An Election of No Words


By HENRY WILLIAM SAROYAN || November 7, 2016

 

I have intentionally kept mum about the election for the last few months. I have really hesitated about writing anything publicly about the general election, partly because I had nothing interesting to say (also, because I have enough writing and reading to irrespective of endless Facebook debate).

What else could possibly be said about a race that has seemingly drawn on for an eternity, one that has been saturated with vicious rhetoric (by one candidate alone), untruths (by one candidate alone), and divisiveness that threatens to linger well past November 8th?

Here it goes:

This is the political crisis of our time, where a reasonably adversarial quadrennial process has disintegrated into a circus where the integrity of every fundamental institution in the United States has been excoriated, undermined, and rendered an afterthought at the hands of an undisciplined, manipulative, chiefly self-interested, volatile, brusque, and, above all, repugnantly-mean bully. Where, on Wednesday morning, this country runs the tragic risk of having half of its electorate essentially find the sacrosanct ritual of the American vote as tainted, as rigged – a toxic and pervasive notion perpetuated by the top of the ticket, the de facto leader of the Republican party, the heir of a political duty once triumphed by Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, Ronald Reagan, so on and so forth: Donald Trump. What could I possibly analyze about the three preceding debates other than shining an already exhausted and unremitting light on the clear danger that resides in an everything-forsaken Trump Presidency?

In this time of incertitude, I reflect upon the last presidential election. I remember watching the debates – I was still a freshman in high school.

I actually learned something during those three debates. I witnessed two deeply principled wonks talking shop, foreign policy disagreements. But through it all, through that hard-fought campaign, it remained unequivocally decorous. Respectable. Presidential.

Drawing back on my first experience on being able to cognitively comprehend a serious policy-oriented presidential debate, I only have unqualified sorrow and grief for all of the middle- and high-schoolers – who, like I once did – tuned in to watch a characteristically different, characteristically depressing “anti-debate” happen on three harrowing occasions.

This, eclipsed by even more disgusting revelations of the Republican nominee’s warped and sickening views on women, stories of his decades-long financial manipulation.

This, outshined by his fundamental recalcitrance to all things democratic, to all things republican (lower-case ‘r’). The quintessential and time-tested, the awe-inspiring and historically-unique, Americana that has set us apart from the world – the peaceful transition of power.

Insofar as Trump has refused to honor even this most basic and most intuitive of decencies in a presidential race, insofar as Trump has made a mockery of everything important to this nation, what possibly insightful thing do I, Henry Saroyan, have to add to this paralytic nightmare?

We vote tomorrow. America votes, and I hope She votes well. That we don’t let our lesser and unreconciled fears and anxieties get the better of us. That we don’t fall into the fallacy of false equivalence, that we don’t deny this nation the stewardship of an infinitely more wise, infinitely more prepared, and infinitely more capable President (yes, I am with and talking about her).

I understand the concerns that voters have on Secretary Clinton’s record, the troubling secrecy, the embarrassing email trove. I understand the doubts – they are valid, and they deserved to be raised.

But, we must understand that the disagreements we raise with Secretary Clinton fall into the normal, and rational, realm of American politics.

The danger of Donald Trump is truly existential. This is the most traumatic, unsettling, and farcical election we have ever had. And these sentiments haven’t arisen out of happenstance.

No, they have boiled, festered, and have been brought upon us to bear because of the campaign that the Republican nominee has chosen to run.

This is the point that I hope we all have on the back of our minds as we engage in this centuries-old, awesome process. The challenges are real. Her victory won’t be a panacea. But it will be a start, an attempt at improving upon the reforms and progress we, as Americans, have seen in the past eight years.

A go at the real problems that afflict everyday Americans, grievances of everyday Americans that shouldn’t be ignored or thought away by any party. Tomorrow will be the start of the process of healing that I truly trust both us and the next President-elect, the better angels of our time, to begin. I go to sleep tonight with anxiety, but not despair. Because, I know that this uncertainty, too, shall pass.

That it is a black cloud, and that your and my fundamentally capacity for the good will dispel and extricate it from our political life finally, at long last.


Henry Saroyan is a student in the College at the University of Chicago studying Political Science.

Ethan Gelfer contributed editing. 

In Preparation for November 8th


By ETHAN GELFER || November 6. 2016

 

It’s finally almost over. Over two years of campaigning, grandstanding, arguing, scandalizing, and hating will finally resolve itself at thousands of polling places around the United States. For the sake of some semblance of sanity I’ll assume that the inevitable loser(s) of this presidential contest will concede when a winner becomes clear. As long as that holds, America will wake up on November 9th to a new president-elect. And no matter who it is, over half of the country at least will be disheartened at the result. A new cycle of partisanship and punditry and grandstanding and hating will begin.

That’s for next time. Let’s for now reserve the politicking for the transition team, the 45th President, and the 115th Congress. The reality is that what we do in the United States on a quadrennial basis is a special thing. Our system of government, for better or for worse, is pretty much unique around the world. And remarkably it works, over and over again. Our social system is preserved through the goodness, doggedness, and determination of hundreds of millions of people before us, contemporary to us, and after us.

In solemn fidelity to the rule of law and our civic democratic religion, despite our differences, despite the shouting and the hating, in spite of inevitable despair, time and time again we accept that politics is an activity that fundamentally is always our own. Our representatives in government reflect who we are, the direction we want to take, the world we want to live in, the image we present to the rest of the world.


This election is no different. In spite of our radically different views, in spite of our polarization and banal playground insult-driven campaign, even through the madness and race to the bottom politics we still live in a country that is our own. There is no procedure save that which we lay out for ourselves. Our binding, founding document may drive us but the decisions we make are fundamentally our own. Every American knows that, even if that idea may be suppressed. America is great because despite the fighting and opposition when the sun sets and the day is over we all come back in service of our nation, in dogged remembrance that our country is fundamentally an idea, a beacon that has lit the world for centuries. A project that none of us are exempt from, one that, whether for better or for worse, is an example for all to follow and measure up to.

So let us not be an example of what not to do, of whom not to follow. The election is over in just a little more than 48 hours. Until the final set of polls close, until the results are tabulated, I and the Popular Discourse board stand with Secretary Clinton. We believe she is easily the best choice for President. Our support for her and the ideas and ideals she represents will not end on Tuesday.

Yet as soon as we have a result, as soon as the day ends, we will stand behind the decision made by the American people. Because all we have left when all is said and done is each other; we have a President of all of us, not of some of us. We have a government that represents all of us, not some of us. And disagreement is certainly good, and we think that there is no world in which that disagreement will end. That disagreement, however, functions in the service of making our country better. We will not disparage the new President-Elect, we will not hate the Americans who did not see eye-to-eye with us.

For we are ruled by the same binding principles, and we are all Americans today, tomorrow, and always. This election has been grueling, exhausting, and demoralizing. It has touched people’s lives in ways we didn’t think were possible before setting out on this campaign. For me personally, this campaign has been as much of a crash course in my personal philosophy and the principles I hold fundamental as anything else. 2016 is truly a seminal year in American politics, and this ranks among the most important elections in American history. November 8th is the day the dissonance ends. On November 9th we hope that all of America can stand together to congratulate the 45th President of the United States on his or her election, and re-focus ourselves on the transition, new agendas, and preparation for the Oath of Office in three months. It is all we can do. On the eve of the election, let’s say a prayer for our country and our people, and dedicate ourselves to continued pursuit of something better, together.


Ethan Gelfer is the Managing Editor of Popular Discourse and a student in the College at the University of Chicago.

please please accept the results, Donald.

Here at Popular Discourse, we aren’t big fans of brevity. But events over the past few weeks have called for at least some kind of response. So even though it’s Fourth Week at the University of Chicago and midterms are afoot, here comes yet another article. 


By ETHAN GELFER || October 21, 2016

“I would like to promise and pledge to all of my voters and supporters and to all of the people of the United States that I will totally accept the results of this great and historic presidential election, if I win.”

Those were actual words that exited an actual presidential nominee’s mouth in the day following a debate that self-destructed inside half an hour. We’ve documented Donald’s scandals in what we believe is its entirety here, but in reality its not even the obscenely inhuman force of offense and criminality (see: unconstitutional Muslim bans, sexual assault, etc), but rather the threat to institution that Donald Trump and his candidacy represents that scares me the most.

Much like every other nation, and to the consternation of many, the United States government and Constitution is not infallible. The republic is a socially constructed phenomenon that relies on continuous social agreement and cohesion to function. Authority, the rule of law, and power of the state are all derived from reification as a result of such socializations. In essence, we only have a government because we say we have a government.

That’s what makes Donald’s casual affronts to the pillars of democracy so dangerous. Traditions and customs affirm our commitment to the continued social reification of abstract institutions. Why do we refer to our chief executive solely as Mr. (and soon Madam) President? Why is it that when the President stands, no one sits? I submit that these aren’t random exertions of power that have become accepted, but rather these and other small traditions are vital to the perpetuation of our social fabric.

Unfortunately, Donald drags the Republican guard down with him as he goes. John McCain has suggested that the new Congress will still refuse to consider any Supreme Court nominees. Donald suggests that his supporters could seek Second Amendment remedies if Secretary Clinton were elected. He supports and encourages foreign intervention in the American election system. He suggests that subverting federal law makes him smart. He threatens to throw his political opponent in jail. And to top everything off, he suggests that he may not concede the election if he loses.

Trump apologians have already begun spinning the story by claiming that Al Gore, a Democrat, also refused to concede an election. Yet that situation is monumentally incomparable. To entertain the subject for a minute- Gore actually had a reason to contest the result, given that he won the popular vote  (Donald has as good a chance as not to lose by double digits in the popular vote), and the margin of victory in Florida amounted to .009% of the vote in the state. Yes, there was a constitutional crisis in 2000. But when it became clear that the mechanisms of our government had not worked in his favor, Gore said the following:

“Other disputes have dragged on for weeks before reaching resolution. And each time, both the victor and the vanquished have accepted the result peacefully and in the spirit of reconciliation. So let it be with us. I know that many of my supporters are disappointed. I am, too. But our disappointment must be overcome by our love of country. And I say to our fellow members of the world community: Let no one see this contest as a sign of American weakness. The strength of American democracy is shown most clearly through the difficulties it can overcome.

Al Gore was gracious even in the face of heartbreaking, unfair defeat. He signaled faith in our political process. Donald Trump is preparing to present himself as the polar opposite. I’m reminded of a quotation from The West Wing, a show that might as well now be considered fantasy; “This country is an idea, and one that’s lit the world for two centuries and treason against that idea is not just a crime against the living! This ground holds the graves of people who died for it, who gave what Lincoln called the last full measure of devotion, of fidelity.”

Yes, we can, and we should complain and protest Donald’s monumental disrespect for ethnic, racial and gender groups. Yes, we can, and we should complain and protest Donald’s inflammation of violence and violent rhetoric. Yes, we can, and we should complain and protest Donald’s utter lack of experience, understanding, or demonstration of education on anything remotely representing governing. But in my mind if there is one issue to protest, if there is one truly disqualifying factor for this candidate, it is this flagrant disrespect for the guardrails of democracy. Our country only exists because we agree that it will. By suggesting that it doesn’t have to be that way, it won’t.

Donald, I hope I saw a human side of you at the Al Smith dinner yesterday. I hope you were as uncomfortable and embarrassed of yourself as I was of you. I hope you understand what you are doing to this country. I hope you understand that you are quite literally the greatest threat to the structure of the world’s oldest democracy at present. Because if you understand that, there’s still time to salvage some of your dignity and some of this country. Please, for the sake of our country and our future, stop challenging these pillars of our existence.

Note: normally I try to refer to people I’m writing about by their proper titles. I hope to signal the rift I pointed to once again by referring to Mr. Trump in this article solely by his first name. I firmly believe in the need to reinforce and continually reify our social structure. Mr. Trump operates outside that social structure and thus I refuse to refer to him in the manner that operates in a world he seeks to destroy. 


Ethan Gelfer is the Managing Editor of Popular Discourse. He is a first-year student at the University of Chicago. 

A Conversation with Kourosh Ziabari

The Global Conversations project is a Popular Discourse initiative to bring together voices from various countries, backgrounds, and areas of expertise to discuss issues that matter. This week, we are fortunate enough to bring you a conversation with Kourosh Ziabari, a correspondent at Fair Observer, Iran Review, Middle East Eye, Your Middle East, and other outlets. Ziabari has won several awards and fellowships for his work, including the Gabriel Garcia Marquez Fellowship in Cultural Journalism, the East-West Center’s Senior Journalists Seminar Fellowship, and the Iranian National Press Festival’s first prize for political journalism. In July 2015, Ziabari was awarded a Chevening Scholarship by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to pursue his master’s study in the UK. The scholarship is granted to gifted students with leadership potential from more than 140 countries around the world. Currently, Kourosh is a MA International Multimedia Journalism student at the Centre for Journalism, University of Kent, Medway Campus.


By MEGHAN BODETTE || September 30, 2016

Popular Discourse: The nuclear agreement between Iran and the P5+1 was signed over a year ago, and the future of the US-Iran relationship is a topic of discussion and disagreement in both countries. How do you envision the future of this relationship? Do you think it is likely to improve?

Kourosh Ziabari: If we look at the troubled history of Iran-U.S. relations and grasp the delicacy of their mutual engagement over the course of the past 40 years, it turns out that what was achieved in July 2015 was an extraordinary  step forward. Whereas for a period of four decades, even the lowest-ranking officials and diplomats of the two countries would hysterically evade each other in public, and rush to deny the rumors that they had accidentally run into each other, met each other, shook hands or simply exchanged a few words of greetings – even when those rumors were true – one can dare call it a revolution that the presidents of the two countries had a 15-minute phone conversation back in September 2013, and the two foreign ministers became the most intimate friends that would simply call each other on first name basis. Some reports even went so far as to claim that the U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif spent more time together in 2014 and 2015 than any other two foreign ministers in the world! So, even though such a development appears to be symbolic and unsubstantial, it carries a lot of weight after four decades of absolutely non-existent mutual relations between the two countries on any political and diplomatic front. You may want to call it a jump!

The nuclear agreement, as the officials of both countries have emphasized, was not meant to solve all the differences keeping Iran and the U.S. apart. That’s true. But I think everybody agrees the two adversaries should have started from a certain point to ease the tensions. It’s really impossible, impractical and unrealistic to expect this huge bulk of misunderstandings, animosity and grievances accumulated between the two nations during such a long period to go away in a jiffy. And moreover, the differences between the two nations have been so entrenched and extensive that they either remain there forever, or are simply settled through dialog and a sustained commitment to realize constructive dialog.

I’m hopeful about the future of Iran-U.S. relations, because history has proven that animosity won’t last forever, even if it’s so deep-rooted. Countries are practicing how to talk to each other even when they don’t agree on everything. Even sometimes, they totally differ in terms of ideology, nature and ideals, but they have come to terms with each other, and it means the limits of international relations are defined in accordance with facts on the ground, neither fantasies, nor vague mottos.

Take, for example, Saudi Arabia. The UK firms have sold around £5.6 billion worth of arms to Saudi Arabia since 2010. Saudis do not resemble any of the values that the British society characterizes. They’re each literally standing on the two most extreme ends of the spectrum. Even the UK Home Office considers the Saudi Arabian students as “high-risk students” needing to register with the police within 7 days of arriving in the UK to study there. But you can see they’re getting along quite well, enjoying a mutually benefiting relationship, and at times, maintaining their differences and arguing over them. This is how international relations work – which is putting national interests above anything else, and I really hope Tehran and Washington will learn to practice some tolerance and pragmatism and understand that even the closest, most loyal allies have their differences at times, and just try to minimize or conceal them. Again, look at the U.S. and Israel, think of their affectionate, special relationship and consider how much conflict they’ve had in the recent 3-4 years. So, here we go! Iran and the United States should not expect themselves to embrace each other as true lovers after forty year of unremitting enmity. They have to take the steps one by one, and I’m confident they’ll move to the stage of full normalization one day. Maybe that day will happen 100 years later. I don’t know. But could anybody imagine President Obama paying an official trip to Havana and taking those fancy photos with President Raul Castro after half a century?

 

PD: Iran’s next presidential election will occur in 2017. What issues do you think will be most important in this election?

KZ: The most important development affecting the next year’s election, which has just been unfolded, is the strong warning by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei against the ex-President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a well-known demagogue and hardliner, dissuading him from running for president. Ahmadinejad, who ruled Iran from 2005 until 2013 for two consecutive terms, had ambitiously planned to try his chance for a third time – after losing the chance to do so immediately due to constitutional limits, and had been going on lecture tours across the country apparently for no good reason, and while the campaign season has not officially kicked off yet. The Leader recognized that another term for Ahmadinejad in office would be tantamount to the aggravation and enlargement of national splits and divisions, renewed tensions with the outside world after the breathtaking efforts by President Rouhani and his team to get the nuclear controversy settled, and a new shock to domestic economy now that relative stability has started to rule Iran’s troubled market. Ahmadinejad’s record during his eight years in office was one of mismanagement and cluelessness on domestic and foreign policy.

Ahmadinejad is literally obsessed with power and has been long fancying running for the upcoming presidential election in 2017, launching a controversial campaign, winning the vote even with a narrow margin by every possible means and then starting to entertain the same experiences that exceptionally boosted his confidence to the point that he never apologized to his constituency, even once, for the grave mistakes he committed, including drowning the country in an erosive conflict with the entire world over the nuclear issue and virtually leaving Iran’s economy in ruins. Nothing could have stopped him from running, because it’s not the Iranian people or the future of Iran he cares about. It’s his power greed and publicity lust that keeps him stuck to the nation’s political panorama, even four years after his retirement. Only the Supreme Leader could have prevented him from seeking a comeback. And when he got that stern public caution, he didn’t comply out of affection for the Supreme Leader or obedience to him – what Ahmadinejad’s fans falsely believe, or simply pretend to believe he characterizes perfectly, that is unconditional submission to the Supreme Leader. He wrote a reluctant letter of homage addressed to Ayatollah Khamenei, saying that he doesn’t have plans for the next year’s polls. He didn’t mention anything about the future elections, nor did he make any reference to his possible withdrawal from politics. Perhaps he just felt compelled to oblige, or he would have faced a crisis in his fan base.

However, with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad being cast out of the race, I don’t think of any major rival challenging Rouhani seriously, even though I cannot guarantee he will be able to secure an unproblematic reelection. Rouhani’s disappointing performance on a number of issues the people wanted him to fix quite quickly after coming to office, and his inability to fix them even while he’s nearing the end of his first term, has proven to be a challenge for the moderate cleric, and a disillusionment for his supporters. However, I’m confident the next year’ election will be a competitive, vibrant and exciting race, regardless of the outcome.

PD: As a journalist, you have had the opportunity to travel the world and cover key figures and events in various countries. What is the most important lesson you have learned from this international perspective? 

KZ: Thankfully, since I finished my undergraduate studies, I’ve been able to travel to quite a few places across the globe and gain new experiences. The most important thing these trips have taught me is that a good journalist cannot be confined to his newsroom and expect to become a trained, seasoned and proficient media personality all of a sudden. One has to interact with people of diverse, different backgrounds, grasp the nuances of various cultures that at times appear to be inconsistent and totally dissimilar, learn about what matters to people here and there, and understand the delicacy of global civilizations. I cannot really claim that traveling to a dozen of countries has made me such an erudite and progressive journalist, but I know it’s essential that thriving journos break the barriers that segregate them from the outside world and make them unable to establish long-lasting ties and explore new universes.

Sometimes, journalists are stuck in their preconceptions, and it prevents them from giving a realistic and fair coverage to the current affairs, as well as issues of historical nature that still matter to the public. Again, it’s almost impossible to say journalists do not take sides or are absolutely impartial, because it’s not really the responsibility of the journalists to be totally unbiased – but it’s their responsibility to be honest and adhere to integrity. When they produce stories that are consistent and predicated on honesty, then it’s quite inevitable that the level of impartiality in their coverage will ascend accordingly.

I’ve been contributing to international media organizations since 2008, and I’ve been learning and practicing fresh methods all the time, trying to acquire new knowledge to embellish and uplift my work of journalism. I aspire to become a leading, distinguished media personality respected worldwide – actually it’s my long-term plan, or maybe wishful thinking, and I’m sure these trips have given me a better picture of how the world works, even though with over 200 countries and territories distributed in five continents and some 7.4 billion people living across these regions, it’s almost impossible for any journalist to be able to “completely” discern and understand the subtleties of the entire world. However, we can try and move in the direction of becoming more comprehensive and more understanding media people and narrow down our ignorance. Being able to understand the differences between people and accommodate them is what distinguishes successful and failed journalists, I think.

A Conversation with Dr. David Priess


By MEGHAN BODETTE || September 16, 2016

The Global Conversations project is a Popular Discourse initiative to bring together voices from various countries, backgrounds, and areas of expertise to discuss issues that matter. This week, we are fortunate enough to bring you a conversation with Dr. David Priess, a former CIA officer during the Bill Clinton and George W. Bush administrations.  Dr. Priess is also the author of The President’s Book of Secrets: The Untold Story of Daily Intelligence Briefings to America’s Presidents from Kennedy to Obama. The book lays out the history of the President’s daily intelligence brief through interviews with former Presidents, Vice Presidents, CIA directors, national security advisers, secretaries of state and defense, and other relevant personnel.

14359643_917802648363623_1874495198_o.jpg
Dr. David Priess

Popular Discourse: Your book, The President’s Book of Secrets, tells the story of the President’s daily intelligence brief. What fact or anecdote in the book do you find most interesting?

David Priess: While some serious documentary research went into this book, the interviews with former president and vice presidents and others were most revealing.

I expected to find plenty of examples of presidents and other top officials getting real insight from their daily book of secrets–things that helped them make some of the toughest national security decisions this country has faced. And those examples showed up, for sure.

But you asked for the most interesting anecdotes, and most of those had to do with less serious moments. Two stand out.

First, when George H.W. Bush was president. You have to remember–he’d been CIA director, he’d been vice president for eight years … so he was no stranger to intelligence. Maybe that’s why he was so comfortable with his daily intelligence briefers, willing to have not only no-kidding serious conversation with them about the highly classified information in the PDB but also some fun moments. Like the time his CIA briefer conveyed the analysts’ assessment that the incumbent would win an election in Nicaragua. President Bush added it up differently, and he offered a wager to the CIA briefer that the analysis was wrong. It was–the challenger won, as Bush predicted–and the briefer brought an ice cream cone to the Oval Office to pay up.

Second, when Bill Clinton was president. He was surprised on his 50th birthday to open up his PDB and start reading about crisis after crisis around the world, all caused by things that he had said and done in the preceding days and weeks. It took him a few articles in the book before he realized they were pulling his leg, having a little fun with him.

I like those examples because they show that this very serious business of providing classified intelligence analysis to the president remains a very personal process, with real personalities and real human moments.

PD: How has the intelligence community adapted to technological and political changes since the administrations in which you served? Has it adapted well?

DP: Much has been written elsewhere about the expanded flow of information to analysts, especially in the realm of social media. I’ll focus instead on a narrower topic: the delivery of daily intelligence analysis to top customers.

Between administrations, and within each one, the intelligence community adapts to the needs of its customers and to the personality of its First Customer, the president of the United States. These adjustments have traditionally succeeded when built on a foundation of solid communication between intelligence officers and the recipients of their products. Absent a robust relationship, those changes become guesswork.

The biggest change with the President’s Daily Brief itself involves the medium of delivery. For decades–since the CIA started producing it for Lyndon Johnson in 1964–the PDB has been page after page of Top Secret intelligence assessments printed in a book. The format of that book has changed, but it’s been ink on paper.

But not anymore. President Obama gets his PDB, now from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, on an iPad. The PDB still contains analysis of various international issues based on all-source intelligence, but the new format allows for variations like embedded multimedia presentations that can enhance impact.

PD: What, in your analysis, is the best way of delivering daily intelligence to the president and other top policymakers?

DP: There may not be one best way. We have to remember–no one gets to the presidency or another top-level office without figuring out what learning style works best for him or her. And these folks have no shortage of advisers to help them get the most out of their time. The preferences of each president or other senior officer should drive how he or she receives daily intelligence analysis.

That said, even as an avid reader myself, I find it hard to see how the full benefit of daily intelligence can be captured without in-person briefings. A president or other senior official forgoing such briefings increases the chances that a senior adviser who is not intimately familiar with the nuances of intelligence will skew the information–deliberately or inadvertently–or otherwise prevent an objective assessment of the facts on the ground from reaching that official. Any risks arising from the direct contact between intelligence officers and senior customers can be mitigated.

An in-person briefing has a huge upside. It allows the customer to discuss with a trained intelligence officer issues regarding the sources behind the daily assessments, alternative points of view, and implications of the judgments on the printed page. A deeper understanding results. Plus, it gives the intelligence community a much better sense of the customer’s needs and challenges, which helps in the development of future products.

 


Special thanks to Dr. Priess, who was open to providing meaningful commentary to a new, growing media journalism project run by young college students. We are indebted to the time he devoted to helping us out. 

Hillary Rodham Clinton for President of the United States of America


By THE EDITORIAL BOARD || September 13, 2016

2016 has been a paradigm-shifting campaign season. Decades of growing partisanship and polarization have culminated in starkly different choices for the presidency. Nominally, Americans are presented with a choice of two candidates from the two major parties, one advanced by Democratic primary voters and the D.N.C and the other by Republicans and the R.N.C. Yet the true choice American voters will make in November has very little to do with the party the candidates are affiliated with. Instead, American politics seems to have split along new lines, between the establishment and the grass-roots, between anti-intellectualism and an acceptance of facts, between truth and post-truth politics. Soaring unfavorables for both Hillary Rodham Clinton and Donald J. Trump indicate vast displeasure with either candidacy. Both are widely seen as unfit for the presidency. The spoiler effect has returned to American politics, with almost a fifth of the electorate indicating at least nominal support for a third party candidate, either Governor Gary Johnson of the Libertarian Party or Dr. Jill Stein of the Green Party. Even within their respective parties, both Secretary Clinton and Mr. Trump face the potential of revolt have overwhelmingly characterized the election can easily dominate the choice for whom to vote for. However, there are also policy disagreements that are worth examining.

Governor Johnson of the Libertarian Party presents a stunning lack of knowledge of foreign policy and even a disdain for current events, recently characterized by his failure to recognize the identity or importance of the city of Aleppo in Syria, the epicenter of the Syrian Civil War. While his apology and acknowledgement of a lack of knowledge is commendable—whereas a Donald Trump would have deflected from the issue or later deny that the episode ever occurred— the fact that the governor appears to be uninterested in the role of the United States around the world is a troubling characteristic in a president. Even giving the governor the benefit of the doubt—indeed, we all make mistakes—the episode then brings up several questions about his advisers and campaign. We expect that presidents and presidential candidates have extensive political and policy advisors that ensure not only that candidates are prepared for such issues and anticipate such questions, but also brief presidential candidates quite often on issues of relevant policy, foreign and domestic. The very fact that Johnson’s advisers and campaign failed in those two responsibilities raises important questions about the types of individuals that would be in a Johnson/Weld White House or Cabinet.  In domestic policy, the governor advocates for a staunchly libertarian view of the role of government, which characterizes everything from drug schedules to motor vehicle licenses as federal overreach. While the role and scope of government is grounds for legitimate debate, the radical approach that the governor takes is unacceptable for domestic policy and would lead to serious negative consequences.

Dr. Jill Stein of the Green Party is more knowledgeable on foreign policy, and a plank in her platform is to advocate for the idea of no more foreign intervention and complete isolationism. Such a position on American foreign policy is simply untenable in today’s interconnected and interdependent world. It is certainly legitimate to question the extent to which the U.S should be involved in other countries militarily or diplomatically, and to question the benefits of globalization. But to retreat entirely is not a policy that is sustainable, either in the long or short term, and would lead to serious negative consequences both at home and abroad. The reality remains that the United States commands the largest armed forces in the world as well as the largest foreign presence, and while there is room to scale back, a complete retreat is unadvisable. But Dr. Stein’s platform is more troubling on the domestic policy side. She displays a lack of economic knowledge in calling for a quantitative easing program for student debt. She buys into hard-left conspiracy theories about genetically modified foods, microwaves, Wi-Fi signals, and vaccinations, among other scientifically proven technologies. It would be a mistake to vote for someone who believes, or at minimum legitimates the belief, that the F.D.A is part of a conspiracy to contaminate the public with poor vaccines.

Voting for a third party candidate or refusing to vote at all, carries with it unacceptable risk. As Spencer Slagowitz has pointed out, ‘the consequences of voting for a third party candidate in our current political climate are undeniable. Inaction or voting for a third candidate, empowers those who do act and certainly weakens the candidate whom you could have voted for. It is equally difficult to contend, as some have, that a Trump presidency would strengthen the progressive movement. Sacrificing the well-being of American citizens for the spurious chance of a later progressive victory, that itself would have an even more questionable potential of reversing the full impact of a Trump presidency is an unconvincing option, to say the least.’

Finally, Donald Trump, the Republican nominee for president, is completely and utterly unqualified for the presidency of the United States. His identity politics has become inseparable from his policy positions—between decrying ethnic and racial groups as “rapists and murderers” and suggesting a religious test and ban for immigrants entering the country, from displaying a stunning lack of knowledge of basic tenets of the American government ranging from the articles enumerated in the Constitution to basic nuclear policy, between feuding with the family of a fallen veteran of the U.S Armed Forces to mocking the disability of a New York Times reporter, from denouncing nearly everyone in the current administration including the Joint Chiefs of Staff to displaying violence and hatred towards political opponents and those who would exercise their First Amendment right to free expression. Remarkable numbers of government officials and policy experts, both Democrat and Republican, have come out against his candidacy.  The utter lack of respect and disdain in which Mr. Trump holds the office of the Presidency is astounding. And on top of the temperamental disqualifications, legislative objections abound. As Josh Zakharov has written, even if you disagree with Clinton’s policies, Donald Trump effectively has none. And the precious few policies Mr. Trump has advocated for are woefully inadequate, boneheaded, utterly contradictory, and plainly unconstitutional. They evince, per Ethan Gelfer, “ a remarkably myopic and narrow view of the multinational, multiethnic, multifaith, globalized world we live in today.”  Between building a wall and banning Muslims from entering the United States, between advocating for the deportation of 11 million residents of the United States to openly advocating for a foreign intervention in the American political process, between threatening to use nuclear weapons and indicating a willingness to turn the full faith and credit of the United States into a bargaining chip on the world stage, Mr. Trump has proven himself again and again to be a menace to the American presidency, to the democratic process, indeed, to the very idea of America that has lit the world for over two centuries. Mr. Trump’s very candidacy, and the R.N.C’s support of his candidacy, is offensive to the very fabric of our nation. Put simply, Mr. Trump cannot be President of the United States.

Despite there being three anti-establishment, resentful, angry presidential candidates in the 2016 race, there is one candidate and one party that represents a beacon of unity and progress. While a main strike against her in the eyes of many, Secretary Clinton’s membership in the “establishment” of American politics has made her into the most qualified candidate in history. Presenting a formidable resume, from being an advocate at the Children’s Defense Fund to First Lady of the United States, from Senator for the state of New York to Secretary of State of the United States, Hillary Clinton offers the experience and leadership necessary to stitch Washington together after decades of growing resentment, as well as the capability to lead our nation through the uncertain times ahead. Offering clear-eyed, level headed policy proposals that reflect a willingness to listen to and compromise with those who are willing to sit down at the negotiating table, Secretary Clinton’s Democratic Party platform is a remarkable document that reflects the best wisdom of this country’s brightest minds and strongest movements. Her candidacy brings people together, from the fifty million disabled Americans she fights for to the African Americans and Latino Americans who are given a voice, the Democratic Party embraces its value of inclusion and truly offers the best future for all those who are willing to play along. Secretary Clinton’s most valuable trait is her ability to listen, and while that makes her a poor campaigner and rhetorician, it will allow her presidency to be marked with cooperation and cross-partisanship that for too long has been missing from Capitol Hill and the White House.

Having been involved on the national stage for a quarter century, Secretary Clinton has certainly picked up some political baggage. She has a reputation for being a foreign policy hawk, for too often changing her views based on what seems to be political exploitation, she has displayed a level of impropriety with government business and communications that reveal a level of disdain to which she holds the American press, she is secluded on the campaign trail and rarely appears in an unscripted way to the American public or to the press, and she seems to have no hard and fast views. Yet she is a candidate that in today’s political climate that is the best choice to sit at the Resolute Desk on January 20, 2017.

As we’ve written in the past—“The fact that Hillary Clinton is the most recognizable name in politics of this decade is not only a testament to her resilience and intelligence, but her extensive experience as a legislator, policymaker, and stateswoman.” So let us not ignore Clinton’s leadership abilities and her experience with facilitating the administrative responsibilities of an organization—one of the most important responsibilities of the presidency. Clinton is an extraordinary administrator. Love him or hate him, Henry Kissinger asserted that “she ran the State Department in the most effective way that I’ve ever seen.” Our failure to raise questions about how a president sets priorities, how a president executes laws, and the advisors with whom presidents surround themselves is incredibly troubling in a world in which those factors have become increasingly important and one in which her opponent has assembled advisors of questionable repute and experience.

Whether one agrees with her policies or not, Secretary Clinton is simply the only candidate who has enough respect for the intellect and independence of America and its citizens to hold its highest office. We should ask for more from our candidates. We should seek to expose their flaws and hold them to a higher standard. Yes, that does mean holding Secretary Clinton to her words and chastising her for when things go wrong. That does not mean that she is not worth your vote.

If fidelity to democracy is the code of our civic religion then surely respect for that process should lead us not to cast a ballot in favor of someone who disregards and even hates that process, or someone who builds a reputation and a case for a vote based on a hatred of the system in which we conduct our political process, but to vote for the one who will best embody the American ideal. Let us preserve the sanctity of the highest office of our nation, and vote for the next President of the United States with confidence and candor, and place a leader into the Oval Office who can be trusted with steering this nation in the right direction for the years to come.

Making Tunisia Safe Again (Minus the Donald)


Matthew Herskowitz || September 8, 2016

The Arab Spring redefined the meaning of a revolution in the 21st Century. In 2011, a crescendo of demonstrations and protests ranging from the subtlety of picket signs to the severity of mass killings plunged 16 nations into near chaos and social upheaval. All of them have been considered failures. Except one.

Tunisia underwent its formal “Arab Spring” in December of 2010, when demonstrations and popular instability threatened to destroy the regime of’ Zine el-Abedin Ben Ali, the country’s president. After scuffling to churn out as many false promises to his people as possible, Ben Ali fled the country with his family. This marked the first popular uprising and successful overthrow since Iran’s Jasmine Revolution in 1979. It’s been hailed as a powerful democratizing move. Although popular and widely touted as the Arab Spring’s sole success, how successful is Tunisia 5 years removed?

The answer is complex. Foreign Policy writes that the nation is democratizing in an unprecedented way. “Tunisians have chosen parliaments and presidents in three rounds of national elections and adopted a new constitution that guarantees citizens a broad array of rights and freedoms. They’ve exulted in the newfound freedom to organize, agitate, and express opinions, and basked in the attention accompanying a Nobel Peace Prize.” So, Tunisia seems legit, right? Obviously, the second a country holds an election it automatically attains democratic immortality and everyone holds hands and sings Kumbaya.

Well, this is how us “Westerners” often paint democracy. When we read that a country has “democratized” as you might often see or read in your daily news cycle, you imagine that the government immediately recognizes individual freedoms and becomes as transparent as glass. I argue that this is an ignorant and dangerous way to look at the state of Tunisia’s deceptively fragile society. We overlook the fine print: the fact that police are bribed by drug cartels for practical immunity while honest work is nearly impossible to come by.

Labels are misleading, Tunisia’s road to democracy is so long and winding that many will starve or perish on the way, or worse: leave to fight in Syria. Since 2013, Tunisia has had the largest export of foreign fighters to the Islamic State and has scores of disenfranchised and restless inhabitants joining other groups like the Al-Nusra front, Hamas, and even Libyan militants. The problem lies in corruption that has crippled Tunisia’s economy. Low wages due to instability pushed the unemployment rate to 15.3%. That doesn’t sound like much, but to put it in perspective, that’s a 50% increase since the Arab Spring. The problem is that communities in remote parts of the country with low funding become hotbeds for terrorism, and the war on terror is fostering anti-Western hatred among the youth in much of Tunisia. The problem is that rather than trying to incorporate young Muslims in the workforce, the Tunis government is cracking down on their Muslim population in a brutal and counter-productive way, mass arresting scores of people with “rudimentary” intelligence.

The key to progression in Tunisia starts with national security. Tourism is dead due to growing radicalism and instability; specifically, the devastating Bardo Museum attacks that left scores dead in 2015. From 2011-2015, the government has done little with its vast wealth from agriculture and tourism to invest in protective measures like border security and policing. Corruption probes are a long shot due to powerful drug cartels that keep politicians placated with money. The time is now for the Tunisian government to act as they teeter on the brink of another anarchical social upheaval. One promising political progression that can lead to economic action is the decrease in political gridlock. The Tunis parliament must start to pass crucial reforms that would increase funding to intelligence agencies instead simply demonizing the country’s Muslim populace, while enfranchising impoverished communities where people don’t have to pick between joining a cartel, fleeing to Syria, starving, or being killed. This economic stimulus, specifically investing in education and infrastructure projects that would create jobs, would bring back stability in an unstable land. It would also bring back Tunisia’s third largest industry: tourism.

The fact that many deem Tunisia to be the Arab Spring’s “success” shows us that many believe that countries in the Middle East and North Africa are somehow hopeless, and any sign of progress is unbelievable. Yet, Tunisia, with all it has overcame as a nation, faces the same obstacles that every country has faced in its formation. With a new constitution, many are hopeful of Tunisia return to the similar prosperity it had in the 80s. Foreign policy experts and history buffs are right about one thing: If Tunisia, with the help of the international community, agrees to crack down on corruption as a prerequisite to further reform, they will truly become the Arab Spring’s sole “success”.

A Conversation with Noorjahan Akbar

The Global Conversations project is a Popular Discourse initiative to bring together voices from various countries, backgrounds, and areas of expertise to discuss issues that matter. This week, we are fortunate enough to bring you a conversation with Noorjahan Akbar.

Akbar is a writer and human rights activist who has shared her story with the world in order to raise awareness for women’s rights issues in Afghanistan. She is the founder of Free Women Writers, a group that amplifies the voices of Afghan women seeking equality and justice in their societies.

14247556_912345855575969_1341724562_o

Popular Discourse: What inspired you to found Free Women Writers?

Noorjahan Akbar: I started Free Women Writers in 2013. It was originally just a small anthology of Afghan women’s writings in Persian named Daughters of Rabia, after the Afghan poetess Rabia Balkhi. My friend Batul Moradi and I published the book because we were fed up with the fact that most of the books available for free or for a cheap price in Kabul and other large cities in Afghanistan were radicalizing and misogynistic. We wanted there to be an alternative. People loved the book. In fact, within a month, we ran out of all our 1500 copies. It was distributed by volunteers around the country.

The warm welcome made me think of creating a bigger platform that continued the work of the book in highlight women’s stories and voices. That is how Free Women Writers was created. For most of the past three years it has been a social media blog, largely in Persian with some Pashtu articles here and there. Last year, I started translating some of the articles to English, and this year I formed a collective and recruited a few volunteers to help out with editing, translation and content creation.

I started a blog for Afghan women because I have always loved writing. I started blogging when I was a teenager and I still remember the way I felt when my first article was published in an Afghan newspaper. Afterwards, the newspaper’s editors invited me to attend the weekly meeting scheduled to discuss the publication along with my sister. I was probably fourteen and sitting in a room with more than a dozen adults who critically analyzed each other’s pieces. When it came to my piece, someone who didn’t know I had written it began shredding it to pieces. It made me feel so proud because it was a sign that my piece was being taken seriously- not dismissed as child’s play. In some way, it legitimized my writing. I’ve always found writing to be incredibly empowering, so I wanted to create the possibility for other Afghan women to read their pieces published on a platform.

PD: In Western media, Afghan women can be mischaracterized as lacking in agency- in fact, women in developing countries as a whole are often mischaracterized in this way. Why do you think this happens? What should be done to change this perception?

NA: The reintroduction of Afghan women to the West happened during the American-led intervention in 2001. From the first days of the plan to attack Afghanistan, the plight of Afghan women was used as a narrative to justify the war. In order to paint a strong picture, leaders-and even some feminist organizations- leaned heavily on narrating the victimization of Afghan women by the Taliban, from images of women getting beat on the street to public execution. The famous Laura Bush speech in November 2001, focused on the oppression of “Afghan women and children,” which equated women to children and implied that both lack agency and are mere victims. This is how in the contemporary narratives of Afghanistan (because lack of historical memory is a reality of our world today) the phrase “Afghan women” became synonymous with violence, maimed bodies, stoning, and cut noses.

The reality, of course, is a little bit more complicated. Violence is a reality for most Afghan women. I would argue, and statistics also show, that most Afghan women face some sort of violence at home or on the streets. However, that is one side of the coin- an important side without a doubt. On the other hand, Afghan women also have a long history of struggling for equality and human rights. Our history did not start in 2001 and it does not depend on Western interventions or efforts. For me as an activist, it is important to have various narratives of Afghan women- instead of a single story- because I know you cannot “empower” women by telling them over and over again that they are “victims.” Stories of Afghan women’s success, introduction of role model women, and studying and understanding the history of Afghan women can help empower us even more than yet another dehumanizing image and story of maimed female bodies. We need a more balanced approach to telling Afghan women’s stories. I think the most important tool we have in changing the current one-dimensional narrative is the voices of Afghan women themselves and that is one of the reasons Free Women Writers now publishes in English as well as Persian: to challenge the dominant victimizing narrative around our lives by telling our own stories in our own authentic voices.

PD: What do you consider to be the goals of the women’s movement in Afghanistan? What progress have you seen, and what steps do you think should still be taken?

NA: I think it is up for debate whether or not we have a coherent women’s movement in Afghanistan, but there are a lot of efforts that are laudable. These efforts have different goals. For me the ultimate goal for any women’s movement is to create an equal society where we won’t need a women’s movement. We are far from that in Afghanistan and around the world.

Afghanistan is trying to find itself after nearly five decades of war and conflict. In many ways, we are going back- instead of forward- to a time when women had more rights. In the recent years, despite the Taliban and insecurity, we have made huge progress. Just the fact that 8 million children, 40% of them girls, go to school is something that makes me hopeful. We have more female teachers and university students right now than any time in the history of our country. Women are gaining more political power and more women have jobs than before. Women are now part of the army and the police. They are parliamentarians and musicians and athletes. But of course we have a long way to go. First of all, for any sustainable progress we need a safer Afghanistan for everyone. With the current instability and terror attacks, we fear that we will lose what we have gained. In some parts of the country, women have already made setbacks due to Taliban gaining power. The Taliban are an existentialist threat to Afghan women and the future of Afghanistan and all sustainable change and progress depends on dealing with this threat. For as long as they continue attacking women and communities, more activists, educated elites and professional will risk their lives to leave the country and change in Afghanistan will remain fragile.


Meghan Bodette contributed reporting. 

Meghan is a staff writer at Popular Discourse and a first-year student at the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. 

Party’s Over – Why Party Affiliation Should be Left Aside This Election (and others)

 


By JOSHUA ZAKHAROV || August 10, 2016

Pundits and analysts like to classify the patterns of voters under four main categories – ideologues, nature-of-the-times voters, party ID voters, and character voters. The first votes based on a candidate’s policies and platform, without regard to things like character or affiliations. The second votes based on what a candidate has done for them lately – if they’ve lost their job, if they feel their taxpayer dollars are misspent, then the incumbent has to go. The third usually casts a straight ballot for all the candidates of their party, voting almost solely on partisanship. The fourth votes based on how a candidate looks, acts, interacts with others – “because s/he seems ‘presidential,’ they get my vote.”

Guess the most popular voting pattern in the United States, governing the behavior of nearly 40% of the hundred-plus million Americans voting each year. It’s not the ideologue pattern (naïve guess – that’s only about 10%); it’s not nature-of-the-times; and it’s not character. It’s party-ID. Though it might seem reasonable at first glance, this is likely the most damaging ideology behind casting a ballot, and could be what tips the election in the favor of a megalomaniac this year.

Let me say first that this isn’t meant to be a pointless hot take, and certainly not an attack on people who back their party’s candidate without a second thought. Provided that the platform established at a party’s convention is one that’s in line with your principles, and that candidates are reasonable, pragmatic people that seek to effect that platform, voting for your party rather than your candidate is a solid choice.

But not every candidate fits the mold of their party, and that’s why casting a ballot for a candidate before their party is an important consideration. Most of the time, voting for your party is safe. Candidates are, more often than not, people that live up to the principles of their party, have a record of defending them, and focus on practicality and compromise in office. In times of political turmoil, such as those before critical elections, however, party ideology and principles become less important than choosing a candidate above political affiliation that can deal with a country’s issues.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s 1932 win over Hoover, for example, moved Democrats much further left than they had ever gone with New Deal social welfare reforms, even while the Democratic party continued to represent white Southerners above all else. In doing so, Roosevelt was able to build up a new Democratic voting coalition that would reelect him three times; his shaking up of traditional party politics proved effective during the Great Depression and spurred millions of voters to cast party aside to vote for the functional candidate over Hoover, who presided over the start of the Great Depression.

Ronald Reagan’s critical election and reelection in 1980 and 1984, to bring up a Republican example, were also able to shuffle traditional voting patterns. After demonstrating strong leadership during the Cold War and convincing Americans that Reaganomics could work, Reagan was able to win 49 (49!) states in his reelection, changing nearly every blue state but his opponent (Walter Mondale’s) home state to a red one.

As Hillary Clinton put it in her acceptance speech, we face a moment of reckoning this November. The economic success of our current president is undeniable, with his center-left economics from the stimulus package to infrastructure funding having made our economy rebound since the Great Recession in 2008. Unemployment is lower now than it was under Reagan, relations with Cuba and Iran have been normalized, and dozens of progressive goals have been realized by our Supreme Court. Clinton promises to build even higher on Obama’s goals, spending more on infrastructure, reshaping a Supreme Court to deal with the corruption of campaign finance regulations and the now-banal reality of gun violence.

Even if these are goals you disagree with, they are still real, clear-cut, nuanced, and understandable policy positions. Donald Trump has none. After refusing to disavow the endorsement of the Ku Klux Klan, after demonizing Muslims, Mexicans, black youth, America’s disabled, after accusing a Gold Star mother stricken with grief of not speaking because her Muslim faith prevented her from doing so, after claiming the Constitution had 12 articles and people had “no right” to say things he disagreed with, after spurning free trade deals that passed with bipartisan support, after exporting jobs from the US for his own gain, after claiming police deaths have gone up 50% from last year when there’s been one fewer death, it is clear that not only does Trump lack a basic understanding of the state of our nation, but that he lacks a basic understanding of the principles of his party.

This is no longer the party of John McCain, a man who, in his 2008 election, pointed out that Obama is a God-loving Christian and a family man, and disagreed with him only politically. This is no longer the party of Mitt Romney, who championed his party’s platform to the letter, and this is certainly no longer the party of Ronald Reagan.

This is a party being led astray from its original principles of keeping government small, not tyrannical against minorities, of protecting individual liberties rather than stripping them away, of abiding by the Constitution rather than never having read it.

If you’re a Republican, and you’re voting for whomever your party has selected for this general election, make sure you think twice – you might not even be voting for a Republican at all.

Josh Zakharov is a graduate of the Bronx High School of Science and an incoming freshman at the University of Chicago.

Ethan Gelfer contributed editing. 

The Cultural Revolution: To Forgive and Forget?


By JOSHUA CHANG || August 10, 2016

50 years ago, Chinese communist titan Mao Zedong marshaled masses of subservient students indoctrinated with the radical tenets of Maoist Communist ideology and set them loose upon Chinese society. For nearly a decade, these students wreaked havoc and chaos throughout the country with one sole purpose in mind: to purge any elements perceived as a threat to Mao’s vision of a “Greater China.”

Fifty years later, despite the looming legacy of this calamitous movement, the Chinese government has declined to commemorate or discuss the nature of the incident. Any articles attempting to address the event have been removed through censorship on the internet, and state media outlets have seemed to follow the actions of the government through their reticence. One cannot help but wonder whether the Chinese government is deliberately withholding recognition of the event’s occurrence out of fear of rekindling bitter emotions that emanate from its memory, or because of embarrassment. Perhaps both, and other reasons as well.

The words “Cultural Revolution,” despite their seemingly innocent connotations, are a euphemism for a tumultuous period in contemporary Chinese history when old clashed with young, traditional ideas clashed with so-called “progressive” ones, and revisionism clashed with revolution. Ironically, it was a time in which the very attempts to restore China’s communist society led to its very undoing.

China’s confrontation with the Cultural Revolution’s legacy 50 years after its inception highlights the unpleasant nature of historical memory, as well as the relationship its government shares with the people.

Background

Mao Zedong’s Communist Party seized control of China in 1949 after decades of civil war with its nationalist Guomindang rivals (who relocated to Taiwan to establish a Republic of China). Mao and his cohorts immediately embarked on a campaign to restructure China to become a communist state revolving around Maoist principles.

During the 1950s, one of Mao’s principal projects to bring about his Maoist society was through a series of radical reforms collectively known as the “Great Leap Forward.” Under this directive, which incorporated elements of Stalin’s collectivization schemes of the 1920s and 30s, the GLF consolidated Chinese farms into state-owned communes to enhance agrarian productivity. Laborers were expected to work to fulfill state-prescribed quotas and work for moral prestige and benefits rather than the materialistic rewards of capitalism. However, Mao’s ambitious vision only witnessed disaster for his country as mismanagement and famine caused the deaths of millions of Chinese. Slight capitalistic reforms enabling sale of surplus crops stabilized the situation, but Mao’s own prestige and vision for a communist society was severely damaged.

Demoralized by his defeat, Mao withdrew from public affairs, but still maintained control of power over China’s Communist Party. Fearing that his reforms would be undermined by reformist-minded moderates in the Party, and that China would revert back to a capitalist society, Mao laid the foundations for the Cultural Revolution. He sought to purge China of all traditional components of society and crush his political rivals to ensure that hardline communism would reign supreme. Thus, as aforementioned, the chaos of the late 1960s to mid 1970s crippled China’s economic activity and created fractures within the unity of China’s society. It wasn’t until Mao’s death in 1976 that the hardline revolutionary movement in his name subsided.

Contemporary Significance

The Cultural Revolution essentially elucidated two distinct factions in the struggle for control of China: the Maoist extremists who sought to advance communistic policies regardless of the costs, and moderates who sought to implement practical measures to support China’s economy while still maintaining the supremacy of the Party.

Without the Cultural Revolution, China would have never evolved to become a market economy. Because of the disillusionment with Maoist ideology due to the destructive nature of the Revolution, many turned to moderates such as Zhou En-Lai and Deng Xiaoping, who sought to advance China’s economy without the senseless, frivolous methods of the hardliners. For these moderates, capitalistic measures were only a small price to pay in order to turn China into a world power. Deng Xiaoping would go on to assume the reins of China’s leadership, and encourage China to proceed on the path of free trade, market capitalism to become the modern China as we know it today.

Throughout Mao’s tenure as the leader of China, Mao wanted to convey for himself an image of an infallible individual whose omniscience would guide the country through turmoil and distress. The GLF and the Cultural Revolution shattered that image, and prior to this, Mao did everything possible to ensure that any mistakes of his could not be seen.

In light of the Cultural Revolution’s 50th Anniversary and the Chinese government’s reluctance to comment on it, the implied attitude of Beijing in its reticence seems to align closely with that of Mao’s in his reign. The deliberate attempts to ignore the past seems to indicate that China’s government is not willing to acknowledge the atrocities that characterized the establishment of the entire political administration. In a time when elements of Chinese society are frustrated with government censorship and political practices, this will only exacerbate the government’s relationships with its people. A government is responsibly accountable to its constituents when it is readily willing to admit to the mistakes of the past. Any government that is able to recognize the errors of the past and resolve to move forward can significantly improve its standing. Take Germany, for instance. Many German citizens and German leaders (Angela Merkel included) have taken it upon themselves to never forget the atrocities of the Second World War, and have disavowed the actions of those responsible for the perpetrations of these offenses.

As we are supposedly doomed to repeat history if it is ignored, the 50th anniversary of the Cultural Revolution may be an important lesson for the Chinese government in confronting its history properly. It should best heed the past’s warnings.