Remember the First Presidential Debate – Where Our Presidential Candidates Stand

The first presidential debate between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden took place on September 29, 2020. The 90-minute debate featured a series of bitter exchanges and name-calling as Moderator Chris Wallace of Fox struggled to facilitate the conversation. Wallace repeatedly admonished the president for disregarding debate rules and interrupting Biden’s speaking time. A “will you shut up, man…It’s hard to get any word in with this clown” from Biden serves as a recap of how the night went and resonates with many of the American people.

Among the six debate topics, the issue of race and violence in our cities was prompted followed by a question to gauge each candidate’s ability to combat race issues. In response, Trump claimed that he was better suited than Biden to eliminate these issues and is “doing better than any Republican has done in a long time” – an opinion that is unpopular among Black and Brown voters. The President also referenced the 1994 Crime Bill, a controversial piece of legislation that reinforced punitive responses to deter crime and incentivized states to build more prisons. In an effort to weaken Biden’s arguments, Trump accused Biden of referring to Black people as superpredators. Biden refuted Trump’s accusations with the statement “I did not say that. I’ve never said that.”

Fact- Check: Did Biden Call Black People Superpredators?

According to NBC News, Trump’s accusation was “mostly false.” In fact, it was Hillary Clinton, the former United States Secretary of State, who used the term in support of the 1994 Crime Bill. However, Biden, a co-author of the law, did warn of “predators” in a 1993 floor speech he delivered in support of the bill. According to Biden’s speech in 1993, predators were “beyond the pale” and must be sanctioned away from the rest of society because the criminal legal system does not know how to rehabilitate them. Since then, Biden has publicly apologized for his past stance on criminal legal issues and admitted that the decisions made in that era “trapped an entire generation.”

The term “superpredator” was coined in 1996 by John Dilulio, a Princeton professor who predicted that a wave of ruthless, violent young offenders was on the horizon. According to Dilulio’s theory, these young people were so impulsive that they could engage in violent crimes without hesitation or remorse. A 1997 report published by the Office of Justice Programs at the U.S. Department of Justice found that juvenile courts in the United States processed more than 1.7 million delinquency cases in 1995, a 7-percent increase over the 1994 caseload and a 45-percent increase over the number of caseloads handled in 1986. Compounding an influx of juvenile proceedings was significant research suggesting a strong relationship between childhood adversity and involvement with the juvenile or adult criminal systems. Eventually, public officials supported Dilulio’s theory, which resulted in tough-on-crime policies for young and adult offenders across the country. 

While it is true that incarceration rates were already high by 1994, the passage of the federal crime bill disproportionately impacted communities of color. The bill exacerbated racial and ethnic disparities in state prisons by deploying more police into neighborhoods of color. Considered “one of the cornerstone statutes that accelerated mass incarceration,” a combination of more prisons, racial profiling, and mandatory minimum sentencing funneled a generation of Black and Brown people into the juvenile and criminal legal system. Today, The United States and federal prison population has increased since 1994 and widened racial disparities. According to a 2020 data analysis, more than 60% of people in prison today are people of color and Black men are six times as likely to be incarcerated as white men, with Hispanic men being 2.7 times as likely. Consistent with both candidates’ remarks, the Black and Brown community continues to bear the harshest brunt of discriminatory policies and practices. 

Fight the Fake: The Importance of Fact-Checking and How to Recognize A False Claim

In a world with unlimited access to social media and the internet, fact-checking is conducive to making informed voting decisions. Making informed voting decisions means that an individual is knowledgeable about the topics and positions of candidates who are running for office. Additionally, it means that an individual is able to make their own decisions without influence from outside factors, including misinformation found online. Acknowledging that fact-checking is not always an easy task, especially with constant, savvy efforts against it and persuasive content, here are five ways to combat misinformation and cast informed votes:

  • Detect whether the statement is a claim of fact.
    • When a statement that you heard jumps out to you, ask yourself if it is a claim of fact. It’s important to note that opinion, rhetoric, and satire have a place in public debate. Although you can not fact-check opinion, fact-checkable claims can be easily spotted. Sometimes, these claims feature tangible nouns (housing or insurance), numbers, and comparisons (“the economy is doing better under my administration”), and they also contain statements about what a candidate has achieved.
  • Think about the context of the claim.
    • It may be helpful to ask yourself what the claim leaves out. When a candidate claims to have influenced massive economic growth, for example, it’s important to look into the status of the economy before the candidate was elected into office.
  • Find reliable sources to test the validity of the claim.
    • Depending on the claim you are fact-checking, the best sources may be government-run websites and records, peer-reviewed articles with large sample sizes, or well-known organizations with credibility such as The Commission on Presidential Debates.
  • Is the candidate claiming credit that is not due?
    • Another misleading trick is to claim credit for something that was the result of another elected official’s agenda. If an elected official claims that they combated systemic issues while in office, it’s worthwhile to dig deeper to see who was responsible for the specific changes they are referring to. 
  • Accept that you’ll have critics.
    • Lastly, it’s important to recognize that you will have critics. As you know, everyone is entitled to their opinion even if it is different than your own. However, that does not mean you have to conform- you have the autonomy to make decisions based on your lived experiences. 

All in all, ignore the Twitter and Facebook trolls and make informed decisions for you and your loved ones. Despite how advanced and easily accessible information is on TV, social media, and the internet, it is ultimately up to you to remain vigilant and seek the truth.

Americans are Voting Early and Making Plans to Ensure Their Vote Counts

The first of three presidential debates touched on many hot topics, with President Donald Trump and presidential candidate Joe Biden having an impassioned debate over the integrity of the 2020 election. While President Trump has been very vocal in the past about voter fraud, he claimed that mail-in voting fraud is a particular concern this year. In addition to voter fraud, Trump also claimed that mail-in ballots are being thrown out and that the number of mail-in ballots will overload the systems currently in place for receiving and counting votes.

With the current COVID-19 pandemic, nearly 75% of voters have the ability to vote by mail for the upcoming general election. During the debate, as well as on twitter, Trump said that there are 80 million mail-in ballots being sent to people who did not request them and declared it “unfair” and “total fraud.” While a few states do automatically send out mail-in ballots to voters, there is no way that this would add up to the proclaimed 80 million ballots. The accusation of fraud by mail-in has been shown to be unfounded, and The Brennan Center for Justice has put together a compilation of independent and government research that shows that voter fraud is rare. How rare? Between 0.0003% and 0.0025% of votes in various past elections. In fact, from 2000 to 2012, there were only 2,068 cases of voter fraud, with only 24% of those being related to mail-in ballots. Despite his concerns, Trump has cast his vote by mail-in ballot in the past.

During the debate over the integrity of this year’s election, presidential candidate Joe Biden cited the FBI, whose director has said that there has been no evidence of any type of coordinated voter fraud. Biden said that mail-in ballots are necessary this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and reaffirmed the idea that they are safe and secure. Biden noted that people can still vote in person, and urged the people watching to make sure they do vote this year. He also brought up the fact that the military has been using mail-in ballots since the Civil War.

While mail-in voting has had a strong and lengthy history in the U.S. for military members, the process works a bit differently for the general population. All states routinely offer absentee ballots, often used by college students, military members, and others who are not able to visit their polling location on election day. Due to COVID-19, more than 30 states have allowed residents to request absentee mail-in ballots without a specific reason. There are also five states (Oregon, Washington, Colorado, Utah, and Hawaii) that have been regularly using all mail-in voting without issue.

This year, many people are not comfortable voting in person, with some studies showing that almost 50% of people are uncomfortable with the idea. This is to be expected due to the ongoing fluctuation of COVID-19 cases throughout the country. Another unique challenge that is impacting the voters of the US this year is the ongoing conflict between Trump and the USPS. Trump has admitted to blocking funding that the USPS needs to maintain its operations, and has mentioned “fraudulent” mail-in voting as part of his reasoning. People residing in states that are allowing absentee ballots due to COVID-19 are encouraged to request and return their mail-in ballots as early as they can.

On top of the barriers caused by Trump’s interference, many states have strict voter ID laws, registration rules, and few physical polling locations. Voter ID laws negatively impact already marginalized groups of people, including people of color, low-income individuals, and young people. Without an ID, you cannot vote, but many people do not have the time, resources, or funds to acquire a state-issued ID. In recent years, various southern states have closed a combined total of over 1,200 polling locations, further adding to the barriers citizens face when trying to cast their votes. The closed polling locations have predominantly impacted people of color and people living in low-income communities, which have seen the most polling location closures.

Mail-in voting can be beneficial for those who have seen their previous polling locations close, as well as people who may experience challenges voting in person. Although polling places are supposed to follow the guidelines set forth in the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), approximately 60% of polling places were inaccessible for people with various disabilities in past elections. People living with certain disabilities are also at higher risk for serious complications if they contract COVID-19. For these reasons, mail-in voting is an important tool that Americans living with disabilities need access to this year.

Mail-in ballots have been a part of voting in the U.S. since the 1800s, and they will continue to be an integral part of the election system for the foreseeable future. With more states moving towards all-mail voting systems, the evidence is clear – mail-in voting is safe and it works. Remember, over 30 states have allowed their residents to request absentee ballots without a reason, making it easier than ever to vote in the 2020 presidential election. You can visit vote.gov and select your state to find out how to register to vote and check your voter status.

Make sure you check out your state’s specific voting page for accurate information on voting by mail, as it varies from state to state. If you live in a state that is not allowing you to vote by mail in this election, this website can tell you if your state requires your employer to give you time off to go vote in person. To make sure you have all the resources to vote, Michelle Obama, Tom Hanks, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Janelle Monae, Chris Paul, Faith Hill, and Tim McGraw created When We All Vote, which offers a Voter Resources Hub full of information specific to where you live. Knowledge is power, and this year, more than ever, it is important to know your voting rights and make sure your voice is heard in the 2020 election.

The President’s “Enemy” Rhetoric and the Press

President Trump’s declarations that the press is the “enemy of the American people,” accompanied by overt hostile acts, are not merely different in degree but different in kind from the tensions and antagonisms with the media that have punctuated many previous presidencies, according to two Utah law professors.

RonNell Andersen Jones of the University of Utah’s S.J. Quinney College of Law and Lisa Grow Sun of Brigham Young University’s J. Reuben Clark Law School argue in a new paper that Trump has engaged in classic “Schmittian” enemy construction that diminishes the watchdog, educator and proxy functions of the press. In the process, Trump undermines American democracy and jeopardizes the media’s ability to act as an obstacle to the creation of other enemies — such as the judiciary, the intelligence community, people of certain races, immigrants and refugees.

The article by Jones and Sun has been accepted for publication in the winter issue of Arizona State Law Journal and is available now on the Social Science Research Network. Jones and Sun also are among a small group of scholars invited by the University of Illinois College of Law to participate in a special online law review symposium marking President Trump’s first 100 days in office at the end of April. The paper, titled “Enemy Construction and the Press,” also will be the plenary program at the Yale Freedom of Expressions Scholars Conference on April 29.

“Many presidents have, of course, had conflicts with the press. But we think the evidence is overwhelming that Trump is engaged in something more substantial and more troubling than his predecessors,” Jones said. “Because he appears to be on the path toward eliminating important protections for the press, we think this issue absolutely demands careful public attention.”

The authors say Trump’s dealings with the press can be mapped “remarkably neatly” onto enemy construction principles outlined by German political theorist Carl Schmitt (1888-1985). Schmitt’s ideas express the zeitgeist of the creeping national-security exceptionalism that characterized much of the Cold War and that has deepened in many quarters since 9/11.

“In the things he says, the things he does, and the things he forecasts, Trump is consistently and unrelentingly delineating the press as an enemy — an ‘other’ that threatens the political unity of the state and that ought to be distrusted, countered, and perhaps ultimately stripped of ordinarily observed rights and liberties because of this exceptional status,” the authors say.

They use Trump’s words and behavior during his campaign and since taking office to illustrate the ways he has sought to frame, delegitimize and undercut the press. That ranges from verbally attacking individual reporters and media outlets to denying access to or refusing questions at press conferences and making claims that align media interests with those of terrorists.

Trump, a prolific user of Twitter, makes many of his comments on social media. He appears to have made the calculation that the press is no longer a necessary go-between to the citizenry, Jones and Sun say.

President Trump’s rhetoric positioning the press as an “enemy of the American people” comes at a time when the media is weakened by dwindling financial support and reputation, making it more vulnerable to attack, they point out.

It also may further other agendas, such as defining and unifying a political community and potential allies by refocusing discussion away from divisive social problems and internal conflicts; creating a litmus test for other potential allies and enemies; and providing convenient scapegoats for existing social problems or future policy failures.

If President Trump’s campaign to establish the press as an ‘enemy of the American people’ proves persuasive, that success may open the door to arguments that the security of the country justifies — or even requires — limitations on press freedoms and press access, Jones and Sun say.

“The press is an important institution that is absolutely central to our democracy,” Jones said. “It’s easy to lose sight of how much the media does for us, but it is mostly because of the work of journalists that all of the rest of us are able to see what our government is up to and keep our elected officials accountable.”

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