Thursday, May 11, 2017

FBI Director's Termination: Echoes of Watergate

Tasked with an open-ended assignment, I decided to investigate the Trump administration's recent termination of FBI director James Comey and its relation to Watergate -- a scandal of which I know embarrassingly little. While most Democrats are quick to call this firing “Nixonian,” I decided to do some investigation of my own. Following is a summary of what I’ve learned.

James Comey has led two investigations this year, one into each presidential candidate, both of which largely shaped the 2016 election. On July 5th, Washington reporters were called to an FBI briefing. Standing before them was director James Comey, who summoned them for an update on the status of the Clinton e-mail investigation. Essentially, he scolded her on national television, saying, “Any reasonable person in Secretary Clinton’s position should’ve known that an unclassified system was no place for that conversation.” However, he recommended that the DOJ not charge the secretary. This briefing was unique for two reasons: First, it is generally not the director that gives the briefing himself, and second, closing investigations are generally done clandestinely. Shortly beforehand, the FBI found that a Russian hacker had stolen a memo that read as follows: “Loretta Lynch [former Attorney General] will keep this case from getting too far afield. She’ll keep things in line.” Having seen this, Comey allowed Lynch to continue in the investigation. Lastly, only a week before the election, new evidence emerged in the Clinton case. Though nothing came of it, Comey violated three protocols of the FBI -- One, don’t talk about the Bureau’s investigative steps, two, don’t disclose details of ongoing investigations, and three, especially don’t do so nearing election time. Clinton’s “dishonesty/untrustworthiness,” according to a recent NYT poll, was the primary reason Trump voters chose him over her. The FBI director inflated these feelings, and because of this is in part blamed for her loss. Comey has been criticized for ostensibly handling these investigations in a partisan manner, so many think his recent termination was long overdue. This was the reason Trump gave for firing Comey.

That said, Comey is not viewed as a biased figure by any means -- quite the opposite. He relishes in his independent transparency. He once said that he would never play basketball with Obama, for fear of appearing too friendly with the president. Furthermore, before June 17th, 2015, the FBI failed their background check on Dylann Roof, who on that date shot 10 devotees in the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. Following, Comey invited FBI agents to a briefing, where he discussed the protocol for background checks and where they went wrong. Just as he did in the Clinton investigation, he was publicly transparent. It generally works in his favor.

Later in July, with the permission of the DOJ, Comey publicly announced that the FBI was opening an investigation into potential collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian Agents. Oddly, this inquest was led by the same lead investigator of the Clinton case (imagine having a busy year.) Unlike her investigation, however, the details of Trump’s have been kept largely quiet.

Not since Watergate, when Nixon fired Archibald Cox in the “Saturday Night Massacre” in October of 1973, has a president dismissed an official leading an investigation into him. Nixon ordered his termination shortly after Cox subpoenaed Nixon for copies of White House tapes. Everyone seems to be wondering, “why fire Comey now?” Whether or not the investigation was hitting too close to home for Trump’s liking remains to be seen. Currently, however, Democrats are calling for an independent entity to continue the investigation, should Trump replace Comey with his puppet, Chris Christie (or anyone else who will do his bidding.) Sources inside the FBI have claimed that his termination has only inflamed the want to bring Trump to justice. Clearly, this is a story whose conclusion has yet to pass. Until it does, though, it will invoke echoes of Watergate in Americans’ ears.

Friday, March 24, 2017

The Divided GOP

Since Trump's inauguration on January 20, he has largely failed to translate his campaign promises into legislation and policy. However, since his earliest media coverage on the campaign trail, he has succeeded in exposing previously suppressed viewpoints. For example, those viewpoints which oppose immigration, be it for fear of job security or for fear of the US relinquishing its identity as a majority-white nation, are largely being subdued in a progressive country. Considering that the Republican party controls every branch of government, it seems it shouldn't be hard to advance the Republican agenda. But, it is not so simple.

The truth is, there is more than one Republican agenda. First, Trump strives to represent those voices that have previously been silenced in Washington. For example, I was listening to The Daily podcast, a daily news podcast from the New York Times, in which a coal miner was being interviewed. He asserted that, despite the fact that science and advancements in technology may suggest otherwise, there is a future for the coal industries. Trump carried Wisconsin, Michigan, and other states whose citizens are concerned blue collar workers -- concerned that they are being left in the dust in a technologically-advancing world. He promised, albeit implicitly, to preserve their conception of the US as a white nation. He failed, however, in passing his immigration ban. Perhaps this is why his approval rating is at an all-time low of 35%. Supposedly, that is Trump's Republican agenda -- that is, to advocate for those who have been forgotten.

Establishment Republicans, most prominently Paul Ryan, have an entirely different agenda. Though it has since failed, Paul Ryan attempted to replace the Affordable Care Act with his own bill dubbed "TrumpCare," which was criticized for being too much like Obamacare. Additionally, there is the House Freedom Caucus, an especially conservative and libertarian group of Republican congressmen. Trump has successfully driven a wedge through the GOP, to the point that we now see varied agendas in one party. This is why John Cornyn and Steve Scalise, the Senate and House majority whips, fail to collect the votes necessary to create policy. If Trump had chosen to make his first initiative bipartisan, perhaps infrastructure, rather than replacing the Affordable Care Act, he would have taken a step in the direction of unification. Instead, the party seems to be in shambles -- or, at the least, disunified.

Meanwhile, the defeated Democratic party is successfully rallying to oppose and halt Republican legislature. Most recently, Chuck Schumer secured enough votes to filibuster Trump's Supreme Court Appointment, Neil Gorsuch. The current state of the GOP is not conducive to a successful re-election campaign for Trump in 2020.

Monday, January 23, 2017

End of Unit: Immigration

There are a few things that struck me about this unit. First, this unit was quite timely, as its conclusion fell in the same week as the inauguration of a candidate whose nationalist platform - literally, "Make America Great Again" - is based upon rigid immigration policy.  As I mentioned in last year's post about past empires, it is this relevance which makes a history class intriguing for students.

Second, I thought it was appropriate to look at the immigration debate through the lens of its winners and losers, rather than immigrants and natives. In past years, it has been unskilled native workers whose employment was threatened by immigrants. However, it should be noted that as immigrants education level rises, doctors and computer scientists may be as threatened by immigrants as farmers and factory workers. That said, it is still the majority demographic (white men, in the USA) that will feel their nation's identity threatened by immigrants, and it is precisely those people who elected a nationalist president who will fight to salvage their vision of the USA.

Obviously, the ultimate question regarding immigration is how inclusive we should be with our borders. Still, even as an American citizen, I feel uncomfortable answering that question - who am I to say whether or not a Mexican family is deserving of American citizenship? That said, it must be answered in order to ensure our country's security. As to whose duty it is to answer it, I don't know.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Immigration Post

I've enjoyed this immigration unit thus far, primarily because it is a topic of which I know very little, aside from what I've learned from my own experience. Unlike abortion or income tax rates, immigration is not an issue which divides political parties. Rather, politicians of all sorts are striving to strike a balance between welcoming immigrants and controlling the frequency with which they come.

So far, the materials we've studied - the immigration film, the Unsettled Journeys series, the “Truth about Mexican-Americans” article - are all sources that inspire sympathy in the viewer/reader. As many others surely did, I felt an impulse to invite immigrants and refugees openly into our country. I know many immigrants well - legal and illegal, family friends and contractors, schoolmates and adults -, and these personal connections only strengthen this impulse I felt. It seems odd to me that descendants of immigrants who came to America in search of monetary gain and religious freedom would deny that same opportunity to those who seek it some hundreds of years later.

Since I've been very little, my own personal connection with immigrants has been an important part of my life. My parents hired a couple undocumented Guatemalan immigrants, Juan and Silvia, to clean our house and do yard work. They became family friends, and we went to the funeral when the husband died of liver cancer. I remain friends with Valentin, a French student who went to Friends for 4 years and visits every year. My parents are the godparents of Juliana, the daughter of a Venezuelan man named Wilmer who works as a contractor, and with whom we've had many “Venezuelan cookouts.” My mom is best friends with a Pakistani immigrant, who belongs to a royal family in Pakistan, yet abandoned her home country to allow her daughter more opportunity in the US. My life would change for the worse if any or all of these people were deported.

But that is only one side of the argument. I know nothing of the correlation between extensive immigration and unemployment, cultural change, and crime rates. If any of this holds true, it is hard to blame reactionary voters who feel their country is being overrun by immigrants, and therefore elected Trump. My own experience does little to resolve the balance that must be strike between welcoming and exclusion, besides from the fact that it seems callous and cruel to separate and deport families. That said, where do you draw the line between inclusion and exclusion?

Friday, November 6, 2015

Why should we care about past empires?

While there is value in learning of dynasties and empires in the 16th century, we go about it in the wrong way. Students, by nature, are reluctant to grasp concepts which are largely irrelevant to them, and the way history courses are being taught now, this seems to be the case. Lectures and readings regarding the spread of Islam, the conquest of Malacca, and the Columbian Exchange often go in one ear and out the other, primarily because there is no connection to modern times. Secondly, students get bogged down in dates, names, and details, and consequently lose sight of the larger themes and takeaways of the material. In other words, knowing that the Portuguese conquered Malacca in 1511 does nobody any good; however, learning that the Safavid Empire butted heads with the Ottomans, creating the Sunni/Shia divide which spurs the conflicts the students hear about on the evening news. These connections with modern times, for the most part lacking in our history courses, reveal information that is relevant to the students. Not only should the curriculum include these connections, it should be based upon them.

In summation, informing students about the way the world was centuries ago is only important if the students can see a clear cause and effect relationship, explaining to and informing students of the way the world is now.