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EI Discussions: Campus-wide Debate Reflection

December 4, 2017

Caleb Parker ’18 – Undergraduate Fellow

“This world of ours… must avoid becoming a community of dreadful fear and hate, and be, instead, a proud confederation of mutual trust and respect.” The words of President Eisenhower leave us with the important task to build a society with our fellow Americans where the art of compromise is both utilized and pronounced. The recent campus-wide debate hosted by the Eisenhower Institute provided students the opportunity to represent their political organizations and opinions in an atmosphere constructive for respectful dialogue.

Typically, it would be very difficult to get six different ideologies to come together on campus for one single event. This atmosphere provides the chance to not only offer a free flow of opinions, but also the chance for the campus community to see where their own beliefs might fall along the spectrum and find areas where agreements might occur. One of the questions asked was regarding the status of disaster relief in the hurricane-ravaged areas throughout the Eastern seaboard. Every political group agreed that climate change is an ongoing problem and must be addressed immediately on every level of government. As the co-founder of this debate series, I always get very proud to hear agreements such as this because it demonstrates that the future of our nation is bright when we can find the good in one another and determine compromise all the while.

The Institute’s campus-wide debates have become a tradition on campus. Their impact has provided all ages of students from various levels of experience to represent their clubs and find ways in which they can carry out the legacy and message of Dwight Eisenhower by building a world with a proud confederation of mutual trust and respect. As my senior year approaches its last semester, I look forward to hearing about the future of this series as the next generation of Gettysburgians strives diligently to foster this cooperative conversation.

Read more coverage on the event from The Gettysburgian.

 

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Complications of Free Speech: Trump’s Tweets and Taking a Knee

November 29, 2017

Meira Ruben ’20 – Inside Politics Participant

One September afternoon in a Californian football stadium, over 60,000 people rose for the national anthem as the San Francisco 49ers and the San Diego Chargers prepared to face off for an opening preseason game. The game should have been a normal kickoff to the 2016 season, however one player’s decision sparked a revolution across the country that suddenly thrust the NFL into the limelight and left many DC politicians reeling. 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick knelt to the turf during the pre-game national anthem performance, purposefully defying the flag in an attempt to make a political statement about the practices of police brutality sweeping the nation. Not everyone in the stadium witnessed this open act of political defiance, but once a photographer snapped a picture of Kaepernick kneeling, the media exploded and soon every television channel and radio station buzzed with Kaepernick’s name. Players from other NFL teams began imitating the infamous kneel during the national anthem throughout their seasons, which consequently led to a polarized popular opinion with an excited media industry prompting the debate.

A year after that September game, the kneeling situation culminated with recently-elected President Trump sending out a tweet on September 23 calling for the expulsion of any NFL player who openly disrespected the flag and the anthem:

“If a player wants the privilege of making millions of dollars in the NFL, or other leagues, he or she should not be allowed to disrespect……. our Great American Flag (or Country) and should stand for the National Anthem. If not, YOU’RE FIRED. Find something else to do!”

The president’s tweet angered many viewers; not because of Trump’s opposition to Kaepernick’s message about police brutality, but because the public felt as though Trump had no right as a government executive to criticize free speech within the private affairs of the NFL. Since the NFL is a private organization, the league commissioner, the team owners, and the team coaches hold the power to enforce players to abide by the rules in their contracts. However, complications arise when a) the government pressures a private entity to act in a certain way despite their civil liberty freedoms, and b) when an organization like the NFL receives public funding and can therefore be considered both a private and public institution. In a recent court case, the 2006 ruling in Garcetti v. Ceballos, the  “Supreme Court held that when public employees are not speaking as citizens — but instead in their official public capacities (here, as president) — the First Amendment does not protect them from being disciplined for their speech,” as explained by journalist Kimberly Wehle from The Hill. When Sean Spicer announced in a press conference that Trump’s tweets are “considered official statements by the President of the United States,” we can conclude that Trump’s influential remarks about how the NFL should fire players for kneeling are not protected under first amendment rights. Although no allegations against Trump were pursued for attempting to compel the NFL to take his harsh suggestions, the precedent set by Garcetti v. Ceballos proves that the president’s public statement on Twitter was both wrong and possibly unconstitutional.

Although Trump’s public expression may not be protected under the Bill of Rights, what about the NFL’s right to fire a player? The NFL is a private organization, yet has great influence and value in the public sphere. It is so publically involved that even our tax dollars fund ⅔ of the costs that subsidize the construction of football stadiums nationwide (Siegfried and Zimbalist, 2000). However, the Constitution only has the power to limit the bureaucratic government’s expression of free speech. Despite how active the NFL is in the public sphere, the United States cannot technically obstruct its decisions since it is a private organization. It is up to the NFL’s discretion whether or not they decide to fire players for failing to stand for the national anthem.

The government can rarely revoke an individual citizen’s first amendment rights, yet ambiguous cases often arise when inappropriate speech challenges this notion. We learn from the NFL situation that a private company has complete autonomy over enforcing rules of respecting the national anthem, and that a president or government official’s potential influence in that autonomy can controversially be considered unconstitutional.  Although Trump did not and could not mandate the NFL to fire these players, his suggestive rhetoric greatly impacted public opinion and we cannot help but wonder if those tweets may someday impact the future of NFL contracts.

The Hearing Protection Act and the Future of Firearms Policy in the United States

April 17, 2017

Benjamin Wilson ’20 – Inside Politics Participant

The Hearing Protection Act of 2017 – H.R. 367, introduced by Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-SC) and John Carter (R-TX) and supported by the NRA, is the newest form of pro-gun policy introduced in an effort to cut down on unnecessary tax stamps that are required to have access to firearms listed on the National Firearms Act. The H.R. 367 act mainly seeks to take suppressors off of the NFA listing in hopes that this will slowly remove more items listed on the NFA.

The ownership of firearm suppressors is legal within the United States.  However, there is a lengthy six to nine month wait in which citizens participate in fingerprints, photographs, a background check, notifying your local law enforcement office, and a $200 tax stamp.

The Hearing Protection Act, if enacted, will effectively eliminate the $200 tax stamp and reduce the long wait required to get a tax stamp from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms. H.R. 367 will require citizens to perform a NICS background check and an ATF form 4473, however, these procedures are relatively minimal and speed up the process significantly. The bill, in its current configuration, also refunds those tax stamps purchased while the legislation is pending.

Although it might seem like a breeze to enact this legislation due to the Trump administration’s pro-gun policy as well as having a Republican majority in congress, it will still be difficult to get the bill passed in the Senate due to the ability to filibuster.  This would allow for debate on the bill and is the only way it would pass through 60 of the 100 Senators voting in favor of the bill. This is unlikely to pass in the case of filibuster due to only 52 Republican Senators in the Senate not the 60 they would need. However, it is still too early to say what will happen with this legislation in the future.

Regardless if H.R. 367 gets passed, it will still be a momentous bill which will get people talking about current firearm policy and the different ways it can be altered to keep freedom while still protecting the population. If the hearing protection does pass, however, the downfall of the NFA and other gun control policies may be next.

With a pro-gun Republican majority and a pro-gun White House, firearms policy will be a topic of heavy discussion for the next few years and there could be a huge change in the way firearms are regulated in the United States today.

The views and opinions expressed are the students and the organizations whom they represent and do not necessarily represent the views of The Eisenhower Institute or Gettysburg College.

Why Jeff Sessions Should Rethink His Stance on Smoke Sessions

April 11, 2017

Daniel Shussett ’19 – Inside Politics Participant

 

According to a Washington Post article published on April 8th, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has tapped Steven Cook to be one of his new lieutenants in the new Trump administration.

Cook, previously president of the National Association of Assistant U.S. Attorneys, is not only against marijuana legalization but expressly in favor of the war on drugs. In fact, Cook is on record as having stated that “the federal criminal justice system simply is not broken. In fact, it’s working exactly as designed.”

Regardless of your view on drugs in the United States, this quote should raise some red flags. The tough-on-crime Trump administration believes that a system that has more small-scale possession marijuana arrests than violent crimes is a system that is functioning well. The New York Times points out that “a disproportionate number of those arrested are African-Americans, who smoke marijuana at rates similar to whites but are arrested and prosecuted far more often for having small amounts for personal use.” If this is the criminal justice system working exactly as designed, maybe we should consider some reforms.

Of course, the stances of Cook, Sessions, and the Trump administration as a whole make sense if one accepts their unsubstantiated views of marijuana. In fact, Sessions himself has stated that “our nation needs to say clearly once again that using drugs is bad – it will destroy your life.”

Mr. Sessions, drugs certainly will destroy your life, but you have the wrong drugs in mind.

According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine, opioid overdoses led to 33,000 deaths in 2015 (this number includes both prescription painkillers and heroin overdoses). Meanwhile, the Drug Enforcement Agency’s current fact sheet on marijuana states that no deaths from overdoses on marijuana have led to death. Given that a study by the Johns Hopkins Center for Mental Health and Addiction Policy Research found that “the annual rate of opioid overdose deaths decreased substantially — by 25 percent on average — following the passage of medical marijuana laws, compared to states that still had bans,” perhaps Mr. Sessions should re-examine which drugs he wishes to target to truly make America safe again.

This doesn’t even begin to touch on the other benefits of marijuana legalization, such as increasing tax revenue, creating more room for violent criminals to incarcerated, and promoting consumer safety. Sessions has even called into question the legalization of marijuana for medical purposes, claiming that the benefits are overhyped. The Trump administration’s decision to target marijuana usage rather than the unchecked rise in opioid overdoses is not only ill-informed but a threat to American public health.

The views and opinions expressed are the students and the organizations whom they represent and do not necessarily represent the views of The Eisenhower Institute or Gettysburg College.

The Trump Administration’s Attempt to Revolutionize American Media

April 10, 2017

Scott Moore ’20 – Inside Politics Participant

 

Dramatic changes never simply happen overnight. In the aftermath of the shocking upset victory of Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election, many were left grasping for explanations and struggling to understand how they could adapt to the new political climate. Yet those who had been observant knew that something was shifting. What was brought to the surface during the 2016 Presidential Campaign was a broad feeling of discontent and anger towards the perceived “establishment” of Washington. Trump and his advisors managed to expertly capitalize on this wave of unhappiness and triumphantly that dissatisfaction all the way to the White House. Now in the White House, Donald Trump has a different kind of dilemma: how can he continue to take advantage of his image as a very public crusader against the American political establishment while still convincing his base that he is effectively making progress through his office?

Trump is no longer the underdog. He holds the highest office in the nation and his party dominates Congress, a firm majority of state legislatures, and will likely will gain control of the Supreme Court in the near future. Trump has therefore responded by declaring war on the section of the Washington establishment with which the American people interact most directly: the media.

During the fiery debates of the Republican primaries, the candidates were at their most popular when they were savaging their moderators and hosts. Conservatives have long distrusted many of the prominent American news outlets. Universal trust in any one source of news is nonexistent and many of even the longest running networks and newspapers are declining in relevance.

While dissatisfaction with the media may be nothing new, the internet has now made a shift away from the traditional media possible. There are now innumerable entities reporting on current events within the touch of a screen. This shift to “alternative media” has been predictably dominated by the same conservatives opposed to the “establishment.” The Trump insults hurled at the “failing” and “garbage” media outlets that oppose him have not, then, been entirely unfounded. In their place, the President has swept friendly alternatives to the fore, such as Breitbart News. Former Breitbart Executive Chairman Steve Bannon effectively turned the site into an arm of the Trump campaign. Bannon is now reaping the rewards of his loyalty to Trump and is poised to influence media policy for the next several years.

In one of his rare public appearances at the recent Conservative Political Action Conference, Bannon expressed his disdain for the “opposition party” residing in the media section. The next day he could be seen smiling contentedly as the President decried the same opposition before the same audience. The conservative crowd was understandably thrilled by the comments.

However, conservatives need to be mindful of the Trump campaign against the media. With Breitbart developing into a pseudo-propaganda ministry for the administration and many of the alternatives thoroughly discredited in conservative eyes, the right will need to continue to be wary of media on both sides of the aisle. No one can deny that there has been a sea change in the role of the news media in American politics and that Donald Trump has capitalized on it.  Whether these changes will prove to be a positive or a negative remains to be seen, yet either way, the impact of the battle against the establishment media will have profound effects in the coming years.

The views and opinions expressed are the students and the organizations whom they represent and do not necessarily represent the views of The Eisenhower Institute or Gettysburg College.

Comey and his Chaos

April 3, 2017

Abby Greer ‘20 – Inside Politics Participant 

 

FBI Director James Comey has been quite the controversial figure over the last year, from being almost completely unknown, to being nearly a household name. As a known Republican put into his current post by former President Barack Obama, he was meant to be a symbol of bipartisanship and of the indiscriminate rule of law. He gained the trust and respect of both political parties when he placed his job as United States Deputy Attorney General on the line by going against then White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales in disputing the legality of NSA surveillance programs. Due to these events, he entered his current position as someone valued and trusted by most, regardless of party. This has since taken a grand turn, especially over the past year.

Comey has received a lot of criticism from both sides of the political aisle. His recommendation to not prosecute Secretary Hillary Clinton turned much of the Republican Party against him. Many believed that Clinton broke the law by using a private server for classified emails, but Comey argued against this. He then lost the support of much of the Republican Party. Then, shortly before the election, he reopened the case, stating that new emails were found that needed to be reviewed. He again found the prosecution of Clinton to be unnecessary, further infuriating Republicans. These actions also infuriated Democrats because they believed the announcement of more emails swung the election in President Trump’s favor.

Through all of this turmoil, I think one thing is very clear. James Comey thinks for himself, not for a political party, president, or anyone else. He remains nonpartisan, fair, and balanced – though many on the political scene would disagree. He has stayed true to what he believes is right regardless of the media’s and his peers’ opinions. He is an independent thinker and truly good man who we should be proud to have serving our country as Director of the FBI.

 

The views and opinions expressed are the students and the organizations whom they represent and do not necessarily represent the views of The Eisenhower Institute or Gettysburg College.

Recusal is Not Enough

April 3, 2017

Rachel Gombatz ’19 – Inside Politics Participant

 

On Tuesday, January 10th, 2017, Alabama Senator, Jeff Sessions, testified before a confirmation hearing concerning his nomination to become the Attorney General of the United States. Before doing so, he took an oath, swearing to “tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.” And then he lied. I am not sure, however, what is more disturbing: that this top official of the United States government was in undisclosed contact with a member of the Russian government during the presidential campaign or that he, the standing leader of the Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, lied about it under oath. In any case, this conduct is disgraceful and it is incontestably unacceptable for an American who claims to represent the values of this nation.

On Thursday, March 2, Sessions held a news conference to announce his self-imposed recusal from any investigations concerning Russian involvement in the 2016 presidential election. This “decision”, however, must not be seen as to any great credit to the Attorney General as pressures from outside actors left him no choice. This action is not an honorable deed to uphold the dignity of a government investigation but rather an attempt by Sessions to salvage his public image and cover up his wrongdoing. For this representative of the United States government has not and will not admit to the misleading and unlawful nature of his statement at the confirmation hearing. This was made explicitly clear by his conceded remark during his news conference upholding that he “never had meetings with Russian operatives or Russian intermediaries about the Trump campaign”. What Sessions does not appear to comprehend is that the nature of his meetings is no longer the only concern of the American people. Any way it is framed, what is of monumental significance is that the Attorney General lied under oath when he denied any communication with the country of Russia.

As it stands, the United States is at a crossroads which will define the character of this nation. After the report of the Washington Post uncovered the meetings between Sessions and the Russian ambassador, Sergey Kislyak, it was only a matter of time before the “decision” concerning his recusal was made. Now, it is time for the real decision to be delivered. If the United States wishes to uphold its democratic value of dignified truth, the Attorney General will resign. If not, then perhaps there has come to be an objective which is more important than the foundational pillars of this nation.

 

The views and opinions expressed are the students and the organizations whom they represent and do not necessarily represent the views of The Eisenhower Institute or Gettysburg College.