On liberal college campuses, Ronald Reagan is seen as someone who bullied women, the poor, minorities, and the LGBT community. Reagan, however, was no cold-hearted oppressor. His policies actually benefited marginalized groups, but this fact is often overshadowed by stubborn attempts to dress him up as an iconic white cis hetero male oppressor. I will debunk four of the biggest myths here. Continue reading
Last month, at an event at Scripps College intended to educate students on activism, I learned the art of “solidarity”—helping undocumented immigrants circumvent our nation’s immigration laws, and collectively shouting down opponents in student-led political protests.
Ever since the inauguration of Donald Trump as president of the United States, protests of his administration and other acts of resistance seem to be happening everywhere and every day, from the streets to the town hall meetings of members of Congress. Participation by my fellow college students in the “anti-fascist resistance” (or, in millennial speak, “anti-fascist #resistance”) is the norm, yet I had been puzzled as to how my peers planned to resist and what exactly the #resistance entails.
I finally had the opportunity to find out when I attended the event held by the #resistance at Scripps College with the purpose of teaching the students of the Claremont Colleges how to “resist the fascist and white supremacist policies being espoused and enacted by our current administration” by “[roleplaying] solidarity actions.” Walking in, I only had two questions that I hoped would be answered: Will the methods of resistance taught be legal, and how is this current administration fascist? I hoped that the former would be answered affirmatively, and that someone would at least attempt to explain the latter to me.
The event began with a discussion led by representatives from the labor union UNITE HERE, who explained that they hoped to teach students about the rights guaranteed by our country’s rule of law. Besides the gimmicky antics of the speakers, who called each other “comrade” and urged “students and [the] community to fight capitalism” in one of their PowerPoint slides, the opening discussion addressed the Trump administration’s deportation of undocumented immigrants and the legal rights of undocumented immigrants in a substantive way. The speakers explained, for example, the differences between administrative and judicial warrants, clarifying that only judicial warrants give Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents the authority to search private homes for undocumented individuals, and detailed the legal processes that undocumented immigrants face if arrested.
But this substantive discussion, which lifted my hopes, soon gave way to silliness—the roleplay simulation of ICE arrests, as well as a crash course on how to disrupt and protest in the streets and in the offices of politicians.
To simulate an ICE arrest, some participants (mainly students) were given roles as suspected undocumented immigrants; others were assigned to be ICE agents. When questioned by the ostensible ICE agents, the students who played suspected undocumented immigrants were instructed to pretend to be undocumented—staying silent in the face of ICE commands. This method saddened me; to set a precedent of undermining our rule of law is dangerous, and to expect the people of our country to buy into obstructing law enforcement belittles the decency and respect for the law Americans have. The organizers called this tactic “solidarity”; by pretending to not have documents, citizens and documented immigrants can make it difficult for immigration agents to find the undocumented individuals among them. However, teaching a group of presumably documented students who are mostly citizens how to pretend to be undocumented to show “solidarity” does not seem likely to solve the problems of illegal immigration. The change in content, from explaining the American legal system to obstructing the rule of law, struck me as another example of the organizers’ unconstructive message—teaching students how to hinder the rule of law should not be the answer to perceived injustices—but this message did not end here; the speakers soon started criticizing dialogue, touting uninterrupted protest as a better alternative.
Changing course, the speakers moved to discuss how protests trump dialogue as effective and just means of resisting the Trump administration, even if they block the flow of traffic and affect local businesses. To help students understand how to protest effectively as a “delegation,” the organizers initiated another roleplay scenario. I was assigned to be a member of the “herd,” the backbone of the delegation the role of which is to project numerical superiority. Some students played the role of “speakers,” who deliver the group’s message to a “person of power,” and others played “monitors” and “herders,” who are supposed to keep the delegation together and lead chants whenever the speakers encounter any trouble, which the organizers defined as any attempt to interrupt the speakers from delivering their message, even if it was an offer for constructive dialogue. I was hopeful that my peers would not believe suppressing dialogue is a solution to their perceived problems, but their enthusiasm proved me wrong. Their enthusiasm discouraged me; dialogue, the very foundation of communicating and solving problems with people of different opinions, seems to be shunned now. We simulated storming into a politician’s office and delivering a message, with the monitors leading a zealous chant of “Let them speak!” whenever the speakers were challenged by drowning out any voices of opposition.
After the event ended, I could not help but feel disheartened. Despite the commendable determination my radical peers displayed, it seemed they were willing to shut out dialogue to “deliver their message,” avoid confronting any challenge to their ideas by simply drowning out opposition with chants, and obstruct the rule of law that has served our nation so well. They were willing to divide and label this nation which we all share into groups of “oppressors” and “resistors,” all in an effort to challenge our democratically elected, though apparently “fascist” administration.
After almost two hours of indoctrination and “roleplaying oppression,” I left discouraged with my fellow students’ radical methods and misconceived ideas about the state of America—summarized by a souvenir in the form of a pledge card asking me to “fight back against the fascist policies of this new administration” and “engage in non violent civil disobedience.” However, most importantly, even after those two hours, I still did not have an answer to one of my central questions: “How is this current administration fascist?”
On January 30, the Forum, the official campus news bulletin of Claremont McKenna College (CMC), published an article criticizing the government department at CMC for lacking a sufficiently diverse body of professors. “In particular, students at CMC have voiced concerns about the problems with the program’s practical applicability and diversity, both in the composition of the faculty and in the courses offered,” the article states, going on to cite the department’s “homogeneity” as one of the main reasons for the school’s decade-long decline in the share of students majoring in government.
In reality, a lack of diversity (or a perceived lack thereof) is almost certainly not to blame for declining enrollment in government courses at CMC. In fact, the government faculty’s intellectual diversity is an enduring strength found at very few other American educational institutions. Declining interest in fields like government and the humanities more likely reflects a general trend of students looking to gain a more practical skill set in college, one that will serve them well in the job market. This trend also helps explain the increasing interest in STEM, economics, and other career-oriented fields of study.
But even if we put these facts aside, the accusation that the department lacks meaningful diversity is false. The diversity that matters in an academic setting is that of opinion, and by this measure, CMC’s government department is one of the most diverse in the nation. Learning the historical and ideological contexts of political systems and schools of thought, from a range of viewpoints, is fundamental in order to analyze and predict political trends with any degree of competency.
What the department may lack is the surface-level brand of diversity that is so uniformly and falsely peddled by campus leftists as being the only legitimate kind. Despite the merits of the faculty, the Forum reports that students are primarily concerned by one thing: “the biggest downside of the department…has been that the professors tend to be primarily white men.” But the fact remains that we came to college to learn, and learning is not contingent upon the skin color or gender of our professors. Assessing the value of what someone has to say based on his/her appearance or cultural background betrays shallowness at best and bigotry at worst.
Education is about people’s minds, not their ethnicities. And as the Forum article admits, one of the most impressive facets of the CMC government department is the impressive caliber of its individual members. Professor Charles Kesler, who is the editor of the Claremont Review of Books, published what turned out to be perhaps the single most influential conservative essay of the entire 2016 election cycle, “The Flight 93 Election.” Yet, the Forum labels the majority of the department as “products of times with different priorities,” flippantly dismissing the knowledge of these professors and their willingness to share it.
The range of views within the government department—from liberal to conservative and everything in between—is undoubtedly an asset to the department, as department chair Andrew Busch has said, and it is one of the main reasons the program and major gained national prominence in the first place. CMC’s government major has long been lauded as one of the few in the country where students are able to learn about liberal and conservative ideology and political movements from several distinct perspectives. An academic department that imparts ideological positions from all across the political spectrum is rare and useful, and should be protected.
At this moment, it is more important than ever for students to familiarize themselves with conservative ideas. The November election swept Republican politicians to power at the local, state, and federal levels. Knowing something about the foundational values of the Right will be especially valuable over the next few years to those who wish to work in real world politics. In this pivotal moment, it is strange to ask one of the nation’s premier government departments to become more like all of the rest in order to regain its unique excellence.
Making significant structural changes to the government department and its hiring practices in order to satisfy a superficial vision of diversity would diminish the merit of the department and the quality of the major. An academic department must hire professors based solely on their credentials, achievements, and abilities in order to provide students with the best faculty available. The Forum is wrong: the age, race, and gender of the present government faculty says nothing of their capacity to educate students in the fine art of politics.
Photo: Victoire Chalupe/Wikipedia
In light of the 2016 Presidential Election, voters across the political spectrum have debated the usefulness of the Electoral College. The Electoral College is different from the popular vote because it awards votes to states rather than to individual voters. Functionally, this means that the candidate that wins the election need not win the most individual votes. While Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by almost three million votes, the Electoral College nevertheless serves as the final arbiter. Opponents of the Electoral College insist that this makes the Electoral College “undemocratic,” and therefore unfair. Others defend the Electoral College as it exists, saying that the point of the Electoral College is not to be democratic, but to increase representation for small states.
The solution, the proportional system, is to remove each state’s winner-take-all provision in the Electoral College. Instead, a state’s electors should be decided by the percentage of the popular vote within that state. For instance, if Hillary Clinton wins 62% of the vote in California, she would win roughly 62% of its electors. This means that winning a state by a fraction of a percentage point, as Donald Trump did with Michigan or Hillary Clinton did with New Hampshire, no longer disproportionately impacts the electoral college.
There are a few problems with using a nationwide popular vote for presidential elections. First, it is unworkable in practice, especially in close elections. In 2000, when the election was razor-thin in Florida, the recount took months to determine. If in a future election the popular vote is decided by a razor-thin margin, a prolonged fifty-state recount would be long and expensive.
Second, it is philosophically wrong to use a popular vote for President. As James Bovard put it, “Democracy must be something more than two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for dinner.” History is rife with majorities oppressing minorities, be they religious, racial, geographic, or otherwise. The Electoral College gives a voice to geopolitical minorities—in this case, residents of small states. The founding fathers recognized the rights of small states, and they had no intention of creating a country ruled by pure majorities.
Finally, a national popular vote neglects rural areas. Campaigns have limited resources; it is more efficient for presidential candidates to campaign in densely populated cities rather than small-town America because their campaigns will reach more people. TV ads, billboards, visits, and other campaign expenditures have a greater impact on the total number of votes when focused in major cities rather than rural America. If the criteria for winning the election is to get as many votes as possible, there is no incentive to campaign in sparsely populated rural states; therefore, candidates can ignore the unique problems that voters in these states face. Due to their diversity, residents of different states may view national controversies in different ways, and some questions are entirely localized. The Keystone Pipeline, for instance, impacts the Dakotas differently than it impacts the coastal states. For candidates to accurately represent all Americans, they must address the entire country’s issues, not just the issues of states with high population densities.
This last problem of neglecting certain states, despite its intent, also happens in the Electoral College. The electoral college, as it exists today, does not force candidates to campaign in small states. Rather, it makes candidates spend their energy and money in swing states. Since a state like California is safely in the Democratic column, neither candidate will waste money campaigning there despite its large share of electoral votes. The same is true for deeply red states like Wyoming. The candidates spend money on swing states of all sizes—including small swing states like Nevada and New Hampshire and large swing states like Pennsylvania and Florida—to maximize the impact of their limited funds. Although the swing states do change from year to year, many states’ relevant issues are time-sensitive, but they are ignored because the Electoral College incentivizes candidates to spend their time elsewhere. The Founding Fathers did not intend for presidential candidates to spend the lion’s share of their time on just a few states. Candidates should represent all fifty states, not just the strategically relevant ones.
The proportional system is preferable to both the Electoral College and the popular vote., It gives people reason to vote outside of the Democratic or Republican parties. People who vote for third-party candidates are not wasting their votes if their votes return electoral votes for their candidates. In fact, Gary Johnson, Jill Stein, and Evan McMullin all would have won some electoral votes in November’s election had electoral votes been awarded proportionately rather than winner-take-all. These candidates would have won electoral votes even with the stigma that a vote for someone other than Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump is a wasted vote. When these candidates receive electoral votes, their ideas are included in the ongoing dialogue on national policy issues.
Additionally, it encourages voter turnout. On one hand, since candidates don’t have to win a plurality of votes in a state to earn some electoral votes, the votes from California Republicans and Kansas Democrats now matter. On the other hand, California Democrats and Kansas Republicans have a strong incentive to vote and help their chosen candidate pick up as many electors from their state as possible.
Finally, this system encourages candidates to campaign in all fifty states rather than only in states where the election will be close. Swing states already receive more national attention and funding during gubernatorial and senate elections. With a proportional allocation of electoral votes in each state, candidates can earn electoral votes from states that they don’t win. Narrowly winning a key swing state will not clinch the election, and narrowly losing a key swing state will not surrender it. Under the proportional system, if candidates only campaign in swing states, they forego the opportunity to both maximize their margins in states where they have strong voter turnout and to minimize their losses in states where they trail their opponents.
Two states already split their electoral votes in a different way: Maine and Nebraska. While these states split their electoral votes by Congressional district rather than by percent of the statewide popular vote, these two states are more relevant in American politics since they are not winner-take-all. As Nebraska split its vote in 2008 and Maine split its vote in 2016, they get more national attention, even though they are not ordinarily swing states. Using Congressional districts might work in Nebraska and Maine, but such a solution would not work as well in a state like Pennsylvania or Maryland, where gerrymandering would substantially skew the results.
The Electoral College today is not what the Founding Fathers envisioned, but replacing it with a national popular vote is not the answer. If the Electoral College simply removes its winner-take-all requirements, it preserves the central compromise of American politics, dating back to the creation of the U.S. Congress. The Electoral College is not a relic of the past. It simply needs to be updated to represent all Americans, no matter their ideology or geography.
Thanks to the Republicans, the federal government has been gridlocked for the last six years. The GOP almost shut the government down in 2015 by refusing to compromise with the White House on a budget deal. The Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell, refused to even set a date for the Senate to discuss President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, saying it was up to the next president to nominate someone. As Election Day neared and a Clinton victory seemed likely, Republicans said they’d be willing to block a Supreme Court nomination for the next four years. The Democrats looked on, smugly declaring that the Republicans were never willing to compromise and had sacrificed good government on the altar of partisan loyalty.
But now that Trump is about to take the White House, the Democrats and those who caucus with them on Capitol Hill have changed their tune. Recently, Senator Elizabeth Warren stated, “We do not compromise, not today, not tomorrow, not ever.” Democrats praised her for her absolutism. A day later, Senator Bernie Sanders tweeted that there would be “no compromise” with the new president. Democrats lauded him as a hero, one of the last bulwarks for social justice in America.
A ‘no compromise’ stance might work in a nation that is entirely homogeneous, but America is not that nation. If our government is going to work, there must be compromise on budgetary disputes, on nominations, and, yes, on social issues. The Democrats were happy to blame the Republicans for gridlock during Obama’s terms, yet now they are just as happy to support Sanders and Warren for preparing to do the exact same thing. Somehow, all thought of bipartisan bills or compromise in any area has disappeared. Better, the Democrats seem to think, to make the government not function at all than to give up even an inch.
As a Democrat, I can admit that there are issues on which I would not want to see compromise. However, the Democrats are dismissing any possibility of compromise before the president-elect even takes office, simply because they think cooperation with Republicans is impossible. In fact, the two parties also agree on many issues: criminal justice reform and encouraging economic growth, for instance. While there is some disagreement on how to achieve these goals, there is still plenty of room for compromise from the Democrats and the Republicans. Both sides seem to have forgotten this, though, and in 2016, a bipartisan bill intended to reduce the number of sexual assaults in the military—a cause both parties supported—almost didn’t pass, just because Democrats and Republicans were loathe to work with each other.
This is not to suggest that Democratic members of Congress ought to roll over and allow the Republicans to do whatever they want, nor is it to say that Republicans should have catered to President Obama’s every whim. However, vowing to never compromise—no matter which party does it—should never be rewarded. Our government is built on compromise. If Democrats want to defend their constituents over the next four years, it will be through seeking common ground with Republicans, not by fostering an us-versus-them atmosphere that ends all meaningful conversations before they start.
Instead of trying to lay the groundwork for future bipartisan cooperation, Democrats spent the last six years complaining about how Republican Congress refused to govern and blocked President Obama at every turn. Now, with a Republican about to enter the White House, those very same people are the ones yelling the loudest about how they will never compromise.
Not all the Democrats have adopted this strategy. When Donald Trump won the national election, Chuck Schumer, a Democrat, set to work on building a political relationship with the president-elect. Schumer is seeking common ground with the new administration instead of deciding immediately that the Republicans and president-elect share no goals with the Democrats. Schumer’s decision to compromise and open communication between the two parties will likely yield better results than vowing—as Senator Warren and Sanders did—to block every bill Republicans try to pass. And yet, Schumer is in the minority. Most of the Democratic Party has flooded towards Sanders and Warren, agreeing that it is better to stop the government from working for anyone than to compromise on any issue.
The American people need to stop rewarding politicians for refusing to budge on any of their beliefs and start rewarding them for actually doing their job: namely, passing bills. We elect Congress to govern, not shut down the government by refusing to compromise. A Congress that can’t agree on a budget is as useful as a Supreme Court with no justices.