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Politics and Discourse

  • Can It Happen Here? Donald Trump And The Fracturing Of America's Constitutional Order

    Written on June 29, 2020

    Our guest author today is Eric Chenoweth, co-director of the Institute for Democracy in Eastern Europe and principal author of the Albert Shanker Institute’s Democracy Web, an extra-curricular resource for teachers. 

    “The main thing is, they’re talking about us.”
    Joseph Goebbels, The Goebbels Diaries, 1932-34

    Comparing Trump’s presidency with past fascist regimes, and particularly that of Hitler’s Germany, is generally seen as partisan hyperbole. Past warnings of a Nazi-like leader taking hold in America — like Sinclair Lewis’s ironically titled It Can’t Happen Here — were belied by history. America’s constitutional system can withstand even Trump. Can’t it?

    The Trump presidency is certainly not the emergent Third Reich. Adolf Hitler, once handed power, acted swiftly to supplant the existing constitution by emergency decree, directed widespread repression against political opponents, purged Jews from state institutions, and held elections and referenda under conditions of mass intimidation to cement Nazi rule. By contrast, America saw three years of generally unhindered political opposition, media criticism, and free (if flawed) elections in which an opposition party made serious gains. 

    Yet events keep giving resonance to the warnings about Donald Trump’s rise to power. In response to national protests and unrest over brutal police violence against African Americans, Trump had peaceful demonstrators in front of the White House attacked and ordered the military to “expand the battlespace” to U.S. soil. What is happening here?

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  • Can Bias Prevent Women Running For Office From Having A Fair Shot?

    Written on February 17, 2020

    Our guest authors today are Anthony Carnevale and Nicole Smith. Dr. Carnevale is Director and Research Professor and Nicole Smith is Chief Economist and Research Professor at the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. This piece was originally published here on CEW's Medium page.

    When the presidential candidates introduced themselves on the Democratic primary debate stage in 2019, they weren’t the usual crowd of contenders. Among more than 20 candidates, six women representing a range of geographic areas and policy positions took the podium. One hailed from California, and another from Minnesota. Some voiced support for Medicare for All, while others opposed it.

    Women have made significant advances in their representation in US politics within the past 50 years. Though Hillary Clinton lost her bid for the presidency in 2016, she won the popular vote and made history as the first woman to be nominated for the presidency by a major party. In 2018, a record number of women ran for Congress — and many won their elections. Although the field of women running for the Democratic presidential nomination has narrowed from six to four, Senator Elizabeth Warren remains a frontrunner in several polls.

    Despite this progress, bias still remains against women in politics. According to our analysis of recent data from the General Social Survey, while this number has fallen over the past 50 years, 13 percent of Americans still believed in 2018 that most women are not as emotionally suited for politics as men. This bias may have the potential to decrease women’s chances of being elected to political office.

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  • Trouble In The Neighborhood

    Written on December 3, 2019

    Our guest author today is Randy Garton, former Director of Research and Operations at the Albert Shanker Institute. He retired in 2015.

    I recently went with my oldest son, a young adult on the autism spectrum, to see “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” a movie featuring Tom Hanks as Fred Rogers. It is a grown-up movie, inspired by real events. It tells the story of a reporter (played by Matthew Rhys), who is assigned to do a profile of Rogers. 

    The reporter, Tom Junod, is depicted as a cynical, angry, but honest man who endeavors to find the “real” Mr. Rogers — who he supposes is much different from the kindly figure seen on TV.  Instead, he discovers that Rogers is a complex, kind, thoughtful and brilliant artist. He was certainly not a saint, but a decent man who tried to live his life by the values he taught on the show and, by and large, succeeded. 

    The acting was top notch. As expected, Hanks was great in the role and was the perfect guy for the part. Junod’s  wife was played by an African-American actress, adding an extra layer of complexity. I don’t know whether or not the wife of the real journalist was Black, but it struck me as important in the film. She was depicted as very strong and smart. Junod was portrayed as a man in pain due to his father’s actions at the time of his mother’s death. He didn’t know how to deal with those feelings, and Mr. Rogers helped.

    I believe that many people left that movie wanting to be a better person. I certainly did.

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  • Marginalizing Views In A Time Of Polarization

    Written on August 8, 2019

    Our guest author today is Peter Levine, Academic Dean and Lincoln Filene Professor of Citizenship & Public Affairs in Tufts University’s Jonathan Tisch College of Civic Life. This post was originally published at Professor Levine's blog, and has been reprinted with permission of the author.

    I recently posted “marginalizing odious views: a strategy,” which was about a powerful and sometimes valuable tool for self-governance. When communities define specific perspectives as beyond consideration, they uphold norms without needing formal censorship. This is good when it happens to Nazis (for instance), but problematic when it’s used to block serious consideration of minority views.

    I assume that marginalization is a perennial strategy. Its advantages and risks – especially as compared to a strategy of engagement – are also perennial. But the context does make a difference.

    When most Americans got their news from three rather similar TV networks plus a metropolitan daily newspaper that had from zero to three local competitors, marginalization depended on the mass media. You could try to marginalize a position that you considered odious, or create space for a currently marginalized view, but your success would depend on what Walter Cronkite and his ilk thought. If a position wasn’t marginalized on the network news, it wasn’t marginalized. And if a view never got aired in the mass media, then it was pretty marginal even if you and your friends believed in it.

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