It’s no secret that the 2016 presidential election has created a tense political climate and encouraged heated political rhetoric throughout the country. The University of Maryland is no exception, as students and campus groups regularly share their views on the race on social media, in person, or through different events and advocacy efforts around campus.
On April 16, two of those groups — Terps for Bernie and Terps for Trump — battled it out on the debate stage in front of a large audience of UMD students.
Each club was represented by a handful of students who debated on a variety of issues over two hours. The debate was guided by two moderators, and included pre-made questions from the moderators as well as questions from the audience.
The debate, which was sponsored by both clubs, generated a significant amount of buzz on social media. On the debate’s official Facebook page, over 300 people said they were interested in attending the event while 154 said they would go. The debate ultimately drew a near-capacity crowd to room 0135 in the Armory.
“I appreciated that we had hundreds of people come out to hear our points of view,” Terps for Bernie President Christopher Walkup said.
The debate covered a wealth of topics, many of which have become key issues in the 2016 presidential election. Club representatives debated on everything from foreign policy, to the economy, global warming, immigration, ISIS and more.
Things grew heated at times as the student debaters used their respective candidates’ views on several issues to refute comments made by their opponents. For the most part, the two sides argued many of the same points that have become standard in each candidate’s policy platforms.
Terps for Bernie representatives discussed their support for increasing the minimum wage, free college tuition and healthcare reform, among other topics. On the Terps for Trump side, supporters advocated tougher immigration policies, increased tax cuts and criticized Sanders’ proposals for increasing the minimum wage and providing free college tuition.
While the debate largely mirrored what an actual debate between the two candidates might look like, some audience members were disappointed by the eerie resemblance between Friday’s debate and the increasingly-dirty political bickering that has become commonplace throughout the country.
Freshman finance and economics major Gabriel Castro hoped the debate would provide a different perspective on the presidential race and the state of politics in this country — stepping away from the reality show nature of the current race and focusing on the issues. The debate, he said, failed to live up to those expectations.
“I wasn’t asking for ‘politics’ when I attended this event,” Castro said. “I thought that, for once, I could escape the circus of America’s political arena and hear two well-informed groups of students defend their candidates with logic, clarity and objectivity. Instead, I saw two sides bicker like kids fighting over a basketball during recess. It was disappointing.”
Senior materials engineering major John Panagiotopoulos agreed that the heated back-and-forth between the two sides sometimes proved to be a distraction from the issues that matter to voters.
“I liked when they stuck to the issues,” Panagiotopoulos said. “I think that when they talk about personas, it doesn’t really get to the core of what people’s policies are or what’s actually going to happen when they get elected.”
Sophomore mechanical engineering major Matt Morris, the president of Terps for Trump, said he was satisfied with how the debate went and looks forward to similar events in the future.
“I would love to do it again,” Morris said. “It was a little nerve-racking at first, just having a big crowd of people and arguing over things that people have such polarizing beliefs about. But, overall, it was a good experience. I really enjoyed working with the Terps for Bernie people who set it up too, they’re really good guys.”
Walkup was impressed with the turnout at the debate but wishes that young people would do more to participate in the political process than attending the debate.
“It is clear that many people are engaged in the political process,” Walkup said. “However, what the debate attendance tells me is that many people are willing to be passively involved in the political process, but few are willing to get actively involved.
“It’s easy to like a page on Facebook, it’s easy to come and shake your head whenever a Trump supporter says something, it’s easy to share Bernie’s statuses on social media. It’s harder to get out there and volunteer for your candidate.”