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Debate party at St. Xavier University stirs emotions, and opinions

  • Written by Joe Boyle

Chicago Ald. Matt O’Shea (19th) took the stage as a crowd began to assemble Monday night at St. Xavier University’s McGuire Hall.

Students, faculty and local residents began to fill most of the seats to watch the first debate between Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump. O’Shea emphasized how important is to vote. At the end of his presentation, he asked if anyone had any questions.

After a couple of minutes, hands slowly rose to not only ask questions but provide thoughts on this historical and controversial election. O’Shea was impressed.

“With the questions I have heard tonight, then I can say I feel confident about our future,” said the alderman.

Over 120 people watched the first debate watching party hosted by St. Xavier University. The large crowd not only included students and faculty, but local residents as well.

Before the debate was going to be shown on a 12-by-24-foot screen, students and residents of all ages shared comments before the event began. One female middle-aged resident said that while she understands why college-age students who supported Bernie Sanders for president were disappointed at his defeat by Clinton, she said what other alternative do they have on Election Day?

“I mean, I understand if you have problems with Clinton, but how can you consider a third party candidate that would allow Trump to become president? That would be horrible,” she said.

But one student replied that is not how they approach this election.

“If we only vote for Hillary out of fear, what reason is that? Personally, that is why millennials don’t vote. None of the candidates are speaking about education,” he replied.

Another middle-aged man viewed the process in a different light. He said that government and the election process is not always pretty. But voters of all ages need to remember that they need to take part over the long haul. Voting is not about one issue or even one candidate.

“We are taking part in a long-running American experiment,” said the man.

“This is the most important election of your life,” said O’Shea. “Think about what the candidates are saying, and what they are not saying.”

The audience began to watch the debate with the first topic being achieving prosperity. The two candidates clashed over how to achieve that. Clinton said that paid family leave should be provided for parents and that corporate loopholes need to be closed. Trump said that jobs are fleeing the country for Mexico. He said he would reduce taxes for the wealthy while Clinton called for raising taxes for the nation’s richest residents to help the middle class. Trump said cutting taxes for the wealthy would create more jobs.

The debate began to heat up as the candidates criticized each other over climate change. Clinton said that Trump once remarked “climate change is a hoax invented by the Chinese.” Trump responded by stating that the energy policy is a disaster under the Obama administration. Trump also criticized Clinton’s husband, former President Bill Clinton, for signing the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA. Trump said NAFTA has sent jobs overseas and put people out of work.

Clinton said Trump was wrong. “I know you live in your own reality,” said Clinton. Trump later responded “you have no plan.” The verbal war of words continued to the amusement of some members of the audience.

While the debate was continuing, John Shannon, 20, a junior at St. Xavier University, and Jonathan Jones, 32, director at Regina Hall, took a break from the proceedings.

Shannon, who is from Phoenix, Ariz., said jobs and how to create them needs to be discussed. He admits that he was a supporter of Sanders but is willing to give Clinton the benefit of the doubt.

“Hillary Clinton at least has chance to do something,” said Shannon. “You can see during this debate that she is prepared and discusses ideas and programs she wants to work on. She is well prepared and makes her points. I don’t hear any ideas from Trump.

“I was never a Trump supporter,” added Shannon, who serves as a resident assistant at Regina Hall. “I would never abstain from voting, especially from someone like me who is from a red state. Tax breaks for the wealthy does not make sense.”

Jones said that he enjoyed watching Clinton and said that he had heard no ideas from Trump. “At least you hear some ideas from Clinton, so I think she has a chance.”

He agrees with Shannon that providing tax breaks for the wealthy and wanting to introduce a tax plan that dates back to President Reagan is a bad idea.

“I was out of work in 2006 and it was rough for the next five years,” said Jones. “Those tax breaks for the one percent did not work then and will not work today.”

Karla Thomas, executive director of media relations at St. Xavier, said that a debate viewing was held in 2012 between President Obama and Republican Mitt Romney. But that debate screening was for students only. But due to the interest in this election, the St. Xavier administration believed it was be a good idea to open it up to the community.

Students also had an opportunity to register to vote before the debate. A table was set up between two cardboard life-sized figures of Clinton and Trump. Thomas said that 20 students registered to vote on Monday night.

“It was a great night and we had a nice crowd,” said Thomas. “It was a really nice mix of generations.”

Students who have not registered can at the debate watch party events scheduled from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 4 and Wednesday, Oct. 19 in the fourth floor board room. Doors open at 7:15 p.m.