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On January 26 Keneshia Grant, of Howard University, discussed how Black migration shapes American politics. Her talk focused on migration patterns and the shifting political affiliations of the Black community throughout time, while noting that the demographic is not a monolith.
Professor Grant explained that the Black vote is important to American politics because, among other things, it provides a pathway for an electoral college victory in presidential races. She then explained the impact of the Great Migration, in which Black Americans left the South in order to find work and pursue a higher quality of life. She stated that during the Great Migration, the Black vote was identified by northern democrats as an important demographic in the 1960’s and remains a key voting block to this day. In conclusion, she noted how the patterns of return migration of Black voters to southern states have especially impacted the politics of conservative states.
This event was cosponsored with the MLK Program.
On February 9, Bob Lutz, the medical advisor to the Washington State Department of Health, discussed the public health effort to combat Covid-19. His presentation emphasized how Washington State has responded to the pandemic by using a phased approach.
The challenges the State has faced includes a limited vaccine supply, distribution, communication, and data lags, as well as hindered public health systems. Dr. Lutz enumerated other concerns like systemic racism and discrimination that has evolved into a mistrust of vaccines and the overall public health process.
Amber Lenhart discussed further the equity of the Washington State response by explaining the factors that play into people’s intentions for getting vaccinated. Lenhart further detailed questions people have like knowing how and where to get vaccinated. She explained that if people do not have their basic needs met, such as having a roof over your head, there may not be as much of a priority. In conclusion, a lack of education on this issue in addition to certain groups feeling left out of the conversation impacts the efficient distribution of vaccines.
She discussed the origins of the internet and and how it evolved and get in prominence through the decades. The internet boom around the mid-1960s through the mid-1970s led Congress to consider almost a hundred bills on internet security during that period. O’Mara detailed the topic of internet security, including how government agencies have access to people’s private information.
She explained how, in the 1990s, the U.S. government opened the internet to allow private buying and selling activities, making the internet user-friendly and accessible for everyday use. While this was the beginning of the internet as we know it, the decision led to a 1995 lawsuit against a public forum website, which attempted to hold the company liable for posts on its platform. This led to the Telecom Act of 1996, which stated that companies have the right to allow all users’ voices to be heard on online platforms, regardless of the controversial nature of their opinions, without being held accountable for what is posted.
Even before President Trump’s banning from social media occurred following the January 6 insurrection, many conservatives felt that it was mostly their voices being regulated online. O’Mara disagreed, stating that regulators targeted extreme individuals across the political spectrum.
On February 16, Eric Foner of Columbia University delivered the first of a series of Foley Distinguished Lectures on the crisis in constitutional democracy that is currently facing the U.S. He suggested that our society is still working on the process of ending slavery, and that despite being abolished over a century ago, the Reconstruction Era has yet to end. He noted the parallels that exist between that time period and today, such as the violent attack on the Capitol and recent Supreme Court interpretations of the 14th Amendment.
Foner discussed how the ratification of the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments were fueled by anti-slavery constitutionalism which separated the concept of citizenship from race. He noted that popular constitutionalism occurred as discussion about what exactly rights and nationality meant in relation to black suffrage. At that time, it was common that people debated concepts of rights and citizenship of African Americans outside of lawmaking such as within churches, public journals, and households.
Foner concluded by discussing how white supremacists overthrew Reconstruction as seen in 1898 in North Carolina and how the next generation dealt with a Jim Crow system that fundamentally undermined the pursuit of a higher quality of life by destroying black education, taking away the right to vote, rigging the labor markets that reserved the best jobs for white people, violent murders, lynching, and racist acts within policing. He pointed out that while Congress attempted to enforce the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments, the Supreme Court diluted these protections.
On February 17, the institute hosted a discussion between El Hadj Djitteye, of the Timbuktu Center for Peace and WSU’s own Peter Chilson. Djitteye discussed the ongoing conflict in the Sahel region and how his studies of American democracy inform his understanding of American current events.
El Hadj Djitteye first talked about his lived experiences in Timbuktu, discussing his time during the 2012 jihadist occupation of the city. He then discussed his perspective on the relationship between democracy and liberty through the lens of American democracy and its enlightenment thinkers. He explained his understanding about the relationship between education, opportunities, and cultural diplomacy in free societies.
For the latter half of the discussion, Professor Chilson asked Djitteye questions submitted by the audience; which included further questions about his understanding of the African Sahel regional conflicts, American institutions, and threats to democracy.
On February 23, Washington’s Secretary of State Kim Wyman led a discussion about election security surrounding the 2020 election. She discussed parallels between the attacks on election integrity articulated by Trump during the presidential election and those by candidate Loren Culp following Washington’s gubernatorial election.
Secretary Wyman stated that the election security system is decentralized, which means the election officials who oversee the election process are elected at the state and local levels. She explained that while the duty of election officials is to uphold the constitution, the strength of the election system is due to the balance of power which prevents a single group from total control of the process. Wyman added the Washington State system is secure due to the balance of access to voting, voter registration, and modern cybersecurity measures.
Wyman further discussed Washington’s cybersecurity systems such as the ERIC registration data system and the VoteWA system. ERIC enforces the integrity of voter registration by utilizing data-matching technology of individuals who have changed addresses. Furthermore, the VoteWA system was built for security purposes surrounding voting and elections which is protected by a complex layer of cybersecurity measures to counter foreign interference.
On February 25, Bruce Ackerman, Sterling Professor of Law and Political Science at Yale University, discussed the relationship between the US Constitution and the Trump presidency as part of the Foley Institute’s distinguished lecture series. He began the discussion with the second senate impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump. He acknowledged that the House impeachment managers recognized there was a second path to disqualifying former President Trump from office, namely the 14th Amendment.
Ackerman noted that Section 3 of that amendment contains detailed and unambiguous language which says that any official of the United States government who engages in a conspiracy which involves an insurrection or rebellion against the constitutional foundations of the American government can be disqualified for further service. This procedure can be stopped if a two thirds majority of both houses of Congress grant the individual amnesty.
Ackerman further explained that passage of the 14th Amendment was imperative to the development of the United States Constitution. During the passage of the 14th Amendment in 1866, Section 3 was the center of debate. Once enacted by a joint resolution of Congress, the confederate rebels were immediately disqualified and any confederate leader in states where the government had been taken over by confederates were thrown out of the legislature. Debate surrounding section 3 is so important because Congressman Jaime Raskin presented this argument as an option during the second impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump. Since World War II, there has been no event like the Capitol riot of January 6th. Ackerman concluded that the vote in the Senate along with the overall second impeachment trial of Trump set an important precedent for the future.
On March 2, James Hoggan led a discussion on how to restore civility by changing the current toxic public discourse. Hoggan explained how toxic discourse began long before Donald Trump entered politics. He described that people are approaching public debate with war-like and unyielding close-mindedness that has polluted public conversations.
He further added that big businesses contribute to toxicity such as how oil and gas industry officials exploit fear and greed of the people to push back against environmental groups. Groups who oppose civility work to undermine public spaces where dialogue occurs by implementing confusion to kill a debate. By convincing the public that proponents of change are pursuing their own special interests, this doubt enables insincerity to manifest. He further explained that the lack of acknowledgement of facts results in believing that others are trying to manipulate you for their own interests.
Hoggan concluded by explaining how close-mindedness goes hand in hand with polarization. He argued that disinformation is not the toxic heart of polarized propaganda, but rather incivility originates in tribalism. He stated that the true engine of propaganda is division and which side you are on becomes more important that what you have to say.
On March 4, the institute hosted Professor Stephen Skowronek of Yale University for the third event in the Distinguished Lecture Series on the crisis of American democracy. Professor Skowronek’s lecture discussed the impact of increased presidential power on the strength of the American democracy and government. To evaluate this, he focused on the institutional backstory to the issue, juxtaposing unitary executive theory with deep state conspiracy theories. He suggested that the institutional factors that contributed to the rise in these theories exist independently from the persona of the President.
Professor Skowronek situated the Trump presidency within the broader developmental and institutional contexts, noting the difference between the president as a manager or a mobilizer. He stated that the Trump presidency exposed potential problems intrinsic to the American presidency, such as balancing the president’s role as both a mobilizer and a manager, calling the current state of affairs ‘a beleaguered republic’. He continued by assessing differences between Trump and Biden in terms of their styles. He concluded with some suggestions about what might be done to correct the wayward course of the American presidential democracy, including a deliberate reconstruction of the mechanics of the government itself, which may include a departure from the text of the original constitution.
On March 9, the institute hosted a tax policy symposium in conjunction with the WSU Hoops Institute of Taxation Research & Policy, featuring Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist and best-selling author, David Cay Johnston. Johnston’s discussion was based upon his new book, The Big Cheat, and his talk centered on his proposed replacement of the current US tax system with a simpler and fairer alternative, which he calls “the prosperity tax”.
Johnston began his discussion by outlining the current state of the US tax system. He elaborated on the current system that incentivizes tax dodging and corruption. He noted that the current system is beneficial to corporations and places a majority of America’s tax burden on workers, and suggested that his proposed tax plan would fix some of the problems in the current tax code. He talked about both the implications of the prosperity tax on both the corporate tax rate and for personal income taxes. Under this new system, new rules incentivize corporations to partake in tax practices that promote economic growth. To facilitate this, the prosperity tax shifts the focus from fighting personal tax avoidance to combatting corporate tax avoidance. Furthermore, the new system gets rid of inefficient corporate tax policies and requires corporations to have a single person trained and licensed by the IRS to serve as a tax trustee. Johnston predicts that under the new system, the only people that would be required to pay income tax would make over $100,000 for a single flier and over $200,000 for a joint filer.
On March 16, the institute hosted Professor Kim Lane Scheppele of Princeton University for the final event of the Distinguished Lecture Series. Professor Scheppele discussed the global contexts of the January 6 crisis that shook the American democracy. She presented on this point by discussing the end of the Trump presidency within a broader global context.
To structure her discussion, Professor Scheppele noted the recent trend among some constitutional democracies towards instability and authoritarianism. To better understand this trend and the reasons for it, she first analyzed if democracies around the globe have been failing, and if so what the root causes of their failure is. She then talked about the potential role of populism in these declining democracies, such as Hungary or Poland. Then she offered another potential cause for the downturn in democracy—the changing role of political parties within democracies. Professor Scheppele stated that established parties have been weakened in recent years, where voters have no candidates they are enthusiastic about voting for. Furthermore, she notes that the collapse of the party system precedes democratic collapse. To conclude, Professor Scheppele evaluated the options available to alter this trend. She suggests that stronger parties need to reclaim their gatekeeping authority and offer better, vetted choices to voters.
On March 31, Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson discussed his office’s ongoing lawsuits against big tech companies, with the most recent one being against Google.
Since 2012, the Attorney General’s office has doubled the size of its antitrust division. This has allowed the office to file more lawsuits on behalf of consumers who have been harmed by high prices by anti-competitive conduct on the part of big tech companies but are unable to file the lawsuits themselves under federal laws. These efforts have recovered over $100 million over the last several years.
Ferguson explained that the main focus of these lawsuits is to stop the damage caused by companies violating antitrust laws, which include increasing prices of goods, a decrease in quality, and a decrease in incentives to innovate. This aims to be done by eliminating these companies’ power to set high prices without competition to stop them from doing so.
Ferguson also discussed the companies’ alleged violations around the creation of monopolies. Facebook, for example, is used by 70% of the United States population, and was able to make $70 billion in 2019 by selling user data. Its business model is “buy or bury”, where they either absorb or eliminate competition. As a result of this, Washington State joined a bipartisan coalition with 48 other states in December 2020 to file a lawsuit against Facebook for this conduct, alleging that it created an illegal monopoly decreasing choices for consumers, increasing the number of advertisements shown to users, and weakening user privacy protections.
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