House Divided: We the People Must Stand Together Against Divisive Rhetoric

More so than ever before in my entire life, I truly feel as though American society is crumbling. Am I a little over-dramatic with that statement? Perhaps. However, you’d have to be a very naive person not to notice the political divide that pulls both major political ideologies in this country further apart.

Mainstream media, both on the right and left, continue to profit off of their echo-chamber programming and propaganda. Our elected representatives, perhaps our president most of all, use their power to turn the citizenry against each other. It certainly seems to be working.

The continued demonizing of those with differing ideas has turned political discourse into a mudslinging competition. It is far harder to have civil political discussion without offending or angering people.

For the record, I don’t think this devolution of politics started with Donald Trump as the liberal media suggests. Trump is a symptom of a much deadlier disease. The disease has no political affiliation. It is not Democrat nor Republican. No, this has been a slow, bipartisan process. But, that’s what makes this so scary. Few people are talking about it, nobody truly knows the cause, and the powerful in this country only care about their own successes.

Whether it’s Hillary Clinton calling half of Donald Trump’s supporters “deplorables”, Representative Mo Brooks essentially blaming Bernie Sanders for the June 14 shooting on Republican party members, the Huffington Post telling cis white men upset at the news of Trump’s trans-ban in the military that they aren’t doing enough, or virtually all of the president’s tweets, it is easy to see the divisive rhetoric that permeates contemporary American politics.

I’ve already made my case for why the news needs to be as unbiased as possible. However, fixing the way we consume news and politics, a daunting task in itself, is not going to be enough to mend the wounds.

We need to be open to new ideas, listen to others and try to understand where they are coming from. Personally, I love having conversations with people that have different opinions. I learn from them, and hopefully (if I’ve done a good job), they learn from me too.

I consider myself a progressive, though I do gravitate toward the center on many issues. As a result of the venomous political atmosphere, I have felt the pull to become more and more liberal. Between random internet commenters throwing out insults and many conservatives declaring war on “liberal intellectuals,” it’s easy for me to want to pick a side.

Luckily, I don’t live in an echo-chamber. My primary news sources tend to be centrist. Politically, my mother leans right. My step-father is a life-long Republican, and he is an avid supporter of Donald Trump. My father leans left, but he generally gets most of his political opinions from me. My brother leans right, and considers himself a moderate Republican. I’m surrounded by people with different opinions, and, much to their dismay, I talk politics a lot. Though I admit I do get heated from time to time, I never stop trying to understand their varying perspectives.

I’m not telling anyone to debate extremists like Richard Spencer or Tariq Nasheed. I just think that we can all benefit from playing devil’s advocate every once in a while.

Honestly, at a time when Americans on the left and right declare each other enemies, it’s probably best to stay in the middle anyway.

 

Sources: CNN, Huffington Post, The Daily Caller, The Atlantic, Philip DeFranco

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What is “Citizens United,” and Why is it a Problem?

During the 2016 election campaigns, the words “Citizens United” were brought up often, particularly by Senator Bernie Sanders. Those words represent the controversial Supreme Court decision on the case Citizens United v. FEC. 

Background:

In 2002, the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, sponsored by Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Russ Feingold (D-WI), was created to curb big (or soft) money in politics. The BCRA, also known as the McCain-Feingold Act, placed limits on the indirect campaign contributions (like political commercials) that could be made by interest groups, corporations, etc. In essence, the law limited the influence that money could have on politicians and restricted the power of the very wealthy in regard to elections.

Leading up to the 2004 election, progressive filmmaker Michael Moore advertised and released his documentary Fahrenheit 9/11. The film was critical of President George W. Bush. Because the film’s release was so close to the election, the conservative non-profit Citizens United tried to suppress the film on the basis that it was in violation of the McCain-Feingold Act. However, the Federal Election Commission (FEC) ruled in favor of Moore, noting that the film and its promotion represented legitimate commercial activity. (Although the film actually had been advertised and released by the time the ruling was given.)

In 2008, now knowing that film was protected by the Federal Election Commission, Citizens United tried to air a film called Hillary: The Movie. The documentary on Hillary Clinton, who was running against Senator Barack Obama in the Democratic Primaries, was produced solely to criticize her. The United States District Court ruled against Citizens United on the basis that the film violated McCain-Feingold because its purpose was only to undermine a political candidate. In response, Citizens United brought the case to the Supreme Court.

The Ruling:

The question that the Supreme Court needed to answer was whether or not McCain-Feingold’s restrictions on campaign finance violated the First Amendment right of free speech. The way I see it, the question was answered in two parts. The first issue was whether or not spending/donating money is a form of free speech. The second was whether or not corporations/special interests are protected under the First Amendment.

Ultimately, in 2010, the Supreme Court answered the question in a 5-4 decision favoring Citizens United. The majority opinion, written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, ruled that McCain-Feingold’s restrictions on independent campaign expenditures were unconstitutional. Kennedy was joined by Antonin Scalia, John Roberts, Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas. They contended that restrictions on corporations and unions to spend money independently of political campaigns violated the First Amendment. So, spending money is considered a form of free speech and corporations/special interests are protected under the First Amendment.

John Stevens wrote the dissenting opinion, which was joined by Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor.

For a more detailed overview of the decision, go here.

Effects of Citizens United v. FEC:

For the sake of transparency, it is my opinion that the Supreme Court’s ruling has been a disaster in American politics. Keep in mind, the “B” in BCRA stood for “Bipartisan.” McCain-Feingold was a rare bipartisan achievement where both Democrats and Republicans were satisfied. While many of the law’s vital provisions are still in effect, its range has been decreased significantly.

Now, corporations have free reign to fund super PACs that spend hundreds of millions of dollars to support political candidates and parties. Such a money-rich environment is perfect for the establishment of a quid pro quo (trade-off) system in which the wealthy few (who already possess massive economic power) influence many of our elected representatives to act against the interests of their constituents and country.

The public opinion on the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. FEC supports my argument well. In 2010, a Washington Post-ABC poll showed that 8 in 10 people opposed the decision. That number included 85% of Democrats, 76% of Republicans, and 81% of Independents. A Gallup poll showed that 76% of Americans thought there should be limitations on the amount of money that corporations and unions can contribute.

Overturning Citizens United v. FEC remains a prominent talking point in many political circles. The Democratic Party actually has the reversal of Citizens United v. FEC as a major part of its platform. Many Republicans condemn the decision as well. Even Donald Trump has criticized the decision in the past.

The decision made in Citizens United v. FEC was an ironic misstep by the Supreme Court. In an attempt to protect free speech, the Supreme Court actually undermined the weight of the people’s free speech.  Now, they need to do their best to win back the faith of the American people. Considering the recent news surrounding John McCain, it would be a step in the right direction if his attempt to protect our democracy was honored.

 

Sources: MSNBC, CBS News, HillaryClinton.com, BernieSanders.com, The Washington Post, OpenCongress.org Archives, Oyez.org Archives, Gallup