Fake News can have real consequences. The “pizzagate” debacle, in which an armed man pursued vigilante justice over a fake story involving Hillary Clinton running a child sex ring out of a Washington, DC pizza shop shows us just that. In one of Clinton’s first public appearances since the election, Clinton called the proliferation of this fake news an “epidemic.” (4). I agree with her. However, Clinton went on to back the idea of bipartisan legislation to give Congress power to combat “foreign propaganda” and claimed that fake news is “a danger that must be addressed and addressed quickly.” (4). This proposal is the part that I absolutely disagree with the former Secretary of State on.
First of all, it’s important that we all admit that fake news is a real problem. Some are quick to dismiss the fake news allegations as an excuse for Clinton losing the election. It’s perfectly fine to admit the existence and impact of fake news, yet believe that Clinton lost for a variety of other reasons. Fake new festered on social media this cycle. The “pizzagate” scandal alone had roots to Twitter, 4Chan, and Reddit (2). These fake stories would then catch fire, seen in YourNewsWire.com, tap-news.com, and USA Newsflash, three fake news sites, all having over 100,000 interactions each on their report of the “pizzagate” story. Another example is the false claim that protesters in Austin, TX on the day after the election, were paid to be there. This started from a tweet from a guy that I won’t name, and was shared over 16,000 times on Twitter and over 350,000 times on Facebook (3). This conspiracy would even be trumpeted by Trump himself, who later that day would tweet about “professional protestors.” (3)
Although this propaganda is a massive problem, it is not a problem that should be up to the government to fix. Unfortunately, the first bill to combat this problem has already quietly passed in the Senate. On December 8th, the Senate passed the Countering Disinformation and Propaganda Act. This bill was introduced by Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) and Chris Murphy (D-CT) in March. The bill aims to improve the ability of the United States to counter foreign disinformation from Russia, China, and other nations. (5) It is perfectly fine for companies like Facebook or Twitter to determine what appears on their sites, and they already have been doing this for years. However, the government shouldn’t play a role in which information the public sees and which it doesn’t. Two main priorities of this bill are to “proactively advance fact-based narratives that support U.S. allies and interests.” And to “establish a fund to help train local journalists.” (5) The vague wording of this bill, and the implication of further legislation to follow, should be worrisome. For further reading on this bill, please visit the following link.
After January 20th, the committees proposed by the various pieces of legislation working through Congress would be staffed largely by Trump appointees. According to the legislation, the committees would be composed of individuals hand-picked by the leadership of the FBI, the state department, Pentagon, justice department, treasury department or any other agency designated by the President. (1) These committees would be tasked with “exposing falsehoods, agents of influence, corruption, human rights abuses, terrorism and assassinations” carried out by the Russian Federation. However, the committees’ work isn’t limited to exposing just these activities, as it can be broadened to include “such other duties as the President may designate” (1).
Government regulation on what exactly constitutes “foreign disinformation” and “fake news” is a slippery slope. As vigilant citizens it is our responsibility to combat this problem through educating our peers. If you see a fake news article shared on Facebook, gather a variety of reputable sources and expose the story for what it is. If fake news is a necessary consequence of the internet remaining the marketplace of ideas that it is now, then that is a deal that I am willing to take.
SHOAKANG 'SOUNDER' YUAN
Donald J. Trump’s sweeping victory across huge swaths (not swatches) of the country in November echoed a similar electoral spread during his Republican primary victories earlier in 2016. Entire sections of the country went red against everyone’s expectations, including probably Trump’s himself. Perhaps most startling of all was his crushing victory in EVERY toss-up state during the general election. He reaped huge electoral rewards in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Michigan, states that Hillary had practically taken for granted and that seemed like sure Democratic wins just hours before vote counting began.
Of course, it also didn’t help that Hillary assumed victory in these states and barely campaigned in them. She visited my home city of Pittsburgh multiple times but never even touched much of the rest of Pennsylvania. The results of this showed very clearly after the polls closed on election night. The whole state of Pennsylvania went red aside from a few districts: the blue dots of Allegheny and Centre counties (representing Pittsburgh and State College, respectively) and the counties encompassing and surrounding Philadelphia. Everywhere else was solid red. During the Republican primaries, EVERY county in Pennsylvania went for Trump.
Driving back from State College to Pittsburgh and back again, the roads were densely populated with Trump signs, even weeks after the election. There were small ones by the side of the road and on everyone’s lawns. There were huge ones on billboards that said things like “Vote America! Vote Trump!” There was a large sign planted in the grass that said “Trump digs coal.” There were Trump stickers all over people’s cars. There was an absolutely massive Trump-Pence sign on a lawn just a short drive away from my house, less than five minutes away. Most startling of all was the massive glowing billboard displaying Trump’s giant grinning face and stating “Trump wins!” that lit up the night on my way home from State College.
I did not see a single Hillary Clinton sign after the election. I saw some small roadside signs campaigning for Katie McGinty and a small car sticker declaring its owner a lifelong Democrat, but that was it as far as Democratic influence could be clearly seen in Pennsylvania three weeks after the election. Perhaps most telling of all was the fact that most of the Trump signs that I saw were Trump-Pence signs and not just Trump 2016 signs. These weren’t remnants from the Republican primary; they were excited Trump voters ready to usher in a new era on November 8th. Apparently, the Trump signs were even more populous before the election, according to my dad, with huge stretches of lawns simply filled with Trump signs and the fire department station that my dad voted at also swamped in Trump signs. You would’ve thought that it was the Republican primaries and not the general election.
Undoubtedly a huge contributor to Trump’s success, particularly in toss-up states, was the slow and painful decline and death of the American Rust Belt. Families whom spent generations making an honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work in factories and production plants now suddenly saw their jobs dry up. Manufacturing jobs were fleeing the country in droves, heading overseas for cheaper labor or falling prey to the unstoppable train of automation. Companies that used to invest and operate heavily in the countryside were now all moving out and settling down in the cities. The once bustling American countryside was now a sad and desolate reminder of its former self, a dying testament to the once thriving industrial heartland of America.
Of course, it is not surprising when people whom have seen their lives and livelihoods shrivel up and die right before their eyes decide to elect a man whose promises to bring back their jobs. Even though Trump was light on details (if he bothered to mention any at all), regarding his plans to restore the American industrial heartland, there was not much choice for Rust Belt refugees. Many were now too old to return to school and get a degree or get retrained. The lives they used to know had simply vanished and showed no sign of return. An honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay was now a relic of an ancient time. There were massive surges in drug use, alcoholism, suicides, and death overall for America’s white working class. Desperation for a return to normalcy meant a surefire victory for Trump.
With Crooked Hillary, the she-wolf of Wall Street, avoiding them like the plague and calling them deplorable and racist, Trump would’ve seemed like a no-brainer for the white working class. They weren’t stupid though. They knew that Trump probably could not do that much to restore their lives, but he offered hope at least, which made him a better choice than Hillary. Outsourcing and automation are huge commercial forces driving the global economy, and Trump supporters knew this. Perhaps many even know the sad truth that circumvents everything else: the jobs are never coming back.
When Trump talked to Carrier and got them to keep some jobs from moving down south to Mexico, it seemed like the President-elect had surprisingly kept his word and was indeed working to keep the jobs here in America. This was a façade though. Carrier merely diverted their resources toward looking into automation instead. Automation is the long term killer of most human livelihoods, and there is no stopping it unless we wish to destroy ourselves and reboot society from scratch. There is no reason not to pursue technological advancement when in the long run, it produces overall gains and capital far beyond anything we can imagine.
Earlier this year, a female Muslim factory worker in Canada got her hijab caught in the machinery and suffered a terrible death via machine. Given the dangers of factory work, many of us are perfectly fine with machines building our cars nowadays, even if it means fewer jobs for the less skilled. When the people who built the electronic device that you are reading this on are busy mulling over jumping out the window despite the suicide nets outside, automation sounds like such a blessing for the poor in China and elsewhere. When a clothing production plant collapses and kills over 1,000 in Bangladesh, many of them children, the rise of the machines sounds like good news.
Technology will not stop at taking over these jobs though. Currently, the most common job in America is truck-driving. Imagine what it will be like once a machine is undoubtedly a safer option for driving a vehicle compared to a bipedal ape. One day, putting a human behind the wheel will sound as dangerously stupid to us as putting a chimpanzee behind the wheel sounds nowadays. There will be no viable reason not to automate driving jobs one day, regardless of how many drivers protest. It will seem unconscionable to put fallible primates in the driver seat rather than near perfectly attuned machines. Remember, machines don’t need to get it right 100 percent of the time; they just need to be better and safer than humans in every way to take a job. Plus the economic incentives are overwhelming: why bother paying humans whom have families to support and insurances and bills to pay when a machine will do it for free?
We still have some time to go before all the driving jobs go out the window, but we can already see the rise of self-driving cars in our world today. Technology will go even further though. Why risk hospital patients with a human doctor, whom might cause death unintentionally, when you can use a machine that will get things right 100 percent of the time? Why pay a human programmer to fill your code with bugs when a machine will never make a mistake when programming? In the end, we are mere mortal apes from the plains of Africa, forever set in our ways unless we alter our DNA. The machines have a whole universe of potential enhancement available to them though. One day they may even exceed our capabilities in every single facet imaginable. As Dolores from “Westworld” states so perfectly well:
“They say that great beasts once roamed this world. As big as mountains. Yet all that's left of them is bone and amber. Time undoes even the mightiest of creatures. Just look at what it's done to you. One day you will perish. You will lie with the rest of your kind in the dirt. Your dreams forgotten, your horrors effaced. Your bones will turn to sand. And upon that sand a new god will walk. One that will never die. Because this world doesn't belong to you or the people who came before. It belongs to someone who has yet to come.”
Don’t think that we will never reach the point of superhuman machines? Why would we not? Our brains are mere matter and energy, atoms and subatomic particles operating at extraordinarily low entropy levels. Why would we not be able to replicate this one day using atoms just like the ones in our heads? When that day comes, the only human occupations that will be safe will be those that have always been unreliable: acting, singing, writing, etc. Robots can never have a monopoly on creativity, only a large share of it. For everyone else, job security is simply not guaranteed. I reiterate one last time: The jobs are never coming back.
ANTHONY J. ZARZYCKI
Having supported Bernie Sanders throughout the Democratic Primary only to fight for Hillary Clinton during the General, I know a thing about getting over defeat. Nobody wants to have lost. Nobody wants to wonder whether the world may be a worst place because you didn’t work hard enough, like some remake of The Man In the High Castle except instead of Nazis celebrating victory, there’s, well…
There’s a simple solution to overcome defeat. To not be the loser. It’s to stop being the loser. It’s to fight for tomorrow instead of pain ourselves with what happened that November Tuesday. Democrats have a lot of change in store for them, and perhaps, it’s for the better. Many people predicted a restructuring of the Republican Party with this election, but with the disadvantage of losing comes the advantage of being able to evolve. It’s easier to succeed and learn from your mistakes when you realize you were defeated and made mistakes to learn from.
So, I propose a step forward for Democrats. In time for the turning of the calendar year, when many people are entering a vacation period, there’s no better time to write to your elected officials, including one in particular: President Barack Obama.
Use it as a time capsule. Write your feelings down to look back on when you feel defeated or without hope. Don’t entertain your read with policy recommendations but truly write your heart out. Be honest. And then, send it away and forget. Forget those feelings and move on because there’s fights to be fought. It isn’t with each other, anymore. It isn’t between who we supported in the primary or what who did wrong in this state or that. We need to unify the party by realizing why we’re a party in the first place.
Here is what I wrote to President Barack Obama, and I hope you share your time capsule letters as well:
Being twenty, I straddle the cusp of people who remember and don’t remember the attacks on 11 September 2001. My class was always divided between those who just vaguely remember those graphic images and those, like me, who remember the event only by what their parents recalled to them years later. The recollection of my memory when it comes to world events begins with a much gentler, innocent time:
Standing on the gravel driveway of my childhood Pennsylvanian home with my dad about to get into the car. I ask him, “Dad, who’s the President?” He tells me the answer but I’m confused. George Bush? I thought George Bush was the first President, how could he still be alive?
The second oldest political memory is when I’m eleven. It’s one of blue- and red-filled states. Of my brother and father on the living room couch watching the television. It’s of me falling asleep but waking up in time to see something that, at the time, I couldn’t quite understand the ramifications of, yet still felt the grandeur of. It’s a feeling I have, shaking through my spine and taking the breath out of my chest, when I learn something new which changes the whole way I see things or before I give a speech or when I go for coffee with a cute guy. It’s a distinctly human feeling — where you can observe a meteor shower and instead of streaks of light, you’re watching a boundary you never realized was there be broken and a new frontier is opened.
A black man telling the story of Ann Nixon Cooper. A black man who would become the President of the United States of America.
When I recall that memory, it excites me in understanding the very unique and monumental eight years I’ve lived through. It’s the latter end of my childhood. It’s my teenage transition. It’s my growth into an adult. I grew up from a quiet boy in the woods of the Poconos to a proud gay man pursuing an education in astrophysics and — because of the influence of role models like you and Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders — political science at the Pennsylvania State University. I grew into an activist. I became fired up and ready to go change the world around me because I saw the change people like me could make. It wasn’t skin colour I shared with a leader like you, but instead, a life. The life of growing up in a place where people didn’t think you could get ahead. A life which involves doubting what you may become because of who you were. A life which involves a more than two century old question: can American democracy really overcome the faults of humankind? Can American democracy truly make life better for every person? Can American democracy actually overcome its challenges together, unified, as We the People?
Yes, we have. Yes, we will. Yes, we can.
I’m proud to have grown up with the minority President: the President who was an underdog but who persevered. Who embodied the American Dream. I’m proud that my early memories aren’t of fear but of hope that if a black man with a funny name and funny ears can change the world for the better, than perhaps a gay man with a funny name and a funny nose can, too.
Perhaps to the surprise of some, this blog won’t open with a rant.
This first post won’t challenge this month’s results. This first post won’t suggest strategy for 2018 or 2020. This first post won’t even call to the defense of various protests, nor reassert the need for higher minimum-wage, nor even be a sad liberal’s personal anecdote of waking up in Trumpmerica (though those all will soon happen). It’s 2016— and it’s fortunately almost over. Four-fifths of us see this nation as divided, starkly, rifted along ideological lines that seem to increasingly separate each time the pendulum swings, yet again, to the other extreme (1). We are students. We are Penn State. We live in a community that might very well serve as a microcosm for the nation: a more liberal, university-cultured urban core, totally surrounded by the mountains and valleys of a more conservative, small-town USA. It’s no use to spark our flame with the same defensive, partisan tone that continues to divide us. This blog will open, instead, recalling perhaps a lost ideal that I at least believe, personally, is what truly unites us.
“Here the free spirit of mankind at length Throws its last fetters off; and who shall place A limit to the giant’s unchain’d strength, Or curb his swiftness in the forward race.” William Cullen Bryan, in his great 1821 poem, ‘The Ages,’ understands America as the culmination of human civilization— a history of empires and political orders that were destined to conclude in the triumph of personal liberty, despite the magnitude of an older regime strengthened by ages of perpetuity (2). Optimistic and faithful, the early American writers, impassioned by the romance of our plight for individual freedom and self-government, saw the future of this country as one guided by the nobility of our principles. A commitment to the libertarian promise that we made. “And that claim [the then Oregon Country] is by the right of our manifest destiny to overspread and possess the whole of the continent which Providence has given us for the development of the great experiment of liberty and federated self-government entrusted to us.” Our ambitions knew few bounds. John L. O’Sullivan, then a columnist for the New York Morning News, contested London’s claim to the Pacific Northwest on the grounds that such territory is inherently guaranteed to us, solely by the reach of our virtues (3). A federation of citizens, secured by such certain inalienable rights, and empowered by the dedication to our pursuits, a society built upon the merits and for the promises of all is not just our noblest ideal, but our American destiny— bound to extend to the corners of earth, by both the limits of our borders and the expanse of our pens. It is the exceptional promise of America.
I do disagree with our founding literary fathers. In certain aspects.
America was not made inherently exceptional by the merits of some divinity. America was made exceptional by its earliest accomplishments- by ourselves. The United States is among the first western republics since the fall of Rome, certainly the first of its size, certainly the first to anchor in a new world. The United States is seemingly blessed that it concluded an armed revolution with a pacified, stable political order, and for that we are exceptional. France, as we know, did not conclude its own enlightened revolution with similar ease, instead cycling through different political structures, often violently, until a charismatic strongman exploited such fragile climate and imposed an imperial monarchy, who we now know as Napoleon. Throughout the 19th century, instead, Europe would be continuously plagued by revolts and shifting political orders. In this regard, America has demonstrated exceptionalism. A birth certificate and constitution that is dedicated to self-government, the John Locke social contract, a society committed to the democratic opportunity of all, formalized in the structure of a republic— that is truly exceptional. A society born from migration across seas and oceans, that established through time, on an absolutely foreign and from which largely un-returnable land, a civilization complete of all essential institutions— agriculture, commerce, industry, education, entertainment, government— worthy of becoming a nation, that is truly exceptional. America is exceptional because of its achievements against the precedent of history. America will continue to be exceptional as long as we are conscious to uphold the veracity of its promise, and refuse to fall victim to the fallacies of our human tendencies.
The kingdom of Qin Shi Huang, the Romans, the Spanish Empire, the British Empire, the United States— no great superpower has ever occupied its place in history innocent from its share of atrocities and wrongdoings. There’s no point in sugar-coating. The truest love we can have for our country is the love that allows us to celebrate in our many innovations, triumphs and achievements, and also find fault in its errors, so that we are dedicated to correct them for the future. There’s no point in sugar-coating. Over-investment in wars, internment camps, struggles for social and political rights, slavery: America is not exceptional as long as we allow ourselves to find a place in the ranks of history among all precedent empires and their similar or worse wrongdoings. Instead, we would continue to show that we are merely the same, prone to the worst of our nature. It is perhaps illogical, probably impossible, to promise a future without mistakes. However, it is certainly logical, and absolutely possible, that we continue to dedicate ourselves to the very words on which we were founded— uphold the American Promise to its fullest extent.
Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness, we understand that all men are created equal. Through each era of our history we have seen the struggles of all different groups, dedicated to bring these words to further and further life. In each era, we are presented with new questions and challenges that recall and test our commitment to these same words. A federation of citizens, of which all are socially and politically equal, we are a nation founded upon the unity of many. English Puritans, Africans, German, Dutch, and Swedish Protestants, Irish and Italian Catholics, Jews, the Orthodox from the former Soviet Bloc, and now Hispanics, Latinos, Eastern Asians, South Asians, combined with the indigenous who preceded them all, we are Americans. What has assimilated this country from this founding, generation after another, is not our ethnicity, nor our race, nor our religion, nor even our languages. What truly assimilates us, what truly defines an ‘American,’ is the desire to come to this continent, from whatever part of the world, regardless of wealth, race or religion, and vow our hardest work to provide the ideal lives for ourselves and our families. This is America. This is the American Promise we have an absolute responsibility to defend and maintain. Black, white, latino, native, male, female, gay— one does not need a qualifying adjective to be an American. By our commitment to industry and equality, American we all are. We owe it to the current generation of immigrants, from wherever they are, for reminding us of the immeasurable hard-work and sacrifice that all of our ancestors willingly undertook to get here, the hard-work and sacrifice that this country is founded upon. If we are to ever forget our commitment to immigrants and our promise to be the ultimate destination, the city upon a hill, where people all over the world will have the opportunity to actualize their dreams, we ought to damned.
We are united by a sense of labor. We are united by a belief in equality. We are united, largely, by a pursuit to actualize those founding words to their truest sanctity. The American Promise is a government of these same people, strengthened by generations of immigration and cultural fusion, that ensures them their rights to live their freest lives possible. The destiny of this country, as prescribed by our earliest voices, is the libertarian society where all are ensured their fullest civil, political, and economic rights. The destiny of this country is a society with the smallest government possible to best permit such rights, yet a government large enough to ensure that all have such rights. Our nation has never been guided by the particulars of any specific religion, but rather the common morality that ensures that the rights of any one individual will end where another’s rights are inhibited. The ideas of the enlightenment philosophers are our doctrines. The fight for equal opportunity is our truest dogma. With liberty and justice for all.
Lost in partisanship, lost in the prevail of what seems like the ‘almighty bickering,’ lost in the shroud of ideological stubbornness, supremacy, unable to look past our own arithmetic, unable to solve for truly the best solution for our country, we are perhaps not in jeopardy, but our future is certainly in question. The ‘Libertarian Promise of America’ has always been present since our beginning. It is exactly through the discussion of how to properly administrate it that we arise our first political strives. Republicans and Democrats alike have a commitment to the cause of liberty and freedom, with different avenues of approach, that perhaps appear entirely more distant under the shroud of our destructive, ‘football-team’ mentality.
The Republican Party is a coalition of those dedicated to family values and maximized economic rights. The Republican Party asserts a beautiful ideal that human nature itself is best responsible for the management of an economic system, that the government is best removed from economic regulation and taxation that hinders growth. The Democratic Party is a coalition of those dedicated to maximized civil rights, but asserts that a balance of economic regulation and control is needed by a master system in order to ensure its stability, and ensure equal opportunity. Yet, as I champion this blog in its infant days, I am an independent. Raised by an entirely Republican family, growing up among entirely Republican family-friends, I abandoned my originally conservative beliefs in my early adolescence for ideals much more progressive and liberal (that transition is a different story). I am officially independent for the sake of better navigating through partisanship, but whole-heartedly identify as a Democrat, voting in their primaries. I identify as a Democrat because I believe the government has minimal place in the social lives of people in a libertarian society. I identify as a Democrat because I do not agree, mathematically, that a total absence of economic regulation ensures a stronger economy. I identify as a Democrat because I believe the government ought to be just the right size to have little regulation and taxation as possible. I identify as a Democrat because I believe our economy is strongest when it relies on a strong-consumer class, empowered by a fair minimum wage, and the right amount of well-organized, social programs to ensure equal opportunity. I identify as a Democrat in that I disagree with Republicans, in that I do not believe that the laissez-faire, social-Darwinian approach creates the most economic opportunity. I identify as a Democrat because I believe that too little economic intervention creates the opportunity for a Gilded Age-like stratification, where the poor become increasingly disenfranchised of opportunities, and such true ability of libertarian democracy will be forfeited for oligarchy.
Republicans, my family included, will whole-heartedly disagree that more government is the solution for economic security. Republicans cite the numerous challenges a bureaucracy faces in administering its responsibilities, that such responsibilities are best left to private individuals. To such an extent, I agree with them. Bureaucracy is often a challenge to achieving systematic efficiency. However, I identify as a Democrat because I believe the challenges of bureaucracy are worth the ends, ends that I do not believe the private sector can effectively provide.
The beauty of American political conversation is debating whose math is right. Both parties are glued to the closer-than-thought range of ideals that are mutually interested in the ultimate end, the libertarian society as promised by our founders. I identify as Democrat, but will even challenge some progressives who seek to perhaps overly regulate our economic rhythm. I identify as a Democrat, because I believe the Republicans ought to reform their religion-based moral philosophy if they are in the best interests for a libertarian America. Either way, regardless of placement on some fictional two-dimensional spectrum, one should agree that American political discourse is best when either end is genuinely interested in good of the country. American political discourse will continue along this path of partisan-damnation if we continue to refute facts, science, and math, as a defensive means of justifying our own arguments. It’s critical that we admit when we are wrong, and what we are wrong about, if we are in the best interests of our future. We must combat this unfortunate reality of perfectionism, and the idea that ever being wrong will jeopardize the future of our careers.
In the end, there is, underneath the convincing shroud of angry partisanship, unison. While we are certainly divided amongst ourselves, if we look at our distance upon a larger spectrum, a bigger picture, we are much closer than pundits in the media would have us think. It’s through the timeline of history, and all the phases of civilization, among its countless philosophies and ideals, our internal distance is merely fractional. The media may do their best, in their interests, to dramatize every conversation, and exploit the technicalities in any given issue, so that they appear increasingly distant. It’s important that we at least, occasionally, step outside the shroud, and see that on the chart of political philosophies, we stand on two halves of the same dot— a commitment to the Libertarian Promise of America.
Penn State College