Last Wednesday Oct. 26, the 2022 Midterm elections series sponsored by the political science department continued with guest lecturer Dominic Tierney, Ph.D., from Swarthmore College. Tierney, who is Oxford educated, provided an outsider’s perspective on American politics having been born and raised in the United Kingdom. His talk focused on two main points. First, he discussed President Joseph Biden’s foreign policies and how they might impact the midterm elections, now less than a week away. He then broadened his talk and touched on American democracy as a whole and what it may look like going forward.
Tierney began his lecture by tracing Biden’s view on foreign policies throughout his career, He demonstrated how, throughout his fifty-year career in politics, Biden has oscillated between being a hawk—pro-intervention—and being a dove—anti-intervention. As president, Tierney stated, Biden has been more hawkish—something that has been clearly seen with his response to the Ukrainian invasion.
Tierney then went more in-depth saying that Biden’s shift towards a more interventionist policy is not a move that he has made on his own; the Democratic party has swung in the direction of international intervention after being against it in the early 2000s. The Republican party, on the other hand, has become increasingly isolationist. This has been seen primarily with their opposition towards sending aid to Ukraine.
The second half of Tierney’s lecture focused on the challenges facing U.S. democracy this election and in the future. Perhaps one of the most shocking claims that he made during his lecture was that America does better when it is at war: times of conflict are when the U.S. has seen a large increase in both technological and social progress. For example, the women’s suffrage movement gained a significant amount of traction during World War I, and many of the Civil Rights victories seen during the 1960s happened during both the Vietnam and Cold Wars.
However, according to Tierney, perhaps more important than the progress made during times of conflict is the problems that arise during times of peace. Tierney said that during times of war, the nation has a common enemy to unite and rally around. However, during times of peace, the U.S. has no common enemy, and thus our anger and annoyance is directed at each other. The result is a public that is in a state of disunion and increasing polarization.
Tierney also brought up another troubling fact: the U.S. has no real national identity around which to orient itself. He shared a story of how at the conclusion of the Cold War, a Russian official lecturing at an American university said, “We are going to do a terrible thing to you. We are going to take away your enemy. Your entire identity is built on the enemy of the Soviets, and we are going to take that away from you.” Since the conclusion of the Cold War, Americans have increasingly felt a sense of confusion over what it means to be American. As a result, the U.S. has no real goal around which to orient itself, stalling progress and sowing division.
Tierney ended his talk on a somber note. There being no real outside threats to the U.S., he said, does not mean that America and its democracy is safe. Time and time again, America has stood up to those who have opposed it abroad, whether it be Japan and Germany in World War II, Iraq in the Gulf War or terrorists after 9/11. Instead, the current threat to America is internal. For, as Tierney concluded, “Only America can destroy itself.”
The talk was well received by students. Shinam Hussain ‘25 said that, “The speaker was really engaging. The event as a whole was very interesting and enlightening; I thought it was interesting how he thought that the greatest threat to America was its own people and how foreign and domestic policy is intertwined.”
Harli Strauss-Cohn ‘24 also had a positive view of the event, saying “I thought the event was really engaging and the speaker made historical connections to the modern moment that I had never heard before. I actually really liked how there was no slideshow and the full crown seemed to support engagement and energy. I found the focus of the event to be largely about military strength and initiatives with a huge focus on Western countries. While this is not something that I necessarily like or dislike, I think it is reflective of the political science field in ways where it tends to focus.”