History doesn’t bend on its own

Our faith cannot lie with the imagined resilience of our system of government, but it must reside with our commitment to get involved and speak out. History doesn’t bend on its own. It requires constant, unrelenting, and robust tugging on its stubborn shaft. That duty now rests in our hands. At a time where our politics hits a new nadir every day, the need of a culture of political activism and discussion on our campus has never been more important.

A Tempered Harpoon is a column on American Politics written by the ’18-’19 Editor in Chief, Chris Park (’19). – Ed.

There is a disappointing disinterest in American politics—and politics in general—in our school community despite that a majority of us will matriculate into a college in the United States and be governed by the product of American politics. Of course, when 6,000 miles away from where it is happening, the decisions being made do not seem to directly impact us; a sense of apathy perhaps can be almost natural. The indifference, of course, is compounded by the fact that despite our cares, it seems nothing would change the tiring system that we hear about.

That, at least, has been my assumption. But in the past few weeks, there has been a shift in campus activism as I overheard and engaged in conversations about Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court of the United States. Some conversations yielded perplexed disbelief about how, despite the moving and credible testimony by Dr. Ford, we now have a Justice Kavanaugh. They responded with anger, sadness, and—most of all—frustration. I happen to share this belief.

Others expressed concern about the lack of definitive proofs in this case and debated what the best way is to move forward. There really is no right answer in this case (as I elaborate in this post) but through these conversations, we can collectively learn more about the various emotions associated with this political showdown through discussing our views. If what takes for the frustrating politics that allowed Brett Kavanaugh to be “rammed through” the Senate to the seat on the highest court in the land, I say, so be it. Conversely, if the rise of this new social movement is progressing too fast, you may have a valid reason to believe so.

If you’re frustrated, start your subscription to the Washington Post. Discuss these issues over lunch. Check out a book at the library (might I suggest Amy Goldstein’s Janesville). The Kavanaugh hearings reflected the tip of the iceberg in our broken political system. The one that increasingly sows discord and division among people and forces the national discourse to drift away from the issues that are the cares of millions of people.

The fight for healthcare isn’t over. What comes out of the debate over immigration will profounding impact so many of our friends. Children are being ripped apart from their parents. National deficit is ballooning every year. Protections for sexual abuse victims in colleges are being rolled back. Start paying attention because every day is a renewed chance to discuss the many issues that matter so much. Expat Americans over 18 can get registered and vote! Don’t let this hard-fought right for granted.

It’s not about a progressive view trumping a conservative one, or vice versa. Ours is a tight school community of only 500 students. We probably know half the campus already as a bus buddy, teammate, or lab partner. We can defy the ugly politics suggested by headlines that reek with insults, and instead have real discussions about how we want the future of our world to look. It is only through these informed discussions that we can truly develop a transformative voice that advocates for a better tomorrow.

We live in a troubling time where compelling narratives exploit our worst fears and tempt us to look inward. There is a credible rise in authoritarian politics that suppress free thought. The notion of a free press is routinely questioned around the world. It is irresponsible to wait for the politics of our time to fix itself because nonchalance is no match to the daunting challenges that confronts us. Our faith cannot lie with the supposed resilience of our system of government, but it must reside with our commitment to get involved and speak out.

The arc of history has bent toward justice because of the individuals who saw the urgency for action in their times and pressed for change. History doesn’t bend on its own. It requires constant, unrelenting, and robust tugging on its stubborn shaft. That duty now rests in our hands. At a time where our politics hits a new nadir every day, the need of a culture of political activism and discussion on our campus has never been more important.

– Chris H. Park (’19)

Featured Image: Getty Images/Saul Loeb

Carrying on the Restless Wave

A Tempered Harpoon is a column on American Politics written by the ’18-’19 Editor in Chief, Chris Park (’19). – Ed.

At the end of one’s tenure, a politician is measured by how well (s)he reconciles the inherent discrepancy between the political imperatives and the principles on which (s)he stood. John McCain wasn’t perfect—nor did he claim to be. His 2008 campaign, especially, disappointed many of his ardent supporters, as he retracted from his criticisms of Bush tax cuts and chose Sarah Palin as his running mate. But time after time, he was an agent that was able to rekindle the increasingly vestigial values in the institutions set up by our democratic system: genuine love for the values on which the United States stands, ability to find common ground, and serve the country over party.

It’s easy to say that a politician is not working for the interests of the country when his vision for the country so diverts from your own. And when a politician in the opposing party crosses the aisle to support your agenda, then that person suddenly becomes a hero. But my deference for John McCain’s legacy is so much more than his decisive no vote on the Senate ACA repeal.

He sponsored the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, even when his own party leadership opposed it. When he easily could have used unfair attacks against Obama for political gains, he came to the defense his opponent. Senator McCain never backed down to criticize President Donald Trump, at risk of political peril, on issues, like torture, that mattered to him. He voted for the motion to open debate for the ACA repeal as he believed in the need for change with healthcare, but opposed the bill when it didn’t meet his standards of productive legislating.

As many of his colleagues attest, he truly believed in what he did. Often times, that meant breaking with the party leadership that was becoming increasingly partisan. He was a commanding figure in the Senate with the unique ability to stand up in the Senate and hold ground with his principles, notably his belief in regular order. I keep and will continue to keep his op-ed taped on my wall as a reminder of the largely absent—but nevertheless re-gainable—spirit of a working democracy. And I will miss him and the voice he added to the national discourse.

The task of carrying on his spirit now rests on our shoulders. Do we continue to lament the increasing polarization of the country but soon give rise to radical ideas, proponents of which are rarely willing to compromise? Or do we hold our elected officials accountable and urge the return to regular order? Speak out so Congress to work together and across the aisle; vote for political leaders relentless in their will to champion the principled ways to best govern these United States of America.

Featured Image: Reuters file/Brian Snyder

Donald al Majd

Let’s say North Korea suddenly launches a nuclear attack on Hawaii. Can the President be a leading icon behind which 300 million Americans can unite to collectively join the fight in defending the United States?

A Tempered Harpoon is a column on American Politics written by the ’18-’19 Editor in Chief, Chris Park (’19). – Ed.

I had an opportunity to go on a trip to Doha, Qatar to attend the THIMUN Qatar conference as a student officer. Perhaps more than the conference, the geopolitical strife in that region which had a profound influence on the milieu of Doha particularly piqued my intrigue. Much of Doha remained the same as two years ago when I first visited to attend an honor orchestra festival, it’s towering skyscrapers, busy traffic, dhow boats around the Corniche. But there was one obvious change since then: a black and white painting plastered everywhere I went, on car bumpers, on newspapers, on sides of buildings, on t-shirts, on phone cases, on the Qatari flag.

A delegate approached me on the second day of the conference. She had lost her phone. An iPhone with a Tamim sticker. Is that it? I asked, pointing at the phone on my desk. There it was again, the face. To my co-chair Annie, Why is this face everywhere?

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Source: Al Jazeera/Cajsa Wikstrom

She kindly explained: the black and white painting is of the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Than, called “Tamim al Majd” (or Tamim the glorious). After neighboring states of Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Bahrain, along with several other Arab and African states, cut diplomatic ties, Qatari citizens decided to unite behind the Emir and, to show their support for his defiance against the other GCC states, circulated the “Tamim the glorious”—might I note, depicted far more youthfully— across the country. In time of crisis that rattles a country to its core, when it’s so easy to point fingers at the government, the Qatari citizens united to firmly support their monarch. Images flashed before me. The post-911 mass donning of the American flag lapel pins, streets of Paris deluged with “Je suis Charlie” signs after the 2015 shootings, or, in a slightly different sense, the millions of candle sticks in the movement to impeach President Park. Call it slacktivism if you will, but man if these images don’t carry profound messages. But in Qatar, this wave was something different. It was a person—mind you, a non-elected monarch—behind whom 200 thousand people rallied behind. Willful political unity behind a monarch. That, to me, was simply fascinating.

Thinking about this on the eight hour plane ride back home, it also got me thinking about the state of our union. Say that United States suddenly gets embroiled in a conflict with another country. Anything. Canada and Mexico plotting to cut all diplomatic ties with the United States; Kremlin shooting down American satellites; North Korean nuclear attack on Hawaii. In these cases, can the President be a leading icon behind which 300 million Americans can unite to collectively join the fight in defending the United States, as did the Emir?

American presidents historically have turned to foreign policy to bring about massive public support behind their administration. For JFK, the Cuban Missile Crisis helped his dropping approval ratings bounce up, saving the Democrats in the 1962 mid-term elections; Bush 41’s approval rating skyrocketed after the successful American intervention in the Gulf War; Bush 43 once enjoyed over 90 percent approval rating following the 911 attacks.

The other side of the picture, however, is that those presidents all successfully led the country in these crises, at seen by the outcomes of each event. Khruschev was removed from power soon after, many judging that Kennedy outwitted him; the Gulf War continues to remain as Bush 41’s key legacies; the Republicans gained seats in the 2002 elections, making it only the third time the party of the incumbent president gained Congressional seats in a mid-term election.

But would Trump be able to navigate through and negotiate with the intricate diplomatic world with his dysfunctional and dwindling Department of State, while being constantly pressured to be in line with whatever being said on Sean Hannity or Fox and Friends, alongside—to a lesser extent—White House staff and Congressional Republican influences? Or would Trump again be, as Chuck Schumer put it, “like negotiating with Jell-O”? Think back to the 2016 Russian meddling in the election. Instead of working to unite the country against Russia, he instead was a leading force in further dividing the already politically polarized nation, spewing off several conspiracy theories that even members of his party denounced. I’m reminded of President Carter handling the Iranian Hostage Crisis who, mired in political pressures from politicians and Henry Kissinger, botched the entire operation with myopic policy decisions.

Cognizant of his repeated public taunts on Kim Jong Un, reports of offensive mimicking of Narendra Modi, dismantling of the Iran Deal (which even Rand Paul begrudgingly supports), or constant push in his “America First” rhetoric against NAFTA or KORUS FTA, it seems almost inevitable that international conflict will occur sometime during his first term. For Trump, I doubt foreign policy is going to be a legacy-saver. Surrounded by a myriad of often conflicting views, President Trump would not serve as a leader that the country—both Republicans and Democrats—can coalesce to present a united front against the foreign enemies while the 70% or so Americans who disapprove Trump simply abandon him. This would indeed, perhaps humorously said during the election, make Trump the last President of the United States. Maybe not literally. But nevertheless, the dignity of the Office of the POTUS—and the United States of America—would be immensely diminished on the international stage.

The good news is that there isn’t a conflict yet. But President Trump needs to act if he doesn’t want the United States in a diplomatic crisis, starting by restructuring and rebuilding the State Department. The State Department’s third-ranking diplomat retired earlier this week in a mass exodus of hundreds of diplomats since the President’s inauguration. Also, more than a year into his term, more than half of the ambassadorships have yet to be filled. There hasn’t even been an appointment for the position of ambassador of Republic of Korea—perhaps a top-priority position if Trump was serious about fostering closer relationship with the country—Mexico—the United States’ third largest trading partner—and dozens of other countries. What made American international presence so strong are not only the principles that the stars and stripes represented, but also the diplomats who carried out those tenets into action.

At least until January 20, 2021, Donald Trump will be the POTUS and it is his responsibility to maintain American international prominence, as he promised during the election. Good foreign policy could, at the same time, be this administration’s only way of boosting Trump’s dismal approval rating. So, Mr. President, the time is now to restore the might of the State Department whose halls once graced diplomatic luminaries.

– Chris Hyunsoo Park (’19)

Featured image: Associated Press/Evan Vucci

A Lesson from DeVos

There is an inherent difference between taking someone seriously and believing that person completely without casting any doubt. Perhaps it is with the same spirit that we should look at the allegations surrounding Senator Franken—and for that matter, any allegation of such kind.

A Tempered Harpoon is a column on American Politics written by the ’18-’19 Editor in Chief, Chris Park (’19). – Ed.

Note: Senator Al Franken has since announced his resignation in a floor speech on Thursday, December 7. My follow up post can be found here.

What? From Betsy DeVos, the beleaguered Secretary of Education who believed that guns have a place in schools to fend off grizzly bears? 

Yes. That Betsy DeVos. On September 7, she reversed an Obama-era Title IX that mandated a “preponderance of the evidence” standard in dealing with sexual assault on college campuses. While the implication of the reversal on campuses is still hotly debated, the essence of the decision, that one falsely accused person is too many, is a sentiment that can and should be acknowledged to be true.

After allegations that Senator Al Franken (D-MN) made unwanted advances surfaced, there was a preponderance of calls for the resignation of the senator from the public. A Politico/Morning Consult poll found that 50 percent of Americans wanted Franken to step down immediately. But perhaps it is with the same spirit of the DeVos decision that we should look at the allegations surrounding Senator Franken—and for that matter, any allegation of such kind.

To be clear, I support the #MeToo movement; I believe that countless men have abused their power and have gone without being held accountable for their actions; I affirm that we must not only listen but respect women who come out to retell her story. However, there is an inherent difference between taking someone seriously and believing that person completely without casting any doubt—just last week, the Washington Post reported that a women approached the paper falsely claiming that Roy Moore impregnated her.

Currently, five additional women came out against Sen. Franken with accusations of sexual misconduct after Leeann Tweeden wrote an essay alleging that he forcibly kissed and groped her while on a USO tour in 2006—all allege that Sen. Franken groped them. To all allegations, Franken apologized, but adding that he “takes thousands of photos and has met tens of thousands of people and he has never intentionally engaged in this kind of conduct.” Some critics, calling for his immediate resignation, cried foul: how could a senator who for so long have stressed the importance of taking victims seriously dismiss their accounts like that? Republicans likewise were quick to attack. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) criticized the “rich irony [of] all the Democrats backpedaling and trying to justify now their colleague,” decrying Sen. Franken’s actions to be “serious, serious problems” while Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) suggested that “he should consider resigning.” Also among them was President Trump, who offered a version of his classic nicknames for Sen. Franken: 

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But they shouldn’t be.

The changes that our society has undergone since the hearings on Justice Clarence Thomas’s nomination or President Clinton’s impeachment trial is undoubtedly positive. Allegations of sexual misconduct can now lead to an end of one’s career, as we saw with Harvey Weinstein, Charlie Rose, Louis C. K., and others. Given the gravity with which our society deals with them, there is a need to also extend such weight in making the decision on their culpability.

While fairly doing so made be difficult especially in, say, corporate board rooms, it is not in the Senate chamber where due process of judgement can be first carried out in front of the Senate Ethics Committee, then on the floor of the United States Senate, all in front of the watching eyes of the American public.

Indeed, Speaker Paul Ryan, in an interview with NPR, discussed the pervasiveness of sexual misconduct in the United States, asserting that “nowhere more is this important to set a standard and an example than elected officials,” a sentiment with which I concur. That also means that nowhere more is it important to set a standard and an example of what to do when such allegations rise. 

Politically, it makes sense to call for Sen. Franken’s resignation. Just look at the public backlash against House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi when she called for due process in judging accused Rep. John Conyers. For Democrats particularly, it makes even more sense as women are more likely to be a Democrat, and heading into the 2018 mid-term elections, the Democrats need the women vote to have a chance at winning back Congress. Plus, there’s no political loss: even if Franken were to resign, the Democratic Minnesota Governor, Mark Dayton, would appoint another Democrat to fill in Franken’s seat—perhaps Keith Ellison—and thus would not cost a Democratic seat in the Senate. But it would be derelict to blindly act upon unverified allegations and call for his resignation. Taking such erroneous route to judgment would set a dangerous precedent in the ways of the Senate.

Sen. Franken has called for an ethics investigation on himself and the Ethics Committee has since opened a preliminary inquiry into the allegations against him. Now, the Ethics Committee must investigate thoroughly into all allegations that have been raised and are raised in the future to come to a definitive conclusion on Sen. Franken’s actions. If the ethics committee finds the allegations against Sen. Franken to be true, there is no question that he should resign, especially considering some alleged misconduct occurred while he was in office.

But the calls for resignation today should stop, at least for now.

–  Chris Hyunsoo Park (’19)

Featured image: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The Conscience of a Conserbyetive

Trumpublicanism has become an overwhelmingly popular political principle of the conservative America. The Republican Party is moving to where Trump, along with Steve Bannon and Stephen Miller, awaits hand in hand with candidates like Judge Roy Moore. We bid adieu to the bygone era of Goldwater conservatism that galvanized the nation in the late 20th century.

A Tempered Harpoon is a column on American Politics written by the ’18-’19 Editor in Chief, Chris Park (’19). – Ed.

Former senator from Arizona and failed 1964 Presidential election Republican nominee, Barry Goldwater noted in his 1960 book, The Conscience of a Conservative, that “conservatism looks upon the enhancement of man’s spiritual nature as the primary concern of political philosophy [while] liberals regard the satisfaction of economic wants as the dominant mission of society.” This was the winning principle of the man who set the stage for the rise of Ronald Reagan—and conservatism—in the United States.

Goldwater promoted free trade, envisioning “a day when all the Americas, North and South, will be linked….in a rising tide of prosperity and interdependence” in his 1964 acceptance speech. His political successor, Ronald Reagan alluded America as “a city on a hill,” with an adamant conviction that the American value of individual freedom should be a model of the world.

The Republican party of present-day looks vastly different. President Trump touts economic protectionism with his “America first” agenda, severing the United States from various trade agreements. During the campaign, he called for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States,” eventually delivering on that promise with Executive Order 13769, letting the sacrosanct American principle of religious freedom to wither. The Grand Old Party was never like this—not under Bush, not under McCain, not under Romney, and certainly not under Goldwater or Reagan.

Picture a politician.

He yearns for power, fights to get it, and–for better or worse–never loosens his tight grip on it. Thus it is peculiar when he does relinquish the seat for which he so arduously labored. Especially if he is a Senator from a state where a presidential candidate of his party won bigly just over a year ago.

But with the Trump takeover, many Congressional Republicans are faced with a predicament: get on the Trump Train or go home. A recent CNN-SSRS poll showing Republican support for Trump at 86% further perpetuates this reality.

Two Republican Senators, Senators Bob Corker (R-TN) and Jeff Flake (R-AZ), decided to take the latter route, announcing their retirement from the Senate at the end of their terms in 2019. Trumpublicanism has become an overwhelmingly popular political principle of the conservative America.

True, there are vast differences between the politics of Corker and that of Flake. Corker was an ardent supporter of Candidate Trump throughout his 2016 campaign and was on a short-list to becoming his Secretary of State, while Flake wrote a 160-page book decrying Candidate Trump. DW-NOMINATE, a comprehensive system of measuring political ideologies based on voting records, ranks Flake as the third most conservative member of the Senate while Corker is somewhat of a moderate.

Voting records aside, however, they do have one thing in common: fundamental disagreements with the policy direction of President Trump. Corker, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, condemned the President’s approach to handling conflict with North Korea, suggesting that he is leading the United States into a World War III. Flake bemoaned the moral decay of the Republican Party in its silence while “norms and values that keep America strong are [being] undermined” and maintained his stance on free trade and immigration, both of which greatly parts from the Trumpublican agenda.

What does the future hold for the GOP? Only time can tell. The Republican Party is moving to where Trump, along with Steve Bannon and Stephen Miller, awaits hand in hand with candidates like Judge Roy Moore—is he the future of the party? Perhaps. But one thing is clear: the Senators’ decisions act as a clear testament to the transformation of the GOP today. We bid adieu to the bygone era of Goldwater conservatism that galvanized the nation in the late 20th century.

–  Chris Hyunsoo Park (’19)

Featured image: Associated Press/J. Scott Applewhite