I’m writing this letter from Warsaw, Indiana. If you don’t know where that is, it’s about 2 hours north of Indianapolis, has a population of 14,000, and is known as “The Orthopedic Capital of the World.” The reason I chose this location out of so many cities around the country is because this is the city in which my mom grew up. As a result, she was able to tell me about what the city was like from her perspective, and how it has changed from when she was a kid. Warsaw is a relatively small, rural city, especially compared to the ones I plan to travel to in the coming weeks. But its bucolic nature is something I’m no stranger to, as I had grown up in a similar environment. I’ve been here for six days now, and I’m about to leave for my next leg of my trip to Las Vegas, so I’m excited to share what I have been doing here.
Coming to Indiana, I knew the state has historically been pretty red politically. Warsaw, especially, from what I had heard from my mom, is also very conservative in this sense. Having this in the back of my head, I wanted to talk to people from the area from both majority and minority viewpoints. Finding “random,” everyday people to interview, though, was not necessarily an easy task. A lot of these people I ended up talking to or interviewing were through family connections and/or reaching out through social media. Ultimately, however, I’m really happy with the people I got to talk to and what I learned from them.
I started off by interviewing a mother and her son (both of whom are well into adulthood), who had, for the most part, varying political views: the mother identified as a republican; the son a democrat. Because my political background was heavily influenced by my family, I was mainly curious to know why their viewpoints differed and why this happened. The mother explained that she grew up conservative, and her views were shaped largely from Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged. It was only later in her life that she began to rethink what her beliefs actually meant to her. She said that a lot of what the values many conservatives held (notably about abortion, LGBTQ rights, immigration) did not reflect her core values. Her son, on the other hand, said that although there are issues with the republican party he doesn’t necessarily agree with, his beliefs most closely reflect conservative ideals, which he thinks is important from a voting standpoint. From an ethical perspective, they both agreed that ethics doesn’t seem to have much of a place in politics, and as the son pointed out, in politics it can be easy to confuse ethics with opinions.
I then interviewed a couple who lived in the area only during the summer – the rest of the year they teach in the Democratic Republic of Congo. I thought the two men had an interesting perspective on the current state of politics for many reasons: they are a liberal gay interracial couple who live in a conservative city for a few months each year and then live outside the US for the remaining months of the year. Knowing this, I thought that they would have little contact with current American politics when they are in Africa. They told me, however, that when they are abroad, they often hear negative things like “how could you let such a person become president” or “the United States can’t be taken seriously now” in such a way that they felt partially responsible for the current presidency. They said that a positive effect of being abroad is that they can filter their information in a more unbiased way, through sources like BBC that report US politics, in their opinion, more impartially. Being in the States, they added, is more tempting to just have CNN or MSNBC on, which are more slanted sources. Living in Indiana, close to many people with views that differ from theirs, they say can be challenging because they often get into disagreements over political issues, but they both deal with conflict in different ways: one admitted he was much more aggressive on social media and liked to push back on people’s views, while the other liked to remain more reserved, using his experience as a teacher to actively listen to what other people had to say even if he disagreed with it. They both agreed that a lot of times political bias can impact their perceptions of other people and that it’s hard to avoid tribalism when it comes to politics, but they said that an important lesson they learned as educators to help combat this is what they call “The 3 P’s”: Pausing, Paraphrasing, and Probing. Pausing to give time to listen to what someone has to say, paraphrasing to receive confirmation that they understand what someone is saying, and probing to ask questions rather than attack someone’s ideas. I was extremely grateful to be able to sit down with these two and hear what they had to say, especially because of the unique perspective they shared.
I also had the pleasure of interviewing the mayor of Warsaw, Joe Thallemer. Going into the interview, I was curious about how he dealt with ethical dilemmas in his work as a mayor because his decisions don’t nearly affect as many people as, for example, those of a state governor. When I talked with him, he said that for the most part he feels that the decisions he makes on a day-to-day basis are impacted most by his own beliefs and values. But there are times, such as when it comes time for reelection, that there can be pressures to cater to the voting population. He said that there are cases that he would potentially have to go against his values to uphold his duty as mayor. For example, he mentioned that although this has never happened for Warsaw, if a sexually-oriented business were to want to open in the city, he cannot turn them down even though he personally disagrees with them. Similarly, if marijuana became legal in Indiana, he would have to grapple with allowing dispensaries in the city. He also noted that he thinks politics can make people power-hungry. From the people he has worked with, he said that the higher up the ranks some people go, he noticed the further they lose touch with who they used to be. I found this to be especially thought-provoking because one of the reasons why I wanted to research this topic is because when I think of politics, I don’t associate it at all with ethics. I will be travelling to Las Vegas in the next week where I will be interviewing politicians who have more influence than Mayor Thallemer, so I am curious to explore this issue of power more in depth with the people I meet in Nevada.
In the next week, I will be talking to the chief justice of the Nevada Supreme Court, a Nevada appellate judge, a Nevada state senator, and a Nevada assemblyman and his wife, who is an assistant Medicaid director