WSU political science professor discusses paranoia, populism, state of fake news
During a lecture in Kane Hall on Tuesday, Washington State University political science professor, Cornell Clayton, attributed the current landscape of fake news and conspiracy theories to a combination of both populism and paranoia in Americans.
Clayton, the director of the Thomas S. Foley Institute for Public Policy and Public Service at WSU, visited the UW as part of the UW Graduate School’s set of lectures entitled “BUNK: The Information Series,” which Ronan Farrow kicked off Oct. 2.
Clayton explored how American politics have become a space for suspicion in the form of conspiracy theories, such as the birther conspiracy that holds that President Barack Obama was not born in the United States. However, Clayton noted that both Republicans and Democrats have recently been led by paranoid leaders.
“Which conspiracy theories we believe and how we think about populism is deeply structured by our preexisting partisan and ideological identities,” Clayton said. “That’s the nature of today’s off-the-rails politics.”
Legislative landscape to be decided by Washington voters
Dozens of races across Washington will determine if Democrats maintain — or possibly even increase — their control of the state Legislature.
All 98 seats in the House are up for election Nov. 6, and voters will decide 25 of the Senate’s 49 seats.
While Democrats hold most statewide offices in Washington, the political split in the Legislature is much narrower: Democrats currently hold a one-seat advantage in the Senate and a two-seat advantage in the House.
“People think of us as a blue state even though we are a deeply divided state,” said Cornell Clayton, director of the Thomas S. Foley Institute for Public Policy at Washington State University.
Seventeen of the races on the ballot are for open seats with no incumbent: 14 in the House and three in the Senate.
Political polarization, decreasing trust in government, and rising populist rhetoric, have made political civility a hot-button topic. One that WSU’s Thomas S. Foley Institute for Public Policy and Public Service has been tackling head on for quite some time.
Pursuing that goal, Cornell Clayton, director of the Foley Institute, announced Sept. 25 that the institute has joined the National Civility Network, a program of the National Institute for Civil Discourse (NIDC).
The National Civility Network is composed of centers and institutes on college campuses around the country dedicated to creating a more robust democracy through collaborative projects focused on civility and civic engagement.
Foley Institute’s engagement with the National Civility Network will be spearheaded by Steven Stehr, who was recently named the Sam Reed Distinguished Professor in Civic Education and Public Civility at WSU. Stehr, who also serves as director of the WSU’s School of Politics, Philosophy and Public Affairs, plans to use the professorship—housed in the Foley Institute—to work with the NICD and other organizations to build programs to educate elected officials and the public more widely about the importance of civility in politics.
In addition to this new effort, the Foley Institute has sponsored numerous other programs and initiatives aimed at political civility.
Some of the most heated exchanges in Wednesday’s campaign debate between Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Democratic challenger Lisa Brown focused on the role of so-called “dark money” in the campaign.
Each candidate for Eastern Washington’s 5th Congressional District seat accused the other of taking advantage of political donations that aren’t traceable.
Travis Ridout, a Washington State University political science professor who studies political ads and fundraising, said when people usually refer to “dark money” in politics, they’re talking about groups like Equity Forward, not the Congressional Leadership Fund, which must disclose donors to the FEC.
“Most of what we see in politics is the 501(c)(4)s, who are not required to disclose donors,” Ridout said. “That’s why we refer to them as dark money.”
Democrat Maria Cantwell has easily won re-election to the U.S. Senate from Washington state in previous years, but as she seeks her fourth term this November she is facing her most recognizable opponent.
Republican Susan Hutchison, who spent two decades as a Seattle TV news anchor before leading the state Republican party for five years, said people are looking for change.
Cornell Clayton, director of the Thomas S. Foley Institute for Public Policy at Washington State University, said even though Hutchison is a recognized name in the state, she has an uphill battle in not only trying to take on a Democratic incumbent in a state where Democrats hold most statewide offices, but doing so in a year where Democratic voters appear to be turning out in force.