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The Modern Constitution

in Contemporary Politics/Political Issues by

Imagine a roomful of politicians with disparate beliefs, tasked with creating a document to govern an entirely new country. In 1787, America’s founding fathers faced this seemingly impossible challenge. Countless debates, numerous committees, and five months later, the newly formed United States of America had the Constitution, the guiding document for our nation and the supreme law of the land. In the process of creating the Constitution, every word was deliberately calculated—the founders sought to create a document that protected America from humanity’s worst impulses. Yet, when reading the Constitution, perhaps the most notable aspect of its prose is its lack of specificity in many places. The preamble includes phrases such as “general welfare,”  an assertion of “establish[ing] justice,” and a declaration of “secur[ing] the Blessings of Liberty for ourselves and our Posterity,”   Furthermore, the Bill of Rights enumerated a list of rights without specifying the extent (or lack thereof) of those rights. Many cite this vagueness as a flaw. Counterintuitively, the ambiguity of the Constitution actually serves as its greatest strength—allowing for each generation to adapt it to its needs, as the Founders intended. Thus, the Founders effectively created a “living” Constitution through their use of ambiguous diction.

Nearly a quarter of a millennium later, our Constitution feels as if it’s being stretched nearly to its limits. On the left, many call for radical changes to our political system—including “abolishing the Senate” and electoral college. Meanwhile, on the right, the so-called “Constitutional Conservatives” are seeking to exploit Article V of the Constitution to trigger a Constitutional Convention, which would theoretically allow the quick implementation of “an amendment to the Constitution requiring Congress to balance its budget” and potentially other new amendments. As a matter of fact, 28 out of the needed 34 states have already called for a convention. Some, such as The Atlantic’s Jeremi Suri, suggest scaling-back the role of the Presidency to adapt to today’s multifaceted challenges. In this age of uncertainty for the viability and sustainability of our Constitution, Americans should not forget that the United States has been built upon the premise of our Constitution—and impulsively abandoning it to find quick fixes to a few of today’s political issues would be unthinkably short-sighted.

First, the Constitution must be established as deliberately written vaguely in order to ensure that the Constitution would be able to fit the needs of each generation. Second, historical rulings and evolving interpretations of the Constitution must be shown to support a living Constitution. Third, the US must identify how the Constitution can be interpreted today to address the challenges of the 21st Century.

The first aspect I will examine is the Constitution’s intentional ambiguity. The first—and perhaps most compelling—piece of evidence supporting the Constitution’s deliberate vagueness is the ongoing lively debate concerning its meaning. From Supreme Court Justices to politicians to lawyer to citizens, nearly every person has some way of interpreting the Constitution—and the range of interpretations are a testament to its ambiguity. For instance, Ruth Bader Ginsburg practices a philosophy that embraces the Constitution as a “living” document—one which adapts with the needs of the society. Others, most prominently the late Justice Scalia, practice textualism or originalism—which interpret the Constitution in modern-day as it would have been interpreted in the 1700s. In fact, Scalia called the Constitution is “dead, dead, dead” — refuting the notion of a living Constitution. Beyond just the disparity in philosophies, word choices like “general,” “well-regulated,” “liberty,” and “justice” are intentionally not clearly defined—leaving its meaning up to interpretation.  

However, to evaluate Scalia’s philosophy on his own terms, perhaps the best people to consult would be the Founders themselves. Thomas Jefferson proposed that the Constitution be redrafted with each generation to ensure that it suited the needs of the changing society. Moreover, Alexander Hamilton, Jefferson’s famous rival, also argued when referencing the Constitution that he never expects to see “perfect work from imperfect man.” That being said, other Founders argued for a more “dead” Constitution; James Madison, for instance, claimed, “The important distinction so well understood in America, between a Constitution established by the people and unalterable by the government, and a law established by the government and alterable by the government, seems to have been little understood and less observed in any other country.” Evidently, even the Founders struggled with how the Constitution should be interpreted. Yet, the unavoidable fact that the Constitution was written in such abstract terms—“well-regulated,” “general welfare,” and “establish justice” (to name a few)—implies that the Founders did indeed intend for the Constitution’s meaning to evolve to face the issues facing each generation.  

Secondly, I will consider the changing historical interpretations of the Constitution within our body politic. History—quite irrefutably—seems to support the interpretation of a living Constitution. For, in the original draft of the Constitution, African-Americans were considered “”three fifths of” white people. From an Originalist perspective, the Constitution supports the degradation of non-white people. However, through the lens of a living Constitution, Americans can recognize—and work to account for—the dark chapters of its history without remaining inextricably connected to overtly racist policies. A recent Pew Research poll found that 50% of Americans believe that the Supreme Court should interpret the Constitution’s meaning in light of its current meaning, while only 45% argued that it should be interpreted as it was originally written. For our Constitution to remain non-racist and viable, we must consider it in the context of modern society and contemporary issues.

Simultaneously, we must accredit the Constitution—identified in The Atlantic’s “How American Politics Went Insane” as the “DNA” of our country—with the success of America. The US is the wealthiest country in the history of the world, in no small part due to our Constitution.  As Ruth Bader Ginsburg recognizes, America has “the oldest written constitution still in force in the world.” The Constitution has immortalized America’s central values—forcing Americans to compromise to compromise so that “the few could not oppress the many, and the many could not oppress the few.” The Atlantic’s “How American Politics Went Insane” also supports this interpretation, arguing that the vagueness of the Constitution catalyzed the creation of vessels such as “state and national party committees, county party chairs, congressional subcommittees, leadership pacs, convention delegates, bundlers, and countless more” in order to execute the vision of the Constitution. To continue the scientific analogy, these “middlemen” were “RNA” to the Constitution’s DNA. Certainly, as arguably the oldest democracy in the world, America has its Constitution to thank for its comparatively unwavering adherence to democratic principles. Yet, the Constitution was designed to create gridlock if politicians “refuse to compromise.” In President George Washington’s farewell address, he warned against such partisanship, well-aware of the risk of devastating political gridlock as a result of such partisanship. Today, the tribalism that plagues contemporary politics—combined with attempts to subvert democratic processes to maintain power—threaten the sanctity of the Constitution. Essentially, these middlemen have began subverting—not supporting—the Constitution. In other words, the “RNA” that once helped realize the Constitution’s vision has grown defective—largely from this notion of Originalism. Textualists—both legislators and judges—often use the antiquated meanings of the Constitution to prevent progressive policies from passing. Even in seminal cases such as Brown v. Board of Education, court precedent was less emphasized in the decision than social science revelations. Decisions like that one underscore the vitality of using a living Constitution to account for the flaws of—as Hamilton famously said—“imperfect men.”           Finally, I will consider how the Constitution’s values have shaped the success of the US. Our Constitution has guided the US to a position of great power and wealth; coupled with a shrewd interpretation of the Constitution, that power and wealth can help lead the world towards solutions to challenges of the 21st Century. However, rather than just discarding the Constitution that has guided our nation for almost 250 years, we must put to rest the notion that the Constitution must be interpreted as the Founders intended—their intent was to ensure wealthy white men exclusively controlled the government.  If you believe that our government should function that way, then you absolutely can preach the necessity of Originalism. However, if you do not believe that only white men should control the government, then you—to some degree—believe in a living Constitution. Interpreting the Constitution as living certainly offers solutions to today’s most pressing issues: promoting the general welfare for “our Posterity” likely means ensuring the general survival of our species—mandating immediate action against climate change (a recent IPCC report suggests we have 12 years to act on climate change before it threatens millions of lives). Establishing justice probably implies executing a criminal justice system that does not disproportionately attack one race, as ours currently does (for instance, African-Americans represented just over 10% of illicit drug use, yet also represented over a third of all drug arrests).  Through a living interpretation of our Constitution—built on its deliberate vagueness—it certainly is equipped to face the challenges of the 21st Century.

Who’s Responsible for Solving the Opioid Crisis?

in Contemporary Politics/Political Issues by

The opioid crisis unequivocally threatens the general welfare of the United States of America. In 2016, the opioid crisis single handedly caused more American fatalities than the entire Vietnam War. Regardless of whether the Constitution is interpreted through an originalist lens or as a living document, both readings seem to support the notion that Congress is delegated the powers to “lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts, and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common defense and general Welfare of the United States. When viewed through the definition of welfare—“the health, happiness, and fortunes of a person or group,” it becomes abundantly clear that the opioid crisis is violating the general welfare of thousands of American citizens. When tens of thousands of Americans are dying annually from an opioid epidemic that is only worsening, Congress must adhere to the Constitution and provide for the general welfare of the American people.

Admittedly, there is no overt enumerated power that explicitly gives the federal government power to remedy a drug crisis, yet, even so, the Constitutional support remains particularly compelling for as to why the federal government has a Constitutional mandate to help remedy the Opioid crisis. The general welfare clause seems especially noteworthy when coupled with the Supremacy clause, which states “this Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land.” Put simply, the Opioid Crisis is threatening the literal, physical (and thereby general) welfare of Americans. Therefore, Congress (supported with the Supremacy Clause’s power over state laws) carries the burden of solving the Opioid Crisis. Moreover, given the alarming number of pharmaceuticals that are imported internationally or between states, the Commerce Clause further delegates the federal government power in fixing the Opioid Crisis. The Commerce Clause explicitly gives Congress the power “to regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes.” Barring the antiquated Indian Tribes phrase, the Opioid Crisis pertains to both interstate trade and trade between foreign nations. Pharmaceutical companies distribute opioids between states, and numerous amounts of synthetic opioids (which are quickly gaining popularity) come from countries such as China. Thus, the Commerce Clause also gives the federal government an obligation to remedy the ongoing opioid crisis.

Yet some, such as Real Clear Health’s Earl Baker, argue that the states are complicit in fixing the Opioid Crisis. Baker, in his article “The States Need to Step Up to Opioid Crisis,” calls for concurrent coordination between the state and federal government to remedy the Opioid epidemic. From Real Clear Health, an expert source for health-related issues, Baker explains how the states are not being vigilant enough in fighting the Opioid Crisis. He acknowledges that there must be coordination between the state and federal governments but seemingly suggests the states ought to orchestrate both the preventative and treatment efforts. In today’s world of intertwined, cooperative federalism, suggesting that the state government works alongside the federal one is far from an unreasonable or radical proposal. However, the real issue in Baker’s analysis lies in the fact that he largely places the responsibility of solving the Opioid crisis on the state governments and local communities. For instance, he unapologetically argues, “It’s time for the states to step up in the critical fight against opioids with more than just rhetoric.” In doing so, Baker misguidedly places the responsibility of a solution on the states. Sure, the states do in fact have a better idea of their communities’ specific needs. But the states cannot raise the funds necessary to solve their respective crises in a politically viable manner. The Federal Government must, at the very least, designate categorical grants to the states in order to ensure that states can afford to enact meaningful, reactive, and preventative reforms.

However, as previously mentioned, a reasonable reading of the Constitution implies that the Federal Government should be more involved in solving the Opioid crisis than just granting funds. Congress, to effectively fulfill their Constitutional duty of promoting general welfare, must put aside petty partisanship to legislate solving the Opioid epidemic with the interdisciplinary, multifaceted solutions it demands. They must consider the roles of pharmaceutical companies, doctors, foreign powers, and the black market in creating and exacerbating the Opioid Crisis. There simply is no quick and easy fix to such a widespread, devastating crisis.

As the Editorial Board of The New York Times say in “An Opioid Crisis Foretold,” legislators would be wise to treat the Opioid epidemic as a “complex, multidimensional problem.” The article uses historical events—ranging from China’s Opium Wars to the AIDS crisis—to evaluate how America should proceed in dealing with its newest drug epidemic. Comparing today’s Opioid Crisis with the fairly recent AIDS crisis, the Editorial Board recommends that Congress funds “prevention, treatment, support services, and research.”  Further supporting the Constitutional interpretation that the federal government must play a hand in solving the Opioid Crisis, the article calls for “stronger leadership” from the federal government.  Thus far, almost all of the funding designated to the Opioid Crisis has been spent on reactionary treatment services.  Although adequate funding for treatment is incredibly important, the already worsening Opioid Crisis seems likely to only become more devastating if Congress does not attack its root causes.  

Failing to respond to the deaths of thousands of Americans annually—a clear violation of the public’s general welfare—is an abdication of Congress’s Constitutionally-outlined duties. The federal government, working alongside state and local governments, must take charge in preventing the growth of the Opioid crisis, treating its victims, and funding research to best understand the causes and effects of this devastating epidemic.

Graphic Design by Jackson Edwards

www.realclearhealth.com/articles/2018/08/23/the_states_need_to_step_up_to_opioid_crisis_110820.html

www.nytimes.com/2018/04/21/opinion/an-opioid-crisis-foretold.html?rref=collection%2Fsection

 

Thoughts on the Trump Op-Ed

in Contemporary Politics/Political Issues by

The past couple of months have been a blow to the Trump administration. From Michael Cohen’s pleading guilty to federal fraud charges, implicating Trump in many of the Russian collusion claims made by the Mueller investigation, to Trump himself being criticized for fist bumping while entering a 9/11 memorial service, it would be safe to say President Trump has angered a significant portion of the American population. However, one of the most controversial topics concerning the Trump administration is the release of an Op-Ed by the New York Times containing an anonymous letter written by somebody in the Trump administration. In this letter, the anonymous writer admitted to covertly undermining Trump’s actions from inside his administration in order to curb Trump’s “misguided impulses until he is out of office”. The anonymous writer further stated that he is in agreement with the goals of the Republican Party, but believes that Trump is a “petty” leader. The writer of the op-ed reveals that even the members of Trump’s cabinet, who are often perceived as unreliable, actively try to slow the agenda of our even more unreliable president. In comparison to all of the other revelations against Trump, the release of the Op-Ed has the most damaging consequences due to the fact that a member of his own administration is defaming him. The Op-Ed has obviously caused unrest in the Trump administration, with Kellyanne Conway leading a manhunt for the author. How can we trust a president that is stopped by cabinet members that he chose? How can the American public trust an administration whose goal is the subversion of the president? With the upcoming election in November, I hope that more Democratic members are elected to Congress in order to provide more checks on our misguided president.

Since his election, Trump has been praised by members of his party for taking action. However, is this action safe for our country? Only time can tell.

Graphic Design by Jackson Edwards
https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/05/opinion/trump-white-house-anonymous-resistance.html

Jamal Khashoggi’s Death Should Not Be in Vain

in Foreign Policy/Political Issues by

The United States must retaliate against Saudi Arabia for their role in murdering Jamal Khashoggi. Khashoggi, a longtime journalist for The Washington Post, seems to have been murdered for his criticism of Saudi Arabia’s crown prince Mohammed bin Salman. The Saudis claim that they have no knowledge of Mr. Khashoggi’s fate. However, nearly all of the evidence points to the contrary. Khashoggi was last seen entering the Saudi consulate in Islamabad, where he was reportedly dismembered. Turkish officials have concluded that the “highest levels of the Royal Court” in Saudi Arabia ordered his murder. They report that a fifteen-person team (including some government officials) used a bonesaw to dismember Khashoggi. Yet, Saudi Arabia maintains that the fifteen men—who were in Turkey for less than 24 hours and flew in on a charter plane—were in Turkey for tourism. How often do tourists arrive on a charter plane (from a company that Saudis have previously used for government contracting work) and promptly depart at 3:13 AM? And how often do tourists bring a bone saw on their vacation? The evidence plainly and overwhelmingly suggests that this was the preemptive, orchestrated murder of a member of the free press.

Khashoggi (rightfully) was critical of Mohammed bin Salman in his articles, failing to shower him with praise for his “progressivism.” Ironically, Khashoggi’s murder exposes the superficiality of Mohammed bin Salman and his policies. Although he loves to pose as a more level-minded progressive, Mohammed bin Salman resorts to the same murderous tactics as his father and other similar autocrats when confronted with adversity–even from the press. Of course, now the US must determine how to respond to Saudi Arabia. In DC, there have been bipartisan support for swift retaliation if these allegations are true. Marco Rubio, for instance, promised “a very strong Congressional response” if the Trump administration does not do anything. Unfortunately, Marco Rubio has a history of not keeping promises, particularly when they require him to break with the President. Regardless, Rubio is right in thinking that a failure to respond to this murder would cost America immeasurable moral standing. If the US does not stand up for journalists—particularly the ones that work for American organizations—then the US would be realizing Trump’s image of the United States. Trump, while defending Putin (as he often does), was asked about Putin’s history of murdering journalists. Instead of denouncing Putin for his actions (as any sane person—much less President—would), Trump responded by saying, “What? Do you think our country’s so innocent?” If we did not respond to Khashoggi’s murder, we would indeed be complicit in the murder of journalists. We absolutely must respond and punish Saudi Arabia for their crimes. First, we need to cancel the impending arms deal with Saudi Arabia. This is a win-win; not only are we punishing them for murdering Khashoggi, but we’d also be encumbering the Saudi’s ability to wreak havoc on the Yemeni people. Second, we should do anything in our power to disrupt Saudi Arabia’s upcoming business conference—including withdrawing Sec. of Treasury Steve Mnuchin from the conference. The Trump administration needs to distance themselves from the Saudis. Finally, the US needs to put economic sanctions on Saudi oil. Although the Saudis could retaliate and temporarily drive up prices, doing so would be committing economic suicide for the Saudis, as well-analyzed by this New York Times article.

At first glance, it would seem that proponents of not sanctioning Saudi Arabia may be correct in thinking that the Saudi threat of raising oil prices is threatening to our economy. However, when evaluating that threat, we must consider two things: i) would the Saudis actually drive up their prices, as they claim they will? and ii) how would that affect our economy?

All signs seem to suggest that the Saudi’s threats are empty. If they drove up the price, they would shatter the reputation they’ve built over the past 45 years as a stable, reliable provider. American oil production since 2007 has doubled, making us nearly sustainable. Moreover, of the 800,000 daily barrels of oil we import from Saudi Arabia, many of those barrels go to support Saudi Aramco, the Saudi-owned refinery in the Gulf of Mexico. Cutting off oil trade to the US would cause irreparable damage to the Saudi Arabian economy—something that Mohammed bin Salman (who is solely focused on growing the Saudi economy and reputation) would not risk. In short, if the Saudis retaliate to sanctions by increasing oil prices, it would permanently and irreparably damage its economy and global reputation. Furthermore, although driving up oil prices would admittedly have a some temporary effect on the US economy, we could certainly turn to other countries and ourselves to replace Saudi oil. In fact, experts predict it would end up significantly helping our economy in the long run. The thinking that suggests the US is reliant on Saudi Arabia is outdated and inaccurate.

The barbaric murder of Jamal Khashoggi, an attack on America’s free press, demands a swift response. We can NOT turn a blind eye to our country’s principles because of the mere risk of a hiccup in our economy. There is no price worth sacrificing America’s ideals and morality. Khashoggi’s brutal death has prompted legislators from ALL sides of the political spectrum to reexamine US/Saudi relations. A growing number of Congressmen are beginning to acknowledge our part in exacerbating the horrific Yemen Humanitarian Crisis. We now face a choice as a Nation. We can ignore the inhuman murder of an American resident, succumbing to the fear that the Saudis might retaliate against us. Or, we can adhere to the ideals our nation supposedly values most—human rights, freedom of the press, and basic safeties—and retaliate against Saudi Arabia.

The US is supposed to serve as a beacon of moral leadership to other countries. Our unresponsiveness to the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, coupled with our role in enabling the deaths of thousands of Yemeni civilians, is a shameful abdication of that responsibility.

Of course, following this presidency has trained me to expect the worst, and then lower those expectations. Donald Trump likely won’t put sanctions on Saudi Arabia, and Republicans in Congress will probably not defy his agenda. As a matter of fact, Trump has said he likes the Saudis because “they buy apartments from [him].” However, if you feel strongly that there must be a check on the President’s worst impulses, then go vote (and make your friends and family vote) for people who are not afraid to check his worst impulses, unlike the current Congress.

Graphic Design by Jackson Edwards
https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/18/opinion/saudi-arabia-economy-united-states.html?\

 

Donald Trump’s Historic Economy

in Miscellaneous/Political Issues by

Despite what you might hear from CNN, MSNBC, Slate, and a myriad of other left wing news outlets, the Trump Economy is booming. The inflation rate has not doubled in the period of time he has been in office. In contrast, the inflation rate doubled under Obama multiple times due. This, combined with the 1.5-2% Real Wage Growth since Trump took office and the Trump tax cuts are allowing American households to save more money. Regardless of whether you like the tax cuts or not, a family of four with $59,000 in income would save $1,182 in federal taxes under the cuts. Additionally, new business confidence and consumer confidence indices report the highest levels since the nineties, meaning more businesses are feeling like they are in a safe environment. This increases the amount of capital put into the US to forward their company, and in turn, the American people. To top it all off, the unemployment rates are staggeringly low for all American peoples, regardless of race, sex, or wealth.

Although there have been significant tangible economic gains that have resulted from Trump’s economic policies, opponents to his governing style disapprove of his use of tariffs. However, the Trump administration is intending to use these tariffs to force trade partners to adopt fair trade practices, and redress existing trade imbalances. Some opposing analysts go so far as to saying that Trump’s tariffs would cause an economic and political disaster throughout domestic and international markets. However, this style of thinking has many faults. Using data provided by the MSCI World Index, a fund composed of high performing companies in all of the major markets of the world, it’s clear that overall global economic growth has risen 23% ever since Trump took office. In addition, the DOW Jones Industrial Average, S&P 500, and NASDAQ Composite have reached record highs here in the United States.

It is also important to realize how his tariff policy, however brash it may be, is having its desired function. When Trump used Twitter to state how he loved tariffs, he scared us- and the markets- for a while. But, over time, we understood that this was just Trump being Trump. He did not actually love tariffs, but how much power they gave him to sway other countries around the world, including many allies, who were charging exorbitant tariff rates on American goods.

So, what did this accomplish?

The EU, along with Canada, Mexico, and China* have been overpowered by the US and forced to sit at the table and negotiate, removing their tariffs against US natural gas, oil, steel, and much more, with more adding to the list every day.

The EU understood that they could not stand up to the US, so after a brief period of finger waving, Belgium and Germany came to the negotiating table. Without Germany, the rest of the EU has no hope of beating the US in an escalated trade war, as they are less efficient producers, have higher tax rates for companies, and lack natural resources. So, as we negotiate with the EU, they have suspended all tariffs against US goods.

With the Renegotiation of NAFTA, Mexico and the the US have agreed to amendments to NAFTA such as a six year lease on the deal which allows both countries to renegotiate a better deal if the current deal doesn’t ease trading multiple years from now. In addition, Canada is engaged in negotiations to do the same by the end of the month.

China cannot stand up against the US either in this trade war, as they are hurt much worse than America with the issuing of every counter tariff. The Shanghai Index YTD has fallen about 17% in valuation, whereas the US markets are up from over 14% on the NASDAQ, and the S&P 500 has gained 8.5-9% YTD.

And even though there have been significant gains in the economy thanks to Trump’s economic agenda, the true genius of his policies is the fact that they’ve forced us as a country to think more about our economic future and accept a hard truth: economic progress is just as important as social progress. Even though we live in an America plagued by numerous social issues, we can’t neglect the impact the economy has on all of our lives. The 21 trillion dollars of debt that loom over all of us have the possibility to affect our generation and the generations after us. Trump’s twitter rants and talk of tariffs, however unconventional they may be, provide the basis of a conversation that will define the prosperity of our country for the many years to come.

Graphic Design by Jackson Edwards
https://www.spglobal.com/platts/en/market-insights/latest-news/oil/091918-analysis-chinese-refiners-
Get-a-breather-as-crude-oil-excluded-from-the-tariff-list
https://markets.ft.com/data/indices/tearsheet/summary?s=MS-WX:MSI
http://time.com/5389853/unemployment-rate-near-18-yearl-low/
https://www.wsj.com/livecoverage/august-2018-jobs-report-analysis
https://data.oecd.org/leadind/business-confidence-index-bci.htm#indicator-chart
https://www.cnbc.com/quotes/?symbol=.SSEC
https://www.cnbc.com/2018/09/19/chinas-economy-could-feel-far-more-pain-than-us-in-trade-
Wars.html
https://data.oecd.org/leadind/consumer-confidence-index-cci.htm#indicator-chart
https://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2017/nov/07/markwayne-mullin/
https://tradingeconomics.com/united-states/wage-growth

Analyzing Political Correctness: Cultivating a Community of Mutual Respect

in Miscellaneous/Political Issues by

In America, a single misspoken word can end your career. With the internet’s pervasiveness, an unguarded moment of bigotry can quickly become the top search entry—next to your name. You must watch what you say, do, act, or else, the internet can end your future. In America, the land where many become one, the desire for “political correctness,” the avoidance of terms that marginalize discriminated groups, stifles discussion. For a better future, we must create a culture of respect rather than enforced silence.

First, political correctness functions as a protection for Americans when used correctly. I’ve noted that when people are politically incorrect, they tend to ostracize the “other.” Political correctness should come into play when Americans use words to paint an “Us vs. Them” picture. Politically incorrect words ignore the feelings of minorities and perpetuates an oppressive society. Thus, political correctness makes minorities feel American because they matter as people.

Nevertheless, I will admit that political correctness often stymies its own goals. In 2015, there was a controversy over Instagram filters lightening people’s skin tone. Even if the skin lightening occured, waving words like “politically incorrect” at Instagram’s defenders fuels greater separation between Americans. Excessive political correctness instills a belief that society has cured racism because only minor internet offenses enthrall public attention. Nowadays, due to hyper-awareness of “political correctness,” racism sneaks through the seams of our society because the vigilant public ignores the larger picture.

Stereotypes, at a certain point, are self-perpetuating. When I go to France, I expect to see baguettes. Yet, if the French decided that baguettes humiliated the French identity and stopped eating them, the French would lose a cultural icon. Stereotypes are acceptable so long as they are based on identity, geography, and physical conditions—not the color of one’s skin or one’s culture. Our nitpicking allows true discrimination to ignore the larger, more pressing crises as mere “political correctness” because we confuse acceptable and racist stereotypes. Thus, the fear of “political incorrectness” prevents many from even admitting that racism exists, which risks latent racism striking from beneath a unified facade.

Our last freedom resides in our minds, and people will resist the limiting of their thoughts. Laws and orders cannot change one’s inner beliefs because beliefs are not based on evidence, so even adamant “political correctness” campaigns will ultimately fail. Offensive beliefs cannot be regulated—only willfully changed. Americans are tired of the silence due to “political correctness.” Thus, the solution lies in educating the masses into treating differences with empathy—not mocking the uneducated for their narrow mindedness.

Although combating racial slurs can change how we think, no one will listen to “political correctness” unless a foundation of empathy and respect exists. By discussing race, we can understand why our words hurt. Educators, as authority figures, offer the best opportunity for respectful discourse in the next generation. When we learn what it means to be truly politically correct, to use respectful words, to listen, will we take the next meaningful step towards ending racism. We must rid the taboo of the “politically incorrect” and educate children to be respectful and ask questions. Only by teaching what is correct, how the incorrect affects people, and why it exists through open discourse, can we convince others to become respectful.

Graphic Design by Jackson Edwards

The Psychological Horrors of Family Separation

in Contemporary Politics/Political Issues by

It has been 53 days since July 26th, the date on which separated families at the border were supposed to be reunited. So, why are we still talking about it?  

Despite the myriad of promises from the Trump White House about reuniting these families, many still remain apart, wondering if they will see their loved ones ever again.

The backlash sparked by the Trump administration’s “Zero Tolerance Policy” and the forced parting of parents and children garnered national attention and outrage. It seemed that wherever you looked, you couldn’t help but see some mention of children being put into cages, screaming and crying for their parents. Horrific reports of abuse and mistreatment in detention centers and harrowing depictions of children forced to defend themselves in courts of law emerged as the summer went on. But, as time dragged on and the sensationalism of the story disappeared, so did the outrage.

The articles and anger can still be found, but they are few and far between. Without the considerable weight of the American public, I wonder if the current administration will make good on its promise to reunite all families.

Even if all those separated are returned to each other, the consequences of the current administration’s actions will live long beyond the policy and anger it sparked. Videos of children who no longer trust their parents, believing they gave them up and sent them away to the detention centers, have gone viral. But those feelings can’t last long, right?

Charles Nelson, a pediatric professor at the Harvard Medical School, has done extensive research on the effects of long term separation on children’s brains. Citing research based off a 2000 study done in Romania, Nelson and his colleagues found disturbing differences in the brains of children separated from their families compared to the brains of those who had not been separated.

Children separated from their families at a young age had “much less white….and gray matter,” the fibers that transmit information throughout our bodies, as well as the brain-cells that process and solve problems. Nelson compares the brain to a lightbulb saying: “it’s as though there was a dimmer that had reduced [their brains] from a 100-watt bulb to 30 watts.” These children scored lower on IQ tests, and seemed unable to react to stress. Simply put, our brain cells do not regrow and repair the damaged areas in the same way that the rest of our body does.

Why does the brain begin to malfunction? Contact is incredibly important to us as humans–we literally need to touch and have skin-to-skin contact with other humans in order grow and thrive. The sense of safety and comfort that comes from our families supports this, allowing us to grow emotionally, physically, and mentally. Children separated from a young age lose this sense of security, and their brain develops differently. According to Lisa Fortuna, the medical director for child and adolescent psychiatry at Boston Medical Center, “the part of the brain that sorts things into safe or dangerous does not work…things that are not threatening seem threatening.

These consequences are seen not only in the immigration populations in the US, but also in children separated from their parents due to divorce, foster care, death, or any other extreme scenario that forces family separation. According to Susan Hois, a Child Developmental Specialist, family separation causes slower development of linguistic abilities and higher anxiety and depression rates. The loss of control and general feeling of helplessness makes children more likely to act in ways detrimental to both themselves and others. PTSD is also more likely to form in children who have been separated from their parents–the younger the child and the longer the separation, the more likely an extreme reaction.

It has been 53 days since all the families were supposed to be reunited. The longer that the current administration waits to reunite families, the more likely the mental strain on these innocent children. The long term effects of these actions will have a profound impact on our society, especially concerning we have created a generation that has grown up with these traumatic memories. The Trump administration has ensured a legacy that will long outlive their time in the White House–the psychological effects produced by the separations will take a lifetime to undo, if not more.

 

The Constitutional Argument for Sanctuary Cities

in Contemporary Politics/Political Issues by

Imagine you have two undocumented immigrants who enter the country and settle down in a certain city. One of them, a 27 old male named Joseph, illegally entered the country seeking a no skill needed minimum wage job to support himself and his family back home. Unable to find a secure job in his hometown, he emigrated to the states in hopes of finding a stable source of income. The other is a 24 year old female named Jane who came to the US illegally in an effort to escape government corruption in her home country. Anyways, last week, Joseph was pulled over for a traffic violation and was brought into the local police station because he did not have a valid driver’s license. He was identified in the federal database and ICE was alerted. Also that week, Jane was arrested for theft and was similarly identified in the federal database; ICE was alerted. Under federal law, both these people should be detained and deported back to their home countries. However, it’s entirely unjust that a man who was charged with a harmless traffic violation receives the same penalty as the woman who committed a felony. Some cities today back this idea, calling themselves sanctuary cities, and choose to only honor federal immigration law to a certain degree. While the federal government and the Trump administration seems to target these sanctuary cities because they interfere with the larger scheme of mass deportation, municipal governments in these cities choose to not help with the enforcement of federal law.

This presents us with a conflict of interests. On one hand, the federal government is strictly pushing for the defunding of these sanctuary cities, while select municipal governments fight for their right to be free of federal control. So who should have the final say?

The constitution declares that the power ultimately falls to the state — or a city — under the 10th amendment. Author Ilya Somin of The Washington Post supports this claim in his article, “Trump Can’t Stop the Sanctuary Movement,” stating that regardless of the federal government’s pressure on a municipal government, the city is free to carry on with their plans (without facing consequences from the federal government). He cites a Supreme Court case, New York v. United States, to show that rulings have been made saying that it is illegal for federal governments to take control of state governments in order to execute their will. He continues to suggest that, although Trump’s threats of defunding of sanctuary cities may seem looming, they are in fact much more harmless because the federal government does not have the ability to simply cut off funding because they disagree with a state’s views.

His claims appear to be generally unbiased and well-supported, but lean more toward support of the state’s ability to execute their will over the requests of the federal government. He acknowledges the argument toward federal powers having the final say over the matter, but argues against it with constitutional support and relevant court rulings.

Furthermore, although Somin’s argument is structured around the theoretical inability of the federal government to interfere with state affairs, another article published by The New York Times examines a specific case: Trump’s attempted interference in the sanctuary city movement. Author Peter Markowitz discusses the Justice Department’s lawsuit against California, which is centered against 3 California laws that basically outline their sanctuary laws. He says the case is based off a similar case in which Arizona changed their legislation to one that did not require state police to aid federal efforts to enforce immigration laws. The lawsuit against California mirrors that lawsuit; if Arizona is not allowed to interfere in federal immigration enforcement, California shouldn’t either. He argues that California is not impeding federal enforcement of immigration laws, but simply taking themselves out of the equation, which he believes to be absolutely legal.

The choice to integrate sanctuary laws into state or municipal legislation falls outside the realm of the federal government. Pursuant to the 10th amendment, any power not enumerated to the federal government becomes the power of the state. Although immigration overall is a federal power, the federal government should be only able to use their resources to enforce its policies, not those of the individual states. The resources of the state should be utilized in enforcing the law of the state, rather than being at the hands of the federal government. If we allow for the federal government to interfere with matters that are clearly under the jurisdiction of the state, what will stop them from expanding their power from restrictions on sanctuary cities to a multitude of federal interests?  

 

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/09/opinion/trump-california-sanctuary-movement.html

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/volokh-conspiracy/wp/2016/11/26/federalism-the-constitution-and-sanctuary-cities/?utm_term=.a23e9144eb4b

 

Standing Up for Colin Kaepernick

in Contemporary Politics/Political Issues by

When Colin Kaepernick knelt during the National Anthem to raise awareness for the “[oppression of] black people and people of color” in 2016, his protest elicited instantaneous backlash. Dubbed spoiled, selfish, and anti-American, Kaepernick felt the ramifications of his protest immediately: he was shortly benched for the remainder of the season and has not returned to the field since the season of his protests. The fervor of the backlash to his protests raged from talk show hosts to congressmen to, unsurprisingly, President Trump

For instance, consider the prominent Fox News host Jeanine Pirro’s reaction to Kaepernick’s protests. She questions whether “we have the fortitude, courage, and determination to stand up to those who threaten our values” in the context of the NFL protests. Her ominous inquisition begs a few questions: What values, exactly, does Pirro see threatened by Kaepernick’s protests? To whom is she referring with the collective pronoun ‘we’? The answer, sadly, has little to do with Kaepernick or his protest. Pirro knowingly implies that black people are “threatening” the status quo—which oftentimes favors white people above minorities. At its crux, the protests are rooted in seemingly non-controversial ideas (the idea that black people should be treated justly should not outrage anyone); however, the fact that they are coming from black Americans rather than white ones provokes widespread backlash and “threaten our values” —referring to the values of white Americans.  The backlash to the protests reveal a dark truth about America: white people still control most of the power and influence in this country, and they do not intend to cede their power. Pirro’s intimations are reminiscent of the ominous “you will not replace us” language of the Charlottesville’s white supremacist riots. Perhaps more troublingly, President Donald Trump recently describes his personal utopia as a fantasy world where NFL owners would say to protesting athletes, “Get that son of a b*tch off the field right now. Out. He’s fired!” There is nothing anti-American about expressing an opinion; however, using the presidency to silence an opinion runs counter to the most fundamental of American values. Unfortunately, Trump and Pirro are not anomalous exceptions in their reactions; they are part of a systemic pattern against challenges to the status quo, which, ironically, is exactly what the football players are protesting.

Kaepernick’s protests proved effective — Google reports Kaepernick was within the Top 10 most searched athletes of 2016, an especially difficult feat to achieve during an Olympics year.  Eventually, Kaepernick’s movement spread across the NFL — players and teams across the league unified in an attempt to use their platform to raise awareness to the largely ignored or underemphasized issue of the unfair treatment of black Americans, ranging from the police shootings of innocent black people to the flawed criminal justice system that puts black Americans at a significant disadvantage. His reputation tarnished and his career effectively over, Kaepernick incited further controversy when he was unveiled as the face of Nike’s newest advertisement campaign. While many praised Nike and the ad, others burned their Nike shoes and made #BoycottNike trend on Twitter.

Shortly after the announcement of Kaepernick as the face of their ad campaign, Nike released a video, narrated by and starring Kaepernick, which features numerous young athletes who have pursued their athletic dreams—often overcoming rough beginnings or physical disabilities to do so. In fact, Kaepernick is the only prominent person featured in the ad who is not featured demonstrating his athleticism. Rather, Kaepernick, once a starting NFL quarterback, now walks alone through a city, while the buildings behind him project the successes of the other athletes from the video—a woman wearing a Nike hijab, a refugee who played soccer in the world cup, a young Serena Williams, alongside others. The symbolism is powerful: Kaepernick, instead of quarterbacking, is ushering in a more diverse, inclusive sporting world.

Colin Kaepernick—like all other people—is not perfect. Perhaps he did not sacrifice everything in his protests. Perhaps he has used the traction from the movement he created to fill his pockets. Perhaps he did turn down an offer to play as a backup quarterback. Maybe not. But what he has done—and what SPEC so tirelessly strives to do—is start a conversation. Kaepernick, if nothing else, has sparked a movement that has challenged people to thoughtfully examine the treatment of black people. People often talk about the merits of sparking a conversation or protesting civilly. Kaepernick just did it.

Graphic Design by Jackson Edwards

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fq2CvmgoO7I

www.foxnews.com/opinion/2017/09/24/judge-jeanine-pirro

www.nytimes.com/2017/09/23/sports/trump-nfl-nba.html

trends.google.com/trends/topcharts#vm=cat&geo=US&date=2016&cid

http://www.nfl.com/news/story/0ap3000000691077/article/

 

A New Look on Feminism: Breaking Misplaced Labels

in Gender Issues/Political Issues by

When I was growing up, my family members made very clear that gender does not limit a person’s abilities. When I was in 8th grade, I realized they were wrong. I thought sexism had died off with cooties in elementary school, but learning about things such as the wage gap and cat calling opened my eyes to a whole new world of discrimination. Yes, I had mocked double standards growing up. However, that did not mean that the rest of the world had necessarily caught on. At 14 years old, I grew outraged at our world. How dare my gender determine my opportunities in life. How dare I get unequal treatment. And that’s when I discovered feminism, the idea that men and women should be given equal opportunities.

At first, my rush to feminism was personal: I did not want these obstacles in my path, and feminism promised to remove them. I spoke to classmates about how ridiculous sexism is, and encouraged them to slap on the label as well. But there were two major issues with this: first, I didn’t entirely understand feminism. I thought it was merely a group that required unconditional support for all other women. Second, I gave little to no thought on the wide variety of causes feminism advocated for, and instead focused on the ones that specifically pertained to me.

And then one fateful day I saw a post bash Taylor Swift in my instagram feed, complaining about her “white feminism” and subsequent lack of actual activism. I was confused; this feminist account literally just bashed another girl, which according to my idea of feminism wasn’t supposed to happen. My confusion and the further research led me to my first breakthrough; feminism isn’t about unconditionally supporting other girls, it’s about judging them using the same criteria you’d judge males. You’re “allowed” to dislike other women, but feminism just says if you do, then it better be for legitimate reasons and not because of the way she dresses or a misguided sense of jealousy.

And then the phrase “white feminism.” I had no idea what this term meant, so yet again I googled it. Wikipedia informed me that “white feminism is a form of feminism that focuses on the struggles of white women while failing to address distinct forms of oppression faced by ethnic minority women and women lacking other privileges.” Having grown up relatively sheltered, I had to do a solid bit of research to find out what oppression these non-white women were experiencing. And that’s when my privilege hit me.

While I was angry at the wage gap, particularly those 19 cents I felt personally robbed of, as of 2017 African American and Hispanic women were only making 68 and 62 cents to the man’s dollar respectively. More frighteningly, African American women experience domestic violence at a rate 35% higher than that of white females. Even yet still, American Indians are twice as likely to experience a rape/sexual assault compared to all races. I realized that women of color experience exponentially greater discrimination than I would ever ordeal; on the daily they encounter obstacles I have never faced and won’t ever have to. But race is only one factor in the broad spectrum of sexism; class and religion also determine the levels of discrimination a woman can experience. It was humbling and scary to think of all the ways the circumstances of my birth, my natural-born privilege, had shielded me from the harsher realities some women have to face every day. I did not deserve to be born to this life any more than a struggling sex worker on the street deserved to be born into hers. This is not to say that all sex workers are struggling or all of them were forced into the industry, but the point still stands: no one earns their privilege. Conversely, no one deserves to be discriminated against for factors outside of their control. Cue intersectionality.

Intersectionality is another form of feminist ideology that is almost the opposite of white feminism. The concept states all oppression in a society stems from the same certain ideals. Therefore, advocating against your one specific form of oppression creates limited progress, progress only for you and your small minority. In short, you need to tackle the roots of oppression, the ideals creating an environment of oppression for all, to enact real change.

For example, toxic masculinity leads to the belittlement of both women and the LGBTQ community, cutting down anyone who displays “feminine” characteristics. So women could either focus on just themselves and advocate for more female CEOs, or we could protest toxic masculinity and work to create a healthier environment for boys and girls alike, regardless of sexual orientation or pronouns. Both paths have an impact, but there’s no question as to which one benefits a wider range of people.  

White feminism is the opposite. It’s the advocacy of privileged women, whether by race or socioeconomic status, for increased representation in society. Although it can align with problems feminists in general deal with (catcalling, wage gap, workplace discrimination), white feminists tend to ignore the issues that disproportionately affect less privileged women (such as increased rape statistics, police brutality, and the cycle of poverty). This is what Taylor Swift had been called out for. The most prominent example of white feminism excluding less fortunate women is a highly educated woman advocating for paid maternal leave in her company but not giving her housekeeper the same parity. The white feminist isn’t malicious; her heart is most likely in the right place. She is most likely just unaware of the misfortune around her. If you see a hint of white feminism in you, take some time to introspect, but don’t dwell too much. You’re still leagues ahead of the people who insist they can’t be feminist “cuz they’re guys.”

So there you have it: while white feminists give priority to certain causes pertaining to the privileged few, intersectional feminists advocate for all. This means they don’t just show up to the Women’s March, but also Pride and Black Lives Matter marches.

While such unwavering solidarity sounds ideal, this exposes one of intersectional feminism’s biggest flaws: though it “creates a unified idea of anti-oppression politics”, it “requires a lot out of its adherents, often more than can reasonably be expected,” resulting in a lack of action. Basically, it’s hard to advocate for so many groups of people in all aspects of your life. While this criticism is definitely warranted, I personally find it worthwhile to at least try.

Having finished my research, I realized I was a white feminist and felt ashamed. While I thought I was advocating for feminism, I was really just advocating for myself. The idea of feminism is to uplift all women everywhere. That day I chose the intersectional interpretation: all women everywhere regardless of race, sexual orientation, ability, or socioeconomic background. And while it may be impossible to implement perfectly in reality, the awareness it champions for and the small steps we can take together make me a proud intersectional feminist to this day.

Graphic Design by Jackson Edwards

https://www.google.com/search?q=define+feminism&oq=define+feminism

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/White_feminism

https://www.doj.state.or.us/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/

https://rainn.org/statistics/victims-sexual-violence

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/

 

 

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