Removing Confederate Monuments is not Historical Revisionism

It simply shows that society today is different from when they were first built.

Over the past few years, the topic of whether or not to remove Confederate memorabilia, be it flags, monuments or symbols, from public property, has had increased visibility and discussion. With recent events in Charlottesville, the removal, or maintenance thereof, of statues in particular, has had particular prominence, with some being forcibly removed by protests. On both sides of the issue, complex arguments have been put forward about why or why not to keep these statues. However, the question as to whether or not to keep them, is very simple. This post addresses the purpose of monuments, their place in the construction of narrative, and uses both an example local to my hometown and one known to all to demonstrate how the removal of Confederate monuments is not about keeping history alive, but is rather about what values a society wishes to promote.

If you have had the opportunity to see many monuments, either within the U.S. or without, there are a few general qualities that most of them have in common. All monuments are commissioned by either one funder or a group of funders, from wealthy investors to community organizations and governments, all of whom have some interest in building it. Monuments are placed in specific locations, giving them more (or less) significance, allowing their message to be amplified by their environment, and determining their audience. Finally, monuments have a specific material and shape, which is chosen in order to communicate a message with its intended viewers. In sum, a monument is a physical idea that is chosen for display in a specific location by an individual or group of individuals that wish to share this idea with others.

It is worth noting that a sculptor, and their funders, are limited by time, money and resources. Accordingly, they must decide what features they will build into a monument, and which ones they will have to leave out. Because of this, monuments are rarely good teachers – they almost never teach you something truly new and novel. Instead, they take a person, place or event that is generally known amongst its audience, and enhance a certain aspect of it.

Due to their significance, ease with which to broadcast messages across large audiences, and permanence, nations choose to erect monuments in order to promote a national narrative. Every country has its own ‘founding mythology’ – a set of people and ideas that came together, either at a discrete moment or over an extended period of time, to create a common set of values and principles which are shared amongst all of the nation’s citizens. In the United Kingdom, you have the Queen and the monarchy, as well as figures such as Horatio Nelson and Winston Churchill; in China you have Chairman Mao and the Communist Revolution; in Venezuela you have Simon Bolivar and the legacy of independence from Spain. Each of these national narratives ignores certain aspects of a nation’s history and selectively promotes others, in order to inculcate a set of values within the country’s current population.

As these monuments age from their original construction, additional layers of meaning are added to them. As new events unfold in a nation’s history, certain monuments come and go, and new ones are constructed in their stead. Perhaps one of the oddest examples of this, for me, was seeing a bust of “General George Washington” prominently displayed on a pedestal right next to the tomb of Lord Admiral Horatio Nelson in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, London. Could you imagine such a thing occurring right after the War of Independence in 1783?

In this vein, we arrive at Confederate monuments. As their name suggests, Confederate monuments commemorate the Confederacy and its role in the Civil War. They are mostly present in southern states that fought in the Confederacy – in the North*, you generally find Union monuments commemorating the Union, Union soldiers and the end of the war. Most Americans learn about the Civil War in textbooks at school – it is such a fundamental part of American history, that you would have to entirely skip every day of primary and secondary education not to know about it. While world history is not necessarily required in American education, every school year does have American history, and it is rehashed again and again for 12 years of our childhoods. Walk down any street and ask someone about it, and you would be hard-pressed to find (a) anyone who will not know what it was, and (b) anyone that first learned about it from their local Confederate monument.

As an example of a Confederate memorial, my hometown of Bradenton, FL has its own Confederate monument in front of the old courthouse (still a public building used for administrative court tasks). A website describing it can be found here, and some pictures are taken from this site below for reference:

Monument in front of Manatee County Courthouse

East face of monument

Front of monument (north face)South face of monumentWest face of monument

This monument was funded by the Judah P. Benjamin chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, built in 1924, and prominently placed on public property in front of what was, at that time, the main courthouse for Manatee County, FL. Its continued placement there suggests that it is important to the community, and its message is supported therein. It is in the shape of an obelisk, which typically makes the viewer think of something larger than life and important (according to gravestudies.org, they were erected as reminders of ‘greatness’ and ‘patriotism’). Rather than teaching people about the Civil War, it serves to reinforce or promote a specific aspect of the Civil War.

While the front of the monument claims to be ‘in memory of our Confederate soldiers’, the other three sides send a very different message, using the soldiers as a means or focal point to draw the viewer to a larger conclusion. For example, on one side, Jefferson Davis is listed – who was never a soldier, but rather the President of the Confederacy – with 1861 – 1865 written, and here it is chosen to write, “Lest We Forget”. One may assume that 1861-1865 is referencing the duration of the Civil War; but the placement here of the Confederate President, Jefferson Davis, along with the seal “CSA” (meaning Confederate States of America), leads me to conclude that it is rather referring to the duration of the Confederacy (1861-1865) and the words “Lest We Forget” is referencing the Confederacy, not the war. In addition, another side commemorates Robert E. Lee, the famous General who led the Confederate Army. However, Robert E. Lee did not die in the Civil War – he died 5 years later, in 1870. Robert’s side also notes how Confederate soldiers were “true to the best traditions of the South”, and lists off certain values above, hinting again at the monument being less about the soldiers and more about Southern values. Stonewall Jackson, another famous Confederate general, is commemorated on the third side and did die in the war. However, the placement of Davis, Lee and Jackson on this memorial leads one to believe that they are on there less because of their roles in war, and more because they were seen as heroes of the Confederacy as a whole.

This makes sense when we note that the statue was built in 1924. It was not built directly after the Civil War; rather, it was built 60 years later. This adds more credence to the idea that it was constructed not to actually commemorate the Civil War, but to promote a certain value set in the 1920s South. Why would someone say, “Lest we forget” in 1924 – what is it that we should not forget? It is well-documented that, from the 1890s through the 20th century, the group that constructed this statue – the United Daughters of the Confederacy – built many such ‘Civil War memorials’ as rallying points for white supremacy. The KKK was very active in the South, and was very strong in Florida. This makes sense in conjunction with the above – the “lest we forget” imagery in the statue, hearkening to the Confederacy, is an overarching “lest we forget” aimed at inspiring white supremacists to remember the days of the Confederacy and support discrimination efforts in the days of Jim Crow, post-Reconstruction and in the dawn of the civil rights movement.

All in all, the monument uses the veneer of the soldiers who fought in the war as a lynchpin that sends a much larger message about the greatness and aspirations of the Confederacy. It encourages and rallies its viewers in 1924 to those values. The monument is much less a soldier’s memorial, much more a monument to the Confederate States of America, and a message to those who see it to remember what it was, and what it stood for – white supremacy and the enslavement of people of colour – “lest we forget”.

In the vein of creating a national narrative (in this case, for our local hometown), it chooses to ignore certain aspects of the war/Confederacy in order to promote others. While we have covered those it promotes above (greatness, heroes, and the legacy of the Confederacy), the things it ignores are perhaps more important to us today, and how we choose to remember the Civil War and the Confederacy – the fact that half of Florida’s population were slaves, and the Civil War was primarily a war about slavery. Some people contend that it was fought about state’s rights – so to frame this last statement a different way, the Civil War was primarily a war fought about a state’s right to determine whether or not it should choose to enslave people (versus, say, a state’s right to maintain its highway system – such trivial concerns did not spark the Civil War). This makes the statement “lest we forget” above particularly chilling – the statue glorifies the defense of slavery. How do we want to remember the Civil War in the 21st century? Personally, I think a monument on that very spot with a black slave toiling in a cotton field, with the words, “Lest We Forget”, is a much better reminder of a time when we fell down on our moral obligations as a nation (or state) and upheld the enslavement of one man to another, and remind us to never, ever do that again. History has not changed – however, the lessons learned and the values we gained from that history have.

Taking down a monument on government property is not historical revisionism – it is also not going to cause people to forget that the Civil War happened, or that Florida fought in it. Instead, it will change the way we choose to commemorate it, and the set of values we choose to pass on to the next generation. And if we value commemorating those who have died, we can make the monument what it proclaims to be – a memorial – and put it off in a graveyard, not in front of our courthouse.

In today’s world of political extremes, let’s consider an extreme example – a very similar national monument that everyone knows: The Washington Monument. An image is below for reference, from Wikipedia.

Image result for the washington monument

If, tomorrow, someone told you that they wanted to take down the Washington Monument, would your first response be that they should not, because it may cause people to forget about George Washington? Of course not. You would probably say it should stay up, because it represents a great person who was the father of our nation . It selectively chooses a certain part of his narrative, ignoring others (such as that he himself was a slaveholder), intertwines those positive aspects with our nation’s history, and promotes it – and that thing which it promotes, you agree with. Monuments that represent the best ideals of our society (mythologized or not) are those that should stay, as they send messages worth promoting about who we are as a society, and the values we treasure to every person who sees it, American or not. Can you say the same about Bradenton’s Confederate monument?

With all of these complicated arguments about whether or not to replace Confederate monuments, the fundamental question is quickly buried: Do you believe that there should be a public monument promoting our state’s/town’s/family’s role in the Confederacy during the Civil War, or not? Today’s answer, I think, is simple.

 

*The Civil War is such a large part of American history, that people discussing it invariably, to this day, immediately split the modern-day United States into “the North” and “the South” when discussing it, even though, politically speaking, our country has been unified since 1865. Moreover, they generally refer to their region of the war as “the northern/southern states” and the other region as “the North/South”. I originally naturally typed “the North” and “the southern states” vs. “the northern United States” and “the southern United States”, however, I kept it to illustrate to others this extraordinary piece of psyche.

 

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Travel Ban: Intent Unchanged

According to various media outlets, President Donald Trump is planning to sign a new executive order to ban travel from seven Muslim-majority countries today. This executive order changes the mechanics of the previous order, now allowing current visa-holders in and excluding Iraq, but not the intent. Instead, the executive order achieves the objectives of the previous one, but in different ways. After all, the new executive order was crafted in order to survive a legal challenge in the courts. We need to remember that, while the wording has changed, the reasons why the order is being signed, and what it aims to do, have remained entirely the same – to reduce the amount of immigrants, writ large, from entering the United States, and begin firmly establishing a cultural identity in the United States.

1. Keep Muslims Out: There is an overwhelming amount of evidence that the Trump administration aims to keep Muslims out with this ban. In a publicly aired interview on Fox, former potential Trump administration appointee said that Trump specifically asked him how to legally implement a Muslim ban. The President himself has publicly stated, on his campaign website (which links to polling done by a conservative think tank which hired a conservative poll company), that he wants a complete and total shutdown on Muslims entering the country. It is still present on the website, and has not been taken down since, suggesting that he still agrees with that statement. Moreover, top White House adviser Steve Bannon has repeatedly said a wide range of islamophobic comments, in an apparent desire to start a 21st century holy war.

2. Does Not Prevent Terrorism: There have been no terrorist attacks from the seven countries mentioned in the previous travel ban, since it was signed. Accordingly, everything that was true prior to that ban, specifically, that there have been three non-deadly attacks by people from Iran and Somalia in the past 16 years (compared to 20,629,970 total violent crimes in the US in the same time period, or 0.0000001%), and nobody has been killed in attacks by people from those seven countries in the United States for thirty years. None of this has changed for the past month. There is no basis for the claim that this travel ban prevents terrorist attacks on U.S. soil. Instead, it probably does quite the opposite – slamming a door of hope shut on potential hopeful idealists in oppressive regimes, allowing those very regimes to have a stronger hold over them.

3. The ban is indefinite: The previous executive order included the following language:

After the 60-day period described in subsection (d) of this section expires, the Secretary of Homeland Security, in consultation with the Secretary of State, shall submit to the President a list of countries recommended for inclusion on a Presidential proclamation that would prohibit the entry of foreign nationals… At any point after submitting the list described in subsection (e) of this section, the Secretary of State or the Secretary of Homeland Security may submit to the President the names of any additional countries recommended for similar treatment.

Section (3)(d), referenced above, states:

Immediately upon receipt of the report described in subsection (b)…

Section (3)(b), referenced above, states:

The Secretary of Homeland Security… shall submit to the President a report… within 30 days of the date of this order.

These sections line up to basically say, that 90 days after the signing of the order, a new, indefinite travel ban will go into effect. This turns the 90-day temporary ban, which is discussed in the executive order, into a permanent ban.

4. Part of a Broader Anti-Immigration Agenda: Many ex-CIA and ex-State officials correctly claim that this ban does not advance any national security agenda. Rather, this ban advances more broadly President Donald Trump’s agenda of reducing the total flow of immigrants into the country. While many may think that reducing immigration is a good thing, the difference with what the President’s moves do, is that he wants to reduce immigration totally – without respect to talent, values or personal initiative on the part of the immigrant, but rather with respect to their cultural and religious identity. The travel ban on Muslim-majority countries contained the special provision for Christian refugees, demonstrating that while no Muslims (irrespective of talent, values or personal initiative) can enter the country, Christians of any talent, values of personal initiative can. President Donald Trump is using a false national security premise to keep Muslims out of the country. Moreover, the border wall being constructed with Mexico, which does not serve any tangible national security or undocumented immigration purpose (kind of like building a wall with Canada), does the same thing – it is a physical demonstration that Mexicans are not welcome in the country. While it is akin to building a wall with Canada in relation to its lack of security or undocumented immigration purpose, President Trump is building a wall with Mexico, not Canada, because he wants white immigrants, not Hispanic immigrants. It is to control the cultural flow of immigration.

5. First of many steps towards Cultural Homogeneity and Economic Nationalism: Steve Bannon publicly laid out his fascist view of the world at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) recently, to thunderous applause. The immigration ban, in addition to the moves outlaid above, is the first of many steps towards establishing the Trump/Bannon view of who is an American. It does so by restricting the influx of new members of other cultures into the United States. It is akin to containment – if we want to constrain and restrict members of groups we deem unwanted, we first stop their growth. One day, this will expand to the Trump administration’s desire to deny birthright citizenship to undocumented immigrant’s children – which he publicly laid out in his campaign manifesto (search for, “end birthright citizenship”).

Unfortunately, the new ban will probably be upheld in the courts. As long as the new executive order does not ban family members of current citizens and green card holders from obtaining visas, it falls within the prerogative of the Executive to provisionally revoke nonimmigrant visas and applications for any reason. Nonimmigrant visas are basically all visas (including student visas) except green cards. However, this does not mean that the order is justified – just because the President can do something, does not mean they should, especially not in light of the above.

As the President signs the new order, we should reject any and all claims to the effect that the order is increasing the security of our country. We should not even discuss it – it has already been argued, and established clearly, using data and evidence, that the executive order does not do this. Rather, the President is playing on people’s fears and amplifying their misconceptions in order to create an alternative reality, in which he can carry out the agenda outlined above. In discussing the new executive order, we should focus on what it really is – an anti-immigrant (broadly writ) policy that targets people who are not a part of Trump’s vision of who is an American. By stopping the influx of such people, President Donald Trump can get to work on defining what and who is American, and Bannon will eventually get the state he is striving for.

While there may not be people stopped at the airports this time, nonetheless, the reasons for protesting are all the same – to protect the rights of minorities, to protect freedom of religion, and to protect an inclusive, multicultural vision of America.

Institutional “Partisanship” and Education

In a recent op-ed, Daniel Newman ’17 from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology suggested that, by taking an official stance on a partisan issue, the Institute acted in a manner that stifled conservative voices on campus and served to ostracize conservative students, effectively making them feel threatened. Specifically, Daniel stated that, “MIT’s partisan stance has only exacerbated the polarization that has led us here. A nonpartisan approach by MIT would have been far better for all MIT students. In an effort to promote diversity of both culture and ideas, MIT should encourage its students to strive to see both sides of the political spectrum so as to find common ground.”

It should be no surprise that institutions of higher education have values and interests. As a private university, MIT has more leeway in guarding these values and interests than a publicly-funded university. As these values and interests are critical to the functioning of the Institute, it makes sense that they have a further interest to protect them. Such values and interests may include, but are certainly much more expansive than, such things as educational quality, or the quality and integrity of our research, or having the best physical facilities available for living and working. These also have subsets of many other things that MIT has, over its history, identified as critical to ensuring that its values and interests are maintained – such as funding, choosing the right students and staff, and having the flexibility and ability to have the best faculty and students possible.

These values and interests are determined by a number of criteria, such as a university’s mission statement, legal obligations established by the state and the stakeholders that come together to make the university successful, such as donors, staff, students, faculty and alumni. Circumstances that affect these are also under the purview of the university’s interests – for example, if an event occurred that severely affected the morale or wellbeing of a large portion of its stakeholders, such as a large portion of its students, faculty and staff, and affected their ability to contribute to the wellbeing of the Institute as a whole, the university would have an interest in acting accordingly to those circumstances such that the wellbeing or morale of its students, faculty and staff improved.

At times, the values and interests of a university may not align with the views of the government or a political party. This should not be a surprise, as the views of the American government change dramatically depending on the party in power, and the views of that party change dramatically with each election cycle. Furthermore, since we live in a lively republic/democratic two-party system, it is highly likely that at any period of time, a university has views that disagrees with some segment, perhaps large segment, of the population. This simply reflects the reality of the world, that people have different opinions and views from each other, that these opinions and views are rooted in a variety of methods used to arrive at them, and that they are represented by political groups.

When this occurs, the values and interests of an institution do not necessarily change. Indeed, if MIT’s values and interests changed with every politician’s statement, or the evolution of a party’s platform, it would be extremely difficult to maintain a sustained commitment and focus which would enable us to have the strong network of partnerships, as well as the storied and long history, that we have. What is partisan today is not partisan tomorrow, and vice versa. Moreover, just as opinions and views are formed in different ways amongst people, universities have their own unique way of determining their values and interests that can be different as well. For MIT, we tend to determine our values and interests through prolonged discussion amongst our various stakeholders, based heavily on data and research, in order to determine a common basis for progress. This is not necessarily the same approach taken by everyone else, and our stakeholders are not necessarily the same as other people’s stakeholders either, so the values and interests are different from those of other people, political parties or institutions.

Accordingly, institutions may periodically contrast with the views of a political party, and therefore its party’s members. Some, if not most, of a university’s students may even be a member of a political party that has different views from the university itself. Since the scope of what is and is not partisan is more a matter of framing a discussion versus an actual distinction, and also changes on a nearly daily basis, attempting to ignore every issue as partisan is not only highly impractical, but also inadvisable – especially when a given issue conflicts with a university’s values and interests. Rather, it is the duty of an institution to protect its values and interests in a way that also respects those same values and interests, and is in alignment with its mission and purpose.

MIT makes it very clear that it advocates for, and takes a stance on, a variety of issues that can potentially be seen as partisan. For example, there exists an MIT Washington Office that specifically lobbies members of Congress and the Executive to take political stances that are inclined towards research and education. It publishes positions outlining its stance on a variety of political issues, ranging from biomedical science to intellectual property and manufacturing. Furthermore, MIT publicly publishes a mission statement that espouses certain values and guides its outcomes as a university. Members of MIT administration also make public statements on a variety of topics outlining MIT’s commitment to these values on potentially political issues, such as academic collaboration with Israel and federal government funding priorities. Accordingly, it should not be a surprise that MIT decided to take a stand on the recent immigration ban in line with its perceived values and interests.

If we accept that MIT, and other universities, will take stances on political issues that affect their values and interests, we are then more interested in how it can do so in a way that also balances those same values and interests. In terms of MIT, we are probably most concerned with being able to take a position, especially a political position, while both enabling and promoting an atmosphere of debate, dissent and discussion on campus. Historically, MIT has had wide-ranging conversations on its response to many of its stances, most recently and significantly probably being the campus-wide conversation on climate change, and whether MIT should divest from fossil fuel companies. In the end, MIT chose not to divest, and certain groups such as Fossil Free MIT disagreed with the administration’s decision. In these instances, MIT was able to take a stance on an issue, while other groups felt comfortable disagreeing with the decision and taking action in line with their beliefs. Simply put, MIT taking an official position did not have the effect of chilling, or ostracizing, a group of people on campus that disagreed with it.

In terms of the current political climate, the challenge for MIT will be even greater to take official positions on political (or “partisan”) issues in defense of its values and interests, while enabling discussions and debate on campus. Currently, MIT can and does so in a multitude of ways. First, as a comment on the aforementioned Newman article stated, concerned students may form student groups that actively hold contrarian views to the Institute. These student groups are guaranteed funding** if they are recognized through the Association of Student Activities (ASA), whose criteria are as follows (in addition to the group not discriminating based on race, sex, gender, or disability):

‘…the ASA primarily looks for a unique purpose and at the student group’s anticipated use of resources. Students interested in starting a new group are advised to consider whether their purpose can be acheived within an already-recognized group; frequently, students will be told to talk to a similar-seeming group before the ASA makes a final decision about recognition.’

Second, MIT can choose to sponsor events, as it has in the past, to allow multiple perspectives on a given issue to be debated. Third, it can continue to show no bias or favour, amongst the population on campus, towards one position or another – while holding an official position outside of the university towards other stakeholders. What this means, is that administrators and staff are receptive to and listen to differing perspectives – which they have shown an ability and interest in doing, with such events as open office hours. The underlying principle is that MIT takes an official stance, while doing so in line with its values as an educational institution – ie, providing an educational opportunity for students, staff and faculty. The challenge lies not in taking the view itself, but in how the view is taken – and the aim is not necessarily towards finding common ground, but rather to allow both sides to better understand each other and work towards solutions.

Indeed, the same quandary that Daniel Newman expressed in his article – that conservative students feel stifled by an institution that has taken an opposing view – is the same situation that liberals find themselves in today, with a conservative White House and Congress. However, rather than stifling conversation, the argument can easily be made anecdotally that this situation has resulted in some of the highest levels of political engagement observed in recent memory by both conservatives and liberals.

Therefore, the concern is not around whether MIT can take a view, but whether it is doing so in a way that allows an atmosphere of debate, dissent and discussion on campus. While it may be more difficult for a conservative club to succeed in attracting attention, sympathy and membership from the MIT community, simply due to the existing views and the formation of those views, it is not impossible and the difficulty is not due to institutional bias. It would not be unreasonable for a strongly conservative or pro-Trump student group to be met with a large body of criticism and skepticism, and it would be fair to say that the weight of evidence would be on such groups to prove their merits. The question, which remains to be answered, is whether MIT community members would choose to engage with such a group with the same respect that they would give to any other student group on campus. Will the criticism and skepticism be channeled through wittily-written opinion articles, strongly-worded debates and peaceful protests, or will it be channeled through verbal intimidation, shutting down that group’s events and speakers, and physical threats? Hopefully it will be the former, and we need to ensure that our community would react accordingly.

In conclusion, institutes can, and should, be “partisan” to protect their values and interests. In doing so, it needs to ensure that it also balances those values and interests in a way that both promotes them and allows them to prosper. At MIT, we do so through inculcating a culture of debate, dissent and discussion, through a variety of institutional mechanisms that do not favour one viewpoint over another. By engaging with, and listening to, alternative viewpoints or opposition, we allow ourselves to protect our university’s integrity while also encouraging the growth and education of our community.

 

**However, this guaranteed funding may be under threat by vague wording recently added to the Undergraduate Association’s Financial Board Funding Policy, which guarantees this funding for undergraduates. An amendment passed on September 1, only briefly discussed by student representatives after it was passed without discussion, caveated guaranteed funding with the statement:

‘In all cases, Finboard reserves the overarching right to make funding decisions at the discretion of the Board in order to reinforce the fundamental principle of benefiting the MIT undergraduate community. ‘

The Financial Board has taken no steps to define what this principle means, or provide any meaningful criteria to show that they may not be discriminatory along partisan lines in the future.

Doubling Down on Failure

The Liberal Path to Disaster

In the wake of the 2016 Presidential election, many Democrats and self-identified liberals have grabbed ahold of a specific narrative in the wake of Trump’s victory. Specifically, they have organized into groups, such as “Pantsuit Nation”, various solidarity movements on college campuses, and online petition signers, to uphold the idea of the progressive path to social and racial equality in the face of an intolerant President. This has led to a doubling down on the narrative that progressives held throughout the election – that Trump is terrible, will be bad for the country and anything is better than Donald Trump. Additionally, it secondarily grabs a hold of the idea that what the country needs to focus on right now is racial and sexual equality, especially in the face of the new President-Elect.

The problem with this doubling down, is that it is grabbing hold of exactly the same narrative that lost Democrats the House, Senate, Presidency, and the majority of state governorships and legislatures on November 7. Perhaps liberals are simply unaware of just how bad their defeat was that day – however, it should be made very clear that Republicans and self-identified Conservatives are in control of almost every lever of power in the United States, and this will soon extend to the last hold-out, the Supreme Court.

The simple fact of the matter, is that the message of racial and sexual equality did not sell strongly enough in the November election. Better-phrased for those that point out how Democrats won the majority of the national popular vote, the message did not sell in any practical way. Despite the Black Lives Matter movement, voter participation amongst black Americans was not high enough; Hispanics did not turn out in great enough numbers to win Florida and Arizona; white Democrats flipped and voted Republican; and minorities are not entirely unified on the impact of race on their place in society, and not all line up behind the victim narrative.

Before continuing onward, I find it very important to point out that I very strongly believe that dialogue around race and sexuality needs to continue and is vitally important. What this post emphasizes for Democrats and liberals, is that in order to achieve the change we want around these issues, we need to take a different approach. Continuing:

It should be a significant point of self-reflection amongst Democrats and liberals that, despite discussing race at a level not seen since the Civil Rights Era of the 1960’s, minority voters did not turn out in high enough numbers. And if they did not turn out in 2016, after eight years with a black President who promised change, it is hard to see why they would turn out in greater numbers in the near future or believe that Democrats can actually deliver change in a systemically racist, classist, sexist society. If Democrats cannot effectively deliver change, then how are they different from the status quo Republican? Democrats and liberals should reflect on the race message the party is currently projecting, and have serious debates about the path forward with minority voters.

The message that did sell in November was the economy. This really ought not to have been a big surprise, but unfortunately for Democrats it was. There was a very visible shift amongst working class voters in the Rust Belt, and across the United States, between the period of 2008 – 2016. While average wages may have gone up, and the stock market grew significantly, the problem of income gaps, quality of life and inflation were shoved under the table in favour of discussions around sexuality, race and gender. While the latter are very important conversations to have, for people in the Rust Belt, Florida, and the southwest, regardless of your ethnic or cultural background, these conversations were so distant from their reality as to be absurd. As a personal aside, you should have seen some of the looks I would get from people in Florida if I started talking about sex reassignment surgery, or when I had to explain mansplaining to a recent Florida college graduate in late October 2016 – and then I would get absurd looks from classmates at MIT when I was certain Trump would win, even in the face of the ridiculous things he would say. Mainstream Democrats tacitly avoided discussions on systemic economic equality, with notable exceptions such as Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders – unfortunately, when it came time for the election, the party had no solid stance on any of these issues.

The dissonance between these conversations, the feeling of a disconnect of the ‘reality on the ground’ with what politicians in Washington, D.C. were discussing, and the tremendously neutral effect they had on non-white, non-binary voters are readily apparent in a few tell-tale graphs:

Figure 1: Party Affiliation Amongst College vs Non-College Educated White and Non-White Voters

There are a few key points to notice here: First, amongst white millenial voters, party affiliation is actually rather nuanced and has not really changed that much. In fact, if anything, it appears to be getting more Republican. Second, party affiliation amongst non-white voters really hasn’t changed all that much in the past two decades – it is a mixed picture of getting either slightly more Republican with age, or slightly more Democratic with youth. Third, there is a huge split amongst college-educated voters and non-college educated voters, with the former leaning Democratic and the latter leaning Republican. Notice how strongly this divide widens in the Obama years.

Why is that? It is here that it is worthwhile to note a few more insightful graphs:

Figure 2: Economic Recovery Disparity Amongst College Graduates and Non-Graduates

It should be very clear that the economic recovery clearly favoured college graduates over those with no college. It should be no surprise, then, that as college-educated students and well-to-do members of society touted the success of economic recovery, this just made non-college-educated members of society (which is the majority of the population) feel even more disconnected from the media and government (ever read a story in the Washington Post or CNN about the successful economic recovery, while your friends are losing their jobs?). Ultimately, it ought to be clear that the dialogue over race and sexuality did not turn out more voters; instead, the dialogue over the economy and income equality brought voters out where they were needed most.

Which leads us to the next fact, which it is important for Democrats and liberals to understand – it really does not matter whether you win the national majority vote or not. What matters, is that you win the number of electoral college votes necessary to become President; that you win a majority of states to have a majority in the Senate; and that you win a majority of House districts to have a majority in the House of Representatives. And if you want to change the system of any of the above, you have to win majorities in state legislatures (But, if you really do care about the majority of the popular vote, if you remove the respective Democratic/Republican strongholds of California/Texas, Trump wins that too – which reinforces the notion that it doesn’t matter if ten million people vote Clinton in California, what matters is that Ohio is blue).

Moreover, reform to the electoral college system, which has cost Democrats two elections in recent memory, is not going to come any time soon. Republicans, who have won two elections in recent memory because of the electoral college system, control the majority of state legislatures and governorships. And if you want to reform the constitution, you need a very sizeable majority of the states behind you. If you see an emphasis on the importance of winning state legislatures, that is not in error – the party that controls state legislatures, controls the mechanisms of reform and election for the whole country.

If Democrats and liberals want to be serious about winning future elections, they need to stop worrying about securing the majority vote, and worry about securing the swing states that they lost. And the only way that is going to happen, is by changing the liberal narrative (either slightly or majorly) to offer an alternative economic path forward for the nation.

Further hearkening back to the idea in the fourth paragraph, Democrats should really reflect on the effect of status quo bias. The fact of the matter is that, despite any claims of progress on race that Democrats may claim over the past eight years, race relations are still perceived to be very bad. And if, over a period of eight years, minorities still do not believe that race relations have improved, it is very hard to sell them a progressive agenda that promises they will if minorities give Democrats another eight years. In the absence of real change, it is easy to equate Democratic government to Republican government – there is really no true difference along racial equality lines, just differences along moral lines such as abortion, and economic lines as outlined above (also remember the record deportations under Obama? Hard to really draw out sympathy from that). Democrats did make obvious improvements to gay rights – but homosexual Americans make up a tiny fraction of the population, and it is unlikely that voters who do not identify as homosexual will vote against their own economic and other moral interests.

So how is the current doubling-down on the importance of racial and sexual issues a deathknell for Democrats? Because if Trump is able to secure significant economic gains for economically disenfranchised voters in the next four years, despite absolute opposition from liberals and Democrats who oppose him on moral grounds, Trump will have laid the groundwork for a decade, if not more, of Republican control of the nation. Why? Because the economic narrative is what people who actually vote find important right now – and delivering on that message will secure swing states as red for a very long time, especially since Democrats failed to deliver on the economy in those states with eight years of Democratic leadership, which began with total control of the House, Senate and the Presidency. Furthermore, since Democrats failed to truly deliver on progressive change, they have the idea of the status quo working against them in the general public’s perception. And obstinate opposition by Democrats to what people will perceive as economic progress, all the while asking minorities and well-meaning white voters to give them eight more years of undefined somethingness, will hand Republicans the federal government – and they will have the blind Democratic opposition to thank for it.

If Ohio stays red for the indefinite future, those ten million Democratic voters in California who always turn out to vote really won’t matter that much.

In sum, moving forward, instead of forming a solid, oppose-no-matter-what strategy against Donald Trump, or (maybe even more importantly) seeming to be diametrically opposed to him in the media, Democrats may want to step back for a moment and do some deep self-reflection on how to incorporate the feelings of those that feel economically disenfranchised back into the Democratic fold. Liberals will need to realize that, yes, the path to progress is a curvy one – and that, oddly enough, sometimes the way to make and secure gains on racial and social progress is actually by focusing on other things that voters perceive as more important in the short term. What is needed  is a much more pragmatic approach towards politics, which has been largely abandoned and replaced with unrealistic idealism that is neither realized or achievable, and ultimately hurts Democrats’ ability to actually achieve change. If Democrats fail to work with Trump on economic issues, while failing to also (it doesn’t contradict this, I promise) develop an alternative economic path forwards that brings forward those who feel economically disenfranchised, and unifying that message with their progressive platform; if they fail to self-reflect and really debate what is important in their progressive platform to be more appealing to all minorities (and, more importantly, actually bring them out to vote) and come up with a real, concete path towards progressive change, they will have themselves to blame for a long period of Republican governorship.

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Harvard and MIT Announce edX

On May 2, 2012, MIT and Harvard announced a joint collaboration on a groundbreaking partnership in online education:

http://www.edxonline.org/

Advances in online education, from sources such as the Khan Academy, represent the true future of global education, in which a person can access the internet and, through some hard work, learn any subject in the realm of human knowledge. This great leap forward represents the possibility of a new renaissance in human intelligence, allowing links to be formed across all scientific, social and humanities disciplines.

However, the fundamental challenge to all of this is the very thing that makes it such a revolutionary step: giving everyone access to a computer. In today’s world, 65% of the global population still lacks the ability to connect to the internet. Even in the United States, only around 80% of the population connects to the internet. Therefore, it is necessary for us to develop new means of giving as many people as possible the opportunity to utilize the resources that the worldwide web has to offer. MIT’s One Laptop Per Child program may give a computer to every child on Earth, but it will not give them internet access, without which one can say that the computer is nearly obsolete.

This disparity between those that utilize the internet and those that do not is referred to as the digital divide. When a certain segment of the population gains the advantages of the internet while another does not, the opportunity for the favoured side increases exponentially over the unfortunate group. The release of educational resources such as edX, while done with good intentions, has the potential to further this gap, if we do not work just as hard to ensure equal internet access for all.

The main problem with internet access has to do with distribution. It is very hard to lay the infrastructure for web usage in rural areas, where population density is scarce – furthermore, in countries with limited electricity and/or frequent blackouts (third and second world countries), the ability to develop internet infrastructure at all is tough. Efforts need to be made to investigate solutions to these two key problems – rural areas and electrical consistency – if we are to achieve the maximum potential of efforts like edX.

A key focus for universities and individuals seeking to expand the educational opportunities for those around the world should be to allow all people to have the ability to connect to them in the first place. Similar to Andrew Carnegie’s investments in public libraries, wealthy financial figures should make similar investments in internet hubs around the world – bringing education, globalization and opportunity to the front door of every human being. Without such investment, online education will only have a limited impact and, in many respects, will simply be available to those who already had the opportunities to learn in the first place.

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I am Matthew Davis, an incoming freshman at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a soon-to-be graduate of the International Baccalaureate program at Southeast High School. I work on a wide variety of projects that seek to improve the world in some tangible way, through science, technology and politics.

 

I define myself as undefinable – I abhor stereotypes and labels and I have never been completely able to identify with any particular one. I enjoy creative pursuits and creative company, while relaxing by playing the piano, reading a book or taking a walk/run. In many senses I can be considered old-fashioned; I have an appreciation for graeco-roman culture, history and art and I constantly use historical figures as role models; however, in the same vein, I love computers, have a Kindle, subscribe to Popular Mechanics/Popular Science and use Facebook.

 

I have been a part of a variety of organizations – I served on the Board of Directors for the United Way of Manatee County, Youth Chairman for the Manatee Glens’ Walk for Life, Marketing Chairman for the Taking Back Lives Sunset Walk, Lieutenant Governor and President in Florida Key Club as well as maintaining membership and leadership roles in a variety of other organizations. Currently I am making the transition from participation in my local community to that of my future home for four years – Cambridge, MA. I plan to get involved with a large number of service initiatives in that area.

 

What are my views of the future? I aim to make a lasting, positive contribution to the lives of as many people as possible, help create a more peaceful world and inspire a new generation of thinkers, problem-solvers and dreamers. I encourage you to think positively, be optimistic and always look for improvement in yourself. As you read, scroll through these words with an eye to the future – and a sense of hope for what is yet to come.