The rest fall in between with 13 percent knowing two branches and 27 percent knowing one branch. For those versed in math – and I’m guessing that’s not many Americans given that math is more difficult than simply memorizing “executive, legislative, and judicial” – 60 percent of the country cannot name more than one branch of government.
I imagine the most-well known branch is the executive as Americans have increasingly been infatuated with the singular head of state and government, lusting for ceaseless news coverage about him (someday her!) and spending hours commenting on even the most trivial of presidential activities (eg, President Obama propping his feet on the Resolute Desk or when Obama happened to order Dijon mustard).
Ever since Franklin Roosevelt asserted executive primacy and Congress more or less acquiesced – the Senate put up a strong fight, but only because Roosevelt and his successor, Harry Truman, sought to (gasp) promote racial equality – the (imperial) presidency has become the image of American government.
So people equate the executive with government and forget the other branches exist, especially when a divided Congress or a split between partisan control of the legislative and executive branches leads to governing through executive order. That trend’s been evident since 2011.
As many people cannot name a single branch as in 2011, but 12 percent fewer can name all three branches (and 11 percent more can only name one). I’d guess people slide down knowledge levels, devolving from knowing three to knowing two to knowing one – and then remembering that one…maybe.
Such apathy and ignorance, of course, does not bode well. We can’t expect voters to make informed decisions about complex issues if they don’t understand how the government works. Associating the government with one office, and so one individual, makes Americans susceptible to authoritarian appeals because any and all autocrats would pledge to do get things done (you know, the “I alone can fix it” attitude). They rebel against inaction and complication and turn towards simplicity and impossible promises. And then those inevitable fail because for all the promises of immediate, unilateral action, voter ignorance doesn’t erase the other two branches. But it does threaten their continued legitimacy and, at worst, independence.
So, Americans, do the country a favor. Learn the branches of our government. It’s really not that hard.
Over the years, there have been many changes to campaign finance laws and policy. The goal of Congress, regulatory agencies, and courts has been to increase contribution and expenditure transparency while reducing potential corruption. From Buckley v. Valeo, to the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, and finally to the Supreme Court’s controversial ruling in Citizens United v. FEC, Congress and the Supreme Court have gone back and forth on how to balance freedom of speech with electoral influence. Unfortunately, the decision in Citizens United v. FEC has damaged the American electoral process as corporations and unions have unwarranted power over elections because they can spend unlimited amounts to promote or tear down a certain candidate and/or idea. By equating money with speech and deeming corporations citizens, the Supreme Court has created an environment where candidates need to court the support of the wealthy rather than that of the people, disempowering the lower and middle classes.
Following the Watergate scandal, Congress sought to weed out corruption and limit the contributions that could be made to political candidates. This was done by passing the Federal Elections Campaign Act, which brought about new disclosure requirements, limited the “amount of money individuals could donate per election cycle” (Oyez), imposed contribution reporting, and created the Federal Election Commission to enforce the new campaign laws. In 1976, the Federal Elections Campaign Act was challenged in the case Buckley v. Valeo, with the prosecution arguing that limits on electoral contributions were a violation of First Amendment freedom of speech. The Court held in a 7-1 decision that limiting direct campaign contributions was constitutional, but money spent to influence elections “is a form of constitutionally protected free speech” (Nelson). Only speech that advocated the election or defeat of a candidate could be regulated; issue advertising (supporting a certain issue rather than a candidate) via soft money could not be regulated, as long as the words “vote for”, “vote against”, “support”, “defeat”, and/or “elect” were not used. The impact of Buckley v. Valeo was a large influx of money around candidates and parties.
After dramatic increases in soft money contributions to national parties because of a number of loopholes from the Buckley v. Valeo decision, Congress passed the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA) in 2000, which banned party committees from accepting or using soft money. Local, state, and federal candidates and officeholders were also banned from “soliciting, receiving, receiving, directing, transferring, and spending soft money in connection with any local, state, or federal election” (Cornell Law). Additional restrictions were placed on pre-election advocacy and electioneering communications. One of the most important aspects of the BCRA, the electioneering communications provision “prohibited corporations and unions from using their treasury funds to air broadcast ads referring to clearly identified federal candidates within 60 days of a general elections or 30 days of a primary of a primary or caucus” (Congressional Research Service). These provisions were largely upheld in the case McConnell v. Federal Election Committee. While the BCRA didn’t overhaul campaign finance, it did close many loopholes from Buckley v. Valeo, thus limiting corruption and removing the “corrosive and corrupting effect of special interests” (Wheeler).
Most recently, the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Committee struck down the advocacy clause of the BCRA, invalidated “prohibitions on corporate and union treasury funding of independent expenditures and electioneering communications” (Congressional Research Service), and allowed for unlimited contributions to independent-expenditure-only political action committees (aka Super PACs). As Justice Kennedy wrote in the majority: “if the First Amendment has any force, it prohibits Congress from fining or jailing citizens, or associations of citizens, for simply engaging political speech”. By writing “associations of citizens”, Justice Kennedy paved the way for the labeling of citizens and unions as citizens, the topic of many debates throughout the country. Consequently, corporations and unions are now able to air advertisements calling for the election or defeat of candidates, as long as they don’t use the words “vote for”, “vote against”, “elect”, and/or “support”. Though giving soft money to candidates and parties is still prohibited, Political Action Committees (PACs) can raise unlimited funds from corporations and unions and use those funds to advocate a political issue, all while paying no taxes (IRS). The only restriction on PACs is the provision stating they cannot coordinate with candidates and their campaigns. Overall, Citizens Uniteddrastically changed campaign finance as PACs are now allowed to raise unlimited funds and spend the money around candidates and issues with next to no regulations.
All in all, the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. FEC has damaged the integrity of the American electoral system as citizens lose political power to the well-off. By allowing corporations to make unlimited donations to Super PACs, the Supreme Court allowed the indirect buying of candidates as Super PACs can spend millions of dollars advocating for a certain candidate while tearing down others. Since money equals speech, those with the most amount of money speak the loudest, creating an inherently unequal political environment. In the primaries, candidates need to appeal to the wealthy so they can bankroll a Super PAC, rather than directly appealing to voters. Citizens lose their say in politics as their political donation cannot rival the deep pockets of unions or corporations. Instead of being indebted to the voters, candidates feel indebted to corporations and unions and will thus work to help them over citizens. Unlimited funding and spending by PACs succeeds only in allowing corporations and unions to have an iron-grasp on America’s politics.
Hillary Clinton’s out with a new book, “What Happened,” and, unsurprisingly, she’s received immediate backlash for daring to put pen to paper. Many simply want the former presidential candidate who lost a shocking and disappointing race to Donald Trump to simply go away, fade into the night. That’s utterly ridiculous and hypocritical. Hillary Clinton, the first female presidential nominee for a major party, is a Democratic leader and has every right and reason to speak bluntly and openly — an honesty that many thought she lacked during the primary, but now want her to shove that honesty up her…wherever — about the campaign and politics in America.
A former presidential nominee who won more votes than any white man in United States history, the first woman to nearly become president, a Secretary of State, U.S. senator, and First Lady has every right to speak about politics. Full stop. Losing should not muzzle an individual, especially one who has committed her life to public service and helping others. No one asked John Kerry to fade into obscurity after his 2004 loss; Al Gore continued to be a loud liberal voice following his defeat; Harry Truman opted to avoid defeat in 1952 by not running, but remained a steady Democratic force (the 1952 lose, Adlai Stevenson, ran again in 1956 and 1960). Many rightfully idolize Clinton. She’s a role model to women everywhere — her actions have inspired countless to pursue public office. There’s absolutely no reason to shut up a party leader and hero.
Clinton’s book shows humility and, above all, honesty, a trait which many claimed she lacked, leading to countless vicious character assaults. Yet when Clinton opens up and shares her true thoughts — thoughts or reasons with which any reader may disagree, but honest ones nonetheless — critics hypocritically turn Clinton’s honesty against her. At what point does incessant character nagging become obsessive? Deride her proclaimed lack of honesty; harangue her clear honesty because suddenly it has no place in public discourse as it may sow discontents within the party.
While it’s true that Clinton’s book may rehash or reopen some party wounds from the 2016 election, right now is the perfect time to have a dialogue about the direction of the Democratic Party and how it can better handle nominating affairs and unity thereafter. The midterms are 14 months away’ the 2020 presidential election, 38. Who do we harm by debating whether Bernie Sanders hurt Hillary Clinton? When the party’s grappling with a strong centrist block and a insurgent (far) leftist movement, oughtn’t we at least consider how the appeals play or open divides within the party that could hamper general election chances? And, if we agree we need those conversations, shouldn’t we do so now rather than in the months leading up to a general election against a bigot like Donald Trump?
Critics arguing Hillary Clinton should simply go away employ little logic — they disparage the honesty presented by a long-time party often mocked for privacy and overly scripted behavior while accusing her of weakening the very party they sought to overhaul and tear apart as it became overwhelmingly apparent their favored candidate would not emerge from the primaries victorious. Clinton should not shut up. She should not go away. She, and every Democrat, should continue to speak as she feels fit, helping the party come to grips with the election, understand its mistakes, resist Donald Trump, and, ultimately, strengthen itself for the tasks the lie ahead.
Hurricanes Harvey and Irma have killed dozens, left millions without power, food and water, and have caused many billions in damages, but President Donald Trump manages to overlook human suffering and instead focus on what matters: Branding.
Trump and branding go hand-in-hand. Throughout his largely lamentable business career, he sought to cultivate a tough-guy brand that enabled world-class deals and enforced efficiency through his love of firing people (the “Celebrity Apprentice” president). Never mind that Trump has never actually showed dealmaking acumen, whether in real estate or as president. And as far as firing people – truly the core of a tough-guy persona – he hates to do it, instead having others drop the axe or, to avoid contact, simply refusing to look someone in the eyes. Real alpha male.
Despite the clear hypocrisy between action and deed, Trump obsesses with brand and appearance (see his justification for appointing Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court: He looked straight out of central casting). So when disaster struck Texas and Florida and the Coast Guard responded as it’s responded to every natural disaster that affects matters of the coast, Donald saw an opportunity for the Coast Guard to improve its brand.
“If you talk about branding, no brand has improved more than the US Coast Guard,” Trump said.
I, for one, am glad we have a president that focuses on what truly matters. Why mourn the dead or speak to reconstruction efforts or spend time thanking first responders and other civilian heroes who risked their lives to save others? That’s a beta cuck move. Only true alphas recognize that in disaster comes unique opportunity and only the bravest and truest of those alphas willingly comment on that opportunity when others focus on human plight.
(His proposed budget would cut $1 billion from the Coast Guard, canceling the production of a ship and cutting from services that focus on human and drug trafficking and monitoring Russian activity in the Arctic.)
Are you happy in your ignorance and political apathy?
Do you enjoy being disinterested in policies that directly affect you and those about whom you care?
There is no reason to sit out elections. There is no reason to at least pursue an elementary understanding of the complex issues facing our society. It’s your duty as an American citizen; when the government derives its powers from the consent of its citizens and turns to them for legitimacy, prerogative, and power, each individual must fulfill the most basic obligation to a democratic society – casting an informed ballot.
So obviously your vote matters. It may not be decisive, but what a ludicrous thought process – and logical fallacy – to think voting is pointless simply the odds of being the decisive vote is astronomically slim. What a foolish all-or-nothing mentality!
The Results Matter
Maybe you, dearest non-voter, in your incredibly political ignorance, somehow think that the election results don’t matter, that policy wouldn’t actually change. How wrong you would be! Perhaps pay attention to the news and the candidates and you will see the folly of your feelings.
Each election at all levels has incredible local and national repercussions. Trump’s election nearly cost 22 million their health insurance. His victory enabled Neil Gorsuch, a justice to the right even of Clarence Thomas, to ascend to the Supreme Court, where he will likely stay for 30 years; this, especially when coupled with the likelihood of Trump appointing another justice, endangers any number of political objectives, including the right to an abortion and the ability to not be discriminated against simply for being gay.
And if you think that special interests simply control politics through immense donations to political entities and thus your vote doesn’t count, then you just furthered that hole in your foot because with Neil Gorsuch on the bench, Citizens United likely isn’t going anywhere. Hillary Clinton pledged to appoint a justice who wouldn’t support the precedent.
Blessed non-voter, did you hear that Trump ended DACA? Did you know this imperils some 690,000 educated and hard-working adults who came here, through no fault of their own, as children and who have called America – and America only – home? Your vote could have saved them from the now ever-present of deportation.
Or perhaps you’ve heard of the First Amendment, which protects all religions from discrimination or government favoritism? Well, had you voted, you could have prevented a man whose Islamophobia shocks the American conscience from trying to ban the religion from entering the country simply because he’s irrationally frightened of people who look different than him.
On countless obvious issues, voting matters. Slim margins erased by simple action can dramatically change the course of the nation. Doesn’t that matter to you?
You Should Know What’s Going On
My valued non-voter, could it be that you don’t vote because you don’t know the issues? Of all the reasons mentioned, that would be the best. We don’t want your uninformed opinions deciding important outcomes.
But you do realize that can be changed, right? That you can decide to spend, say, 30 minutes a day reading (real) news outlets such as the New York Times, Washington Post, or Politico to learn about national happenings? That through these outlets you can learn of an election’s stakes and become conversant in policy considerations such that you can cast a useful ballot?
So, why don’t you? Do you not understand the importance of policies that shape how 320 million live their lives? Or is it simply too hard to understand the complexities?
Well, tough luck there, buddy. Politics ain’t easy and if you want to be the American citizen our Founders hoped to craft and which foreign observers long touted as the instruments to a just and equal society, unlike so many in Europe, you need to put forth some effort. You need to embrace complexity and difficulty and do your best to understand such issues.
It’s imperative that a democratic society be filled with those willing to put in the effort needed to make informed decisions that hold lawmakers accountable and shape national political discourse in such a way that we don’t condescend to the levels of simplicity that corrupt actors can exploit and manipulate in their searches for power (only when we expect/demand high levels of sophistication because we have high levels of sophistication can we thoroughly vet candidates to weed out those preying on fear or emotion, not logic built from a deep understanding of public policy).
So, get off your ass and be an American. Learn about the issues. Study candidates. Use logic. And, most importantly, come election day, vote.
Hillary Clinton’s “What Happened” Explains Why She Lost
Months after her shocking defeat to Donald Trump, Clinton has released a new memoir detailing how she lost the election. Hillary Clinton’s “What Happened” offers a raw look into her mind, both as a candidate and after deep reflection of her campaign and its tragic ending. While there are many reasons that Clinton lost last year — many, if not most, related to the candidate herself, to which she owns up — the blame must also fall on one particular group: Voters.
Blaming voters for an undesired outcome may seem elitist, or simply whiney, but to avoid casting even an inkling of guilt on the actors who knowingly and willingly decided to vote for a charlatan ignorant of American values and laws would itself be an act of the utmost condescension by ignoring the agency inherent in everyone’s decision making. We’re all responsible for our choices and those choices, especially when they affect hundreds of millions, invite critique.
The Founding Fathers despised demagoguery and populism, fearing both (though especially the latter) would undermine the Constitutions and the institutions put in place to protect it. A demagogue would corrupt the rule of law and use his majority for insidious means.
They also envisioned great individuals holding elected office, including the presidency. Trump’s election represents a dramatic break from the Founders’ vision of the country. Trump, first and foremast, is a demagogue.
Our Constitution’s structured to separate powers, offer checks and balances, and leave voters only indirectly in charge of government in order to stop demagogues from seizing power (Shays’ rebellion, which prompted the constitutional convention, only heightened fears among the Founders of demagoguery).
That’s why America is a republic and not a direct democracy. John Adams himself wrote “Remember Democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes exhausts and murders itself. There never was a Democracy Yet, that did not commit suicide.” Federalist 1 warns
“On the other hand, it will be equally forgotten that the vigor of government is essential to the security of liberty; that, in the contemplation of a sound and well-informed judgment, their interest can never be separated; and that a dangerous ambition more often lurks behind the specious mask of zeal for the rights of the people than under the forbidden appearance of zeal for the firmness and efficiency of government. History will teach us that the former has been found a much more certain road to the introduction of despotism than the latter, and that of those men who have overturned the liberties of republics, the greatest number have begun their career by paying an obsequious court to the people; commencing demagogues, and ending tyrants.”
Hillary Clinton’s “What Happened” may not mention the historical ignorance of the electorate, but it’s important that we understand voters deviated from the will of the Founding Fathers.
Supporting and voting for Trump only encourages ignorance, both in candidates and the electorate. Trump knew — and still knows — nothing of policy. Whenever pressed to explain policies, he failed to do so, often blabbering or simply repeating himself numerous times in a garble of largely incoherent rambling. But he seemed to revel in his ignorance, not once willing to engage in actual policy discussions and showing little interest to meet with experts.
Needless to say, a poorly informed electorate will not perform well when it goes to the polls. Ditto one misinformed because it chooses to listen to one man and one man only. Such actions fundamentally undermine democracy because when a polity entrusts its citizenry with such awesome power, there lies with the citizens a civic duty know what they’re doing and be well-informed on issues settled by elections.
Voting for a man who ran and now governs in ignorance only encourages other political hobbyists to run for office because they realize that knowledge is not a barrier. Charisma and yearning for self-enrichment suffice. It tells candidates that voters don’t value thought and policy, instigating a race to the bottom as candidates forego meaningful discussions in order to appeal to grievances and base emotions.
Other minority groups also received Trump’s ire. Trump frequently ranted against Islam and Muslims, claiming universal Muslim hatred of the United States, threatening to illegally close mosques, and wanting to ban an entire religion from entering the country. The fool went actually said that “I think Islam hates us. There’s something there that — there’s a tremendous hatred there. There’s a tremendous hatred. We have to get to the bottom of it. There’s an unbelievable hatred of us.”
Of course, Donald Trump also led the birther crusade against President Barack Obama, falsely claiming that the president was not born in America. These lies stirred the right-wing fever swamps, which embraced and pushed false claims about Obama, and, under Trump’s leadership, surged into a powerful grievance movement.
Voters knew all of this. They recognized Trump’s inherent racial animus, his animosity for Islam that bordered on paranoid delusions, and the lies he for years pushed, yet cast a ballot for him anyway. Supporting such clear bigotry should not be overlooked and those that chose to make the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazis’ beloved candidate president should be held responsible for enabling and legitimizing grievanced racism.
Read Hillary Clinton’s “What Happened”
Clinton lost for many reasons. No one reason explains the loss. Her book rightly analyzes many culprits and ultimately she accepts her primacy in defeat. Read Hillary Clinton’s “What Happened” to gain and understand her inside perspective.
While a politician cannot blame voters for a reprehensible decisions, I most certainly can, and I will. Overlooking Trump’s clear historical flaws, his deep-seated ignorance and promotion of stupidity, and his all-too-obvious bigotry to vote for the demagogue deserves criticism. We should all be held responsible for our actions. And so, above all else, I blame and repulsed by the voters who opted for Donald J. Trump.
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Even democratic socialists struggle to answer that question. The Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) lauds “our socialism” as a means to “a humane social order based on popular control of resources and production, economic planning, equitable distribution” of goods, presumably, and “non-oppressive relationships.”
What is democratic socialism’s goal and how is it implemented?
What does this mean? How does a government implement the popular control of resources and production?
Herein lies the rub. Democratic socialism organizes around a core belief that the people should control resources and production through democracy. But, at best, this is impossible, and, at worst, it’s a sure road to oppression and tyranny.
Democratic ownership and allocation of resources and production immediately cannot naturally happen because, in a nation of any size, considerable disagreement about the control of resources will arise, making any sort of popular, or democratic, agreement impossible. But that assumes democratic socialists want all individuals to equally participate in incredibly complex decisions, naturally a terrible idea and an impossible feat of coordination.
So perhaps democratic socialists don’t mean an active democratic control but rather democratic control through free and fair elections in which various candidates submit proposals for how state-owned/centralized resources and capital should be distributed among the population. Except this would also fall to pieces immediately.
Minimal-winning coalitions explain why. The theory, introduced by William Riker, contends that any political party or faction would expand to a size just big enough to win an election or ensure passage of a desired bill. Doing so enables the coalitions members to compromise as little as possible.
Take a simplistic example in which a five-member legislature debates a stimulus bill that needs majority support. The legislators have ideal points (the amount of spending they believe to be most effective for the economy) as follows: A) $100 billion, B) $75 billion, C) $60 billion, D) $40 billion, E) $25 billion. Lawmaker A introducers her $100 billion spending bill, but no one signs on. So she proposes an admit to lower spending to $75 billion and lawmaker B then supports the measure. They still need one more to guarantee passage and so offer another amendment bringing the number down to to $60 billion and achieve the minimal winning coalition. If the coalition tried to attract more support, they could only do so by lowing the stimulus and moving the successful package further away from their ideal points. In short, a minimal winning coalition (versus an expansive supermajority) ensures legislation that maximizes ideal points for its members.
Of course, that problem can be alleviated by mandating supermajority support for bill passage, but that moves away from the proclaimed goal of popular control.
This logic extends to any number of issues a polity faces. Coalitions seek maximum benefit even though it my displease others. Consider, too, that across a broad range of issues, some coalition members might care little and simply support the proposals offered by concerned members. Such logrolling (to be a bit unfair) helps establish “long coalitions,” or parties (see “The Party Decides” for an in-depth explanation) that exist to win elections and deliver ideological goals to its constituency without necessarily turning outside of itself for the support needed to pass legislation (action that would necessarily require compromise and thus a deviation from ideal points).
A democratic socialist society in which each election became a referendum on the distribution of society’s resources and goods would naturally incite many arguments about optimization and result in displeasure for some, perhaps many. Any given coalition could become malicious, recognizing that by establishing a minimal winning distributional coalition it could monopolize government resources and simply ignore the needs of its opposition. Democracy and democratic control could actually exacerbate the very inequality against which democratic socialists rail.
So if direct and indirect democratic control won’t work, perhaps DSA members would prefer the traditional socialist central planning in which the state controls the means of production and unelected technocrats distribute goods based either on contribution or need, both of which are purportedly democratic.
Except that’s not democratic and it invites corruption and kleptocracy.
Those are the best case scenarios: It simply doesn’t work and the system collapses or enacts market-based reforms to salvage itself (some argue that democratic socialism embraces the market so long as all needs among the citizenry are met. If we classify those needs as solvable by welfare benefits, we’ve described social democracy, not democratic socialism. Scandinavian countries, heralded as democratic socialist utopias are actually market-based social democracies).
At its worst, the democratic ownership of the resources and production simply invites tyranny. Democracies already invite corrupt actors who seek, largely through democratic means, to assume and consolidate power for their own vanity or profit. Add to that natural incentive borne from the inherent corruption of humankind the spoils of state-owned resources, and demagogues have every incentive to gain power no matter the cost because its payoffs are so high. Controlling the means of production means controlling society. The leader and her political party can reward loyalty while punishing opponents into poverty. They can skim from the state and, by starving opposition of economic life, nip their ability to meaningfully compete in elections.
Democratic socialism’s implementation by any of the means outlined above simply enables and invites tyranny through centralized economic control.
So, what is democratic socialism?
In short, a disaster waiting to happen. The ideology relies on lofty dreams that ignore human reality, as evidenced by the entirety of our history. It assumes a level of beneficence amongst all people that simply does not exist and dreams of utopia without outlining the steps needed to get there. Like any fairytale, it arouses the imagination, but could never be implemented.
What is democratic socialism? A resuscitation of a failed ideology that either could never exist or, if brought into existence, would quickly devolve into tyranny.
As far as Clinton’s money is concerned, she graduated from a top law school and easily could have immediately gone to work at a big law firm, making a lot of money. Instead, she opted to work at the Children’s Defense Fund and, later, became one of two female faculty members at the University of Arkansas’s law school while also working as the director of a legal aid clinic. Though that last bit has garnered her some notoriety, providing legal aide to the accused is a fundamental part of the American judicial system (see: John Adams defending the British after the Boston Massacre).
Money came primarily from book advances and sales as well as Hillary’s much-reviled speaking tour. The speaking tour, even though she received millions from big banks, did not change her policies. In fact, her Wall Street reform plan presented a tough stance on big banks while doing so in a way that wouldn’t dramatically overhaul the banking system. Many, if not most, former public officials embark on such a tour as they’re low in supply and high in demand. Her actions were not unusual.
I’m personally okay with their free market actions. If they want to earn money, I’m happy for them; if not, that’s their choice, too. I do think she erred in her decision to receive millions from the likes of Goldman Sachs ahead of a planned presidential run. The perception of cozying up to the big banks is powerful, even if it’s not true, and I think that hurt her in both the primary and general. Had I been her, I would not have pursued such speaking fees, but, again, it’s her private life.
Arguments against demolishing Confederate statues perfectly exemplify the slippery slope fallacy. A slippery slope fallacy, in short, assumes or argues that one minor action will (inevitably) lead to more dramatic actions, usually with dramatic and wholly unintended consequences. It assumes that we have no ability to draw a line in the sand — that is, we have no ability to simply define, achieve, and stop after a single action.
Slippery slope fallacies often dominate political discussion because the conclusions they present offer great shock value whose ability to stun often undermines support for the initial argument. Other examples include the “argument” that legalizing same-sex marriage would somehow lead to okaying pedophilia, beastiality, or any other number of horrors. In no logical way could same-sex marriage lead to those actions, but thus is the nature of a slippery slope: Actions somehow spiral out of control and lead to hyperbolic conclusions.
Slippery slope fallacies can also be seen in the bathroom debate as some claim that allowing transgender individuals to use the bathroom of their gender identity will somehow result in high school boys showering in girls locker rooms and in debates over the Federal Reserve’s inflation target rate, with some arguing that should the Fed raise the inflation target, it will somehow never stop controlling inflation and we’ll end up back in the 1970s.
In the case of Confederate statues, it’s an outlandish fallacy to assume that by removing those dedicated to individuals who committed treason by fighting against the federal government (the constitutional definition of treason), we will somehow end up scrubbing presidential monuments or blotting out the names of great Americans flawed for their racial views.
Now, while slippery slope arguments may be fallacious, identifying worrisome precedents does have merit as it doesn’t assume an (outlandish) conclusion but rather posits that contemporary reasoning could be applied in the future for less desirable purposes. Precedents, of course, dominate our legal reasoning and exemplify the need for careful and specific reasoning for any given course of action.
Broad logic and justification invites more insidious application when mischievous factions gain power. Those arguing that the removal of Confederate statues will result in the censuring of history and the destruction of monuments to truly great Americans use fallacious reasoning; those positing that removing Confederate statues because changing social norms leaves such individuals in contempt establishes a precedent that history can be removed as society evolves have a valid point, albeit one with which I disagree.
Many also present disingenuous arguments in their arguments against tearing down Confederate statues. Commentators, aside from slippery slope fallacies, believe progressives hope to “audit” and “cleanse” history, thereby avoiding the challenging aspects of the subject and either glossing over disliked parts or labelling everyone in the past as a racist. That’s not the aim.
Progressives hope to end the public adulation of those who fought to dissolve the Union in order to preserve human bondage. There’s not attempt to censor history — there’s no effort to remove these figures from the entire of US history and simply cast them into the dustbin, never to be mentioned. They want such monuments placed in museums where people can learn about and engage with history to understand the formation of our country. It’s not an attempt to alter the past but rather a simple desire to not glorify traitors.
Public statues inherently celebrate those presented. Taxpayer dollars go to their creation; defenders of the statues readily admit it’s a part of their history that they want to celebrate. But why should the public celebrate an individual such as Robert E. Lee, who raised an army against the government? The Constitution itself defines “Treason against the United States” as “levying war against them,” which perfectly defines every Confederate icon.
Should public spaces honor those who committed the highest crime against the nation or people like Daniel Webster, the great orator, who proclaimed “Liberty and Union, now and forever, one and inseparable”? This isn’t an attempt to avoid Robert E. Lee; it’s an effort to glorify the defenders of our nation, those who fought for, not against, the Constitution.
Binyamin Appelbaum, a Washington correspondent for The New York Times, laid out a wonderful two-pronged test for whether we should remove public statues: One, is the person famous primarily for being a white supremacist; two, did the person commit treason by rising in arms against the union?
This test ensures that we don’t publicly idolize individuals famous only for their racism or treason without the reactionary fear that removing Confederate statues would lead to an attack on others with a checkered past, such as Andrew Jackson (a terrible person, but one who doesn’t fall into the two categories) or Thomas Jefferson (a slaveholder, but the exemplification of American enlightenment and individual who should be widely celebrated).
Reactionary Strawman Arguments
Lastly, attacks on progressive motive assume some dark and malicious intent when none exists. No thinking progressive believes that removing statues will inherently better race relations or meaningfully change the lives of African Americans; no progressive wants to remove statues simply flex supposed moral superiority or flex activist power for some psychological thrill; and surely no true progressive would avoid challenging the past of their former leaders. The goal, really, is simple: End the public glorification of traitors and those famous only for white supremacy. This doesn’t hurt history or the study thereof. It’s surely not an effort to audit and cleanse the past. It’s an argument about the meaning of public statues and the values we should proudly display.
Our public space should put forth our best values and our best individuals. They shouldn’t celebrate rebels who tried to destroy the country.
In April, Donald Trump told the Associated Press that “dreamers,” those benefiting from President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals that allowed undocumented immigrants brought into the country while they were children to work and attend school without threat of deportation, they could “rest easy,” presumably because Trump wouldn’t rescind their protection. Well, as usual with Trump, he lied. Trump breaks his DACA promise ostensibly because he doubts its legality, though the immigration leeway his authority claimed when signing the similarly bigoted travel ban reveals Trump’s actions arise not from constitutional concerns but from racial animus.
Other conservatives spoke against DACA because its origination through an executive order eroded the separation of powers as the president assumed authority traditionally reserved for the legislative branch. These arguments have merit as immigration should be within the realm of congressional action — Congress came close to enacting immigration reform, including a path to citizenship, in 2010 and 2013, only to be stopped by Republicans. But Trump’s clearly not concerned with respecting the legislative right to create immigration policy.
Trump Breaks DACA Promise Because of Race, Not the Separation of Power
Trump, of course, has a broad interpretation of presidential authority. He fancies a strong executive somewhat above the law capable of crafting far-reaching policies without Congress’s input. No where is this clearer than in Trump’s two travel ban executive orders.
Both travel bans, the one struck down by the courts and the watered-down version partially legalized by the Supreme Court, rely on generous readings of the president’s abilities to respond to (real or perceived) national security threats. In oral arguments, the Deputy Solicitor General asserted, per Kleindienst v. Mandel, a 1972 Supreme Court case on barring communists from entry into the United States, that the president need only provide a “facially legitimate and bona fide reason” for executive immigration restrictions. Historically, courts have given significant leeway to those national security interests put forth by various administrations (wrongly, for civil rights should never be abridged for only “facially legitimate” reasons. To vest the president with such great power as to cutoff immigration, courts must adjudicate based on truly legitimate national security concerns).
The administration failed to meet even the nebulous standard of “facially legitimate and bona fide reason[s]” because the travel bans originated from an attempt to legalize his proposed Muslim Ban. Statements made by the administration and friends thereof coupled with weak contentions led the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals to conclude that both of Trump’s executive orders stemmed from his “desire to exclude Muslims from the United States. The statements also reveal President Trump’s intended means of effectuating the ban: by targeting majority-Muslim nations instead of Muslims explicitly. And after courts enjoined EO-1, the statements show how President Trump attempted to preserve its core mission: by issuing EO-2—a ‘watered down’ version with ‘the same basic policy outcomes.”
Clearly, to pursue and defend such a policy, Trump believes in extreme deference to the executive branch when it comes to immigration (even the vaguest national security interest allowing him to unilaterally shape policy). By no means does this square his administration’s claim that “The Department of Justice has carefully evaluated [DACA’s] Constitutionality and determined it conflicts with our existing immigration laws.”
Trump cannot claim, on the one hand, that he has the unilateral ability to change existing immigration laws to ban travel from six Muslim-majority countries while, on the other, claiming he cannot tinker with existing law by changing deportation priorities (which could fit Trump’s delighted broad national security interest excuses by ensuring the United States has enough (educated) workers to create a secure and strong economy). He obviously believes he has the authority to enforce DACA, but he hasn’t the will. Why?
Both the travel ban and ending DACA play to his base’s (white) grievances and cultural anxiety around the influx of new religions, cultures, and different skin colors. In campaign filled with dog-whistles and outright bigotry, including Trump’s insulting remarks about Mexico sending its rapists and drug dealers and a federal judge being unable to do his job because of his heritage, Occam’s Razor requires that we view this action for it is: Trump breaks his DACA promise with hopes of deporting 800,000 undocumented immigrants, not in hopes of restoring Congress’s power.