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The Journal Gazette

  • Schwab

Sunday, March 11, 2018 1:00 am

Engagement best antidote to electoral interference

Abraham "Abe" Schwab

During the 2016 Republican primaries, I often remarked that Donald Trump's election would concern me more because of what it said about the average voter than because of what he would do once elected.

Since Trump's election, I've realized I was wrong. I should have been more concerned about what his election says about our political system.

To be blunt, I think Russia is a red herring. At this point, the Russian interference in our election was tangible but, by no accounts, did it change votes. Instead, their interference was aimed to sway voters and rile voters up through various means and strategies.

These strategies only work in a system in which the population was largely unable to distinguish real news from fake, and in which someone as repulsive as Trump (e.g., his explicit misogyny and his well-documented abuse of contractors) was no worse and, in the minds of enough voters, perhaps better than the alternative.

But that's not all. We also have a system streaming with undue financial influence.

For example, I know that my statements to Rep. Jim Banks and Sens. Todd Young and Joe Donnelly are meaningless compared to the voices of a lobbyist or a significant campaign contributor. My voice is only as loud as my financial means.

This is demonstrated by the success of the National Rifle Association in obstructing meaningful reform to our existing gun control laws.

I have no idea what our next gun reform activities should be, but the fact that it's possible, if not likely, that the federal government will change nothing despite widespread and general agreement that something needs to change is emblematic of a failing political system.

But that's not all. Many of our public high schools have responded to the Parkland, Florida shootings in ways that discourage students from being politically active in response to the Parkland killings.

Some schools in the South have issued statements explicitly threatening punishment for students who protest. In many other schools, rumors are that students who walk out on Wednesday will be subject to suspension or other disciplinary action. This is a rumor currently circulating Homestead High School.

These rumors suggest to students that the status quo and the lack of disruption are most important, not that they demonstrate their concerns about what they take to be a significant problem. These rumors tell the students not to be politically involved or active because the school system knows what's important and students should sit down and be quiet.

It's for this reason that I think that any superintendent or principal committed to our American ideals will make statements that freedom of expression will be respected and will not be held against students.

Protest against a system that fails to adequately represent our interests is at the heart of the American spirit and the goal of any good education system.

If all our superintendents and principals made such statements, they would quell rumors of their desire to quash political activism and open space for dialogue. This would allow students to learn what it means to be politically active while minimizing undue disruptions to teachers' and administrators' abilities to fulfill their responsibilities.

Perhaps no students will protest, will walk out, but it's important that they know they will not be punished simply for making their voice heard.

I don't think I can overemphasize how important it is to send the message to students of all ages that political engagement and activity are key. It's key to sidestepping, deflecting or avoiding the problem caused by the Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. An informed and engaged populace inoculates us from such interference. I can try to distract you with conspiracy theories and false claims, but if you're well-informed and engaged, these will strike you as nothing more than a distraction.

And so we should be doing all we can to encourage all citizens, including those who are approaching voting age, who are just learning what it means to be involved in the organization of political activities, to be engaged and active political participants.

Abraham “Abe” Schwab is an associate professor of philosophy at IPFW.