The Next Generation

Amidst the gloom and doom that is today’s political environment, there are rays of hope.

I often tell people that I would turn the country over to my students in a heartbeat. They are inclusive, community-oriented and passionate about fairness and civic equality. (Granted, they have enrolled in a School of Public and Environmental Affairs, so they are arguably a self-selected group.)

In my graduate law and policy class, I give a take-home final. (This is an effort to make up for a difficult in-class midterm, a demanding group project and a 20-page research paper.) The final consists of three questions; students are to choose one of the three and write an essay addressing it.

Unlike that midterm, there are no right or wrong answers. I’m looking for thoughtful responses–answers that tell me that they have considered the strengths and weaknesses of American governance and have formed defensible policy positions.

Two of the questions on this year’s final elicited particularly interesting responses. Here’s one of them:

It is 2020, and you have been elected President of the United States. You are following an administration that has made significant—even monumental—changes to American public policies. Which of those changes would you accept and follow? Which would you change? (I am not looking for exhaustive lists; choose one or two areas to discuss and justify your decision to accept or reject the current administration’s approach.) For each policy you would retain or reverse, explain why it is or is not supportive of the common good and/or consistent with America’s Constitutional values.

The students who chose this question were uniformly critical of the current administration, and very specific in their critiques. They all faulted Trump on environmental policy. Several pointed out that the “Muslim ban” violated the First Amendment. Economic policy and the tax “reform” bill came in for considerable scorn, as did efforts to destroy the Affordable Care Act and failures to enact meaningful gun control or improve immigration policy.

I was particularly struck by essays from students addressing this question:

Earth has been destroyed in World War III. You and a few thousand others—representing a cross-section of Earth’s races, cultures and religions—are the only survivors. You have escaped to an earthlike planet and are preparing to establish a new society. You want to avoid the errors of the Earth governments that preceded you. What institutional choices do you make and why? Your essay should address:The type/structure of government you would create; the powers it will have; the limits on its powers, and how those limits will be enforced; how government officials will be chosen and policies enacted;the social and political values you intend to privilege, and the reasons for your choices.

When I’ve included a similar question in the past, most students have dutifully constructed a government patterned after that of the U.S. This year, there were more creative efforts, some borrowing from European and Canadian models, others proposing “from scratch” governance concepts. Three or four proposed to outlaw political parties, and all of them suggested mechanisms intended to prevent gridlock. A couple included stringent qualifications for holding public office.

All the responses included universal healthcare and other elements of a robust social safety net–including, in one case, a Universal Basic Income. All of them included mechanisms meant to eliminate or vastly reduce the role of money in politics. All of them provided for a rigorous civic education. All of them emphasized and protected the right to vote  (some made Election Day  a holiday, some allowed vote-by-mail and a couple made voting mandatory. One made vote suppression a felony.) All had laws protecting civil liberties and the environment.

All of them described legal systems protective of civic equality, and most suggested policies promoting respect for diversity.

The proposals weren’t uniformly practical, and there wasn’t a lot of space for details in any event, but virtually all of them showed that the writers had genuinely grappled with the question and considered the essential elements of a just society.

Needless to say, all of them came across as more thoughtful and informed than Donald Trump and his swamp.

If this country manages to survive the current administration, we’ll be in good hands.


  1. There used to be a board game with similar goals. Also one of the role playing games popular among what I called the little professors—kids long about 3rd or 4th grade—involved kids, each carrying a clipboard and taking it seriously. Our youngest son was in the group. It went on for a couple of years. Each one was given 100 points to spend on different qualities needed in governing such as patience, food supply, protection, education and other community needs. Our son finally quit because his former best friend always spent ALL his points on power. He wanted to run the group and they wouldn’t allow it. I never knew exactly what was going on because if adults got too close, the kids would clam up. It was fascinating to watch, this body of self governing citizens and judges, wandering around our driveway, arguing.

  2. We have got to these scared, old cats out of office. Today is a pivotal day! Vote people vote.

  3. I like the idea of making voter suppression a felony; if it were a felony, Todd Rokita would have a crminal record.

  4. Thanks Prof. The one I really liked was:

    “A couple included stringent qualifications for holding public office.”

    We really have needed this since the Tea Party Morons started getting elected.

  5. Today’s blog sent me rushing to Google several sites for definitions which would possibly/probably be considered by those assuming a leadership role in both instances of Sheila’s final exam. I researched Socialism, Zionism, Kibbutz, Commune, Democratic Socialism, Democracy and Republic; I found the simplistic answer on Diffen (a website that lets you compare anything) which IMO gave a starting point for both instances on Sheila’s final.

    Per Diffen:
    “The key differences between a democracy and a republic lies in the limits placed on governance by the law, which has implications for minority rights.”

    We have repeatedly heard the term “rule of law” being ignored by the current administration; that fact is blatant in their daily rants, executive decisions, total lack of morals by their religious supporters, the brief sojourns in executive positions ending in “resignations” or firings, the destruction of diplomatic relations with allies of many years, the current Governance by Tweets, the list is endless. The word “limits” is not in the Republican vocabulary or dictionary. Yesterday Melania Trump (or her speech writers) again plagiarized former First Lady Michelle Obama’s booklet to support a better life for all children. Less than one hour later Sessions announced his decision to rip babies and children from the arms of their parents so they (the parents) could be arrested and jailed until deportation. No limits, no Rule of Law, no obvious solution to any governing issue before us today.

    Rule of Law refers to our Constitution; the current administration early on announced its goal is to “deconstruct” the current government which is based on that document. The two options in Sheila’s final exam question would need to find, somewhere in the total destruction of the current changes in presidential leadership or total nuclear destruction of that document to know where to begin.

    Or; you could all read Stephen King’s novel, “The Stand” for information and warnings of what to do and/or what to avoid in any attempt to rebuild America.

  6. Yes, I had similar very high quality responses from students when I proposed terraforming Mars after escaping Earth. Your students covered all the bases that we on this blog have been positing too.

    Add these answers to the polls of current social issues in today’s conversations, and you have Bernie’s platform, excerpts from my books (Thanks again, Marv.) and the solutions that are just so obvious to those of us who abhor corruption, lies, fascism and creatures like Donald Trump.

  7. Somewhere in this discussion the matter of education needs to be addressed. How do you reform or rebuild a society without everyone attaining a certain level of education?

    Education is where I would first put my efforts.

  8. Yes.., leave it to the young. sorry, no matter how good their idealism, we must confront fact: 1. The idea of an ideal society can only exist in limited spaces(.) you will never divest the world of the ignorant and unless the situation changes drastically with the control in the hands of capitalists you will never rid the world of poverty. 2. This is only one country, so we get rid of all the guns in the public domain.., seen that scenario before, and the public is unarmed – WHO will have the guns and WHO will say they can and WHO to use them against? Tell me that if you know for sure. 3. It is STUDENTS KILLING STUDENTS(!) that tells me you can argue all you want but there has to be some strong influence causing these weak minds to crumble! I still account it to commercialism, GTA (Grand Theft Auto!) all the ‘War’ games, all the games ready at a celphone button push that have you killing and gutting people!… yeah right and then Mom and Dad are made out to be total dimwits, and both probably working their butts off to make sure the kids get an ‘education’… and everyone sitting around on their celphone or standing on the street with their world wrapped up in an app or a game! What killed the ‘family’ was commercialism, what is screwing our society into the dirt is greed, you and your kids be damned! To be honest the only way this situation is going to change and change in an appreciable way is for this civilization to end. Face it we are looking at the verge of chaos. The school matters have mainly involved other students, this is not a phenomenon found in any prevalence anywhere else on the planet! Where are they being taught this violence, where are they being traumatized, and drugged into mania? Have you ever considered the side effects of Ridilin? Have you ever considered that in the United States 1 in 67 children is born with Asperberger’s Syndrome or Autism? We can point to this or that as a problem or THE problem.., no it isn’t that simple. And I can guarantee you, they will inherit this Earth, eventually: But they too are HUMAN, remember that, and there are many odds against us all at this time. It is not so simple.

  9. Gosh, Manuel, thanks for bringing us all back down to your version of this festering cesspool known as human life on Earth.

  10. I suggest that you submit all of the relevant essays to ALL Indiana politicians stating the views of current and future voters. Would love to make them mandatory reading for politicians. Of course with proper permissions and deletion of student identification information.

  11. “Needless to say, all of them came across as more thoughtful and informed than Donald Trump and his swamp.” I’ve had two dogs and three cats who came across as more thoughtful and informed than 45. Of course they were all domesticated, where 45 is feral.

  12. First of all, thank you Sheila for a great and very thought provoking post.

    I would love to drop in to your class some time and just sit there and listen to these kids talk about their take on public policy. The questions that you posed to your students remind me of my experiences from 30 plus years ago studying under Dr. Richard Fredland in the Political Science Department and the hypotheticals that he gave us quite frequently in regard to international relations and issues of war and peace.

    For the better part of two decades I worked for Riley Hospital for Children managing their family resource center and also doing a ton of outreach work with the various units of the hospital and external support groups and anything else they could think of for me to do. We were a two person shop and were supported by volunteers, normally 25-30 of them with an age range including folks in their late teens to octogenarians. They were all there to help us help our patients and their families and we couldn’t have done what we did without their help.

    Many of these volunteers were college students coming from IUPUI, IU-B, Butler, and Purdue. All, and I do mean all, exhibited very high levels of civic awareness and an equally high level of commitment to what they were doing in working with us. Some were pursuing careers in the medical professions or in social work and some in fields that were totally unrelated to what we did at the hospital. They deeply impressed me and made me feel better about our future since they were going to be the caretakers of it.

    Provided that our educational system doesn’t fail us any more than it already has and some way and somehow it is turned around to provide young people with the tools they need for success, I think like you do, we’re going to be OK. In the long run we’re going to have to be.

  13. When I was born the human population of the world was about 1/3 of today’s, the GOP was a relevant political party and what we now call technology was in its infancy. That was also the world that I was educated to be more or less successful in.

    Now my generation is living on a different planet we were not prepared for and have, each of us, decided the degree to which we would try to keep up in.

    Many stopped keeping up decades ago because they accurately foresaw themselves losing entitlements, relevance, and purpose – however they preferred stopping progress to keeping up.

    Now we have quite a mongrel culture neither and both here or there. Quite a mess.

    Of course that cycle will endlessly repeat until we accept life long learning as compared to endless entertainment as table stakes in life.

  14. Thanks for the education of those students you and your facuilty has provided. It will become a further test,to see how many will change,and who will hold the torch for others to follow. Im not high educated,my own education from streets to working class,has its rewards,as being on the street,absorbing the many influences,and actully living many of them. I hope your class of 2018 will keep a broad mind,and open head for whats to happen next.. Thanks, Jack Smith

  15. Both you and your students are a breath of fresh air. There is hope for America.

  16. Thanks, Pete and Theresa Bowers. We won’t get very far without education.

    Thanks, all, for thought-provoking responses to Sheila’s very timely post today.

  17. Without the prefix “liberal” democracy is merely decision by consensus. That creates minimum direction and forward or backward are equally likely.

    But the relentless search for better and the willingness to experiment in finding it is like science. Scientists hypothesize not in search of right but real.

    We are stuck here in dysfunction. We will remain stuck until the current government crew returns to their traditions of make more money regardless of the impact on others in private enterprise and is out of government.

    The millennials are largely proud and well able to man the barricades with us.

    We need their infusion of energy and passion and education for these times not our times.

  18. “Without the prefix “liberal” democracy is merely decision by consensus. That creates minimum direction and forward or backward are equally likely.”

    Pete (3:01 p.m.) From my Google search this morning: Democracy – government by the people; supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them or by electoral agenda under a free electoral system. Republic – a representative democracy and exercise power according to the rule of law – a constitutional republic.

    Currently; we have no true liberals, no democracy, no conservatives, no republic, have lost all vestige of rule of law as the Constitution is being interpreted by one party to suit their wants; no “free electoral system” and no “constitutional republic”. As you so ably stated; we are stuck here in this dysfunction; as for the millennials infusion of their energy and passion and education, they appear to me to be more like those Bernie Bots who refused to face the reality of where the election was headed and went their own ways.

    Education can only open doors for us; but like that great Dorothy Parker quote, “You can lead a horticulture but you can’t make her think.” How many people have gotten the education but found no employment to put it to use while corporations cry there are no qualified workers due to so many educated for more higher level positions than are needed? Do those millennials and corporations alike need to learn that blue collar skills is a necessary form of education?

    “The Next Generation” is being educated now…or at least until the Trump/DeVos “God’s Kingdom” goes into effect; are they being educated in areas where they are needed? Thanks to the current leadership in this country; I carry the worry that my grandson with his expensive engineering degree, including two honors, “Leadership in Energy and Environmental Development” and “Habitat For Humanity”, will not be needed in his current position much longer. Construction workers and brick masons are always needed; with the EPA slowly being phased out special education in many areas will become passe. The Trump administration is top-heavy with too many chiefs and not enough Indians to do the work that is necessary to govern.

    Go back to the top and read Pete’s quote again.

  19. JoAnn, I have always understood “Republic” to mean a country without a monarch.

    a state in which supreme power is held by the people and their elected representatives, and which has an elected or nominated president rather than a monarch.

  20. Pete; your definition of “Republic”, the on I listed above and one I found in my newer dictionary this morning, “A political order whose head of state is not a monarch” all fit together. They add up to the Diffen description, “The key difference between a democracy and a republic lies in the limits placed on governance by the law, which has implications for minority rights.” And none even come close to those who call themselves “Republicans” today; they are destroying democracy and have tossed out rule of law based on our Constitution.

    Here in Indiana we have another Pence hopeful on the ballot for the 6th Congressional District; if this doesn’t bring out Democratic voters in that area nothing will. His little brother, Mike, and Trump were fundraisers and he received a “significant” amount of money from out-of-state
    as well as “heavyweight Republican donors” in this state. In this Republican state; his name alone could win the election; he fully supports the Trump-Pence agenda which is neither-here-nor-there on the political scale. A Judas goat leading lambs to the slaughter.

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