom we cast our votes, we must remember our political reality: the problems that our society faces are, like most others, quite complex. Resolving them requires leaders who are willing to invest the time in understanding these problems in order to make decisions that realistically and feasibly can solve these problems – or, at the very least, improve conditions. Doing so requires moving beyond fear, anger and other emotional reactions as a means of “problem solving.” In our system, as in any other, citizens, qualified candidates and their larger parties will legitimately disagree on solutions. The underpinning pluralism supported by the First Amendment ensures that citizens, as well as leaders, can contest these ideas – both through elections, but also through the policy process. Deliberation, including the willingness to closely examine our own beliefs and preferred policies, accords the respect to these differing ideas and often, as noted by John Stuart Mill, may produce a result that is more effective than that which any one side might offer on its own.

Having a comparative perspective, by analyzing our nation’s political process and history in a larger context, allows us to see common human tendencies despite particulars of culture. It tells us that we should not confuse populism with democracy, simply because a candidate generates support within the public. Many current officials have not engaged in the sincere deliberation that the founders –or the people – have a right to expect. Looking at the experiences of gridlock, most particularly the government shut-down two years ago, but also many actions by leaders in both parties in recent decades, we see evidence of some leaders willing to obstruct, for self or party power. As a result, public support, particularly for Congress, hovers in the low double digits for very understandable reasons. Our response, as citizens, should be deliberative rather than reflexive, selecting new leaders who possess knowledge and expertise, as well as that spirit of deliberation. Otherwise we may find ourselves sanctioning non-democratic behavior by leaders. This behavior, and its resulting policies, not only often fails to actually solve pressing problems when enacted in the real world, but also potentially harms constitutional rights and deprives humanity of the respect that it deserves.

Study Abroad and Politics

  By:  Rebekah Glick (Politics and French, Class of 2016)

During the spring of 2015, as a sophomore, I studied abroad in Paris, France. I gained so much academically through the experience; more importantly, I grew as a person.

Study abroad taught me a lot. I mean, I learned the typical things, like how to master a public transit system, how to navigate foreign cuisine, how to assimilate to a new culture, etc. But there were also things that I learned about myself that I could only have learned through going on an experience that was so completely new, where I could only rely on myself.


Of everything I learned about myself, most important were the hidden independence and competence that studying abroad brought out in me. Things as simple as using public transport or as complex as trying to buy a phone and set up a plan all in French forced me to think on my feet and taught me the meaning of “fake it ’til you make it.” I grew up in Lancaster County, and before studying abroad, had ridden the subway a total of maybe five times in my life. The first week in Paris, I barely went near the metro unless someone was there to explain it:  a week later, I was cruising around the city armed with my pocket-metro map, trying to get lost so I could figure out my way back. When I went home, I confidently boarded the RER train out of Paris with my luggage and braved the public transport to get to the airport instead of nervously waiting for someone to help me. Going from being completely clueless about the crowded, hectic public transport system to blending in with the rest of the hurried Parisians gave me a lot of confidence and pride in myself as I saw myself transform from an intimidated small-town girl to a self-assured city-dweller who found out she could keep up just as well as the rest of them.


Studying abroad fro a semester also opened up my mind to things I never would have experienced otherwise. I loved the trip to Normandy that my program planned for us–one day, we got to visit Mont St. Michel, an ancient abbey off the Northern coast of France that becomes an island when the high tide comes in. The next day, we visited the American Cemetary, Omaha Beach, Pointe du Hoc, and the D-Day Museum. I knew my great-grandfather had fought in Normandy during World War II, so seeing the beaches was incredibly sobering. I also had the opportunity to visit Nuremburg, Germany, for a few days, wehere I got to visit the Nazi Rally Grounds where Hitler planned to base his new government. Contrasting the different remnants of World War II in both France and Germany with the relative ease and friendship that they enjoy today had a great impact on both a personal and an intellectual level. Because of these experiences, I decided to base my senior honors project off of the relationship between France and Germany, using them as an example to show the peace that political and economic integration can bring.

I am so thankful for the opportunity I had to study abroad. There were very challenging times as I adjusted to being alone and independent for the first time in my life. However, after having gone through it, I can say without a doubt that I am a much stronger and more confident person than before. I learned things that have brought out a lot of positive attributes in myself, and I was certainly shown how academic study can further my understanding of the world. At the risk of over-romanticizing a city that’s already been titled the “city of love,” Paris does have a certain je ne sais quoi that makes you fell like you’re in this great convergence of famous writers, thinkers, artists, and rulers from the past millennium. From the Romans to Charles de Gaulle, from the Napoleonic conquests to the German occupation, the things that these bridges and streets have seen are too big for me to imagine. It would be an understatement to call studying abroad in Paris as a Politics and French major the best decision of my undergrad years.


Summer and Fall Opportunities

Not sure what your plans are for this summer, but hoping they have something to do with politics? Interested in a DC internship program for the fall? The following opportunities may have something to offer you:

June 5th-10th, NEW Leadership Pennsylvania, hosted by the Pennsylvania Center for Women and Politics at Chatham University, is an intensive, non-partisan, six-day residential program to allow students to meet women leaders, learn about women in American politics, and develop and practice leadership skills through panel discussions, workshops, and hands-on projects. The application deadline has been extended until April 1st, so please contact politics@messiah.edu for more details or for a copy of the application.

In the fall, please consider Leadership and the American Presidency, The Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation’s new program in partnership with The Fund for American Studies. A 15-week program, it is designed for undergrad students studying political science, history, government and other related fields who are interested in serving their community and country as civic-minded leaders in a variety of fields including public and non-profit service. It combines experiential learning, lectures, readings, and guest speakers, and all courses are accredited by George Mason University (student may enroll in up to 12 credits in the fall). The application deadline for the fall program is April 15th, so, again, please contact politics@messiah.edu for more details regarding the application process.

Some Months Later…

By:  Katie Gartner

This blog is a month late, but perhaps that has allowed the subject to mature. If I were writing to keep people informed on current events, I would be failing miserably at that job. Mercifully, I write instead as a response to global happenings, trying to lend coherence to a student’s tangled thoughts.

Since this blog was last updated, violence has broken out in Burundi, the Chinese economy has appeared increasingly shaky, President Obama gave his last State of the Union address, and the Iowa caucus continued to throw surprises at those campaigning for the Democratic and Republican candidacies. Rather than detailing the ramifications of any of these news items, however, I have decided to return to what will likely remain the central theme of my writings on this blog for this academic year:  the refugee crisis.

On New Year’s Eve, as Chancellor Angela Merkel gave her traditional address, asylum-seekers in Cologne, on the western border of Germany, were putting her much-vaunted Wilkommenskultur in peril. The chancellor’s speech was deemed nearly perfect—broadcast with subtitles in both Arabic and English, so that refugees and Germans alike would receive her message—reminding the 1.1million asylum-seekers to respect German rules and traditions while urging Germans not to be divided by “those who, with coldness or even hatred in their hearts, lay sole claim to be German and seek to exclude others” (The Economist, “Cologne’s Aftershocks”). Yet, as she spoke of tolerance and her hope for success in continuing to accept refugees, some one thousand men who were described as migrants of North African or Arab origin assembled between Cologne’s railway station and the Dom Cathedral. These men then broke into clusters, surrounding female revelers, “harassing and groping them, stripping them of clothing and valuables…one woman was raped” (The Economist, “Cologne’s Aftershocks”). More than 600 women have come forward, describing the experience as “running the gauntlet.” The local police did not comport themselves well after the fact, claiming that the night was relaxed, and the following media coverage did nothing to ameliorate the situation.

Since then, Chancellor Merkel’s previous optimism has proved damaging, to say the least. Reports of one of the Cologne offenders taunting police with “I am a Syrian, you have to treat me nicely–Mrs. Merkel invited me!” have led to a hardening of Mrs. Merkel’s governing coalition’s stance. These reports also play neatly into the fearful rhetoric of xenophobes. But what does this all mean for future asylum-seekers?

I hope that Chancellor Merkel continues her welcoming stance to migrants, but I support wholeheartedly her promise that the New Year’s Eve offenders will feel the full force of the law, and her suggestion that asylum seekers who break the law would be deported. Deportation of asylum-seekers is a daunting process legally, involving varied sentences for sexual offenses and complicated negotiations with home nations, but it is necessary in order to continue to accept refugees. If there is no governmental attempt to make right the events of New Year’s Eve, the German people will likely not accept a continued flow of migrants whose values differ from their own. Germany has borne the brunt of the burden of accepting asylum-seekers, which is putting serious political pressure on Angela Merkel. Unless the European Union gets its act together to present a unified response to the refugee crisis, the right-wing nationalism that has already taken hold of parts of eastern Europe will continue to feed on the xenophobia and political populism triggered by the migrant crisis. Asylum applicants are currently operating on a free-for-all system, which needs to be replaced by a screening system at Europe’s borders (or before the migrants cross the Mediterranean). Unacceptable migrants should be sent back immediately. Some suggestions from The Economist on how to create a better regulated system for asylum-seekers are as follows:

Creating a well-regulated system requires three steps. The first is to curb the “push factors” that encourage people to risk the crossing, by beefing up aid to refugees, particularly to the victims of the civil wars in Syria and Iraq, including the huge number who have fled to neighbouring  countries such as Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon. The second is to review asylum claims while refugees are still in centres in the Middle East or in the “hotspots” (mainly in Greece and Italy), where they go when they first arrive in the EU. The third element is to insist that asylum-seekers stay put until their applications are processed, rather than jumping on a train to Germany.

  • The Economist, “How to manage the migrant crisis”

Each of these steps is difficult in and of itself, but some measures must be taken to ensure that Cologne does not have an imitation. Similarly, Europe must work to prevent history from repeating itself by avoiding falling into the xenophobia that preceded the Holocaust. Germany remains ashamed of their history with Hitler’s Third Reich, and has worked to recognize and atone for their sins; I believe that Europe should remain wary of parallel dangerous ideologies, perpetuated by fundamentalists of all kinds. Europe is right to be appalled by the transgression of women’s rights by unrepentant offenders who are taking advantage of their hospitality, but they should also be appalled by the idea of rescinding the tolerance and generosity that Angela Merkel has worked to offer migrants.

Granted, this is just a blog post. This will not stand before the European Parliament, or plead with the Pegida movement or the AfD party to not have a spirit of fear but one of courage and grace. But as both The Economist and I have cheered Angela Merkel’s strength in standing by her liberal response to the crisis in Syria and the wider Middle East, and believed in the values that the European Union espouses as requiring a regulated hospitality to asylum-seekers, so I felt I must continue to write about the refugee crisis. I suppose I can only sit and watch, as friends minister to migrant camps in Germany, and as the continent I love remains shaken and divided by this crisis.



Reginald Oduor, Kenyan Scholar and Human Rights Activist

Messiah College is pleased to offer two opportunities for students to learn and engage with Dr. Reginald Oduor, a Kenyan scholar and human rights activist.

Co-sponsored by Diversity Affairs, the Intercultural Office, the Center for Public Humanities, and the Departments of Biblical and Religious Studies, Philosophy, and Politics and International Relations, Dr. Oduor’s sessions will have something for everyone. As a philosopher and activist, Dr. Oduor is internationally known for his scholarship in political philosophy, ethics, and philosophy of religion. Blind since he was a baby, he is also one of Kenya’s leading voices for the rights and inclusion of people with disabilities.

On Monday, November 16th, from 7-8pm, he will be speaking in Hostetter Chapel, describing and analyzing “How Africa Can Help America.”

The next day, Tuesday the 17th, he will discuss “African Philosophy: Thought and Practice” from 4:15 to 5:30pm in Boyer 336.

We sincerely hope you will be able to join us!


CultureConnect Lecture 2015

Please join the Department of Communication in welcoming Dr. Mark Sachleben for a lecture on International Broadcasting and National Identity on Monday, November 2nd at 7pm in Parmer Hall.

Dr. Sachleben’s political science expertise perfectly equips him for this discussion, which will weave together politics and media. Tickets are free, but are required, and can be picked up at the Ticket Office. This event is not to be missed!



A Second Look at the Migrant Crisis

Thinking Through the First Two Questions

by:  Katie Gartner

Unsurprisingly, the migrant crisis has not abated over the past few weeks. Approximately three weeks ago, a highly divisive EU vote passed, creating mandatory quotas by a qualified majority. Directly affecting national sovereignty, the vote received intense support from Germany, France, and Italy, while the UK and Denmark have opted out of the plan, voluntarily making their own resettlement plans. Two nations who previously objected to the idea of mandatory quotas, Latvia and Poland, voted with the majority. The discussions and negotiations continued yesterday, as European leaders met again in Brussels to consider questions of security around the borders of the European Union. Considering these developments, my previous questions deserve more attention.

  • Does Europe’s “culture of guilt” as described by Christopher Caldwell in his book Reflections on the Revolution in Europe influence the initial spirit of hospitality in many nations?
    • Yes, absolutely! Seventy years ago, Germany was synonymous with Nazism, hatred, and intolerable acts of unimaginable bigotry-fueled cruelty. During this crisis, while right-wing extremists may protest Germany’s acceptance of so many migrants, the overwhelming sentiment among Germans is one of welcome. I read an article a few weeks ago, an opinion piece, which discussed this change, using Munich as a case study. In World War II, the concentration camp at Dachau was a mere ten miles outside of Munich, and the Nazi leadership referred to the city as the “Capital of the Movement.” Now, Munich wants to be seen as the “city of protection and help.” A friend of mine is currently studying abroad in Munich, and has said that the German newspapers echo other Western media. Having declared themselves willing to accept 800,000 migrants, the consensus within Germany is that they must act decisively to ameliorate the situation. I have no doubt that Europe’s tragic history and Germany’s antagonistic role in the first half of the century have influence the German desire to set an example of welcome for the rest of the continent during this crisis.
  • How many of the limitations placed on migrant movement result from a nation’s lack of capacity to accept migrants, and how many result from a centuries-old European fear of Islamic culture?
    • I knew when I wrote this question that it was controversial, and I certainly hesitate to try to answer it now. In Samuel Huntington’s famous essay, The Clash of Civilizations, he discusses the origins of cultural (or civilizational) conflict. He outlines differences in history, language, culture, tradition, and religion as the key components of different civilizations, arguing that these varying perspectives will continue to create conflict well into the future. From the time of the Crusades to the Spanish expulsion of the Moors in the seventeenth century to the long struggle of European Christendom against the Ottoman Empire, the historically Christian Europe has been unable to come to terms with the increasing influence of Islam within its bounds. Today, while the continent-wide adherence to Christianity is much diminished, its effects are still felt. This struggle between two titanic religions has shaped European culture. With this in mind, I find myself divided in answering this question. I do believe that the limitations placed on migrant movement result from a lack of capacity to accept migrants, but I also believe that some of the reluctance to make sacrifices to accommodate the influx stems from historical discomfort with Islam.

These are not complete answers to these questions, nor do they amount to expert opinions. While I have other questions from my original post that I have yet to answer, I have been returning to these two questions the most frequently as I watch Europe’s evolving reaction to the migrant crisis. In the coming weeks, I will begin to organize my thoughts on the last few questions, hopefully providing some food for thought if not definitive answers.


An Honest Attempt to Understand the Migrant Crisis


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by: Katie Gartner

The conflict in Syria has led to a massive movement of refugees across the Mediterranean and through Turkey, all looking for similar destinations. Europe, seen as a land of opportunity, prosperity, and safety, has struggled in recent months to cope with this influx of migrants. Germany, fresh from dealing with the Greek economic crisis, initially promised free and open borders to migrants, with an overwhelming welcome in Munich. Unfortunately, they quickly realized that the standards established under the Schengen agreement, regarding unrestricted travel across the borders of European Union nations, were unsustainable due to the incredible numbers of migrants looking to settle in Germany. Many countries in central and southern Europe, like Serbia, Hungary, and Croatia, also began by accepting migrants with open arms, but quickly realized their inability to uphold their hospitable intentions.

In light of these political and economic issues, there are several questions to consider, questions that are the central focus of this blog post.

  • Does Europe’s “culture of guilt” as described by Christopher Caldwell in his book Reflections on the Revolution in Europe influence the initial spirit of hospitality in many nations?
  • How much of the limitations placed on migrant movement result from a nation’s lack of capacity to accept migrants, and how much result from a centuries-old European fear of Islamic culture?
  • If barbed wire border fences are not a viable solution, but neither is continued acceptance of migrants, what should a nation’s course of action be?
  • Does the EU have a responsibility, given its relative peace and stability, to respond overwhelmingly to the tragedy on its shores and borders?
  • Western nations, like France and Germany, are likely to have a greater capacity to accept immigrants than their Balkan counterparts. Knowing France’s problems with outward expression of religious (especially Islamic) devotion, how would you recommend the French government proceed?
  • How will this migrant crisis shape a new European culture? In comparison to the Bosnian war in the 1990s, what will its impact be?

Having spent nearly half of my childhood in Belgium and Germany, these questions are plaguing me as I continue to read more and more articles on the migrant crisis. My father spent several months in both Bosnia and Herzegovina and Ukraine, and much like the problems surrounding Crimea that began in early 2014, this migrant crisis will indubitably have a profound impact on the continent that I called home. With this in mind, I hope to spend a few more blog posts exploring these questions and trying to justify my opinions or form new answers.


Career Conversations 2015: Business Edition


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This year’s Career Conversations event featured notable Messiah alumni who are pursuing careers in the business world. Our panelists were Melissa Bell (Politics ’04), Alejandro Garcia (Politics & Economics ’13), and Amy (Pedersen) Killelea (History ’94).

The panelists first discussed how they got to where they are since graduating from Messiah. Melissa noted that in addition to attending the London School of Economics for her master’s degree in international relations, she spent two and a half years in Ukraine with the Peace Corps, working in HIV/AIDS prevention programs. She then moved into consulting, working with Deloitte in London, the Middle East, and Australia, where she now resides (she thus Skyped in at 4 am her time!) In Australia, Melissa co-founded The Terrace Initiative, the consulting firm where she now works. Much of her work is with oil and gas companies, and she has enjoyed creating “the kind of consulting firm I always wanted to work for.”

Melissa and Alejandro

Melissa and Alejandro

Amy graduated from Messiah with a history major and a double minor in political science and economics. After working in D.C. for a time, she pursued a Master’s in National Security Studies from the Patterson School of Diplomacy and International Commerce, focusing on Middle East terrorism. Her career has taken her to the staff of the National Security Council at the White House, to the defense of 2002 Olympic Games in Salt Lake City, and to facilitating naval exercises onboard a ship in the Mediterranean. Amy recently spent ten years doing consulting for Booz Allen Hamilton, and now works in consulting within the intelligence community. Amy explained that her work is helpful to companies and organizations because they sometimes need to be reinvigorated with ideas from the outside, and consulting helps them to assess their needs and accomplish their goals.

Alejandro started the Master’s in Public Administration program at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs in Syracuse University the fall after he graduated. That October, he got a job offer from Deloitte, where he now works as a consultant. He is currently focused on developing transformation roadmaps for state and local governments as they seek to improve service delivery and efficiency. Alejandro, who is originally from Bolivia, admitted that living in America away from his family has been a challenge, but says that it has helped him to develop a sense of independence, and that he feels a special connection to parts of America now. He advised students that living abroad “is difficult, but it’s worth it.”

All three panelists readily agreed that their studies in politics and the liberal arts in general prepared them well for graduate school and their careers. Politics, in its essence, said Melissa, is about “who gets what,” and consulting involves the management of “who gets what.” A liberal education helps with the problem solving process and with bringing together disparate bodies of knowledge to make things happen. Alejandro noted that his degree in politics taught him how to learn to think through issues and made him a more capable, well-rounded person. Melissa is active in the hiring process at her firm, and says she looks for both experience and “habitual excellence”—well-roundedness in all areas of life. Amy, who has also had extensive experience in hiring, says that she too looks for people with broad capabilities, because she has to train employees in certain areas regardless of their academic experience. She agrees that her study of history, politics, and economics at Messiah taught her to appreciate nuance and to “look at a problem in its totality” rather than seeking easy answers.

Alejandro and Amy

Alejandro and Amy

A special thanks to our alumni who participated in this informative event, and we wish them the best as they continue along their career journeys! They are truly a testament to the possibilities available for Messiah graduates.

“Why America’s Obsession with STEM Education is Dangerous”


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Technology is an integral part of our lives, and it is vital that our workforce be able to understand and use it.  But too narrow a focus can be a limitation– America needs citizens with a broad range of interests and varied skills to do the work that technology cannot: reasoning, debating, and writing about issues of global significance.  What can you do with a course of study in politics, and the humanities in general?  Almost anything that requires critical thought and good written and verbal communication skills!

A recent Washington Post article by Fareed Zakaria further details the necessity of a liberal arts education for engaging with the world.  The next time someone asks you what on earth you’re going to do with a humanities major, point them in the direction of this article and state your intentions with confidence!

EDIT: Another excellent article on a similar theme can be found here.


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