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Young people can help end polarization, national reporter tells students

Barry McNamara
12/04/2018
MONMOUTH, Ill. – A national correspondent for the New York Times recently told students in two Monmouth College classes that the rising generation of college students has the ability to bring an end to the nation’s political polarization.

“It seems to me that partisanship is so baked in right now,” said Times reporter Campbell Robertson, who spoke via Skype last week to two of political science lecturer Robin Johnson’s classes. “People aren’t weighing both sides. I don’t know what’s going to affect that. Maybe the economy taking a nosedive would be what shakes that up. Right now, the trends don’t seem to suggest a coming together.”

But Robertson believes it will change – today’s college-age voters simply need to be patient.

“Today’s political climate was created by what people thought, how they acted and what they chose to focus on 15 or 20 years ago,” said Robertson, who is based in the Times’ New Orleans bureau. “This is a long haul. A lot of people my age and older obsess over the latest developments, considering the day’s events – whatever they are – as permanent victories or insurmountable setbacks. But nothing is permanent.”

Now 41, Campbell believes that people such as the Monmouth students he spoke with will have their chance soon enough to change the political landscape.

“No one seems wiser than the younger people I speak with who take the day’s news in stride – their time will come,” he said. “They are doing the work now. You have to put in the work now; if you just sit and wait, it will pass you by. But they keep their eyes on the medium- and long-term. The current climate will be history soon enough.”

Johnson said his classes’ conversation with Campbell was “a great opportunity for my students to talk to a reporter from one of the nation’s top newspapers. Both of the classes had a great dialogue with Campbell. I thought the students acquitted themselves very well.”

Johnson connected with Robertson when the reporter was working on an article published in September in the New York Times about how Galesburg and Knox County residents feel about the economy two years after the election of President Donald Trump. Knox County is one of what have been called “Obama-Trump counties” in Illinois – counties that Barack Obama carried in the 2008 and 2012 general elections but switched to Trump in 2016.