By Mimi Petric
There are two things that are important in politics, Senator Mark Hanna said more than a century ago. The first is money, and I can’t remember what the second one is.
A lack of proper campaign financing has left political candidates desperate in their search for sources of money; and thus, turning to private campaign finance from those with means to provide. This option has created more harm than good - creating sources of corruption and a multitude of political polarization. Rather than address the complexities and implications of a lack of proper campaign finance, America is instead seemingly infatuated with hyperpartisanship. Gone is our appreciation for equity and fairness in terms of the political process, replaced instead with a country more divided than ever - meaning it’s time to rethink the way we approach campaign financing.
Former President Donald Trump symbolizes this inequity most clearly. The New York Times puts this best when they mention that during a 2018 dinner at the Trump International Hotel in Washington D.C., Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman - associates of former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer - pressed Mr. Trump to remove Marie Yovanovitch as the U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine. Their schemes were part of a plan to make money from natural gas. Their actions were just a single part of a complex plot that later led to Trump’s impeachment, resulting from his later efforts to compel Ukraine to investigate then-former Vice President Joe Biden. Parnas and Fruman’s corrupt actions personify the most insidious aspect of this: that without even moving a finger, the wealthy can easily influence and skew politics. At the dinner, donors willing to spend lavishly in support of Mr. Trump’s re-election even had the chance to seek the president’s help in placing their own interests above the public interest.
And if this seems far-fetched, it isn’t. The action of skewing politics was clear, too, with Senator Ted Cruz. For his 2016 presidential campaign, a collection of super PACs supporting Mr. Cruz raised $37 million, nearly all of it from three families. Robert Mercer, a private hedge fund investor from New York, contributed $11 million, making him the top known political donor in the country so far this election cycle. The monetary benefits associated with Cruz’s campaign may have well given him an edge over other candidates, effectively creating a skewed election. When we blur the lines between what is equitable and what is not in campaign finance, we stray further away from democracy, contradicting democratic values of equity in both the political and social scope.
The masterminds behind these operations are known as “super PACs” - essentially, committees that may receive unlimited contributions from individuals, corporations, labor unions and other PACs for the purpose of financing independent expenditures and other independent political activity. As a result of their use within campaign financing, fewer than four hundred families are responsible for almost half the money raised in the 2016 presidential campaign. Super PACs have revealed themselves to be significantly quicker at campaign fundraising — sometimes bringing in tens of millions of dollars from a few businesses or individuals in a matter of days — has allowed them to build significant campaign war chests in a fraction of the time that it would take the candidates, who are restricted in how much they can accept from a single donor. Just 130 or so families and their businesses provided more than half the money raised through by Republican candidates and their super PACs - wherein lies the problem. When campaign finance becomes skewed to a particular party, American democracy lies at stake as hyperpartisanship takes center stage. Establishing heavy funding for a specific candidate or party creates inherently inequitable circumstances for voters.
And the fallout is omnipresent. Money and its potentially corrupting influence are the bane of US politics, and candidates constantly promise voters that they will try to reform a system that they say has been broken by congressional inaction and the Supreme Court. But as posited by 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Senator Elizabeth Warren, “money slithers through every part of our political system, corrupting democracy and taking power away from the people. Big companies and billionaires spend millions to push Congress to adopt or block legislation.” If such big influences fail in their attempts, they turn to lobbying federal agencies which are responsible for ordering legislation. And if their endeavors prove to be futile yet again, companies and billionaires run to judges in the courts to block regulations from taking effect.
Yet the most elusive of issues is yet to be solved: how is such a momentous problem to be approached? To approach a lack of equity in the financial scope, we can use the process that Lawrence Lessig of the New York Times suggests: changing the way campaigns are funded — shifting from large-dollar private funding to small-dollar public funding. When campaign funds for candidates become public, the probability of corruption or inequitable spending decreases.
The political and social implications that skewed campaign financing has created is undeniable. But both the people, their advocacy work, and campaign reform can create change. Putting a stop to the influence of wealthy corporations and individuals is a complex issue: but counteracting it is as straightforward as limiting the sources from which candidates can gain financial support. And that’s as simple as it gets.
By Mimi Petric
Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it.
Yet America’s history classes have seen to it that students should forget the country’s messy past before they even get a chance to truly learn about it. With the rise in AAPI hate, a polarized state due to the Black Lives Matter Protests, and the rise in LGBTQ+ hate crimes, it’s become undeniable that America’s history has heavily contributed to its current problems - and all the while, history curriculums have continued to paint the country in a positive light. And we’ve done more than jus repeat history - real history is glossed over and romanticized to the point where groups are marginalized, events are oversimplified, and people are dehumanized, meaning that it’s time for history classes to be taught in a different approach.
Although inconspicuous, classroom resources are a major root to this problem. In 2015, the McGraw-Hill textbook company found itself at the forefront of rather embarrassing press after releasing a page from one of its world-geography textbooks, which featured a map with a patch of purple grids extending throughout the country’s Southeast corridor. It’s one-sentence caption read: “The Atlantic Slave Trade between the 1500s and 1800s brought millions of workers from Africa to the southern United States to work on agricultural plantations.” The mistake of referring to African slaves as “workers” was quickly lambasted throughout social media. And although this blunder seems trivial, it’s the small nuance between words that leads to erasure - starting with events, such as, in this case, the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, being painted in a more positive light.
And this issue goes beyond just events from centuries past - it permeates into our modern culture and representation. Take the recent violence against Asian-American and Pacific Islanders, for example. The spa shootings in the Atlanta area represent one of many events in a year in which anti-Asian violence has increased across the United States. But as various educators and historians tell TIME, anti-Asian racism is directly linked to history, and how members of the AAPI community are portrayed in historical lessons - often, as security threats and dangerous foreigners. And after former President Trump’s racist statements, Asian hate has further spiraled and developed an increasingly dire call to action. Jean Wu, Tufts University Asian American Studies lecturer, puts it best: “K-12 American history texts reinforce the narrative that Asian immigrants and refugees are fortunate to have been ‘helped’ and ‘saved’ by the U.S. The story does not begin with U.S. imperialist wars that were waged to take Asian wealth and resources and the resulting violence, rupture and displacement in relation to Asian lives.” By glossing over, or just entirely incorrectly depicting the reality of AAPI history, misinformation grows rampant, and daily language, even that of a president, becomes injected with bias.
And the effects of this teaching method are omnipresent. Reducing students’ exposure to an adequate and accurate social studies and historical curriculum leads to, as experts put it, a “civic achievement gap” of sorts. Closely related to the general achievement gap between affluent, mostly white students and low-income minority students, the civic achievement gap has made it increasingly difficult for those who grow up in low-income households to participate in civic affairs. According to Professor Meira Levinson of Harvard University, people living in families with incomes under $15,000 voted at just over half the rate of those living in families with incomes over $75,000. However, experts do collapse on the idea that a stronger curriculum in social and historical studies may help close this gap between families. As found by the Carnegie Corporation of New York, students who receive effective education in social studies are more likely to vote, four times more likely to volunteer and work on community issues, and are generally more confident in their ability to communicate ideas with their elected representatives.
It’s clear that the positives of adequate historical education clearly outweigh the negative: but how should educators begin approaching this issue? Although originally employed as an instructional tool, textbooks have now become the backbone of history and social studies classes throughout America. The use of primary and secondary sources and narratives, as opposed to rote memorization through singular mass-produced textbooks, is found to be a significantly more effective mechanism towards teaching students on analyzing and recognizing the ways in which inherent biases shape conventional instructional materials. Chicago-based writer Michael Conway argues in an essay in the Atlantic that history classes should focus on teaching children “historiography”—the methodologies employed by historians and the exploration of history itself. This method allows students to take on the role of an “apprentice historian,” not that of a student learning solely through overused worksheets and standardized texts.
We belong to history, it does not belong to us. That’s why it’s imperative that history be taught accurately, so that our youth has the capacity to create change based on valid knowledge. The only way to ignite change is to teach the truth in an unfiltered way, which we have the power to do by treating history as a language: one that should be spoken accurately, equitably, and objectively.