The last two weeks of July in 2016 were full of grand entrances ahead of schedule, appearances from many Trump children, semi-plagiarized speeches, more celebrities than we can count, pocket-sized US Constitutions, all the feels for Michelle’s speech and a tribute to the suffragettes. Between the eight jam-packed days of coverage, what were the most talked about topics and what do they mean for America? What actions have Congress and the states already taken related to these big issues?
Gun rights are one of the most identifiable causes for the Republican Party. Our Second Amendment states “A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.” The idea of a “well regulated militia” dates back to the beginning of the United States of America where every man in the town needed to have a gun to protect themselves not only against foreign enemies, but the government (Great Britain) at the time. The founders felt the ability of a people to overthrow their government would help keep that government in check. As Thomas Jefferson put it, “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.” Over time, this idea has transformed from protection from an oppressive government to the right to own a gun for personal protection.
In 2008, District of Columbia v. Heller the Supreme Court held that total gun bans were unconstitutional (like the ban of hand guns) but some regulation is legal. Regulations or rules are allowed regarding concealed weapons permits, the mentally ill and criminals.
Gun rights advocates believe that self-defense is a fundamental right. This right is protected across all 50 states, the US constitution and the Supreme Court has struck down laws to attempt to restrict handguns. They also believe that more people legally owning guns leads to violent crime going down. According to the NRA, “Through 2010, the nation’s murder rate has decreased 52 percent to a 47-year low, and the total violent crime rate has decreased 48 percent to a 37-year low” while the number of privately owned guns has raised to over 300 million. Finally, “where there’s a will, there’s a way.” Many people believe if it is your intent to do harm, having to obtain a gun legally will not actually deter you from committing the crime because it is so easy to obtain guns illegally in the US.
Gun control advocates think guns are dangerous for children, with 48 children and teens being shot in murders, assaults, suicides & suicide attempts, unintentional shootings and police intervention every day in the US. This Map from Slate.com depicts child fatalities from firearms since the Sandy Hook Shooting to December 2015. Child Fatalities from Firearms Since the Sandy Hook Shooting | Graphiq
Gun control advocates also believe that background checks will help keep guns out of the hands of people who should not have them including criminals, domestic abusers and seriously mentally ill people. According to Americans for Responsible Solutions, laws requiring background checks could have prevented the purchase of guns by nearly 2 million people who should not have had them. Finally, many believe the second amendment is outdated and needs to be updated due to advancements in gun technology and the fact that 75% of the mass shootings in the US in the last 30 years have been from people who obtained guns legally. Here is an pro gun control advertisement that depicts this idea:
Mississippi passed HB786 or the “Mississippi Church Protection Act”, which allows unlicensed, “constitutional carry” along with setting the foundation to reject and end new federal gun control regulations and executive orders. Following this, Tennessee introduced HB2389 which prohibits law enforcement officers of the state and its political subdivisions from enforcing provisions of international law and treaties that limit gun rights.
California made news headlines earlier this with give bills they passed and five bills they vetoed. Some of the bills passed covered topics like limitations on magazine rounds, background checks and lending guns. Bills that were vetoed included gun violence restraining orders, elimination of “ghost guns” and classifying firearm theft as a felony.
There were also five major bills that were all proposed as amendments to the Justice Department Spending Bill (HR2578). First, Amendment 4709 would give the Justice Department additional discretion in how it uses appropriated funds to conduct background checks to keep guns out of the hands of known or suspected terrorists. Second, Amendment 4751 attempts to open the lines of communication between the background check agency that Congress set up in the 1990s, the federal courts, the states and Congress to better carry out background checks along with defining what it means to be found “mentally incompetent” to buy a gun. Third, Amendment 4751 would have required a federal background check to be conducted before every gun sale in the US. Fourth, Amendment 4720 would allow the attorney general to ban anyone on FBI’s various terrorist watch lists from being able to buy guns. And finally, Amendment 4749 would require anyone on any of the FBI’s various terrorist watch lists (including the no-fly list) to wait 72 hours when attempting to purchase a gun.
From early pioneers to the industrial revolution to Syrian refugees, we have been a land of immigration from our birth. People from England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, the Netherlands, France, Sweden, Mexico, China, Africa and the rest of the world have traveled to the United States throughout history. From its beginning, the US has been a land people traveled to for a plethora of reasons, many of which still hold true today. Throughout modern history, people came here for economic opportunity, freedom of religion, freedom from prosecution and the good ol’ desire for adventure. Immigration limits first started with the Naturalization Act followed by Immigration Act after Immigration Act after Immigration Act.
Anti immigration advocates believe that immigrants take away jobs from native born Americans. They also worry that immigrants who fail to learn the English language and do not assimilate into our culture could lead to the United States loosing its national identity, unity and national security. Indeed, white people are projected to become a minority projected to occur in 2043.
Many people who argue for more control over immigration believe that immigrants (especially illegal immigrants) lead to an increase crime. They are also concerned that immigrants reap the benefits of our society (free schooling, public benefits, etc.) without paying for them in their taxes. Others fear that immigrants could upend free market institutions in our economy by being able to vote for socialist or populist candidates and laws.
Pro immigration advocates believe America was founded on immigration, and that these traditions underpin our greatest strengths as a nation. Some further believe that it is our duty to take in refugees and other immigrants in need. They argue that immigrants do many jobs that native born Americans seem less inclined to do like working in fields, housekeeping or construction work. Here is a map from Business Insider on the top jobs for immigrants throughout the 50 states.
They also believe immigrants are not just employees, but consumers who stimulate the US economy. Finally, pro immigration advocates think many anti-immigration arguments basically amount to racism.
Law and Order
Definition of law and order – “a situation characterized by respect for and obedience to the rules of a society.” Trump dubbing himself the “Law and Order Candidate” has been an incredibly important part of his platform since just before the RNC. One day of the RNC had the theme “Make America Safe Again” playing to Trump’s slogan “Make America Great Again.” Looking for a historic parallel, we see “law and order” was a big feature of the Nixon’s 1968 campaign. According to one article, at this point in time the nation “seemed like it was on fire” with King and Kennedy’s assassinations, riots sweeping through major cities and parts of the county actually being set on fire. The crime rates in the US had been at historic lows after WWII, but were clearly on the rise. This made Nixon’s promise to get “tough on crime” a welcome proposition and powerful appeal to many petrified Americans. To help compare that period of time to now, here is a graph from the Atlantic that shows the US Violent Crime Rate from 1960-2012:
For the sake of contrast for this article, I will compare the “All Lives Matter” (ALM) movement to the “Black Lives Matter” (BLM) movement to showcase the differing sides of these debates. (For a philosopher’s take on how ALM came to oppose BLM read this article.)
Many proponents of “All Lives Matter” have also adopted the mantra “Blue Lives Matter” due to perceived increasing violence against police officers. According to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, this year the number of U.S. law enforcement officers shot dead on the job is up 78 percent. Civil and social unrest have been increasing over the last few years to the point where articles titled “The U.S. Is in for Much Greater Civil Unrest Ahead” or “Social Unrest is Here to Stay: Here’s How to Protect Yourself” are common. This anti-law enforcement rhetoric is being countered by the ALM movement by with statistics like this one from Fox News “According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics from 2012 to 2013, latest available, African-Americans are responsible for 22.4 percent of all violent crimes in the U.S.A., despite being just 13 percent of the population. Whites responsible for 43 percent of violent crimes with Caucasians making up 62 percent of the population. But here’s the kicker. When you look at police shooting victims, whites comprise 50 percent of those shots, Blacks just 26 percent.” Other statistics and facts about the number of deaths of the white, hispanic and black populations can be found here.
The “Black Lives Matter” movement was started after the shooting death of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman. Since his death in 2012, BLM protestors have demonstrated against 15 different black deaths in the United States. These incidents range from Michael Brown (and the Ferguson Riots) to Eric Garner (“I Can’t Breath“) to Tamir Rice (the 12 year old with a toy gun) to Sandra Bland (stopped on a traffic violation and found dead in jail) to Alton Sterling and Philando Castile (who died within a day of each other and lead to the Dallas Sniper Attack). The Dallas Sniper Attack was the deadliest day in police history since 9/11, where a sniper gunned down police officers in downtown Dallas, shooting twelve officers and leaving five dead. This sniper was found out to have specifically sought out white officers in a retaliation attack for the deaths of Sterling and Castile.
When speaking about Dallas, Trump stated “We must maintain law and order at the highest level or we will cease to have a country. … I am the law and order candidate. Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, is weak, ineffective, pandering and as proven by her recent email scandal … she’s either a liar or grossly incompetent.” Which can be compared to Hillary Clinton’s take on the event “What happened in Dallas, what’s happening to other police officers in our country is absolutely outrageous. We have got to do much more to protect and respect the police. We have to do much more to make sure that citizens in our country, particularly African-Americans, feel respected and protected by the police.”
People using the “All Lives Matter” mantra state that by saying “all lives” they are showing colorblindness: “We were taught that we shouldn’t ‘see color.’ And saying the word ‘Black’ was an acknowledgment of the fact that we did ‘see color.’ ” The issue that the BLM movement claims to be trying to shed a light on is that the color of people being shot and treated with undo force is what matters, so being colorblind is not understanding what the moment is about. Here are some tweets to showcasing this reasoning:
Obama released a statement on how this “anti-law enforcement rhetoric” is more hurtful than helpful for the BLM movement. “Whenever those of us who are concerned about fairness in the criminal justice system attack police officers, you are doing a disservice to the cause.” Michael Jordan recently donated $1 million each to the Institute for Community-Police Relations and NAACP Legal Defense Fund stating, “As a proud American, a father who lost his own dad in a senseless act of violence, and a black man, I have been deeply troubled by the deaths of African-Americans at the hands of law enforcement and angered by the cowardly and hateful targeting and killing of police officers. I grieve with the families who have lost loved ones, as I know their pain all too well.”
Louisiana passed a “Blue Lives Matter” bill (HB953) which expanded the state’s hate crime statute to include the targeting of police officers, firefighters and EMS personnel. Texas has also introduced a similar idea, The Police Protection Act, which the Governor requested the Texas legislature to pass in the 2017 legislative session.
HR 2326, The Protecting Communities and Police Act of 2015, was introduced to direct the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Defense Logistics Agency and the Department of Justice (DOJ) to jointly appoint a task force to determine the appropriateness of the use of certain military equipment by state and local law enforcement agencies. HR 5221, the Preventing Tragedies Between Police and Communities Act of 2016, aims to create a new national standard for when police officers can use deadly force and requires police academies to teach officers de-escalation techniques — the latest in a series of measures to be proposed during the current national conversation on police reform.
The US introduced HR2302, the Police Training and Independent Review Act of 2015, which would financially penalize any police chiefs who did not order and train their officers to do everything possible to avoid opening fire during confrontations with suspects. This also relates to S2112, the Walter Scott Notification Act, which requires a state that receives funding under the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant (JAG) program to report certain data on deadly shootings by law enforcement officers. It reduces by 10% the JAG allocation of a state that fails to comply.
The BALTIMORE Act (S 1610) aims to help communities all over the nation by Building And Lifting Trust In order to Multiply Opportunities and Racial Equality.
Obamacare (the Affordable Care Act) made universal healthcare a reality for the United States. The “right” of universal health insurance in the US is something many democrats believe in. These stories of American’s struggle with healthcare coverage is the precise reason many believe it is a right. The right to health is an internationally recognized human right. This graph shows the rate of uninsured Americans from 2010-2014. According to Forbes, America’s uninsured rate dropped below 10% for the first time ever in 2015.
Freedom Partners reported that health insurance premiums have increased faster than wages and inflation in recent years, rising an average of 28 percent from 2009 to 2014 despite the enactment of Obamacare. This could be an partially due to minimum wage not increasing, but nevertheless rising health insurance premiums was much of the impetus behind Obamacare. During his campaign, Ted Cruz made this claim, “You know who one of those millions of Americans who’s lost their health care because of Obamacare? That would be me. I don’t have health care right now.” This has since been disproved; however, it brings up a valid point that many insurance companies are getting out of the business to avoid bankruptcy.
Opponents to universal healthcare state that the right to healthcare is not supported by the founding documents of the United States, it could increase the US debt and deficit, it would increase the wait time and quality for medical services. Another big fear is that universal healthcare is a step closer toward socialism and raising taxes substantially. There is also concern about the supply of doctors and medicine when the demand for them increases.
Proponents to universal healthcare think the founding documents do support health care by stating that all men have “unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness,” which most certainly entails having the healthcare needed to preserve life and pursue happiness. Not only does universal healthcare save lives by allowing more people to seek treatment, universal healthcare could also lower the average cost of healthcare in the US. The country will perform better when its citizens are in good health, thus improving efficiency and the economy. Medical bankruptcies are very real in the US (for example 62% of all US bankruptcies were related to medical expenses in 2007) and a world where people have to start go-fund-me pages to stay alive is not a place many people want to live in. Some companies and doctors have already started a trend toward giving people free help when they need it for instances like mental illness or addiction treatment.
The most notable healthcare bill was HR3762, the Restoring Americans’ Healthcare Freedom Reconciliation Act of 2015, which would have repealed key sections of President Obama’s healthcare law and stop taxpayer funds going to Planned Parenthood. This bill was introduced amid the government shutdown in September 2015, but was vetoed by Obama. There are many bills aimed reducing or repealing Obamacare like the Obamacare Repeal Act, the Obamacare Opt-Out Act, and more.
Colorado recently proposed Amendment 69, or the ColoradoCare Measure, which would enable people to no longer pay individual premiums, deductibles or most co-pays. It would be funded through a new 10 percent payroll deduction (employers would pay about 7% and employees would cover the rest). People would still choose their own medical providers but their bills would be paid by the state itself.
Florida introduced and passed seven different healthcare reform bills this year. These bills range from cutting costs by eliminating the administrative hassles of the third-party payer system to eliminating unnecessary regulations on ambulatory surgical centers to expanding the scope of practice for advanced registered nurse practitioners and physician assistants to give patients greater access to care.
Arizona introduced HB 2309, the Children’s health insurance program, which would allow Arizona to tap federal funding to restore the KidsCare program. Virginia Governor vetoed HB685 which would have allowed for direct primary care agreements by excluding them from insurance laws and regulations. New York passed S5972 to expand health insurance access to pregnant New Yorkers. The measure would permit pregnant women to enroll in the state health insurance exchange at any time during their pregnancy – making New York the first state in the nation to make pregnancy a “qualifying life event” in order to obtain health insurance benefits.
A GOP bill, The Health Savings Act, would make health savings accounts and healthcare flexible spending accounts more consumer-friendly. Rhode Island’s H7512 is targeted at helping cancer patients. It would mandate that health insurance providers cannot exclude coverage of prescription drugs for life-threatening diseases not approved by the FDA if those drugs are recognized for their treatment capabilities in medical literature. California passed SB10 which allows the state to formally ask the federal government to allow some immigrants to buy insurance through Covered California, without cost to the state or federal government. Virginia passed SB437 to make it easier for military medics and corpsmen to transition into hospital healthcare after they leave the service.
And, perhaps the most fought for bill, the 9/11 First Responders, or James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Reauthorization Act, passed this year with the help of Jon Swart. This Act allocated $4.2 billion to create the World Trade Center Health Program, which provides testing and treatment for people who worked in response and recovery operations as well as for other survivors of the 9/11 attacks.
Proponents for equality based movements and legislation believe equality should be one of the most revered values in American culture, that it should be considered an inherent part of our most celebrated value, freedom. To progressives, living in the “land of the free” means you are free to have a fair life, express yourself (religion, sexuality, culture, etc.) and still have equal access to the plethora of opportunities in our country while being treated with basic human decency and respect. Their constant desire to expand freedom can be seen in many civil rights movements we’ve experienced over the last 70 years. These movements range from the first civil rights movement for people of color to sex equality to religion beliefs to racial justice to disability rights to LGBTQ rights. Movements for equality do not only pertain to the hot topic issues we always hear about, but also healthcare, access to education, familial status and others.
Proponents for equality based movements and legislation state that “all men are created equal” means just that – everyone has the right to be treated equally and have the same opportunities. This ties in items like the legalization of gay marriage, the equal rights amendment, non-discrimination protections and other equality driven initiatives. They believe there is still a very long way to go until America really is a land of equality. Interestingly, Donald Trump too called for a new ideological test for admission to the US that would entail vetting applicants partially on their opinions on key equality issues like religious freedom, gender equality and LGBTQ rights.
Currently, these 32 states still do not have fully inclusive non-discrimination protections, according to HRC.org.
Conservatives are not necessarily “opponents” of equality, but may not think it is of paramount importance, or at least that we should proceed cautiously and make sure the rights of one group are not unfairly impinging on the rights of other groups. They see much of the equality oriented legislation as contradicting many of the beliefs the country was built on, and even as unconstitutional. Some conservatives also believe that it is actually progressive ideals and actions that drive inequality in the US; whether that be trying make privileges into rights, driving income inequality, failing to improve schools, or by creating wedges between people and tearing the nation apart.
The US introduced the Equality Act in 2015, which would provide consistent and explicit anti-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people across key areas of life, including employment, housing, jury service, public spaces and services, education and federally funded programs (California also proposed an Equality Act). The US attempted to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act (HR1619) which would have added procedural protections to the Equal Pay Act of 1963 and the Fair Labor Standards Act as part of an effort to address the gender pay gap in the United States. Ivanka Trump’s speech at the RNC appealed to women’s rights, focusing on equal pay. Equality for women is not only equal pay, but others issues – like access to healthcare and contraceptives. The US introduced HR742 to entitle additional female beneficiaries and dependents to care related to the prevention of pregnancy.
Take a look at these bills from across the nation that pertain to protecting historically discriminated groups of people:
California introduced SB1063, the Wage Equality Act of 2016, which seeks to expand pay equity requirements beyond sex to include race and ethnicity. California also passed many symbolic bills pertaining to recognizing historically discriminated groups of people: Black History Month, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Women’s Equality Day and Day of Inclusion.
Massachusetts introduced S983 which would prohibit recruiters from asking prospective hires their salary histories, so that being underpaid early in one’s career doesn’t permanently impair one’s earnings potential. New Jersey Governor, Chris Christie, vetoed an equal pay bill (S992) which would have prohibited an employer from paying one sex less than the other for “substantially similar” work. Employers would be allowed to pay an unequal rate only if they can demonstrate it’s based on factors other than sex, such as training, education, experience or production quality (which I think makes sense).
Arizona attempted to pass HB2090 which would have prohibited not only marriage between parents, siblings, aunts, and uncles but also make marriage between persons of the same sex “void and prohibited”, while allowing first cousins may marry if both are sixty-five years of age or older.
Making the Justice System More Fair
Flaws in our justice system and fair sentencing due to racial profiling have been an incredibly important aspect of this election. This section covers some of the same ground as the “Law and Order” section above, where race tensions in America are playing a huge role. Racial profiling “refers to the discriminatory practice by law enforcement official of targeting individuals for suspicion of crime based on the individual’s race, ethnicity, religion or national origin.”
This graph from the Committee to Elect Hillary Clinton shows the likelihood of a person born in 2001 to be incarcerated:
Recently, Brock Turner made headlines for a vicious sexual assault. Many believe his sentencing was not harsh enough for the crime. This issue was further invigorated when a story broke that the same judge, Aaron Persky, handed down a much harsher sentencing to a latino man who committed a similar crime (think three years in prison vs. six months). There are also issues with racially profiling muslims in order to “stop terrorist attacks” in the US. A Bollywood star visiting the US recently was detained at US immigration every time he visits. Inventions like “blinding” technologies for the courtroom to protect against different types of profiling (black, women, obese, attractive, etc) are in the works.
Advocates who want to end racial profiling state that it is unreasonable to not acknowledge the impact of race on stops, arrests and sentencing. They believe racial profiling is racist, unethical, increases racial tensions and that there is not enough statistical proof to support doing it. The driving record of Philander Castile, for example, raised questions about racial profiling when it was found that he was accused of more than 50 violations and cited by police at least 31 times, bringing to mind the phrase “driving while black“.
The other side is again are not necessarily in favor racial profiling, but instead have differing views of how this issue affects the United States and our citizens. These advocates believe that racial profiling is a practical way to increases security, decreases costs and is has a sound basis in fact. Statistically, certain ethnicities are indeed more likely to commit certain types of crimes. Some police officers who have been accused of racial profiling think racial profiling is a false narrative that has been perpetuated by the media.
The US introduced the End Racial Profiling Act (HR1933) which would prohibit federal, state and local law enforcement from targeting a person based on actual or perceived race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, gender, gender identity or sexual orientation without trustworthy information that is relevant to linking a person to a crime. The bill requires law enforcement to maintain adequate policies and procedures designed to eliminate profiling, including increased data collection in order to accurately assess the extent of the problem. The bill also requires training for law enforcement officials on issues of profiling and mandates the creation of procedures for receiving, investigating and responding to complaints of alleged profiling.
California introduced AB953 which would primarily accomplish three things:
- Update California’s definition of racial and identity profiling to be in line with federal recommendations by including other demographic characteristics, such as gender and sexual orientation.
- Require that California law enforcement agencies uniformly collect and report data on stops, frisks and other interactions with the communities they serve
- Establish an advisory board to analyze stop data and develop recommendations to address problems with disparate policing where they exist.
Wisconsin introduced two bills. AB450 would allow police to ask a person charged with a crime about his or her immigration status and detain undocumented people for deportation. SB533 would block counties statewide from issuing local identification cards to people who cannot access state ID.
Missouri introduced the Fair and Impartial Policing Act (HB2273) which would require law enforcement to report additional information, including data on pedestrian stops and consent searches. Indiana introduced HB1027 which prohibits a law enforcement agency or a law enforcement officer from engaging in racial profiling or conducting pretextual stops while requiring cultural diversity awareness training and training on unlawful racial profiling and pretextual stops.
Iowa introduced HF495 which establishes a citizens’ review boards to review racial profiling by security agents and requiring peace officers to wear body cameras. Arizona’s “toughest sheriff in the country” was found in contempt of federal court because he and three of his employees violated a federal court order meant to curtail racial profiling latinos in his agency. A New Jersey Police Chief also may face a demotion for violating the Attorney General’s guidelines against racial profiling.
What are your thoughts on these six issues? Do you think there is a way for us to come to an agreement on policies to address all of these issues, or are we too polarized to ever solve them? Do you think these will still be the big issues come the time of the debates?