Category Archives: Opinion

Should I Vote?

When the two most popular candidates are as disliked as Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, it becomes difficult to decide whether or not to vote. Our more ardent friends tell us that voting is a constitutional obligation. They say that it stands for all the people who died for our right to vote, but neglect to say that you ought to vote for your values. Voting for one’s values has been the way that America has operated for generations. This can be seen in the election of 1912, with Woodrow Wilson, William Howard Taft, Eugene V. Debbs, and Theodore Roosevelt. The election held four parties: democratic, republican, socialist, and the progressive party, and each one adequately represented a different sector of the voting base. The democrats with Woodrow Wilson took just over 41% of the popular vote, but won by a landslide in the electoral college due to the diverse options that the American people were given. Even the most removed candidate, Eugene V. Debbs with the socialist party, received 6% of the popular vote, which is more than what Gary Johnson is currently polling nationwide.

If the candidate does not represent you, why should you vote for them? Recently, the question has changed from “Who should I vote for?” and has become “Who should I vote against?” With the assistance of party-line voters, more elections are being decided on the lesser of two evils rather than a popularly appealing candidate. This consequentialist mindset can be extremely dangerous. On one hand, it allows an individual to assess the “greatest good,” but it also reduces the possibility for change. Third party candidates are at the mercy of party-line voters, who make up such a strong majority of the voting population that the candidate on the outside has to fight against the predisposition to vote for whichever party the voter is affiliated with. Specifically, the fear that the more radical and ignoble side will win. This encourages a false dichotomy that forces the potentially interested voter to act out of fear of the opponent rather than out of an interest in improving the country because the chances of a third party candidate are almost entirely ruined by party-line voting.

The other major problem with consequentialism is that it devalues individuals’ ideals. In the 1964 election, voters overwhelmingly voted for Lyndon B. Johnson not because they particularly liked him or agreed with his values, but rather because Barry Goldwater was so extreme and bigoted that no one wanted to be associated with his name. The electoral vote was a landslide, with 486 for Johnson and 52 for Goldwater. This doctrine places the consequence of the election above what the individual actually desires. Voters may be forced to compromise their values in favor of a net beneficial effect. Further, when compromise is made, internal party reform becomes challenging. If the individual concedes on topics that may be critical to them, they will have to accept whatever outcome they receive regardless of their ideals. The consequences of these outcomes inevitably degrade the voter’s values. At some point, they may sacrifice enough of their morals that they do not even know their own values anymore. When they come to the point where their moral inconsistency is acceptable, then their good becomes indistinguishable from the opposition they find so heinous.

The conclusion of this argument implies that you should only vote to your values and disregard the consequences, but there are major problems that follow with this train of thought as well, which lie in the neglect of the consequences. This may sound odd given the problems with solely valuing the consequences, but entirely disregarding them can also be problematic. While stating that no compromises can be made does solve the problem of internal value degradation, it implies that if a candidate does not fulfill every last one of your values, then they are not worth voting for. This can lead to an outcome where extremely harmful and disadvantageous political candidates are able to win because their values resonated with the largest group of voters, even though their supporters may be a national minority. For example, if only a tenth of the population held the same set of extreme values, and the remainder of the population held differing moderate positions, then a candidate who represents the smaller portion could win if the remaining eligible voters abdicated their vote because they did not connect enough with a representative. This can lead to harmful long-term effects on the nation as a whole, as the candidate who held the values of that decile of the population now holds the power of the nation.

The final option between values and consequences lies in compromise. Someone can understand that consequences are important but also take into account that they need to consider their values. The difficulty here is finding the proper balance between these ideals. From voter to voter they will be different, and perhaps they will even be indescribable, but as long as people understand that a proper vote requires consideration of both of these things, then perhaps we could have a viable election that balances the ideals of the people. When answering the question, “should I vote?” only the voter can decide by weighing their values against the dangers of the opposition.

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Image: Flickr

Trouble for Trump

With 15 days to go, Hillary Clinton has cemented her position as the overwhelming favorite to win the election on November 8th.

Nationally, Mrs. Clinton has amassed a 6-point lead, according to this morning’s RealClearPolitics average. In live voter surveys, which have been more accurate in past elections than online polls, the Democratic nominee leads Donald J. Trump by an average of about 10 points. Online and IVR1 polls show a tighter race, with Mrs. Clinton maintaining a 3-point advantage among those surveys.

After the first presidential debate, Donald Trump lost traction in the most competitive states and has failed to recover. He now is underperforming 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney in nearly every battleground state, and his path through the Rust Belt—long thought to be his best shot at victory—has closed.

Mr. Trump is doing well in Ohio and Iowa, states where he holds a decisive demographic advantage. But in all-important Florida, where President Obama defeated Republican Mitt Romney by only 0.9 percent in 2012, Mr. Trump lags by four points. He also is behind in North Carolina, where Republicans won in 2012.

2016 Polls vs. 2012 Final
State 2012 Final Vote 2016 RCP Average % Change from 2012
Florida +0.9 Obama +3.8 Clinton +2.9 D
North Carolina +2.0 Romney +2.5 Clinton +4.5 D
Nevada +6.7 Obama +4.2 Clinton +2.5 R
Colorado +5.4 Obama +7.2 Clinton +1.8 D
Virginia +3.9 Obama +8.0 Clinton +4.1 D
Arizona +9.1 Romney +1.3 Clinton +10.4 D
Pennsylvania +5.4 Obama +6.2 Clinton +0.8 D
Michigan +9.5 Obama +10.0 Clinton +0.5 D
Ohio +3.0 Obama +0.6 Trump +3.6 R
Iowa +5.8 Obama +3.7 Trump +9.5 R
New Hampshire +5.6 Obama +8.0 Clinton +2.4 D
Wisconsin +6.9 Obama +7.0 Clinton +0.1 D

There are other warning signs for Mr. Trump. Though his path to the White House is through the Rust Belt, he is losing badly there. He has not led or tied a single poll taken in Wisconsin since mid-September, and in Michigan, he is down by about nine points. Even in these states, favorable demographics have not helped the G.O.P.’s chances, with Mrs. Clinton showing gains across the northeast relative to President Obama’s finish there in 2012.

Mr. Trump also is fending off challenges in unlikely places. In Arizona, a state which Mitt Romney won by nine points, he and Mrs. Clinton are effectively tied. But even if Mr. Trump manages to avert disaster there, he might lose deep-red Utah to anti-Trump hometown hero Evan McMullin, who rocketed to a four-point lead in a four-way poll conducted last week. FiveThirtyEight’s now-cast, a statistical model that predicts who would win if the election were held today, gives Mr. McMullin a shocking one-in-four shot of taking Utah—and becoming the first third-party candidate to win an electoral vote since 1968.

No candidate has ever emerged from such a weak polling position in so little time. With no more debates on the calendar, Mr. Trump is out of opportunities to change the media narrative to his advantage, and few undecided voters remain to be convinced by either candidate. Barring a polling error of unprecedented proportions, Hillary Clinton will become our nation’s next president.

In this election cycle, however, stranger things have happened. It is possible that pollsters have underestimated the turnout Mr. Trump will generate among his base of blue-collar whites, thereby unintentionally skewing the results of their surveys in Mrs. Clinton’s favor. Voters also dislike both candidates more than they have any other presidential contenders in the history of modern polling, making it hard to predict exactly which groups of voters will turn out on November 8th and which will stay home out of frustration. Others, including the Trump campaign itself, have cited “shy Trump voters”—individuals who are unwilling to disclose to pollsters that they support his candidacy when in fact they do—as a possible justification for the Republican nominee’s poor polling position.

But even accounting for these possibilities, Mr. Trump is still the underdog in this race, and a victory—if possible at all—would be extremely narrow. The electoral map is unfriendly, the polls are even worse, and the Trump campaign lacks a substantial get-out-the-vote effort in nearly every contestable state.

Donald Trump is in deep trouble.


Photo: Evan Vucci/AP

Featured Image: Gage Skidmore (flickr)


Footnotes
  1. Interactive Voice Response polls, otherwise known as robocalls.

A World That Never Changes

Because world-changing ideas have to be brand new, they often come from people you wouldn’t peg as ‘world-changers.’ These new ideas aren’t going to be what most people think, so the person who comes up with them has to be a little outside the realm of most people – they have to be a little abnormal, just like their idea. If it was normal, then it wouldn’t alter the world. And if the person was completely normal, they would not have cause to question what’s commonly accepted.

Even if someone has an earth-shattering idea, the strength of majority opinion makes implementing it difficult; not only did Galileo have to conceive a new way of understanding the universe, but he also had to find a way to surmount the Italian Inquisition.

What’s worse is when the world-changer is written off even before they have a chance to speak simply because society considers them useless. Even after escaping slavery and developing himself into a literary genius, Frederick Douglass still needed to defeat the common assumption that the color of his skin made him inherently valueless.

The measures society accepts to rid itself of “undesirables” are truly disturbing.

Danish public opinion, for instance, considers Down syndrome a sign of worthlessness and 60% of Danes look forward to eliminating  Down syndrome in 2030 through subsidized abortions. Twelve years ago, the Danish government introduced free prenatal screenings. A year after the policy was enacted, the number of Danish babies born with Down syndrome halved. The Copenhagen Post now reports that “[i]f current health policies and trends continue, Denmark could be a country without a single citizen with Down syndrome in the not too distant future.”

As the Copenhagen Post observes, this is not an uncommon opinion in the US or the UK where 92% of all fetuses diagnosed with Down syndrome are aborted. In fact, there are whole groups dedicated to eliminating this and similar disorders in vivo. For example, the California Prenatal Screening Program’s primary goal is “to reduce the occurrence of birth defects and disability by offering prenatal screening and follow-up services to pregnant women in California.”

A similar practice is running rampant in India, where female babies are considered less valuable than males. Even after gender testing was outlawed, up to 4 million girls were aborted between 1991 and 2001, and a further 6 million by 2011, vastly outpacing the abortion of male fetuses. The ban is poorly enforced, and legal abortions make it possible for families to have sex-selective abortions. As in the case of Denmark, India is hardly alone in their behavior. According to Scientific American, sex-selective abortions were being considered as early as 1950.  Other societies which value women lower than men suffer from abortion-fed gender imbalances. In China, it has led to a spike in sex trafficking, notably of young girls.

All these nations fall into a larger pattern. There has never been a society in history without prejudices. So when it is legal to choose who deserves to live, society seems to inevitably target the marginalized and unwanted. This is why abortion has long been tied to eugenics in one form or another. Planned Parenthood was founded by a leading advocate of eugenics, Margaret Sanger, who believed it would be an integral part of the eradication of the “unfit,” and observed that, “Eugenics without Birth Control seems to us a house builded upon the sands. It is at the mercy of the rising stream of the unfit.”

And she was right that eugenics relies on birth control. Frederick Douglass faced terrible odds at birth, but he had a slim chance to prove mass opinion wrong. Through his perseverance, he was ultimately able to argue against the society that had devalued him and lived as irrefutable proof that they were wrong about his unworthiness. Aborted children have no such opportunity. If nearly every disabled child is aborted, they have no chance to prove their equal value and the incorrect assumption that they don’t deserve to exist endures.

Regardless of whether one thinks a fetus is human, the fact that abortion supports the elimination of the oppressed and helpless before they can even draw breath is sickening. Enacting such eugenics will prove detrimental to society—such a society won’t have many world changers. It will not include men like John Nash or Albert Einstein. No, their respective mental disorders would have cut their lives terribly short.

As genetic testing becomes more precise, where might this end? It is not difficult to imagine fetuses with ADD, dyslexia, anxiety, or bipolar disorder being systematically aborted. Even queer children could fall to the march of progress; scientists have long suggested that homosexuality can be linked to certain genetic markers. If these genetic markers can be identified before birth, might families choose to abort their queer or trans pregnancies before the child is born?

Surely, the resulting society would be a cold and callous one: one in which a person’s right to life depends on their social utility. Once put into place, it will likely stay that way.

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Image Source: Flickr

Safe Spaces: Where Free Press Dies

It is unbelievable how freedom of the press, a right our Founding Fathers so cherished, has eroded in a country that prides itself on its liberties. It is unbelievable how the right to cover an open event, which freedom of the press entails, cannot be practiced on college campuses.

Last week, while trying to cover an open event discussing the role of the Asian-American and Pacific Islander (API) community in the Black Lives Matter movement, hosted by Pomona College’s Asian American Resource Center (AARC)—which considers itself a “safe space”—I uncovered the sad state of free press at Pomona College. I was hoping to objectively cover this event, to bring out the little-known viewpoints of the API community on the Black Lives Matter movement. This hope was greeted by resentment and hostility, and I left with one message: Freedom of the press does not belong, and is not welcome, in safe spaces.

The process of stifling free press begins right as a journalist walks through the doors into the safe space. While I was initially welcomed when I asked if I could record the event and take notes, further questioning revealed I was trying to cover the event for a student-run publication. Even then, the event facilitators extended their warm welcome, until it was brought to light that this student-run publication was The Claremont Independent, a conservative-leaning paper. No more warm welcome and no more recording allowed, but I was still permitted to take notes.

The death blow of free press in this “safe space” struck later, when I started to take notes on my laptop just as the event began. As I finished typing my second line of notes, I was informed that note-taking would only be permitted if it was approved by all participants of the event—if even one participant objected to my note-taking, I would not be allowed to take notes. Unsurprisingly, after a blindfold vote, at least one person voted against note-taking, and I was told to stop taking notes. I was told that taking notes made participants uncomfortable, and that I should respect the AARC as a “safe space.” In a subsequent meeting with the director of AARC, I was told the AARC functions primarily as a “safe space” where participants should feel comfortable, and that people’s fears and concerns of an Independent journalist taking notes should be respected in this safe space, adding that the AARC does not want its views advertised to an audience the Independent could reach.

Despite making it clear that speech at this event should make all participants comfortable, attacks on capitalism and “capitalist violence,” the “heteropatriarchal” society, and traits of the “model minority” (like working hard and obeying the law) were left unchecked, without the slightest consideration of whether I, with differing political views, would feel comfortable listening to endless assaults to values which I hold dear. Yet with free press dead, who dares challenge this hypocrisy?

In the college campus “safe space,” with no freedom of the press, there is no check on the lack of ideological diversity, no way for “safe spaces” to promote their messages through an objective third party, and no way for the public to know about and effectively help pressure and protest against the hypocritical “inclusiveness” of safe spaces.

Free press is the restraint that keeps “safe spaces” from becoming “hate spaces” that do not fear whether the stifling of differing views, the silencing of people from different parts of the political spectrum, and the venting and promotion of anger towards certain groups of people, will ever be exposed to and critiqued by the public, where there is no fear whether the public will pressure them to change. Because, without the restraint of free press on safe spaces, the public will simply never know.

Unless safe spaces are made accessible to the free press, journalists need to abide by a new rule concerning reporting in safe spaces: Don’t try. Yet I remain confident, and hopeful, that through the efforts of those who act to uphold our Founding Fathers’ values on college campuses, the rule for journalists will be “Dare to try. Dare to uphold and defend the diversity of opinion, freedom of expression, and freedom of the press.”

The Only Part of Last Night’s Debate You Need to See

Yesterday’s debate featured exactly the Trumpian performance we’ve come to expect: the Donald’s signature one-two punch of incoherence and lies, paired with enough bizarre non sequiturs—“I have a son who’s 10, he’s so good with computers,” anyone?—so as to border on the surreal.

With such a ‘bigly’ amount of sheer ineptitude, however, genuinely important debate moments are being forgotten. It’s easy to miss the insanity buried amidst the absurd, the moments such as when Trump accused Clinton of fighting for her entire 68 years of life against an organization started in 2004. But one of Trump’s less provocative monologues contains the most substantive policy revelation of the debate. It is a microcosm of the debate as a whole; if you don’t have the time to watch the full debate, all you need to do to understand Round One of Trump v. Clinton is to read this three-paragraph transcript of the Republican nominee’s response to the following question from moderator Lester Holt: “On nuclear weapons, President Obama reportedly considered changing the nation’s longstanding policy on first use. Do you support the current policy?”

The first paragraph seems innocuous at first: “Well, I have to say that, you know, for what Secretary Clinton was saying about nuclear with Russia, she’s very cavalier in the way she talks about various countries. But Russia has been expanding their—they have a much newer capability than we do. We have not been updating from the new standpoint. I looked the other night. I was seeing B-52s, they’re old enough that your father, your grandfather could be flying them. We are not—we are not keeping up with other countries. I would like everybody to end it, just get rid of it. But I would certainly not do first strike.”

Did you catch it? After Trump’s vague comments on Secretary Clinton, after Trump’s incorrect statement on Russia’s military capabilities, after Trump’s rambling anecdote about B-52s? The part where Trump says he was in favor of a policy that the U.S. has not endorsed throughout the over 70 years in which nuclear weapons have been existent?  Yes, right there at the end, Donald Trump states that he would never use nuclear weapons unless another country had already done so–a policy change that President Obama recently declined to enact, could signal American weakness, and of which Mr. Trump had previously spoken negatively. But in the next section, surely Mr. Trump must explain the rationale for his about face!

Nope.

“I think that once the nuclear alternative happens, it’s over. At the same time, we have to be prepared. I can’t take anything off the table. Because you look at some of these countries, you look at North Korea, we’re doing nothing there. China should solve that problem for us. China should go into North Korea. China is totally powerful as it relates to North Korea.”

Trump tries to explain his reasoning, but what he says is so vague as to defy interpretation. What exactly is this “nuclear alternative” of which he speaks? When he says he “can’t take anything off the table,” is he referring to the nuclear first strike policy he renounced seconds earlier?

What’s frightening about these two passages is what’s frightening about Trump and is emblematic of his performance in this debate. Trump tends to take fringe policy positions, and then indemnify himself from risk by making vague or contradictory statements so that he can change his narrative to fit the political mood du jour. This way, if his answer here is brought up in a critical way, he’ll use the hemming and hawing that immediately followed his answer to justify whatever flip-flop he deems to be politically expedient. Or alternatively, Trump just gave the first answer that came to mind and then equivocated to fill his time because he didn’t actually understand the question asked of him.

Oh, I almost forgot the third paragraph I mentioned; that’s actually just the sentence that immediately follows from where we left Mr. Trump. “And by the way, another one powerful is the worst deal I think I’ve ever seen negotiated that you started is the Iran deal.”

This passage is the scariest for hardcore Trump supporters. With their anti-immigrant sentiments, one can but wonder how they could ever bring themselves to vote for a candidate who can’t speak English.

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Image: Flickr

 

 

 

What Is Killing American Politics?

To find the greatest irony of this year’s presidential election, look no further than any one of the national polls conducted since the final presidential primaries took place in June.

Majorities of voters disapprove of and mistrust each major-party presidential nominee. Three-fifths of the electorate views Republican Donald Trump unfavorably, and less than one-in-three voters describe Democrat Hillary Clinton as “honest and trustworthy.” Third-party candidates—little-known even to some of their most ardent advocates—are earning historic levels of support. Libertarian Gary Johnson, who won less than one percent of the vote in his 2012 general election run, now regularly polls in the double-digits, backed by a ragtag coalition of millennial voters and political independents. And for the Republicans and Democrats who have decided to toe the party line in November, negative voting is more common than ever, with over half of Republicans and nearly as many Democrats viewing their votes more as opposition to the other party’s nominee than as affirmative support for the candidate they have chosen.

Dissatisfaction with the American political process has spread to nearly every corner of the national fabric, and for some voters, the sense of disillusionment could not be stronger. According to an editorial which appeared this month in The Boston Globe, over a third of likely voters from both parties agree with the statement that “the election will be rigged.” These are not wild-eyed conspiracy theorists who believe that their fellow Americans will cast more votes than the law allows. They simply have lost all faith in the system. For them, democracy has died. No matter their choice, nothing will change.

In reality, however, democracy is far from dead—and therein lies the irony. Today, though voters almost entirely control whom the major political parties nominate, their dissatisfaction with the process and the candidates it produces has reachedrecord-breaking heights.

The 2016 presidential primaries granted voters near-total control over the selection of party nominees. The vast majority of Republican delegates were bound to vote for the winners of their states’ primaries or caucus elections. In the case of the Democrats, a cadre of unbound superdelegates—composed of party leaders and long-time party loyalists—exists ostensibly to counter popular impulses, but it never does. In 2008, superdelegates threw their weight behind Illinois senator Barack Obama instead of their preferred candidate, Hillary Clinton, on account of the groundswell of popular support behind his campaign. This year, Hillary Clinton was the clear choice of Democratic Party voters, having won nearly four million more votes than Vermont senator Bernie Sanders over the course of the primaries. For the Republicans, Donald Trump won even more decisively, earning nearly six million more votes than his closest competitor to secure the nomination.

For both Democrats and Republicans, the modern presidential primary is democratic to its core—a far cry from the mid-twentieth century, when this process first took shape. State party bosses dominated the old system, exerting power over their crops of convention delegates in order to sway the outcome in favor of their preferred candidates. The national conventions of yore were private affairs, taking place in the backrooms where public input was nonexistent. In the early decades of the twentieth century, some states began to enshrine primary elections into law, but it was not until the late seventies that the Democratic Party became the first to bind delegates, requiring each to vote for the candidate chosen by voters in his state’s primary election. Before then, the results of primary elections were merely a suggestion for party leaders to consider—or, more often, to disregard.

Strangely enough, voters seem to recognize how much power they hold over party nominations. Though few participate in the primary elections as a percentage of the American population, turnout has surged across the board over the past decade. In 2008, the hotly contested race between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama crushed turnout records in 23 states across the country and helped set a new record for primary election participation nationally. And this year, the G.O.P. has led the charge, with Republican turnout reaching its highest level “since at least 1980.”

If higher turnout is not sufficient to show that voters are getting what they bargained for during the presidential primaries, Donald J. Trump’s nomination should be. The entirety of the political establishment aligned itself against Mr. Trump during the primary season, mounting a fierce challenge to his candidacy when it looked like he might actually win. But when the voters spoke repeatedly in favor of his candidacy, handing him victories everywhere from Florida to New York, there was no escape from the inevitable. Party leaders begrudgingly began to back Trump’s campaign in late May, and by the start of the national convention in July, they were mostly united behind Mr. Trump. Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus squashed the last-minute efforts of some delegates to torpedo Mr. Trump’s nomination at the convention and has spared no mercy for Republicans who continue refusing to support their party’s nominee.

So we return to our dilemma. If voters are getting what they voted for, what can explain the pessimism of the American public about both major party candidates? The answer is political polarization.

One clue can be found in the partisan breakdowns of support for each candidate. Despite a virulent media narrative proclaiming rampant defections from members of his own party, Mr. Trump commands overwhelming support from Republicans. In early June, as the G.O.P.’s bitter primary battle drew to a close, political analyst Harry Enten from FiveThirtyEight—the brainchild of Nate Silver, the famed numbers guru—indicated that “Republican voters are rallying behind Trump as if he were any other nominee.” The same has held for Mrs. Clinton among Democrats, despite her early troubles converting Bernie Sanders’s most progressive backers.

Part of the reason for the remarkable show of unity within each party is the shrinkage of partisan coalitions. Over the past decade, as political parties have accelerated their shift away from the center, the percentage of Americans who identify with either party has shrunk considerably. According to Pew Research, nearly two-fifths of the country now call themselves political independents—almost a 10-point increase from 2004. Over the same period, both political parties have watched their ranks shrink.

The Pew studies also reveal that Republicans and Democrats alike are doubling down on their most ardent constituencies instead of broadening their appeal. Even as the percentage of Americans identifying as Republican declined six points over the past decade, a majority of whites from the Silent Generation—those born between the 1920s and ‘40s—now call themselves Republicans. Similar gains are visible among evangelicals, two-thirds of whom now view themselves as Republicans or G.O.P.-leaners. Meanwhile, Democrats have increasingly come to rely upon college graduates and young non-white voters to compensate for lost support among whites and older Americans.

The consequences of these trends toward polarization and consolidation are two-fold. First, with the hardening of core constituencies and the loss of centrist voters, both parties have come to favor candidates who are more extreme relative to the center, speeding the exodus of moderates who could have balanced against this impulse toward extremism or, as many within the party would call it, ideological “purity.” Second, moderate voters and independents increasingly seek alternatives to the major parties. Some of these voters tune out entirely, indirectly increasing the influence of partisans over nominee selection and general election outcomes. Others turn toward third-party candidates. In a poll from early September, Libertarian Gary Johnson took first place among independents who do not lean toward either party, besting Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton by seven points.

Americans have lost faith in their democratic institutions for good reason. With both major parties fleeing the center, more voters have been left behind than ever before, and this year, they are locked into a false choice between two awful candidates.

When creating the Constitution of the United States, our nation’s framers built a system of checks and balances in order to control the worst impulses of government. When one branch grows too strong, others may control it. In politics of today, however, the checks upon the two-party system have failed. By catering to their core constituencies at the expense of middle America, the Republican and Democratic parties have insulated themselves from the moderating force of independent voters, taking advantage of their long-time place as the central actors in American politics to force upon voters an impossible choice between two extremes.

To create balance again, independent voters must exercise their considerable political power and rebel against this system. Third-party threats have produced some of the most extraordinary and important political transformations in American history—including the victory of the anti-slavery movement under Abraham Lincoln, the first president and the father of the Republican Party.

Fortunately, ending gridlock in Washington will not take a Lincoln. A strong third-party movement, drawn from a broad, deep coalition of disaffected partisans and political independents, could put enough pressure on the two-party monopoly to force them to the center—or to carve out just enough space for a new party, a moderating force in American politics.

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Image: Flickr

Trust Me, It’s Only Pneumonia

After insisting for weeks that concerns about the health of Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton are the work of alt-right conspirators and endemic sexism within the Republican Party, the Clinton campaign found itself in the merciless grip of reality after an unsettling “medical episode” at a 9/11 commemoration forced the campaign to disclose that Mrs. Clinton was diagnosed with pneumonia on Friday.

On Sunday morning, Hillary Clinton attended an event in New York City marking the fifteenth anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks, accompanying a raft of other dignitaries which included her Republican opponent, Donald Trump. According to The New York Times, she remained there for a little over an hour before she “suddenly…left her position” and departed the event in a black SUV. After over an hour of silence from the Clinton campaign, which did not permit any members of the press to follow the candidate as she departed, campaign spokesperson Nick Merrill indicated that Mrs. Clinton merely felt “overheated” and needed to take some time to recover at her daughter’s Manhattan apartment.

But as the media firestorm surrounding the strange incident reached a fever pitch, gaining traction well beyond the confines of the conservative blogosphere, the Clinton campaign released a statement from the candidate’s personal physician revealing that Mrs. Clinton had been diagnosed with pneumonia, a relatively common but occasionally deadly respiratory condition, on Friday.

The decision to reveal the ostensible reality of Mrs. Clinton’s condition comes at a high price. Not only will this admission tether concerns about the Democratic nominee’s health to the political mainstream, it will complicate Mrs. Clinton’s efforts to earn the trust of an electorate which has increasingly come to see her as deceitful and corrupt. A new ABC News/Washington Post poll released early Sunday morning shows that only a third of Americans view Mrs. Clinton as “honest and trustworthy,” and this incident will only shrink this minority further. Indeed, Sunday’s events have highlighted once more the compulsion of Mrs. Clinton and her campaign to lie to the American people about matters of profound importance, especially when the truth could incur a political cost.

Most crucially, the episode throws into sharp relief the true magnitude of the dishonesty of Mrs. Clinton’s campaign. As Mrs. Clinton gleefully took to the stage and the late night circuit to mock concerns about her health as “conspiracy theories” and the “paranoid fever dream” of her Republican opponent, she sought a secret rendezvous with her doctor in order to diagnose a condition serious enough to require “two Secret Service agents” to hold her up—her feet “dragging” on the ground, according to The New York Times—and “hoist” her into her getaway car.

After spending weeks condemning the “deranged conspiracy theories” of “the Republican nominee for president,” putting surrogate after surrogate on national television to assure the public that Mrs. Clinton is perfectly healthy and to declare that any suggestion to the contrary is sexist, the Clinton campaign had invested far too much into its web of deceits to stop. It took a shocking public demonstration of Mrs. Clinton’s frail condition—not the medical diagnosis which came two days earlier—for her campaign to admit the truth.

This is unacceptable conduct for a person seeking elected office, but for Hillary Clinton, it is just the cost of doing business. Sunday’s incident reinforces an unfortunate reality about Mrs. Clinton: that only under the force of law or the weight of unbearable political pressure will the woman seeking to become our nation’s next president dare to tell the truth.

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Image: Flickr

The Safest Space in Claremont

My senior year of high school, I established a safe space. Of course, at that point in my life, I had never heard the phrase “safe space,” so I called it the Gay-Straight Alliance. At its best, the GSA was a family for kids who did not otherwise have a supportive community. And in my tiny rural high school, there were a lot of queer kids who needed family.

Still, the GSA struggled to be everything those students needed. It’s hard to build a community that consistently cares for its members. Regardless of their circumstances, people in a group tend to prioritize their standing in the group above the wellbeing of others. And, in many ways, safe spaces come engineered to make that worse. They are supposed to be somewhere members can be emotionally vulnerable and open. So, usually, the leadership is given the power to remove bullies who would pounce on that vulnerability.

The only problem is that this often gets abused.

A friend of mine started a GSA-like organization at her college freshman year and it imploded. New leadership were verbally abusive towards bisexual and pansexual students before ruling to ban them from meetings completely. Since these students could “pass as straight,” they were considered just as threatening to the group’s “safety” as straight people. In reality, their identities just made them easy to bully.

That safe space, like far too many do, allowed no room for dissenting views. The appointed leaders dictated the common good, what was right and wrong, who was pure and who was dangerous. No one could defend the outcasts, for fear of being deemed sinful themselves.

So I didn’t seek out a safe space my first year at Claremont. I visited the Queer Resource Center when I toured the colleges, but I never came back. The staff seemed nice and there were certainly times I could have used a community. I just didn’t think I would find it there, seeing as I was conservative, Christian, and—most importantly—fond of speaking my mind.

Then, last year, my friend dragged me to a 3CIV bible study. I had my misgivings. The people seemed nice but, again, I wasn’t sure I’d fit in. 3CIV is a branch of InterVarsity serving CMC, Scripps, and Harvey Mudd and as such is an Evangelical organization. I was raised as an Episcopalian, which is about as different you can get from InterVarsity stylistically and theologically without being Catholic. I figured I could get past the lack of hymns and stained glass, but did not think they’d be able to move beyond my opinions on scripture. Particularly, I didn’t think they’d get past me identifying as bisexual.

I wouldn’t have really blamed them if they didn’t allow me to join. After all, the QRC and other liberal groups on campus wouldn’t have accepted me for my political and religious views. It wasn’t any stranger for an Evangelical to think my choice to act on my sexual identity made me intolerable. And my personal experience with Evangelicals told me that’s what I should expect.

Then 3CIV blew my expectations apart. No matter how many points we disagreed on, no matter how much I pushed back, this group still treated me like someone with a soul. They prayed with me, talked with me, and welcomed me in as a member of their community. When I talked about my own experiences with homophobia, this Evangelical bible study listened to me and loved me.

That kind of unconditional care set the standard for all of our meetings. I was safe to disagree with someone and they were safe to disagree with me. Consequently, I had some of the best conversations I’ve ever had about healthy relationships and queerness with members of that evangelical bible study.

I was equal parts shocked and horrified last April when the Associated Students of Harvey Mudd College (ASHMC) decided to withdraw 3CIV’s funding on the grounds that it discriminated against LGBTQ students.

According to Carla Becker, ASHMC Senate Chair, while 3CIV welcomes anyone as a member, it requires that its official student leaders “exemplify Christlike character, conduct and leadership,” referring to several biblical passages, including 1 Corinthians 6: 7-11. Among other things, the passage states, “Fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, sodomites, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, robbers – none of these will inherit the kingdom of God.” Accordingly, leaders must agree that sex outside of a monogamous, heterosexual marriage is immoral. If they disagree, they are asked to step down as official leaders but are still welcome as members.

So, ASHMC explained, in February, two Harvey Mudd leaders of 3CIV were asked to step down: one because of his views on the eternal nature of Hell and the other because of their perspective on sex outside of heterosexual marriage. According to Ms. Becker, “The leaders agreed to step down, but a friend of the members thought the action…discriminatory and went against the nondiscriminatory statement ASHMC requires in the charter of all ASHMC chartered clubs… This sparked discussion in the senate about whether or not leaders of religious clubs can be held to certain beliefs.”

That discussion is still ongoing as ASHMC holds a closed subcommittee this summer to decide exactly what it thinks. For 3CIV, this discourse has already had negative consequences.

On April 17, 3CIV requested $1000 in scholarship funds to send Mudd students to InterVarsity’s regional summer conference and “[a] senate member then motioned to give 3CIV $0 for the conference. The motion was seconded… The same senate member read [Corinthians 6: 7-11], mentioned cases of discrimination they had heard about from past LGBTQ member(s) of 3CIV, and mentioned a booklet published by InterVarsity on how parents can prevent homosexuality.” On April 24 the motion passed with 5 in favor, 4 opposed, and 3 abstentions. Though the alleged mistreatment of LGBTQ students was discussed, ASHMC’s decision ultimately hinged on the idea that 3CIV forces leaders who disagree with its stance on sex to step down.

The only problem is that isn’t factually true. According to the head of 3CIV, Kate Vosburg, “3CIV leaders are not asked to step down if they disagree with the belief that sex outside of marriage is immoral.  However, they are asked not to teach against this belief.  In the last 11 years I’ve been with 3CIV, we have not asked any leader to step down because of their personal beliefs about sex.”

Granted, this could just be a sizable mistake on ASHMC’s part, but it’s fairly large oversight and that makes me wonder why 3CIV came under fire at all. The idea that club leaders should represent their clubs’ ideals is not unusual. No one balks if the leader of a young republicans club is required to be a republican.

ASHMC’s behavior could be warranted if 3CIV were a particularly hateful organization. Though the leaders in 3CIV have much less power than, say, the leaders of my friends’ GSA, they still could be guilty of abusing it. However, the evidence indicates that is simply not true.

The leaders who were asked to step down in February did so amicably. When asked to comment, one of the ex-leaders, Nathaniel Leslie, said he did not feel discriminated against and commented: “I disagree with some of the organization’s theology and the way that they go about spreading it. However, I regard all of the people in 3CIV very highly. They are some of the kindest people that I have ever met.”

The other former leader, who wished to remain anonymous, stated:

“I think 3CIV is a great resource for a lot of Christians on campus, but it sadly does not represent all denominations of Christianity, nor does it claim to. Next year, with the support and good wishes of 3CIV, a few friends and I are going to work on creating another Christian group at Mudd that does not align itself with any denomination, in hopes to provide a welcoming place for Christians of all backgrounds, as well as anyone who is interested in exploring the Christian faith.”

Unfortunately, ASHMC chose to withhold the names of the students who allegedly experienced discrimination within 3CIV so I cannot comment on their experience, but judging only from my own I would be surprised if 3CIVers treated queer students unlovingly.

So it seems to me that the crux of the issue is not how 3CIV treats students or the construction of their charter, but probably ASHMC’s own prejudice against evangelical Christianity.

If that’s the case, it wouldn’t be terribly surprising. I love 3CIV now, but a year ago I would have assumed they were unfriendly towards queer. And I certainly wasn’t alone in that prejudice. Colleges are notoriously unfriendly towards religion and outright hostile towards evangelical Christians, who suffer state-sponsored oppression nationally for expressing their views.

However, what matters now is what ASHMC does to remedy their mistake. Come this fall, ASHMC will review whether or not to recognize 3CIV’s charter. Their decision will not be just a matter of free speech and religious liberty. It will help determine our campus culture.

In reality, 3CIV succeeds where the POC-only discussions and online forums, my friends’ GSA, and every other segregated “safe” space fails. Despite the increasingly common persecution of evangelical Christians, 3CIV opens its arms to every single student like a sister, comforts them like a mother, and strengthens them in the way a family should.

Corrections: The piece previously asserted that 3CIV asks leaders to step down if they disagree that sex outside of marriage is immoral and that the Asian Pacific Islander Support Program At Mudd only accepts Asian Pacific Islanders. Additionally, the articled stated that Students for Middle Eastern Cultural Promotion and the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers are live organizations at Harvey Mudd.

These statements have been adjusted since this story’s initial publication.