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“Coffee and Politics”: Racial Identity and Political Polarization

In today’s political arena, it’s easy to bemoan the polarized, partisan approach to discourse that seems so prevalent today. Stark party lines are drawn even in the supposedly neutral territories of mainstream news, and compromise between even the most amicable of commentators can seem impossible.

Enter Ruben Navarrette Jr., a political journalist who regularly contributes to The Washington Post, USA Today and Fox News. The most widely-read Latino columnist in the U.S. according to media watchdog organization Media Matters, Navarrette’s political views are difficult to pin down.

Armed with the message that all Americans should be unsatisfied with the easy narratives offered by both predominant political parties, Navarrette captivated a modest gathering of 10 PLNU students early in the morning on Nov. 2. There, Department of History and Political Science co-chair Lindsey Lupo publicly interviewed the political pundit.

“I love that you can’t pin Navarrette down ideologically. Everyone will agree with him at some point and disagree with him at other points,” said Lupo, who invited Navarrette on behalf of the Institute of Politics and Public Service. “He’s the kind of guy that will invite his detractors over for a meal.”

Although Navarrette has visited PLNU’s campus on occasion to meet with faculty, this was his first chance to talk to students. He spoke on a variety of topics ranging from political polarization, immigration, and racial identity.

On immigration:

Navarrette’s Mexican-American heritage, coupled with his experience growing up in California’s agricultural central valley, grants him a unique perspective on the issue of immigration. “Cities like Fresno and Phoenix are becoming like little-Mexico,” he said.

“Republicans think that if you deport a housekeeper in Carlsbad, she’ll be processed in San Clemente and sent to Tijuana and stay there forever, and that’s all you have to do 11 million times,” Navarrette said. “But she’ll be back in three days. You’re never going to separate a mother from her kids.”

On racial identity:

Self-identifying as a “Mexican-American,” Navarrette spoke on the double-standard of scrutinizing such a label when Irish-Americans can identify themselves without complaint.

“I think Navarrette brought light to some important issues facing America [regarding] the double standards we place on those who are minorities,” said Ryan Binder, a sophomore political science major who attended the event.

On political polarization:

“We live in a time where we believe it’s our constitutional right not to associate with people who think differently than us,” Navarrette said, referencing the social media phenomenon of individuals “unfriending” those with differing opinions during the 2016 Presidential Election–a habit he noticed forming on both sides.

“Disagreements are more personal now,” Navarrette said, referring to today’s political climate as “a world of confirmation bias, where our most comfortable state is being told that people agree with us.”

On all of these issues, Navarrette affirmed “the biggest part of communication isn’t talking, it’s listening. Be thoughtful. Expose yourself to different points of view, recognize the flaws in your own argument, listen to other people’s arguments,” he said. “At the very end, after you’ve crafted this wonderful argument, don’t cave just because you’re the lone voice.”

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Riordan Zentler

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