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Program for Public Discourse hosts event about values diverging from politics


(From right) Molly Worthen, UNC History Professor and New York Times contributing opinion writer, moderates a discussion between Democrat political strategist Justin Giboney and The Bulwark executive editor Jonathan V. Last at The Program for Public Discourse's first meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 12, 2019. 

The controversial Program for Public Discourse hosted its first event Tuesday, bringing together two speakers, Justin Giboney and Jonathan Last, to discuss the divergence of values from politics. Giboney and Last discussed their respective beliefs and where they diverged from the dualism of American partisan values.

The discussion, facilitated by UNC history professor Molly Worthen, touched on a variety of hot-button issues in the modern political landscape, including LGBTQ+ and abortion rights. The speakers challenged audience members to lead with personal values rather than party loyalty.

Giboney is a Christian leader who began AND, a campaign centered around "biblical values and social justice." He said the creation of his AND campaign, a movement within the Democratic party that embraces a more conservative outlook on social issues than their democratic peers, stemmed from his Christian faith — specifically his roots in the Southern Baptist tradition.

"I think it's fair to say (Giboney is) trying to find new ways to shape politics and culture," Worthen said.

Last, a journalist for The Bulwark, said he fears the idea of "group think" and placing loyalty in political parties.

"Part of my political formation, probably the most important part, is that almost everybody in my life who I love, cherish and respect is a liberal Democrat," Last said. "So, it's always been super-duper easy for me to love the other side and not hate them."

While both Last and Giboney began to develop their ways of thinking early on, they attributed the election and nomination of President Donald Trump to accelerating their beliefs.

"I think for the church in general, and I think long term for folks with more centered or traditional views on certain issues, (the 2016 election) was a hidden credibility," Giboney said. "Because while, I think my community can be more vocal when it comes to some of issues ... We still hold those issues, and if there is a lack of credibility coming from more social conservatives from the right, we kind of struggle with that stuff too."

Giboney said the election of Donald Trump, in addition to providing credibility to his cause, also accelerated some of the issues he was combating within the Democratic party.

"I think he was actually a benefit to the far-left on some issues because now they can be more extreme, and it almost seems necessary,” Giboney said. “It almost seems necessary to be uncivil because now you have this enemy you can point to and say, 'Look how bad he is. You need us.'"

Last also said Trump’s election was a catalyst for altering some of his beliefs about the modern American system, such as the viability of populism.

"The worst case view is that Trump is merely a symptom, not the disease, and that there is a deep unseriousness in the American public," Last said.

Both Last and Giboney focused on maintaining personal values and applying them outside of the value matrices of the political system. Giboney focused the majority of his value system on his faith.

“It makes you stay with the point that politics aren’t ultimate," Giboney said. "That there is something bigger than politics out there.” 

Giboney recognized the complexity of individual thinking in a space like politics that is traditionally so collaborative and said that thinking for yourself doesn’t have to occur in isolation.

“I don’t think 'Think by yourself' means go into a closet with your books and just come up with the ideas by yourself,” Giboney said. “When I think of think for yourself, I’m thinking don’t go along with the partisan or tribal groupthink. If you have values, apply your values to the situation, don’t let someone else apply them for you.”

After the event, program director Chris Clemens said the program chose these speakers through a process of elimination because of the controversy surrounding the program across campus. He said, for this reason, he didn’t want to start with the program's most controversial speakers.

Clemens said the program's focus was on the students and not what the faculty wanted to hear from on-campus speakers. He said he chose to focus on Christianity in politics because the state of North Carolina is majority christian.

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