• The Last Frontier of Disenfranchisement: Felons and Voting Rights in America

    The Last Frontier of Disenfranchisement: Felons and Voting Rights in America

    Opinion by Samuel Marks

    Read this article and more in our Spring 2023 Innovation edition, on campus now!

    The history of disenfranchisement in the United States is vast and extensive. Disenfranchisement is defined as “to deprive of a franchise, of a legal right, or of some privilege or immunity, especially to deprive of the right to vote” (“Defranchise”). When the United States was founded, franchise, or the right to vote, was quite restricted. Upon the creation and ratification of the Constitution in 1787, only a sliver of the population was deemed eligible to vote. The first citizens granted franchise consisted of exclusively white, land-owning men who comprised a mere 6% of the country’s population (“Voting Rights Throughout”; “Voting Rights: A Short History” 2019).

    Over the course of American history, there have been efforts to ensure all citizens have the right to vote. However, there is still one final group in the United States that has been unfairly disenfranchised: former felons. The history of felon disenfranchisement has its roots in the nascent formation of the country. For example, Kentucky passed criminal disenfranchisement laws as early as 1792. However, following the Civil War, criminal disenfranchisement became a particularly popular method as a deliberate means of unfairly disenfranchising African Americans. These new disenfranchisement efforts were used in tandem with the increase of the significant and spurious number of felony charges that specifically targeted African Americans (Kelly 2017; Ghandnoosh 2021).

    Since then, the issue of felon disenfranchisement has been at the forefront of several concerted efforts, beginning as early as the Civil Rights Movement. With the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the ratification of the 24th Amendment (banning poll taxes), many disenfranchisement efforts to weaken the African American vote were diminished. This resulted in a re-emphasis on the efforts of felon disenfranchisement of African Americans by many states, particularly in the South and West. This was viewed as the “last” means of preventing African Americans from voting; this has often been referred to as the “New Jim Crow” method/argument for disenfranchising African Americans (Eubank and Fresh 2022).

    The right of states to disenfranchise felons was guaranteed by the 1974 Supreme Court case Richardson v. Ramirez. In this case, the Court found that felon disenfranchisement, both during and after time served, was not unconstitutional nor a violation of the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause (Schrader 2009). This left the decision of whether to grant felons and former felons the right to vote on a state-by-state basis. 

    Felon disenfranchisement has resulted in an estimated 6.1 million people being barred from the right to vote. Of that figure, 4.7 million of them are living among us—working, paying taxes, and leading a normal life (Ghandnoosh 2021). The significance of this issue is that it unfairly targets African Americans. This targeting is so pervasive and disproportionate that 1-in-13 African Americans are ineligible to vote due to these disenfranchisement efforts. Furthermore, this issue is so prevalent that, in certain states, the figure increases to 1-in-5 African Americans (Ghandnoosh 2021).

    Felon disenfranchisement inherently weakens the overall minority vote. Minority votes become diminished in cases of felon disenfranchisement, due to the fact that felons count toward the population total, resulting in greater representation, despite the inability to select such representation. The resulting effect is that minority votes are undervalued when compared to that of white, non-felon, voters in the same district (Bowers and Preuh 2009). This is similarly reminiscent of the concept of the 3/5ths Compromise (where African American slaves were counted as 3/5ths of a person for the method of determining representation in the House of Representatives), as disenfranchised felons count towards representative means without the right to contribute. Therefore, the minority votes are weakened, devalued, and diminished—specifically, African American votes. 

    It is important to note that since 2018, great strides have been made toward felon reenfranchisement. However, in many cases, these efforts are still genuinely poor and/or absent (Felony Disenfranchisement Laws 2022). On the spectrum of felon disenfranchisement, there are four key groupings that roughly categorize the efforts of the individual states. On the most extreme side of the spectrum is full felon disenfranchisement, regardless of the circumstances; this includes release from incarceration, parole, probation, and even full freedom. This set includes states such as Virginia and Kentucky, which enacted permanent disenfranchisement of felons. The next grouping of states maintains semblances of, but not absolute, disenfranchisement for felons, and widely varies state-to-state. This set includes states such as Florida, Alabama, and Arizona. The third grouping of states upholds disenfranchisement only for those currently incarcerated, who become reenfranchised upon release—a system where people currently in prison cannot vote and everyone else can (Felony Disenfranchisement Laws 2022). This set includes states such as California, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York. The final grouping of states (and territories) grants full enfranchisement to all its residents; everyone, including felons currently serving their sentences. This set includes states/territories such as Maine, Vermont, and the District of Columbia (Felony Disenfranchisement Laws 2022).

    The overwhelming evidence of the disparities in felon disenfranchisement, which bars citizens from a basic, inalienable right, points to a need for reenfranchisement efforts. Therefore, the soundest recommendation is to ensure that all states, at a minimum, grant the right to vote to anyone currently not incarcerated. The equitable, non-arbitrary deliberation in regaining the right to vote calls for the innovative requirement that all states move towards the aforementioned third grouping of states (disenfranchisement only for felons currently incarcerated) (Felony Disenfranchisement Laws 2022).

    The first innovative policy recommendation to ensure reenfranchisement for former felons is via state-wide initiatives. Initiatives, or ballot initiatives, are “a specified number of voters petitioning to invoke a popular vote on a proposed law or an amendment to a Constitution” (“Referendum and Initiative” 2023). There are several benefits associated with this method of reenfranchising former felons. The primary one is that an initiative, such as an amendment to a state’s constitution, can circumvent states led by Republican majorities (Morse 2021). This is a particularly salient caveat, as many Republican-led states have demonstrated that they are not inclined to support felon enfranchisement efforts, given the political reality that a majority of former and current felons are likely to support Democrats (Morse 2021). Furthermore, according to a 2018 Pew Research Center poll, a majority of Americans support reenfranchisement efforts, regardless of political affiliation (Ghandnoosh 2021). 

    A second innovative policy recommendation for the reenfranchisement of former felons is through executive orders from state governors. An executive order, in this context, is “a directive issued by a governor that regulates operations of the state government and certain aspects of citizen life” (“Governors’ Powers & Authority”). There are several benefits to this method. The first is its relative simplicity, as it only requires a governor to sign an executive order that reenfranchises former felons. For example, in 2018, former New York Governor Cuomo signed Executive Order 181 to restore the voting rights to all former felons released from prison (initially excluding those on parole, but that provision was eventually rectified with later state government legislation) (“Executive Order #181” 2018). This circumvents the laborious political procedures and administrative processes required by initiatives, which mandate obtaining petition signatures at multiple levels. Additionally, there are also frequent challenges to the specific language of such amendments. Finally, this circumvents the requirement of a supermajority vote by the population for an initiative to be successfully added. 

    Another benefit behind this particular recommendation is its relative speed. To pass an executive order is a far more streamlined effort while having the benefit of reducing an expected time horizon. This is in contrast to initiatives, where the political campaigning and the adherence to the administrative procedures/frequently cumbersome bureaucratic processes for initiatives are time-consuming and financially demanding.

    In conclusion, the disenfranchisement of former felons, the final significant disenfranchisement in the United States (excluding Puerto Rican disenfranchisement as an entirely different issue), needs to end. The clear and deliberate targeting of African Americans, using felon disenfranchisement efforts, is deplorable and must be eliminated. There are incalculable harms presented through former felon disenfranchisement, but most prominently through their marginalization, specifically as active members of a democratic society. Furthermore, the advantages received by becoming reenfranchised, specifically in lowering recidivism and bolstering positive social norms, are supremely important. 

    Samuel Marks is a senior political science major from Poughkeepsie, NY. He is planning to get his Master’s in Public Administration and a Juris Doctor degree. Sam has previously written on politics in the past and has had papers published. He likes to run, watch the Mets and Jets, and anime. Sam also has a unique upbringing, as he grew up in Asia for 13 years, which gives him a unique insight into the global political sphere.


    Bowers, Melanie and Robert Preuhs. 2009. “Collateral Consequences of a Collateral Penalty: The Negative Effect of Felon Disenfranchisement Laws on the Political Participation of Nonfelons.” Social Science Quarterly, 90(3): 722–743. www.jstor.org/stable/42940613.

    “Disenfranchise.” Merriam-Webster Dictionary. www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/disenfranchise.

    Eubank, Nicholas and Adriane Fresh. 2022. “Enfranchisement and Incarceration after the 1965 Voting Rights Act.” The American Political Science Review, 116(3): 791–806. doi.org/10.1017/S0003055421001337.

    “Executive Order #181.” 2018. Office of the Governor of New York. www.governor.ny.gov/sites/default/files/atoms/files/EO_181.pdf.

    “Felony Disenfranchisement Laws.” 2022. American Civil Liberties Union. www.aclu.org/issues/voting-rights/voter-restoration/felony-disenfranchisement-laws-map.

    Ghandnoosh, Nazgol. 2021. “Voting Rights In The Era of Mass Incarceration: A Primer.” The Sentencing Project, July 28. www.sentencingproject.org/policy-brief/voting-rights-in-the-era-of-mass-incarceration-a-primer/.

    “Governors’ Powers & Authority.” National Governors Association. www.nga.org/governors/powers-and-authority/

    Kelly, Erin. 2017. “Racism & Felony Disenfranchisement: An Intertwined History.” Brennan Center for Justice, May 9. www.brennancenter.org/our-work/research-reports/racism-felony-disenfranchisement-intertwined-history.

    Morse, Michael. 2021. “The Future of Felon Disenfranchisement Reform: Evidence from the Campaign to Restore Voting Rights in Florida.” California Law Review, 109(3): 1143–1198. ssrn.com/abstract=3875714.

    “Referendum and Initiative.” 2023. Encyclopædia Britannica, March 1. www.britannica.com/topic/referendum.

    Schrader, John B. 2009. “Reawakening ‘privileges or immunities’: an originalist blueprint for invalidating state felon disenfranchisement laws.” Vanderbilt Law Review, 62(4): 1285–1314. scholarship.law.vanderbilt.edu/vlr/vol62/iss4/5.

    “Voting Rights Throughout United States History.” National Geographic Education. education.nationalgeographic.org/resource/voting-rights-throughout-history.

    “Voting Rights: A Short History.” 2019. Carnegie Corporation of New York, November 18. www.carnegie.org/our-work/article/voting-rights-timeline/.

  • An Argument for Abolishing the New York State Senate

    An Argument for Abolishing the New York State Senate

    Opinion by Noe Lebanidze
    Photo: New York State Senate Chamber

    Read this article and more in our Spring 2023 Innovation edition, on campus now!

    A famous dissenting opinion by former US Supreme Court Associate Justice Louis Brandeis once described the condition of states in our system of government as “laboratories of democracy” (Brandeis 1932). By this, he meant that their autonomy allows them to implement innovative new policies—“novel social and economic experiments”—on a small scale (Brandeis 1932). In theory, this makes them the testing ground for what does and does not work in the policy world. It has always struck me as strange that this is completely untrue in one very important respect. Some important policies may have started on the state level, but if the states are true “laboratories” of democracy, then why are they all nearly identical to each other in terms of constitutional structure? If we look at the constitutional structure of the states, we will find they are not that innovative, especially when it comes to their legislative structure.

    It is not just that nearly all states have a system with a strong, independent executive (a presidential system). No—an even more curious thing to question is why nearly all states are equipped with both a lower legislative body and a higher body or “Senate.” In other words, why are they all bicameral? The two virtually monolithic systems of legislative division are unicameral or bicameral. Unicameral means that you have a single legislative body, hence “uni,” while bicameral means you have two, hence “bi.” In most bicameral systems, both bodies are selected in different ways. For instance, in our system, one body (the US Senate) is composed of senators elected by the states, while the other is composed of representatives from more or less equally-populated districts. Most of the world is bicameral at first look, though one legislative body often has more influence than the other. In the United Kingdom, for example, the lower body (the House of Commons) is the real source of power with influence over everyday legislative activity, whereas the upper body (the House of Lords) cannot block legislation except in a small number of special circumstances. The same is roughly true of most bicameral systems, which have become less and less truly bicameral. (Longley 2022) 

    That said, it is a unique aspect of the United States that our states’ government structure in large part mirror the federal system. This is not the case, for example, in Canada, whose provinces are all unicameral while their national legislature is bicameral. Furthermore, the US Senate is typically justified as the arbiter of the interests of states. Unlike on a federal level, state senates are not composed of representatives from permanent districts as in the US Senate. There are no “states’’ to be represented within the states. Instead, state senators are elected from districts that are drawn in the same way as congressional electoral districts. In many states, term lengths do not even differ between members of the two legislative bodies. In New York and 11 other states, state senators serve for the same length (two years) as members of the equivalent lower body (Ballotpedia 2023). Permanent statewide constituencies and long(er) terms are the US Senate’s most distinguishing features. What use is having one without those? 

    One use of the senate is to prevent majoritarianism. Federalist Papers no. 63 lists “the propensity of all single and numerous assemblies to yield to the impulse of sudden and violent passions, and to be seduced by factious leaders into intemperate and pernicious resolutions” as a reason for having a senate (Madison 1788). This is part of a persistent fear among the framers that majoritarianism would lead to tyranny, hence the need for a divided legislature in order to make it harder for popular interests to fully capture government. Remember that the US Senate didn’t become popularly elected until the ratification of the Seventeenth Amendment. This might plausibly explain why so many states were founded with bicameral legislatures. One state, Pennsylvania, even transitioned from being unicameral to bicameral in 1791 (Ries 2016). This fear of majoritarianism most likely factored into the decision by all states to adopt bicameralism. 

    Is the concern which motivated bicameralism still valid today? Probably not, and we do not need to look beyond our borders for proof of this. Nebraska abolished its senate in 1937 at the height of the Great Depression and has operated with a unicameral legislature since. It is hard to determine how this change affected Nebraska since little has been written about it. A 1952 article from the journal Western Political Quarterly found that the new system cut administration costs without increasing the degree of hastily-approved legislation or irresponsible spending (Shumate 1952). Not much has been written about Nebraska’s system, but that is a good thing for unicameralism. It is one more data point showing that the lack of a second legislative body does not lead to immediate ruin. 

    State senates exist today as phantom institutions. The standard justifications for bicameralism don’t apply on the state level and the theory which motivated their adoption has lost significant ground. Their greatest justification is that they do not cause too much trouble. Like a heavy laptop that we carry around in our backpack without ever using, bicameralism holds the state government back without anyone stopping to question its necessity. Following the model of Nebraska, New York should make the (admittedly) bold move of abolishing its senate. In addition to not being a slippery slope to tyranny, one can conclude three points for why it would improve governance in New York:

    1. It would reduce the state budget.
    2. It would make governance simpler.
    3. It would make it easier for citizens to engage in state politics.

    According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, the base pay for legislators in New York State in 2021 is $110,000 (NCSL 2021). Multiply this by 63, and the annual salary paid to state Senators is $6.93 million. While this might not look so significant, the total cost of running the state Senate is likely to be significantly higher given the large staff and budget apportioned to each senator. 

    The second point is perhaps best demonstrated by the recent history of the New York State Senate. Between 2012 and 2018, a handful of Democratic senators–known as the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC)—shared power over the state Senate with the Republican Caucus (Wang 2018). This was not because of their ideological profiles or the direct interests of their voters but because it granted individual members increased influence. While the IDC eventually disbanded, it is worth noting that, in a larger legislative body with more members and hence more interests to satisfy, organizing such a defection would have been more difficult to organize. 

    Third, abolishing the state Senate would make it easier for people to engage in local politics. We hear about declining voter turnout quite often, but the data shows that engagement in state politics is in even worse shape. A 2018 study by Johns Hopkins University found that only 20% of respondents could identify their state legislators (Rosen 2018). We could make it easier for citizens to become active by eliminating the state Senate. This would eliminate the need to scrutinize two separate candidates at the ballot while also making the process of policy advocacy easier for the average person. In a bicameral system, legislation needs support from both bodies to gain traction, whereas, in a unicameral system, it only needs support from one. For the average person with a full-time job and limited resources, decreasing the effort required to get attention from legislators is the obvious choice if we want to encourage genuine symbiosis between state legislators and their constituents.

    This argument should not be taken as an attack on any current or former members of the New York State Senate or the integrity of their individual wills. Many of them, no doubt, are of great character and devote great amounts of time and effort to their jobs. It is a tragedy that this time and effort is wasted in an inefficient system. The best way to honor their public service is to maximize the utility of their service provided for the public. 

    Finally, one might counter that such a reform is unnecessary. While abolishing the New York State Senate would be a marginally good change in theory, it is not important enough that we should invest time and energy into pursuing it. The state is not on the route to disaster, and abolishing the New York State Senate will not change our state’s trajectory dramatically. This is, on balance, probably true. Still, there is symbolic importance in pursuing political reform. Continuity is an integral part of any durable political system, but so is experimentation. We can’t expect to organize ourselves according to the same institutions and systems forever. Political institutions are reflections of the conditions and theories that affected the people who created them. Yet these conditions and theories change, and we should give some thought to changing the systems which came out of them. If anything, it feels as if American society has become even less daring compared to previous generations. Take, for example, Rexford Tugwell, an economic advisor to FDR and former Governor of Puerto Rico, who advocated creating a fourth branch of dedicated economic planning and the abolition of states with less than 5% of the population (Tugwell 1974). 

    Luckily, we don’t need to alter the US Constitution to experiment with new democratic systems. We are blessed with our own state with which we can perform novel political experiments. Article XIX of the New York Constitution states that every twenty years, the electors of the state must face a referendum on whether or not to “revise the constitution and amend the same” (NY Const. art. XIX). The last time this was on the ballot was in 2017, so the next opportunity to abolish the New York Senate is in 2037. When the time comes, I’ll be voting yes.

    Noe Lebanidze is a senior double-majoring in philosophy and history originally from Hastings-on-Hudson. His biggest interests are in political philosophy and the history of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Last semester he wrote a thesis on John Rawls’s The Law of Peoples as part of the Pell Honors Program. This semester he’s a member of the Student Association Congress. When he isn’t attending financial committee meetings, you can find him studying for the notary public exam or pretending to play tennis in his adopted hometown of Ossining, New York.


    Brandeis, Louis in New State Ice Co. v. Liebmann, 285 S. Ct. 262 (1932). 

    “Length of terms of state senators.” Ballotpedia. ballotpedia.org/Length_of_terms_of_state_senators.

    Longley, Robert. 2022. “What Is a Bicameral Legislature and Why Does the U.S. Have One?” ThoughtCo, March 2. www.thoughtco.com/why-we-have-house-and-senate-3322313.

    Madison, James. 1788. “Federalist No. 63.” Federalist Papers

    Ries, Linda. 2016. “Pennsylvania Charter of Privileges.” The Greater Philadelphia Encyclopedia. philadelphiaencyclopedia.org/essays/pennsylvania-charter-of-privileges/.

    Rosen, Jill. 2018. “Americans don’t know much about state government, survey finds.” HUB, John Hopkins University, December 14. hub.jhu.edu/2018/12/14/americans-dont-understand-state-government/.

    Shumate, Roger V. 1952. “The Nebraska Unicameral Legislature.” The Western Political Quarterly, 5(September): 504–512.

    Tugwell, Rexford. 1974. The Emerging Constitution. New York, NY: Harper’s Magazine Press. 

    Wang, Vivian. 2018. “How 3 Little Letters (I.D.C.) Are Riling Up New York Progressives.” The New York Times, September 11. www.nytimes.com/2018/09/11/nyregion/independent-democratic-conference.html.

    “2021 Legislator Compensation.” 2021. National Conference of State Legislatures, September. www.ncsl.org/about-state-legislatures/2021-legislator-compensation.

  • Climate Change as a Priority in Future Global Elections

    Climate Change as a Priority in Future Global Elections

    Opinion by Rachael Ali, Head Writer for Foreign Affairs

    Read this article and more in our Spring 2023 Innovation edition, on campus now!

    Our oceans have absorbed 28% of carbon dioxide released by human activities, making bodies of water everywhere more potent and acidic (US Environmental Protection Agency 2021). An area the size of New Jersey was illegally deforested in the Brazilian Amazon, which has devastated indigenous communities and wildlife. Coral skeletons are absorbing microplastics (Dzombak 2021), and if that isn’t daunting enough, the Environmental Science and Technology journal estimates that humans can consume up to 74,000 microplastic particles every year (Gibbens 2019). How will these unnatural changes to our planet affect human health? What about our animal populations? Can minority indigenous communities survive these drastic changes? How long will it take for rising sea levels to overtake entire countries? Climate scientists can predict these answers, and they have published countless studies and policy suggestions. They have largely fallen on deaf ears. 

    China burns over half of the world’s annual supply of coal (Heinberg 2022), India is home to 63/100 of the world’s most polluted cities (Igini 2023), and air pollution in the United Kingdom contributes to 40,000 premature deaths a year (Carrington 2022). American officials like to point fingers and blame other countries for poorly managing the climate crisis, but how does our government truly compare? 

    In last year’s 117th Congress, 139 out of 535 elected officials (~25%) refused to acknowledge the existence of climate change (Drennen & Hardin 2021). It is important to note that these 139 representatives have collectively received $61 million in lifetime contributions from the coal, oil, and gas industries. It is also important to note that these 139 officials make up 52% of House Republicans and 60% of Senate Republicans (Drennen & Hardin 2021). This does not come as a surprise, considering that former President Donald Trump openly stated that climate change is “nonexistent” and “an expensive hoax” (qtd. Cheung 2020). Trump’s statements turned into policy when he withdrew from the Paris climate agreement, which aimed to keep the rising global temperature below 2 degrees Celsius. Trump also replaced former President Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan, which would have limited carbon emissions from coal and gas-fired power plants. Trump’s proposed replacement, the Affordable Clean Energy
    Rule, had far weaker regulations (Cheung 2020). 

    But surely under the Biden Administration the US has spearheaded the fight against climate change as promised in the Democrats’ platform, right? 

    At the end of 2021, President Biden signed an executive order to “reduce emissions across federal operations” and  “invest in American clean energy industries” (qtd. Heinberg 2022). Fast forward to March 2023, Biden has approved the Willow Project, which is the biggest oil drilling project that Alaska has seen in decades. Environmental and indigenous groups have been protesting this project for years. Following this announcement, two lawsuits were filed against ConocoPhillips, the company in charge of the drilling. The project is estimated to produce 180,000 barrels of oil a day. This quantity of oil would result in the emission of at least 263 million tons of greenhouse gas in the next 30 years (Thiessen & Brown 2023). Indigenous groups in Alaska will be the hardest hit, and three leaders of the Nuiqsut tribe detailed their concerns in a letter addressed to Interior Secretary Deb Haaland—a member of New Mexico’s Laguna Pueblo and the first Native American to lead a Cabinet department. These Nuiqsut leaders wrote that the American government is risking “the loss of [their] health and culture” (qtd. Thiessen & Brown 2023), as climate change has already disrupted caribou migrations. Caribou are essential to the Nuiqsut diet, and the sustainable hunt is part of their indigenous tradition. 

    However, many other countries have been far more proactive in mitigating their impact on the climate. These countries come in two categories: small nations with very low energy consumption and emissions and larger nations with more consumption but a higher commitment to implementing climate policy. The first category includes countries like Bhutan and Suriname, as they are already carbon neutral or aim to be before 2050 (Heinberg 2022). The second category includes countries like Denmark (Esty 2021), Costa Rica, and Morocco (Mulvaney 2019). 

    Another nation in the second category that has made strides in the fight against climate change is Norway. Their most recent parliamentary election was held in 2021, and the result was a win for a coalition between the Labour and Centre parties led by Jonas Gahr Støre. This coalition won with a clear focus on climate change and oil, specifically addressing Norwegians’ concerns regarding global warming and the loss of jobs that will result from the country moving away from oil production. Moreover, Norway’s oil production makes up over 40% of its export revenues (Reuters 2021). In fact, Norway has become Europe’s biggest supplier of oil since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine (Lundgren 2023). Despite this economic success, Norwegian citizens and many major parties have voiced their desire to make a larger shift to renewable energy, such as offshore wind power. 

    In Norway, 98% of their power comes from renewable energy sources, with hydropower being the main source and wind farms coming in second (Ministry of Petroleum & Energy 2016). Equinor, the company behind the success of wind power in Norway, has also been selected to provide New York State with a wind farm, which will be the largest renewable energy acquisition in the US (Equinor 2021). 

    However, no country is perfect, and Norway has come under fire as recently as March 2023. Europe’s largest onshore wind farm, owned by Norway, Switzerland, and Germany, was built illegally on traditional Sámi territory (Ahtone 2023). The Sámi are an indigenous group and ethnic minority in Norway who have been consistently discriminated against for centuries. This illegal wind farm is interfering with the Sámi’s sustainable hunt of reindeer, thus disrupting their traditional way of life (Ahtone 2023). 

    All in all, some leaders around the world are implementing environmentally friendly policies, but ignoring ethnic minorities and indigenous communities. These populations have proven themselves to be the greatest stewards of their lands, so a step in the right direction could be to have officials who cannot be bought as well as more indigenous representation in governments across the globe.

    Rachael Ali is a third-year undergraduate student at BU, currently serving as Happy Medium’s Head Writer for Foreign Affairs. She is originally from the Bronx and is majoring in political science with a double minor in Spanish and French. Rachael’s goal is to attend law school and become an international lawyer. This past summer, Rachael was an intern political journalist at Happy Medium. Topics that Rachael is passionate about include immigration, reproductive rights, indigenous communities, gun laws, and environmental justice.


    Ahtone, Tristan. 2023. “In Norway, Indigenous-led protests against a wind farm heat up.” Salon, March 6. www.salon.com/2023/03/06/in-norway-indigenous-led-against-a-wind-farm-heat-up_partner/.

    Carrington, Damian. 2022. “Dirty air affects 97% of UK homes, data shows.” The Guardian, April 28. ​​www.theguardian.com/environment/2022/apr/28/dirty-air-affects-97-of-uk-homes-data-shows.

    Cheung, Helier. 2020. “What does Trump actually believe on climate change?” BBC News, January 23. www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-51213003.

    “Climate Change Indicators: Ocean Acidity.” 2021. US Environmental Protection Agency. www.epa.gov/climate-indicators/climate-change-indicators-ocean-acidity.

    Drennen, Ari and Sally Hardin. 2021. “Climate Deniers in the 117th Congress.” Center for American Progress, March 30. www.americanprogress.org/article/climate-deniers-117th-congress/.

    Dzombak, Rebecca. 2021. “Corals may store a surprising amount of microplastics in their skeletons.” Science News, November 29. www.sciencenews.org/article/coral-reef-microplastics-skeletons.

    “Equinor selected for largest-ever US offshore wind award.” 2021. Equinor, March 16. www.equinor.com/news/archive/202101-us-offshore-wind.

    Gibbens, Sarah. 2019. “You eat thousands of bits of plastic every year.” National Geographic, June 5. www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/article/you-eat-thousands-of-bits-of-plastic-every-year.

    Heinberg, Richard. 2022. “How Are the US and Other Countries Doing on Fighting Climate Change?” Resilience, January 19. www.resilience.org/stories/2022-01-19/how-are-the-us-and-other-countries-doing-on-fighting-climate-change/.

    Ingini, Martina. 2023. “5 Biggest Environmental Issues in India in 2023.” Earth.org, January 9. earth.org/environmental-issues-in-india/.

    Lundgren, Kari. 2023. “Norway’s Cash From Direct Oil and Gas Ownership Hits Record.” Bloomberg, March 14. www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2023-03-14/norway-s-cash-flow-from-direct-oil-and-gas-ownership-hits-record.

    Mulvaney, Kieran. 2019. “Climate change report card: These countries are reaching targets.” National Geographic, September 19. www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/article/climate-change-report-card-co2-emissions.

    “Renewable energy production in Norway.” Ministry of Petroleum and Energy, Government of Norway. www.regjeringen.no/en/topics/energy/renewable-energy/renewable-energy-production-in-norway/id2343462/.

    Reuters. 2021. “Norway’s left-wing opposition wins climate-focused election in landslide, starts coalition talks.” NBC News, September 14. www.nbcnews.com/news/world/norway-s-left-wing-opposition-wins-climate-focused-election-landslide-n1279109.

    Thiessen, Mark and Matthew Brown. 2023. “Willow oil project approval intensifies Alaska Natives’ rift.” ABC News, March 16. abcnews.go.com/US/wireStory/major-oil-project-approval-intensifies-alaska-natives-rift-97901015.

    “Why Denmark Wants to Be a ‘Frontrunner’ in the Fight Against Climate Change.” 2021. Yale School of the Environment, September 28. environment.yale.edu/news/article/why-denmark-wants-to-be-a-frontrunner-in-fight-against-climate-change.

    “2022 Report Cards.” 2023. GovTrack.us, February 12. www.govtrack.us/congress/members/report-cards/2022.

  • Choosing How to Choose: Alternative Electoral Systems

    Choosing How to Choose: Alternative Electoral Systems

    By Tim Martinson, Head Writer for Political History

    Read this article and more in our Spring 2023 Innovation edition, on campus now!

    When an American citizen goes to the ballot box on election day, they have a choice of candidates for office. Federal elections in the United States and many states across the nation tend to use a type of majoritarian or plurality electoral system in which multiple candidates run for a single office in one district. In many cases, this specific system is referred to as a “first-past-the-post” system (DeSilver et al. 2021). Simply put, this type of electoral system is one in which the winner in an election gets the most votes, or a plurality, but does not necessarily need to receive an outright majority of the vote (DeSilver et al. 2021). The typical first-past-the-post system used in much of the US, as well as other countries such as the UK and Canada, has both advantages and disadvantages. While the system has been praised for its simplicity for both voters and election officials, some argue that the first-past-the-post system incentivizes a two-party system and leads to votes being wasted (“What Are the Advantages” 2013). 

    In political science, the idea that plurality systems like first-past-the-post in what are called single-member districts lead to a two-party system is called “Duverger’s Law.” There is also a psychological element to it, in which both politicians and voters realize that only two political parties could be viable to win in such a system and largely abandon third parties, thus perpetuating the two-party system (“Duverger’s law”). Various arguments could be made over whether or not the current first-past-the-post system used in the US and the resulting two-party system are better or worse for American politics. For instance, one could argue that a two-party system promotes governmental stability since first-past-the-post always results in one of the two parties having a legislative majority after an election (“Two-party system” 2023). On the other hand, specifically in the US, there has been a sharp increase in political polarization between those who affiliate with the Democratic and Republican Parties in the past couple of decades. This has even led to frustration with the two-party system in general, with a recent Pew Research Center study finding more than half of Americans desire more political parties to choose from (“As Partisan Hostility” 2022).

    While there is likely no single reform that could solve all the problems with American politics, it could be good to look at some alternative voting systems that could be implemented in the United States. The majoritarian electoral system used in the US is not the only type that is used across the world, after all. Another major category of electoral systems is proportional representation (PR) systems, in which the overall percentage of the popular vote for a particular political party in an election is translated in some way into the percentage of legislative seats that a political party receives. This kind of electoral system is used by many countries, such as the Netherlands, Sweden, Greece, and Spain (“Proportional representation” 2023). Unlike the single-member districts that are widely used in the US, countries with PR systems tend to use multi-member districts, which have more than one legislative seat allocated to it (“Multimember district”). There are different forms of proportional representation systems, but some of the more prominent types are party list systems. In a party list PR system, political parties choose candidates in a list depending on the number of seats in that district, and the voter gets to choose between either the parties or a mix of the candidates between the different parties. A formula is then used to determine how to translate the vote totals into seat allocations to parties (“Party List Proportional Representation”). PR systems, in general, tend to lead to multi-party systems, where parties must form coalitions amongst themselves to establish a majority in a legislature. As such, voters have more options on their ballots when they go to vote (“Advantages of PR systems”). However, some critiques do exist for PR systems, such as them leading to fragmented party systems or the potential for confusion on the part of both voters and poll workers compared to majoritarian systems (“Disadvantages of PR systems”). Regardless, proportional representation is not the only potential alternative for electoral reform.

    Another widely discussed electoral system is called ranked-choice voting (RCV), also known as instant runoff voting. It has gained steam in the US in recent years, particularly at the local level. A notable example is New York City’s adoption of the system, starting with the 2021 local elections. In an RCV system, voters are given candidates from parties similar to the current single-member district plurality system, but they have the option to rank the candidates in order of their preference. If no single candidate receives an outright majority, then the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated, and the second choices from those voters are reallocated, and so on until a candidate reaches a majority (DeSilver et al.). However, this system is not without faults. If RCV is implemented within single-member districts, then it is still susceptible to some of the same electoral issues that arise from single-member districts, such as gerrymandering.

    Simply put, gerrymandering is the practice of politicians drawing district boundaries to benefit one political party over another. In US politics, partisan gerrymandering involves consolidating voters into districts such that one party is given a disproportionate advantage electorally (Duignan 2023). In the United States, more liberal voters tend to live in urban areas and more conservative voters in rural areas. Due to the relative consistency of this divide, combined with single-member districts not giving any legislative representation to the political minorities in those areas, gerrymandering creates non-competitive districts (Drutman 2022). A potential combination of RCV and multi-member districts, however, was studied by researchers at Cornell University’s School of Engineering, revealing that multi-member districts with RCV could combat gerrymandering (Fleischman 2021). These are only a few potential alternatives to the current American electoral system. 

    While it is important to have these discussions in public, it is also important to consider what reforms have been proposed as bills in Congress. One prominent reform that would significantly overhaul the electoral system for the House of Representatives is the “Fair Representation Act,” which had been introduced in 2021 by Rep. Donald Beyer (D-Va.). According to the official summary, the bill would require RCV to be implemented for the elections of Senators and representatives, have states with at least six representatives draw multi-member districts, and have states put in place independent commissions to draw district boundaries. While the bill did not receive any votes in the 117th Congress, its introduction shows that electoral reform is not off the table (“H.R.3863” 2021). 

    These alternative systems are only some of the many that are used across the world. All in all, though, the current first-past-the-post system has its critics. If the system were to be reformed, it would significantly shake up American politics, possibly to the extent that new political parties could gain seats in the United States Congress. Whether such reforms would be for better or for worse is up for debate, but the current electoral system is not the only possibility. 

    Tim Martinson is a political science major from Merrick, New York, on Long Island, who currently serves as Head Writer for Political History at Happy Medium. Tim has volunteered for several political campaigns in the past, such as his state senator’s re-election campaign in 2018. He is currently a board member of the Binghamton College Democrats and was previously a public affairs show host at WHRW. Tim was an intern political journalist at Happy Medium in summer 2022. Tim has an interest in political history and likes to play video games and learn new things in his free time.


    “Advantages of PR systems.” ACE Electoral Knowledge Network. aceproject.org/ace-en/topics/es/esd/esd02/esd02a

    “As Partisan Hostility Grows, Signs of Frustration With the Two-Party System.” 2022. Pew Research Center, August 9. www.pewresearch.org/politics/2022/08/09/as-partisan-hostility-grows-signs-of-frustration-with-the-two-party-system/

    DeSilver, Drew et al. 2021. “More U.S. locations experimenting with alternative voting systems.” Pew Research Center, June 29. www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2021/06/29/more-u-s-locations-experimenting-with-alternative-voting-systems/

    “Disadvantages of PR systems.” ACE Electoral Knowledge Network. aceproject.org/ace-en/topics/es/esd/esd02/esd02b

    Drutman, Lee. 2022. “To End Gerrymandering, Change How We Elect Congress.” Time, February 14. time.com/6147927/gerrymandering-congress-better-way-vote/

    Duignan, Brian. 2023. “Gerrymandering.” Encyclopædia Britannica, February 22. www.britannica.com/topic/gerrymandering

    “Duverger’s law.” Oxford Reference. www.oxfordreference.com/view/10.1093/oi/authority.20110803095737871

    Fleischman, Tom. 2021. “Ranked choice, multimember districts blunts gerrymandering.” Cornell Chronicle, September 23. news.cornell.edu/stories/2021/09/ranked-choice-multimember-districts-blunts-gerrymandering

    “H.R.3863 – 117th Congress (2021-2022): Fair Representation Act.” 2021. Congress.gov, June 14. www.congress.gov/bill/117th-congress/house-bill/3863

    “Multimember district..” Merriam-Webster Dictionary. www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/multimember%20district

    “Party List Proportional Representation.” Electoral Reform Society. www.electoral-reform.org.uk/voting-systems/types-of-voting-system/party-list-pr/

    “Proportional representation.” 2023. Encyclopædia Britannica, March 11. www.britannica.com/topic/proportional-representation

    “Two-party system.” 2023. Encyclopædia Britannica, February 11. www.britannica.com/topic/two-party-system

    “What Are the Advantages and Disadvantages of Using the First-Past-the-Post Voting System?” 2013. UK Engage, June 5. uk-engage.org/2013/06/what-are-the-advantages-and-disadvantages-of-using-the-first-past-the-post-voting-system-2/

  • Culture War: Americans are Redefining What it Means to Disagree

    Culture War: Americans are Redefining What it Means to Disagree

    By Ashley Pickus, National Politics Reporter

    Read this article and more in our Spring 2023 Innovation edition, on campus now!

    The term ‘culture war’ was made popular by James Davison Hunter in 1991 with his book Culture Wars: The Struggle to Define America. The book focused on contemporary issues at the time that are still relevant today, such as religion in schools, abortion, and LGBTQ rights (Stanton 2021). However, in the 30 years since, new issues arose that now defined the American culture war. The main difference is that, at the time, the debate almost entirely revolved around secularism versus theology. Today, while religion plays a role in some issues, Hunter says the positions some people hold are “mainly rooted in fear of extinction” (qtd. Stanton 2021). Thirty years ago, a political issue and a culture war issue were distinguishable. For example, how much the government should subsidize healthcare was a distinctively political area of debate, and the discourse about transgender people was a culture war issue. Now, the same debate gets conflated; if more people are eligible for Medicare, then what if a transgender person on it gets hormone replacement therapy? Should citizens whose taxes were raised to pay for their treatment have the ability to object? On the other hand, is it any of their business? Simply put, a compromise can be found on a political issue, but for a culture war issue, each side sees its position as morally correct, and thus concessions are rarely made. 


    One aspect of the modern culture war is its ability to transform topics that were previously apolitical into hot-button issues. A primary example of this is the array of debates around education. In recent years, there have been several controversies surrounding how children should be taught, including Critical Race Theory, social-emotional learning, sexual orientations, and gender identities.

    The teaching of Critical Race Theory (CRT) has always been contentious, but recently state governments have begun placing restrictions on it. Several states, including Arkansas, Florida, Idaho, Iowa, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, and Tennessee, have banned CRT, and over a dozen more states have pending legislation aimed at accomplishing this goal (“States that Have Banned” 2023). CRT has been used as a buzzword during these debates, so it’s important to know what it is. CRT teaches about systemic racism, which means that, as opposed to individual prejudice, racism is “embedded in legal systems and policies” (Sawchuk 2021). The division has mostly been split down party lines, with Republican governors such as Ron DeSantis advocating for banning CRT in all schools. The main argument against CRT is that some claim it encourages discrimination against white students and is a form of indoctrination; DeSantis has said, “We believe in education, not indoctrination” (qtd. Papaycik and Saunders 2022). Conversely, House Minority Leader and Binghamton University alumnus Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) argues that “It is our moral imperative to tell the truth about our past to finally reconcile with this nation’s history of racism and white nationalism” (Camera 2022). However, CRT has not been the only point of contention in children’s education. In some states like Arizona, parents and legislators have shifted focus to a new target: social-emotional learning.

    Social-emotional learning, or SEL, has long been a part of elementary school curriculums throughout the country. It teaches children important tools for “developing the self-awareness, self-control, and interpersonal skills that are vital for school, work, and life success” (Committee for Children 2022) and is backed up by research showing that it increases academic performance and decreases bullying. However, SEL has been called “woke nonsense” (qtd. ​​O’Brien 2022) by critics such as Karol Markowicz, a Fox News Contributor, who argue that it does not belong in classrooms and that schools should stick to strictly teaching academic subjects like math and reading (O’Brien 2022). “Parents need to understand that woke nonsense is creeping into their kids’ education in a variety of ways” (qtd. O’Brien 2022).

    Another significant culture war issue in terms of education stems from Florida’s Parental Rights in Education law, or as critics of the bill have called the “Don’t Say Gay” statute. The law prohibits discussions of sexual orientation and gender identity in classrooms from kindergarten to third grade and says parents of children of all ages must be notified if there “is a change in the student’s services or monitoring related to the student’s mental, emotional, or physical health or well-being” (“Parental Rights” 2022). Supporters of the law maintain that these topics are inappropriate for young children and are a distraction from what children should be learning. Conservative Political Action Conference Chairman Matt Schlapp spoke out in support of the law, saying, “Instead of being force fed the left’s points on gender and sex, young students in Florida can focus on learning how to read and write” (Migdon 2022). Critics assert that it opens the door to further discrimination against an already marginalized community and could potentially force school faculty to out LGBTQ students to their parents, creating a possibly dangerous home-life situation. Pete Buttigieg, the first openly gay Cabinet secretary, said, “It tells youth who are different, whose families are different, that there’s something wrong with them out of the gate and I do think that contributes to the shocking levels of suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts among LGBTQ youth” (qtd. CNN Newsroom 2022). Other states have also begun introducing similar policies, which critics argue have dangerous implications for queer students throughout the country.

    Transgender Rights

    The topic of transgender people can elicit strong reactions. Between the discourse around the release of Hogwarts Legacy and the declaration that “transgenderism must be eradicated” (qtd. Wade and Reis 2023), some people feel like they are acting in accordance with God, while others believe their very existence is under attack. 

    At the most recent Conservative Political Action Conference, Daily Wire host Michael Knowles stated, “For the good of society … transgenderism must be eradicated from public life entirely—the whole preposterous ideology, at every level” (qtd. Wade and Reis 2023). After “Nazi Germany” started trending on Twitter, Knowles later attempted to defend himself, saying, “Nobody is calling to exterminate anybody, because the other problem with that statement is that transgender people is not a real ontological category—it’s not a legitimate category of being” (qtd. Wade and Reis 2023). Knowles represents one—albeit more extreme—side of this particular culture war issue. 

    On the same side are significant figures such as former President Donald Trump. A contentious issue within the topic of transgender rights is access to gender-affirming care, which includes hormone replacement therapy and surgical procedures. In a campaign video for the upcoming 2024 primary elections, Trump announced that, if re-elected, he would ban gender-affirming care to minors, declaring that it was tantamount to “child abuse” and “child sexual mutilation,” and he would prohibit federal agencies from promoting “the concept of sex and gender transition at any age” (qtd. Narea and Cineas 2023). While supporters of these efforts believe that minors should not have access to permanently change their bodies with surgery, critics point out that puberty blockers that many transgender minors take are reversible (Kassel 2022). 


    The implications of the modern-day culture war cannot be understated. Education, which has previously been a local and state issue, is now at the forefront of national politics. The introduction of a bill by House Republicans to nationalize policies similar to Florida’s Parental Rights in Education law would change how children across the country are educated (although the bill is extremely unlikely to come close to passing with a Democrat-controlled Senate and White House) (Wamsley 2022). Still, the influence of the law is seen in several states, such as in Alabama, where Gov. Kay Ivey signed into law bans on teaching about sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through fifth grade and transgender healthcare for minors. 

    Teachers have also expressed their frustration with the increased focus on how they should run their classrooms. Arguing that these laws undermine the role of public schools, some educators have considered leaving the profession (Walker 2023). On the other hand, parents that support these restrictions deem them necessary to protect their children (Wolf 2023).

    The ramifications of the culture war are even heavier on the issue of transgender rights. With a growing number of states passing legislation prohibiting gender-affirming care and increasingly aggressive rhetoric being used in opposition to “transgenderism,” there have been reports of escalating mental health issues among transgender individuals, including up to 86 percent of trans or nonbinary minors (The Trevor Project 2023). Moreover, states like Idaho have introduced legislation “to ensure that counselors and therapists will not be required to take on clients when it would conflict with their ‘sincerely held principles’” (Narea and Cineas 2023). Those who are already at an increased risk of poor mental health may see restricted options for mental health services. A similar situation can be seen with the Parental Rights in Education Act; because teachers and guidance counselors are required to inform parents of any mental health concerns, students may feel like it is no longer safe to discuss any issues they may be having.

    While there may be some less serious issues involved in the culture war, including Tucker Carlson’s war against the packaging of M&Ms (Radde and Folkenflik 2023), James Davison Hunter warned that if the culture war continues to grow and each side becomes more belligerent, there could be grave consequences.

    “Culture wars always precede shooting wars,” Hunter said in a 2021 interview. “They don’t necessarily lead to a shooting war, but you never have a shooting war without a culture war prior to it, because culture provides the justifications for violence” (Stanton 2021).

    Ashley Pickus is a junior from Plainview, New York. She is double-majoring in political science and English rhetoric and minoring in writing studies. Ashley spends most of her free time following the current pop culture trends, watching television shows, or listening to music. If asked, she can explain the meaning of any Taylor Swift song and its significance. After graduation, Ashley hopes to find a job in the media industry.


    CNN Newsroom. 2022. “‘Absolutely’: Pete Buttigieg on whether ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill is dangerous.” CNN, February 9. www.cnn.com/videos/politics/2022/02/09/pete-buttigieg-florida-dont-say-gay-bill-lgbtq-youth-impact-nr-vpx.cnn

    Camera, Lauren. 2022. “Congressional Democrats take aim at efforts to ban critical race theory.” US News, February 2. www.usnews.com/news/education-news/articles/2022-02-02/congressional-democrats-take-aim-at-efforts-to-ban-critical-race-theory.

    Committee for Children. 2022. “What is social-emotional learning?” Committee for Children, December 15. www.cfchildren.org/what-is-social-emotional-learning/.

    Good, Owen S. 2023. “Why is Hogwarts Legacy, a Harry Potter video game, so controversial?” Polygon, February 4. www.polygon.com/23584328/hogwarts-legacy-controversy-jk-rowling-explainer-transphobia-release-boycott.

    Kassel, Gabrielle. 2022. “The effects of puberty blockers are reversible: 14 FAQs.” Healthline, November 9. www.healthline.com/health/are-puberty-blockers-reversible.

    Migdon, Brooke. 2022. “Florida’s ‘don’t say gay’ bill signed into law.” The Hill, October 24. thehill.com/changing-america/respect/equality/598999-floridas-dont-say-gay-bill-signed-into-law/.

    Narea, Nicole and Fabiola Cineas. 2023. “The GOP’s coordinated National Campaign Against Trans Rights, explained.” Vox, March 10. www.vox.com/politics/23631262/trans-bills-republican-state-legislatures

    O’Brien, Cortney. 2022. “Controversial Florida math textbook ignites social-emotional learning debate.” Fox News, July 18. www.foxnews.com/media/controversial-florida-math-textbook-ignites-social-emotional-learning-debate.

    Papaycik, Matt and Forrest Saunders. 2022. “Florida’s governor signs controversial bill banning critical race theory in schools.” WPTV News Channel 5 West Palm, April 22. www.wptv.com/news/education/floridas-governor-to-sign-critical-race-theory-education-bill-into-law.

    Parental Rights in Education Act of 2022, H.B. 1557, Fla. State Senate. (2022). www.flsenate.gov/Session/Bill/2022/1557.

    Radde, Kaitlyn and David Folkenflik. 2023.“M&M’s replaces its spokescandies with Maya Rudolph after Tucker Carlson’s rants.” NPR, January 24. www.npr.org/2023/01/24/1150984597/m-ms-backlash-spokescandies-candy-tucker-carlson-fox-news-culture-war.

    Sawchuck, Stephen. 2021. “What Is Critical Race Theory, and Why Is It Under Attack?” Education Week, May 18. www.edweek.org/leadership/what-is-critical-race-theory-and-why-is-it-under-attack/2021/05.

    Stanton, Zack. 2021. “How the ‘Culture War’ could break democracy.” Politico, May 20. www.politico.com/news/magazine/2021/05/20/culture-war-politics-2021-democracy-analysis-489900.

    “States that Have Banned Critical Race Theory.” 2023. World Population Review. worldpopulationreview.com/state-rankings/states-that-have-banned-critical-race-theory.

    The Trevor Project. 2023. “Issues Impacting LGBTQ Youth” The Trevor Project, January. www.thetrevorproject.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/01/Issues-Impacting-LGBTQ-Youth_Morning-Consult-Poll_Jan-2023_Public.pdf.

    Wade, Peter and Patrick Reis. 2023. “CPAC speaker calls for eradication of ‘transgenderism’ — and somehow claims he’s not calling for elimination of transgender people.” Rolling Stone, March 6. www.rollingstone.com/politics/politics-news/cpac-speaker-transgender-people-eradicated-1234690924/.

    Walker, Tim. 2023. “The culture war’s impact on public schools.” NEA, February 17. www.nea.org/advocating-for-change/new-from-nea/culture-wars-impact-public-schools.

    Wamsley, Laurel. 2022. “What’s in the so-called don’t say gay bill that could impact the whole country.” NPR, October 21. www.npr.org/2022/10/21/1130297123/national-dont-say-gay-stop-children-sexualization-bill.

    Wolf, Zachary B. 2023. “The growing movement to protect children from their government.” CNN, March 10. www.cnn.com/2023/03/09/politics/education-government-role-what-matters/index.html.

  • Enlarging the House

    Enlarging the House

    By Joseph Brugellis, Legal Reporter

    Read this article and more in our Spring 2023 Innovation edition, on campus now!

    Every two years, Americans head to the polls to select the candidate whom they wish to represent them in the US House of Representatives. The House consists of 435 voting members tasked with representing the constituents in their respective districts (“What is a Representative?”). This magic number of House seats was not chosen because of any specific modern necessity; rather, the House of Representatives is legally mandated to contain 435 seats pursuant to the Permanent Apportionment Act of 1929 (“How Your State Gets Its Seats”). This mandate on the number of congressional districts has remained stagnant despite the fact that the average population in each congressional district has nearly tripled from 280,675 persons in 1930 to more than 760,000 persons today (“Historical Apportionment Data”). 

    This phenomenon poses problems for our system of democracy. With so many Americans concentrated in one district, a congressperson will find greater difficulty in making meaningful connections with all of their constituents and facilitating effective service (Drutman et al. 2021). This creates incentives for representatives to listen exclusively to the most powerful or outspoken members of the district and simultaneously ignore the interests of everyone else (Kane et al. 2020). Some have argued that lifting the arbitrary cap on the number of congressional seats and thus expanding the House of Representatives is necessary to promote effective congressional representation and return the voice back to the people. 

    A brief historical background of the apportionment process will help illuminate the present dilemma. The US Constitution mandates that congressional reapportionment happen every decade following the census (U.S. Const. art. I, §2). Apart from mandating that each state be allocated at least one representative and that the population size for each district consists of 30,000 persons at minimum (U.S. Const. art. I, §2), the Constitution remains silent as to what apportionment formula must be adopted and how many total districts should exist. James Madison did originally propose an additional amendment to the Bill of Rights enshrining a House apportionment formula into the Constitution contingent upon national population growth, but the initiative came one state short of ratification (Kane et al. 2020). 

    For the first fifty years of the nation’s existence, congressional apportionment took place without prior selection of a fixed number of House seats (“Apportionment Historical Perspective”). Congress first utilized the so-called “Jefferson method” to allocate seats. Congress would first select a predetermined population-to-representative ratio (ex: 45,000:1) and then plug the individual state’s population into this ratio, which results in the number of representatives or seats in that state (Kane et al. 2020). Plugging a state population of 830,000 persons into this Jefferson formula would yield 18 House seats for this state after rounding from 18.44 to the nearest whole number that is lower than the quotient (Kane et al. 2020). In 1840, the House reapportioned using the Jefferson formula, but instead rounded the quotient upward if the decimal fraction is greater than one-half (“Apportionment Historical Perspective”). The first-ever cap on districts was set at 233 House seats in 1850, but it was ignored by Congress and thus the House grew to 386 seats by the dawn of the 20th century (Kane et al. 2020). 

    As the House grew to 435 seats after 1911, many in Congress began to question the merits of allowing the enlargement of the House to continue (“Apportionment Historical Perspective”). After the House failed to reapportion itself following the 1920 census thanks to contentious debate between rural and urban members over the size of Congress (“How Your State Gets Its Seats”), Congress eventually passed the Permanent Reapportionment Act of 1929 which sets a statutory cap of 435 seats in the House. This statutory cap is still in effect more than ninety years later. 

    Capping the House of Representatives at 435 seats even as the nation’s population has significantly increased over the past decades inadvertently grants residents of certain states disproportionate overrepresentation in Congress compared with others. While districts within a state are legally required to have a roughly equal population size (“Wesberry v. Sanders”), the same principle does not apply when comparing districts from separate states. This can lead to residents of a state having greater individual congressional representation than those in another state. For example, the state of Delaware contains only one at-large congressional district encompassing approximately one million residents (“Delaware Population Facts”). The state of Wyoming also has an at-large congressional district, but it represents a population of only 580,000 residents (Skelley 2021). Even though both states have one district, each individual Wyoming resident is disproportionately overrepresented in the House compared with each individual in Delaware under the current apportionment system. 

    Many political scientists and others have increasingly advocated for the lifting of the cap on the House to alleviate this overrepresentation problem. Taking a global perspective, the average population per representative district in the United States as of 2020–761,169 persons– is abnormally large compared with other similar representative districts in nations like the UK and Japan (Skelley 2021). Increasing the number of seats in the House of Representatives allows for a decrease in the average number of residents per congressional district, thereby affording the opportunity for representatives to build closer connections with each individual constituent he or she is tasked with representing in Congress. 

    But what would such an expansion actually look like? Several different methods and theories have been proposed to effectuate a possible enlargement of the House.

    One such proposal is known as the Wyoming Rule. The Wyoming Rule would allow for the addition of new House seats so that the ratio between a representative and the number of individual constituents within any given district would be equivalent to “that of the least populous state”, which is currently Wyoming (Drutman et al. 2021). Since Wyoming’s at-large congressional district contains around 576,000 constituents per the 2020 census (“Wyoming Population Facts”), congressional seats would be added to the House of Representatives to ensure each congressional district would consist of a roughly equivalent number. The House would increase to around 574 seats to accommodate this rule (Drutman et al. 2021). Critics of the Wyoming Rule point out that such a rule can lead to chaos if the number of House seats changes dramatically every decade due to a rapid increase or decrease in the population of the smallest state (Drutman et al. 2021). 

    Another possible blueprint for House expansion is the Cube Root Rule. The Cube Root Rule is based on the observation that the size of the representative body of a country is roughly equivalent to the cube root of the country’s population at large (Kane et al. 2020). The population of the US is around 331 million people; therefore, the cube root is approximately 692. The House would therefore be expanded to 692 seats. Those opposed to the adoption of this rule point out that the number of constituents assigned per congressional district will invariably increase as the nation’s population grows, which seemingly defeats the purpose of expanding the House to make representation more efficient. 

    Members of Congress have also begun to take an interest in possibly expanding their own workplace. Representative Earl Blumenauer of Oregon recently introduced the REAL House Act in January 2023. The REAL House Act would increase the size of the House from 435 to 585 seats after the 2030 census (“REAL House Act Fact Sheet”). This 149-seat increase represents the 149 times that states were forced to lose a congressional seat due to population shifts between 1929 and the present day. As compensation for this loss, the bill chooses to expand the House as a whole by adding 149 new seats (“REAL House Act Fact Sheet”). This proposed bill, however, is not perfect. What happens when the nation eventually grows so large that 585 House seats become ineffective at ensuring proper representation? Once the Nation’s population eventually grows to such a size, Congress would have to again step in and propose another solution. 

    Expanding the House by lifting the 1929 artificial cap on congressional seats represents an innovative attempt to correct the increasingly undemocratic relationship between the representative and their constituents. The proposals above all share the same problem: they lack any mechanism designed to prevent any future complications that could occur after the hypothetical implementation of the expansion proposal. If Congress eventually chooses to welcome an enlargement of the representative body, it must fashion an apportionment scheme that will actually promote the benefits of democratic representation in the long term. 

    Joseph Brugellis is a freshman from New Hyde Park, NY, on Long Island who intends to double-major in history and philosophy, politics, and law. After graduation, Joseph plans to go onto law school and hopes to one day be appointed as a federal judge. Joseph is passionate about the American judicial branch and is deeply interested in how different interpretative philosophies held by judges shape constitutional law. During summer 2022, Joseph worked as an intern in the office of state Senator Anna M. Kaplan. In his free time, Joseph enjoys reading, listening to music, and exploring nature. 


    “Apportionment Historical Perspective.” 2021. United States Census Bureau, November 22. www.census.gov/topics/public-sector/congressional-apportionment/about/historical-perspective.html.

    “Delaware Population Facts.” QuickFacts, United States Census Bureau. www.census.gov/quickfacts/DE.

    Drutman, Lee et al. 2021. “The Case for Enlarging the House of Representatives.” American Academy of Arts and Sciences. www.amacad.org/sites/default/files/publication/downloads/2021_Enlarging-the-House.pdf.

    “Historical Apportionment Data (1910-2020).” 2021. United States Census Bureau, April 26. www.census.gov/data/tables/time-series/dec/apportionment-data-text.html.

    “How Your State Gets Its Seats.” U.S. Capitol Visitor Center. www.visitthecapitol.gov/sites/default/files/documents/resources-and-activities/CVC_HS_ActivitySheets_CongApportionment.pdf.

    Kane, Caroline et al. 2020. “Why the House of Representatives Must Be Expanded and How Today’s Congress Can Make It Happen.” Democracy and the Constitution Clinic, Fordham University School of Law, January. www.fordham.edu/download/downloads/id/14402/Why_the_House_Must_Be_Expanded___Democracy_Clinic.pdf.

    “REAL House Act Fact Sheet.” 2023. Congressman Earl Blumenauer, Third District of Oregon, United States House of Representatives. blumenauer.house.gov/sites/evo-subsites/blumenauer.house.gov/files/evo-media-document/real-house-act-one-pager.pdf.

    Skelley, Geoffrey. 2021. “How The House Got Stuck At 435 Seats.” FiveThirtyEight, August 12. fivethirtyeight.com/features/how-the-house-got-stuck-at-435-seats/.

    “Wesberry v. Sanders.” Oyez. www.oyez.org/cases/1963/22.

    “What is a Representative?” United States House of Representatives. www.house.gov/the-house-explained.

    “Wyoming Population Facts.” QuickFacts, United States Census Bureau. www.census.gov/quickfacts/WY.

  • Minting the Coin: A Debt-Ceiling Panacea or a Trillion-Dollar Boondoggle?

    Minting the Coin: A Debt-Ceiling Panacea or a Trillion-Dollar Boondoggle?

    By Joseph Brugellis, Legal Reporter
    Photo: one design for the trillion-dollar coin by artist DonkeyHotey

    A sovereign state possesses a national deficit when the amount of government spending in a given fiscal year exceeds that which the state collects through revenue-generating mechanisms like income taxes. Since the end of fiscal year (FY) 2001, the United States Federal Government has consistently run a deficit that has recently grown to $1.38 trillion (“What is the National Deficit?”). To make up this deficit gap, The US Treasury Department borrows money by issuing securities to investors; the amount of money borrowed combined with any interest owed on these securities comprises the national debt (“What is the National Debt?”). 

    While national debt has been held by the US since the Founding Era, the process by which such debt is accumulated has undergone significant changes. For most of the country’s history, Congress assumed the role of issuing bonds and other securities to finance a specific project or purpose (DeSilver 2023). As an example, Congress directly issued three different types of fifty-year bonds to help finance the construction of the Panama Canal at the turn of the 20th century (“The Panama Canal Loan”). The role of Congress in this borrowing process shifted dramatically during WWI. To fund all necessary wartime provisions, Congress needed to borrow unprecedented sums of money. As the management of the Nation’s finances became increasingly complex, Congress passed the Second Liberty Bond Act of 1917, giving the Treasury Department wide discretion to borrow money as necessary (“The Debt Limit Through the Years”). 

    In 1939, Congress imposed the first cap on the maximum amount of money the Treasury may borrow to pay bills and finance its obligations (“The Debt Limit Through the Years”). Known as the debt ceiling, this maximum limit prevents the government from further accruing debt once X dollars has been reached, even though this debt accumulation is critical to funding statutorily mandated programs and paying the country’s bills (“What is the National Debt?”). Since 1960, Congress has voted to raise the debt ceiling a total of 78 times under both Democratic and Republican administrations (Neuman et al. 2023). While this had long been considered a routine procedure, raising the debt ceiling in recent years has embroiled both Congress and the President in a game of political brinkmanship over larger disputes on issues like deficit spending.  

    Perhaps the most infamous historical example of a debt ceiling brawl occurred during the Obama administration. After the 2010 midterm elections ushered in a wave of populist so-called “Tea Party” Republicans who advocated for a significant reduction in the size of the federal government, a new Republican majority in the House of Representatives sought to flex its newfound influence over policy matters. In January 2011, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner called on Congress to increase the debt ceiling before the Treasury Department would be forced to take “extraordinary measures” to avoid a debt default on May 16 of that year (“Timeline of 2011 Debt Ceiling Crisis”). House Republicans in March announced their refusal to raise the debt ceiling unless a budget plan to fund the government contained certain unnamed provisions designed to control long-term spending. After much jockeying that saw the defeat of both President Obama and House Republicans’ respective deficit reduction proposals, Geithner was forced on May 16 to deploy certain “extraordinary measures” to allow the federal government to pay its bills until August 2. On July 31, two days before this absolute deadline, House Republicans agreed to raise the debt ceiling in exchange for a complex web of deficit reduction measures. The 2011 debt ceiling crisis roiled financial markets and even led to a downgrade in the US credit rating for the first time (Neuman et al. 2023). 

    Today, Congress is seemingly gearing up for another debt ceiling clash that is eerily similar to the 2011 showdown. Shortly after a new Republican House majority was inaugurated at the beginning of this year, current Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen notified Speaker Kevin McCarthy of the Treasury Department’s intention to deploy extraordinary measures beginning on January 19 to temporarily preserve the ability of the US to continue paying its bills (Yellen 2023). The Republican-controlled House, however, refuses to pass a clean debt ceiling increase advocated for by President Biden. Instead, Republicans are hoping to extract concessions from the administration on overall budgetary spending cuts (Skelley 2023). Once again, financial markets and investors around the world are relegated to watching from the sidelines as another potentially calamitous debt ceiling fight unfurls. 

    But what if there was an alternative route to preserve the public credit of the US from the whims of politically self-interested lawmakers? For years, many economic thinkers and policymakers have advocated for solutions that would preserve the ability of the Treasury to borrow money to pay its bills while Congress simultaneously negotiates with the President over a debt ceiling deal. 

    One such unorthodox proposal involves the Treasury minting a trillion-dollar platinum coin and depositing it with the Federal Reserve (Rappeport 2023). Since the Federal Reserve acts as the manager of the Treasury Department’s “general account,” minting a trillion-dollar platinum coin would be the equivalent of adding one trillion disposable dollars that the Treasury Secretary may utilize to continue paying the country’s bills until Congress and the President reach a deal (Rappeport 2023). If the Treasury runs through the trillion dollars before such a deal is reached, then the Department could just mint another trillion-dollar coin and deposit it with the Federal Reserve (Rappeport 2023). 

    At first glance, the successful minting of a trillion-dollar coin rests upon a variety of assumptions. First, this proposal assumes that the ability of the Treasury to honor the government’s obligations outweighs the possible negative consequences of its implementation. Minting a trillion-dollar coin would essentially be tantamount to creating a trillion dollars of new currency “out of thin air” (Bogage 2021). Even though the Treasury would utilize this currency for the sole purpose of paying government bills, this new injection of cash into the overall economic scheme may still threaten to devalue existing money and significantly add to current inflationary pressures (Bogage 2021). Furthermore, it is unclear whether financial markets would react positively to such a policy. Even though the government is still technically honoring its financial obligation to investors by paying its bills, minting a trillion-dollar coin to do so represents an untested measure that would drive worry and angst in the worldwide market.    

    Second, proponents of this proposal assume that minting the coin comports with statutory law. Congress passed a law in 1997 allowing for the Treasury Secretary to “mint and issue platinum bullion coins with such specifications” as the Secretary sees fit (31 U.S.C § 5112(k)). The theory goes that this law empowers the Treasury to mint a trillion-dollar platinum coin to pay its bills. However, this statute read most naturally merely empowers the Treasury to mint platinum bullion coins for investment or collectible purposes. Other provisions of 31 U.S.C. § 5112 surrounding subsection (k), for example, specifically empower the Treasury to issue commemorative coins and coins used for currency purposes. The Constitution tasks Congress with the specific authority to coin money (U.S. Const. art. I, §8), and nowhere in this coinage statute does Congress independently authorize the Treasury to deposit a newly minted trillion-dollar coin to pay government bills. 

    Finally, even if such an action were legal, the successful minting of a trillion-dollar coin assumes that the Federal Reserve would be a willing partner in such an adventure. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has voiced her position that minting the coin would encroach upon the independence of the Federal Reserve by enlisting the Reserve as a personal policy player in the executive branch’s effort to circumvent congressional action on the debt ceiling (Rappeport 2023). Noting how there exists no independent requirement for the Federal Reserve to accept the trillion dollar deposit, Secretary Yellen believed that the Reserve would decline to participate in such a “gimmick” (Rappeport 2023).   

    Many Americans share in the frustration over our political branches’ affinity for brinkmanship games over the federal debt ceiling which threaten to usher in worldwide economic panic. Therefore, it is understandable that some policymakers have proposed minting the coin as an innovative solution to bypass this political turmoil and ensure that the federal government continues to meet its financial obligations. Not all remedies are panaceas, however, and those in favor of minting the coin should consider whether it truly represents a better alternative to solving a debt ceiling crisis. 

    Joseph Brugellis is a freshman from New Hyde Park, NY, on Long Island who intends to double-major in history and philosophy, politics, and law. After graduation, Joseph plans to go onto law school and hopes to one day be appointed as a federal judge. Joseph is passionate about the American judicial branch and is deeply interested in how different interpretative philosophies held by judges shape constitutional law. During summer 2022, Joseph worked as an intern in the office of state Senator Anna M. Kaplan. In his free time, Joseph enjoys reading, listening to music, and exploring nature. 


    Bogage, Jacob. 2021. “The Trillion-Dollar Coin: Is it a Solution to the Debt Ceiling Drama — or a Gimmick?” The Seattle Times, October 5. https://www.seattletimes.com/nation-world/nation-politics/the-trillion-dollar-coin-is-it-a-solution-to-the-debt-ceiling-drama-or-a-gimmick/.

    “The Debt Limit Through the Years.” Bipartisan Policy Center. https://bipartisanpolicy.org/debt-limit-through-the-years/.

    DeSilver, Drew. 2023. “5 facts about the U.S. National Debt.” Pew Research Center, February 14. https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2023/02/14/facts-about-the-us-national-debt/.

    Neuman, Scott et al. 2023. “The Fight Over the Debt Ceiling Could Sink the Economy. This is How We Got Here.” National Public Radio, March 23. https://www.npr.org/2023/03/23/1163448930/what-is-the-debt-ceiling-explanation.

    “The Panama Canal Loan.” The Herbstman Memorial Collection of American Finance. https://www.theherbstmancollection.com/panama-canal-loan.

    Rappeport, Alan. 2023. “The Trillion-Dollar Question: Could a Coin Save the Day?” The New York Times, February 2. https://www.nytimes.com/2023/02/02/business/trillion-dollar-coin-debt-ceiling.html.

    Skelley, Geoffrey. 2023. “How This Debt Ceiling Debate Could End.” FiveThirtyEight, February 14. https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/2-ways-this-debt-ceiling-debate-ends/.

    “Timeline of 2011 Debt Ceiling Crisis”. 2011. CNNPolitics, August 2. https://www.cnn.com/2011/POLITICS/07/25/debt.talks.timeline/index.html.

    “What is the National Debt?” FiscalData—U.S. Treasury Department. https://fiscaldata.treasury.gov/americas-finance-guide/national-debt/#the-debt-ceiling.

    “What is the National Deficit?” FiscalData—U.S. Treasury Department. https://fiscaldata.treasury.gov/americas-finance-guide/national-deficit/#the-difference-between-the-national-deficit-and-the-national-debt.

    Yellen, Janet. 2023. “Letter to the Speaker.” U.S. Treasury Department, January 13. https://home.treasury.gov/system/files/136/Debt-Limit-Letter-to-Congress-McCarthy-20230113.pdf.

  • The Tennessee Three

    The Tennessee Three

    By Ashley Pickus, National Politics Reporter
    Photo: Tennessee Statehouse

    Declarations of fascism rang throughout the chamber of the Tennessee House of Representatives on April 3 as House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) called for a vote on three resolutions to expel three Democrats for “disorderly behavior” (Brown and Jones 2023). Democratic Representatives Justin Jones, Justin Pearson, and Gloria Johnson, who collectively represent more than 200,000 constituents, faced the expulsion vote on April 6 that resulted in Jones and Pearson losing their seats.

    The events leading to the unprecedented expulsion of two House members started with the mass shooting in Nashville on March 27 where six people were killed, including three children (Brown and Jones 2023). This reignited the long-running debate over gun control laws (or lack thereof). The Republican Governor of Tenessee responded to the shooting with a proposal of “$155m to place an armed security guard at every public school in Tennessee and to boost security presence at both public and private schools” (Yousif, Drenon and Goh 2023). Unsatisfied, more than 1,000 peaceful protesters, including hundreds of young people and their parents, gathered at the Tennessee Capitol on March 30 in support of gun control laws. There were no injuries, property damages, or arrests (Jones and Brown 2023). The controversy began when Representatives Jones, Pearson, and Johnson disrupted proceedings by leading protestors into the gallery with bullhorns. 

    “Any time we brought it up, our microphones were cut off,” Jones told NPR. “We were ruled out of order. And so we did not have even a venue to voice the grievances of our community. And so we had no other choice but to do something out of the ordinary and to try and stand in solidarity with disrupting business as normal because business as normal was sticking our head in the sand when our children are dying” (Ryan, Jarenwattananon and Kelly 2023).

    Republicans quickly condemned the three representatives. Representative Sexton denounced the actions of the “Tennessee Three,” comparing their actions to those that participated in the January 6 insurrection (Jones and Brown 2023). Republican Representative Jody Barrett supported this assessment, telling NPR that “if you boil it down to what actually happened, both incidents were an attempt to interrupt a governmental activity or proceeding” (Ryan, Jarenwattananon and Kelly 2023). 

    Republicans swiftly stripped Jones and Johnson of their committee positions (Pearson did not serve on any committees) and restricted the three’s access to the Cordell Hull Legislative Office Building and parking garage (Brown and Jones 2023). Three resolutions to expel the representatives passed on April 3 and the votes on each were held on April 6. Each representative was given an opportunity to defend themselves.

    Jones was the first to take the floor. In a speech before the vote, he said, “This is not about expelling us as individuals. This is your attempt to expel the voices of the people from the people’s house. It will not be successful,” Jones said. “Your overreaction, your flexing of false power has awakened a generation of people who will let you know that your time is up.” He was expelled from the House by a vote of 72-25 (Breen 2023).

    Next was Pearson, who remarked, “We have heard from thousands of people asking us to do something about gun violence,” Pearson said. “What it is in the best interest of our people is ending gun violence.” He was expelled by a vote of 69-26.

    Before her vote, Johnson referenced past scandals that did not result in expulsion. “We had a child molester on the floor for years, they helped him get reelected and did nothing to expel him,” Johnson said. “We’ve had members pee in each other’s chairs. We’ve had members illegally prescribe drugs to their cousin-mistress, and nothing happened. But talk on the floor without permission, and you’ll get expelled.” Johnson kept her seat by one vote; she is also the only one of the three who is white. “I think it’s pretty clear: I’m a 60-year-old White woman. And they are two young Black men,” Johnson told CNN.

    In his interview with NPR, Barrett denied that race played a factor in his decisions. “In my view as an attorney, then it was incumbent upon the debate to present evidence to correct that and to establish clearly what it was that Ms. Johnson did to rise to the level of expulsion,” Barrett said. “I just don’t think that we established that during the debate.”

    In the aftermath of the expulsions, prominent Democrats across the United States voiced their reactions. President Joe Biden issued a statement after the votes: “Today’s expulsion of lawmakers who engaged in peaceful protest is shocking, undemocratic, and without precedent. Rather than debating the merits of the issue, these Republican lawmakers have chosen to punish, silence, and expel duly-elected representatives of the people of Tennessee.” He also held a private conference call with Jones, Pearson and Johnson (Loller, Hall and Miller 2023).

    Former President Barack Obama tweeted, “What happened in Tennessee is the latest example of a broader erosion of civility and democratic norms. Silencing those who disagree with us is a sign of weakness, not strength, and it won’t lead to progress.”

    Vice President Kamala Harris traveled to Nashville on April 7. Along with privately meeting with the three representatives, Harris spoke at Fisk University, Nashville’s historically Black university that Jones attended. 

    “Let’s understand the underlying issue is about fighting for the safety of our children,” Harris said. “It’s been years now where they are taught to read and write and hide in a closet and be quiet if there’s a mass shooter at their school, where our children, who have God’s capacity to learn and lead, who go to school in fear.”

    Jones and Pearson will not be out of politics for long. The procedure after the expulsion of a House member directs the representative’s district to choose an interim replacement until an election is held; there are no rules that prohibit the council of the district from choosing the expelled member to be appointed back to the House (Yousif, Drenon and Goh 2023). The representatives are also able to run again when the special elections are held. 

    On April 10, Nashville’s Metro Council “unanimously voted to reinstate freshman Democrat Justin Jones to his seat in the Tennessee House” (Abrams 2023). Two days later on April 12, the Shelby County Commission unanimously voted to reappoint Justin Pearson (Gutierrez and Breslin 2023). Both Jones and Pearson have been sworn in, reuniting the “Tennessee Three” in the state House.

    Ashley Pickus is a junior from Plainview, New York. She is double-majoring in political science and English rhetoric and minoring in writing studies. Ashley spends most of her free time following the current pop culture trends, watching television shows, or listening to music. If asked, she can explain the meaning of any Taylor Swift song and its significance. After graduation, Ashley hopes to find a job in the media industry.


    Abrams, Cynthia. 2023. “Tennessee rep. Justin Jones returns to Capitol after Nashville Council reinstates him.” NPR, April 10. https://www.npr.org/2023/04/10/1169154500/tennessee-rep-justin-jones-unanimously-reappointed-to-house-by-nashville-council

    Biden, Joe. 2023. “Statement from president Joe Biden on expulsion of Tennessee lawmakers for acting on Gun Safety.” The White House, April 7. https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2023/04/06/statement-from-president-joe-biden-on-expulsion-of-tennessee-lawmakers-for-acting-on-gun-safety/

    Breen, Kerry. 2023. “What to know about the ‘Tennessee Three’: Why were two of the Democratic lawmakers expelled, and what happens now?” CBS News, April 10. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/tennessee-expulsion-house-democrats-expelled-what-happens-now/.

    Breslin, Ryan and Carmyn Gutierrez. 2023. “Justin Pearson sworn back into Tennessee House.” WSMV, April 13. https://www.wsmv.com/2023/04/13/rally-reappointed-lawmaker-justin-pearson-ahead-swearing-in-ceremony/.

    Brown, Melissa and Vivian Jones. 2023. “Tennessee GOP begins expulsion process for 3 Democrats, House session devolves into Chaos.” The Tennessean, April 5. https://www.tennessean.com/story/news/politics/2023/04/03/tennessee-republicans-file-resolutions-to-expel-three-democrats-who-led-gun-reform-chants-on-house-f/70078002007/.

    Jones, Vivian and Melissa Brown. 2023. “Tennessee capitol protest explainer: Here’s what did and did not happen.” The Tennessean, April 4. https://www.tennessean.com/story/news/politics/2023/04/04/tennessee-capitol-protest-heres-what-did-and-did-not-happen/70075823007/.

    Loller, Travis, Zeke Miller and Kristin Hall. 2023. “Kamala Harris leads Tennessee rally, backs ousted lawmakers.” AP NEWS, April 8. https://apnews.com/article/kamala-harris-tennessee-gun-violence-lawmakers-expelled-0a5011694aa5cbf5917bac7f9e09551b.

    Obama, Barack. 2023. “What happened in Tennessee is the latest example of a broader erosion of civility and democratic norms. silencing those who disagree with us is a sign of weakness, not strength, and it won’t lead to progress.” Twitter, April 7. https://twitter.com/BarackObama/status/1644163255189774337.

    Ryan, Erika, Patrick Jarenwattananon and Mary Louise Kelly. 2023. “Tennessee gop rep. Barrett on why he voted to expel two colleagues but not the third.” NPR, April 7. https://www.npr.org/2023/04/07/1168728769/tennessee-gop-rep-barrett-on-why-he-voted-to-expel-two-colleagues-but-not-the-th.

    Yousif, Nadine, Brandon Drenon and Melisa Goh. 2023. “Lawmakers expelled: What to know about the ‘Tennessee three’.” BBC News, April 7. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-65182502.

  • How France Regained its International Status After the Second World War

    How France Regained its International Status After the Second World War

    By Bart van der Wal

    How did France, with a crippled economy and weakened military, gain the status of a superpower?

    When World War II ended in Europe in the spring of 1945, France was a shadow of its former self. The army was defeated by Nazi Germany, and the country had suffered under occupation for years. With their financial and economic situation being so terrible, France lacked all the material fundamentals to regain a dominant role on the world stage. Nevertheless, the country gained superpower status in the new world order that followed World War II. 

    Initially, France was not involved in the plans for the creation of the postwar order. But in the last year of the war, France acquired many privileges that secured its international status. In 1945, France was given a permanent seat on the UN Security Council, along with the United States, Britain, the Soviet Union (later Russia), and China. These “Big Five” to this day have a great influence on the organization thanks to their veto powers. But how did France, with a crippled economy and weakened military, gain the status of a superpower?

    French Foreign Relations During The War

    On the eve of World War I, The French Empire was undeniably a world power, being global in scope with colonial possessions on every continent. The First World War was devastating, but despite the damage suffered, France remained a relevant force in the world during the Interbellum (Meunier 2017). Its colonial empire was largely intact, and the French army was among the largest and strongest in the world. France also gained control of the economically important Rhineland, a heavily-industrialized, formerly-German region. This beneficial position, however, was not long-lasting—World War II was fatal to France’s economy and industry; the French Gross Domestic Product in 1945 was almost half of that in 1938, and the country was plagued by famines. However, the damage to France’s dignity was even greater, as on May 10, 1940, the Nazi invasion began. One month later, German soldiers marched on the Champs Élysées in the heart of Paris. France had been defeated, dealing a heavy blow to the nation’s international status. 

    When the French leadership began negotiating its surrender, General Charles de Gaulle was on a diplomatic mission in London. There he remained when the cabinet fell and Marshal Philippe Pétain, a puppet of Hitler, became the president of occupied “Vichy France.” De Gaulle quickly tried to form an alternative government-in-exile in London called Françaises Libres: the Free French. In the meantime, the Vichy regime wanted to sentence him to death for high treason. 

    Meanwhile, De Gaulle struggled to gain recognition for his government in exile. Even in the French colonies, where many governors ignored him (Manning 1977). On the world stage, there were now two governments trying to present themselves as the legitimate representation of France. According to De Gaulle, the Vichy regime was not legitimate because it had deprived the French people of their right to self-determination, “a right considered traditional and sacred in France” (Cassin 1941). The Vichy regime abandoned the idea of a French Republic, something De Gaulle refused to do. He did his best to uphold the illusion that France was not lost and still fighting the war (Trotiño 2008).

    But De Gaulle’s personality got in the way of his ambitions. The Allies did not favor him as the temporary representative of France (Williams 2017). The United States, in particular, was reluctant because of President Roosevelt’s dislike for De Gaulle; he was suspicious of the motivations of the self-proclaimed French leader. De Gaulle was said to have “Napoleonic” traits and was accused of wanting to start his own dictatorship in France. The United States for a long time maintained diplomatic relations with the Vichy regime to keep the door open for this regime to be the rulers of postwar France. Since the French contribution to the war so far was minor, Roosevelt did not recognize France as a superpower (Trotiño 2008). In Roosevelt’s vision, only “Four Policemen” were needed to maintain world peace after the war, not five. Consequently, the Free French were not invited to the Dumbarton Oaks Conference in July and August 1944, where the groundwork was laid for the postwar world. 

    The relationship of the Free French with Britain was much better than with the United States, although the British had their doubts about De Gaulle’s legitimacy. Initially, they saw De Gaulle as representing a group of Frenchmen and not the Frenchmen. When De Gaulle reproached Churchill for doing Roosevelt’s bidding, Churchill delicately answered him that if he had to choose between Europe and “the rest of the world,” he would always choose “the rest of the world” (Gildea 2002). It was clear that the future world order was an Anglo-American project, not a European one. Yet, with the growing threat of the Cold War, helping France restore its global position became a policy objective for Britain. (Hilderbrand 1990). France was the only candidate on the European continent to be able to counter both Germany and the Soviet Union. But there was also a second reason why involving France in world governance was in Britain’s interest. Both countries had large colonial empires, and France could help the British constrain the decolonization desires of other superpowers.

    In February 1945, the “Big Three” met in Crimea for the Yalta Conference. France was not invited, much to the annoyance of the Free French, who had already renamed themselves the “Provisional Government of the French Republic.” France was given an occupation zone in West Germany, but this was seen more as a favor than as a right. The agreement, in De Gaulle’s eyes, violated France’s international status (Heimann 2015). French administrators were outraged that the future of Europe was being determined by three “non-European powers.” They dug their heels in and refused to join the San Francisco Conference, where the United Nations Charter was drafted, as long as they were denied a say in the original agreements. This tactic paid off because the Allies changed their position, and France was accepted as a full partner in the new world government. Along with the “Big Three” and China, it was given a permanent seat on the Security Council. From then on, France’s international status was on the rise again. The French had successfully secured their place in future world affairs.

    The Foundations Of International Status

    It was not just British self-interests and French stubbornness that allowed France to resume the role of a superpower. Other countries were equally or even better suited to become the fifth world power. Brazil, for example, was highlighted as a candidate by the United States. In terms of natural resources and population, Brazil was comparable to France. With Brazil, the South American continent would also be represented on the Security Council. However, there was no desire for a sixth permanent seat. In the end, France was chosen because it enjoyed greater prestige. But what was that reputation based on? The defeat of 1940 made it painfully clear that the balance of power had shifted away from Europe and France. But material assets are not the only source of international status. A potential superpower can also gain recognition based on three other factors: symbolic value, moral claims, and contextual factors (Heimann 2015).

    Historical heritage is the most important foundation for symbolic power. Privileges are rarely taken away from countries that are traditional superpowers, and France has a rich past. Giving a newcomer, such as Brazil, important privileges would make other countries jealous. The choice of France was accepted by the international community due to its historical legacy. In addition, France derived much symbolic value from its colonial empire. De Gaulle saw the French empire as a crucial element in France’s resurgence as a world power (Williams 2017). He managed to recapture French territories in North Africa between 1942 and 1943 with what was left of the French armed forces, supported by the British and the Americans. De Gaulle immediately installed part of his government in Algeria so that they would no longer be a “government in exile,” but one that represented French interests from French soil. After the war, consideration was given to the idea of transforming the empire into a “French Union,” along the lines of the British Commonwealth. The French attachment to its colonial possessions was welcomed by the British and irked the Americans while giving France some sense of self-worth and relevance.

    Moral motives may also bring a nation prestige and privileges. Often these kinds of privileges are rewards for services rendered. For example, countries that contributed or sacrificed greatly to war may have a favorable position in the postwar world order. De Gaulle was aware of this and consistently sought to increase the French contribution to the Allied victory. The remaining French army was small compared to the massive armies of the “Big Three,” while also being poorly equipped. De Gaulle frequently had to ask the Americans for weapons. African soldiers from the French colonies contributed significantly to the war effort. They participated in the invasion of Sicily and Italy, and twenty thousand African infantrymen fought for the liberation of southern France in 1944. However, most of the praise went to the French Resistance and their fight against the German occupiers (Jackson 2004). By, in his own words, using his limited means to “stir up a lot of dust” (Heimann 2015), De Gaulle ensured that France could claim the spoils of war.

    Finally, there are contextual conditions that make a state a viable candidate for the role of a superpower. Geography can play a big role, especially in combination with political affinity. While a seat for Brazil would better the global representation in the Security Council, France possessed a more strategic location in the context of the Cold War. Initially, both the United States and the Soviet Union opposed a French seat, but after conversations between Moscow and Paris, the Soviet Union flipped. Stalin likely hoped to bring in France as a political ally (Heimann 2015). This forced the United States to appease France as well. When Roosevelt proposed to Stalin in February 1945 that France be given a zone of occupation in West Germany, the latter asked: “For what reason?” Roosevelt replied: “Out of kindness” (Heimann 2015), a surprising stance for a man who first clearly disapproved of De Gaulle and French imperialism. By playing “hard to get,” France was able to take advantage of tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union to win privileges for itself.

    International status is an abstract commodity. A state with poor military or economic weight can still rise to a powerful position if it has symbolic value or if contextual conditions are favorable. France’s status after World War II was one of its own makings. It could not be demanded but had to be obtained through tactical maneuvering. This way, De Gaulle was able to restore France’s grandeur.

    Bart van der Wal is an exchange student from The Netherlands. He is majoring in history at Utrecht University with a specialization in globalization and world order. Bart followed a minor in American Studies at the University of Amsterdam and is now on a year-long exchange at Binghamton University, where he takes classes in history and political science. He is especially interested in transatlantic relations and international conflicts. In the near future, Bart will be pursuing a master’s degree in International Relations.


    Cassin, René. 1941. “Vichy or Free France?” Foreign Affairs, 20(1): 102–112.

    Gildea, R. 2002. “Myth, memory and policy in France since 1945.” in: Memory and Power in Post-War Europe: Studies in the Presence of the Past, ed. Jan-Werner Müller, 59–75. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

    Heimann, Gadi. 2015. “What does it take to be a great power? The story of France joining the Big Five.” Review of International Studies, 41(1): 185–206.

    Hilderbrand, Robert. 1990. Dumbarton Oaks: The Origins of the United Nations and the Search for Postwar Security. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press.

    Jackson, Julian. 2004. The Fall of France: The Nazi Invasion of 1940. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

    Manning, A.F. 1977. “De Nederlandse regering in Londen en de ‘Vrije Fransen.’” Bijdragen en Mededelingen betreffende de Geschiedenis der Nederlanden, 92: 438–450.

    Meunier, Sophie. 2017. “Is France Still Relevant?” French Politics, Culture & Society, 35(2): 59–75.

    Troitiño, David. 2008. “De Gaulle and the European Communities.” Proceedings of the Institute for European Studies, (4): 139-152.  Williams, A. 2017. “France and the Origins of the United Nations, 1944–1945: Si La France ne compte plus, qu’on nous le dise.” Diplomacy & Statecraft, 28(2): 215–234.

  • Conspiracy Theories and the Fall of the USSR

    Conspiracy Theories and the Fall of the USSR

    By Matthew Beylinson
    Photo: Leaders sign the agreement to dissolve the USSR (RIA Novosti).

    How did factors from the Soviet and post-Soviet periods combine to create conspiracies, and how do these conspiracies live on in modern Russia?

    It is a quiet night in Moscow as the city starts to settle down. The day is September 9, 1999, and recently, Russia has been rocked by a series of bombings orchestrated by Chechen terrorists. There is an air of confusion and anxiety about the recent bombing and the war in Chechnya. But up till now, the bombings had been happening far from Moscow, and when a bomb exploded in Moscow, there were relatively few deaths. Then, just after midnight, an explosion rings out across the Russian capital; a massive section of an apartment on Guryanova street has just been transformed into a pile of rubble within seconds. Officially, this horrific event (and the bombings before it) was blamed on Chechen terrorists, but even today not all Russians believe this narrative. There is a popular theory that the cause of the attack was the successor to the KGB, the FSB, which organized a bombing campaign under the orders of Vladimir Putin. This attack led to the second Chechen war, which served as a massive boon to Putin’s political career (Ortmann and Heathershaw 2012).

    The apartment bombings, which predated the second Chechen war, were just one of many conspiracies floating around Russia in the 1990s. This was a period of extreme social, political, and economic change, surrounded by an atmosphere of nearly complete confusion. Because of these factors, nearly every major event that occurred during this period was thought by some to be part of a conspiracy. But how did this prolific conspiratorial culture emerge, how did factors from the Soviet and post-Soviet periods combine to create conspiracies, and how do these conspiracies live on in modern Russia?

    The conspiratorial culture of the ‘90s cannot be discussed without first going into the Soviet period and examining how conspiracies from before the fall helped develop ones after. There is no better place to start than one of the oldest roots of conspiracy theories in Russia, a fear of the West. This fear originated as a feeling of otherness—that the West is different from Russia—and dates back deep into the Tsarist Era (Diligensky and Chugrov 2000). However, Russian fears of Western agents plotting the downfall of the Russian state originated with the Russian revolution. It was a fear that was not irrational, as the Allied powers (which included many powerful Western states) intervened in the revolution on the side of the White Army to put down the Bolsheviks (Baldwin 1969).

    But the Bolsheviks won, and they would later establish the Soviet Union. This event was therefore framed as an attack on the Soviet system by a foreign capitalist foe, the West. Khrushchev captures the sentiment in a 1959 speech, where he said, “Remember that in the hard times after the October Revolution, US Troops… landed on Soviet soil to help the White Guards fight our Soviet system. And they were not the only ones to land… Your armed intervention in Russia was the most unpleasant thing that ever occurred in the relations between our two countries…” (Diligensky and Chugrov 2000). The Soviet people, including their leadership, developed a distrust of the West after this event, which expanded into a fear that the next invasion was imminent.

    This fear existed among all strata of Soviet society, from the General Secretary to lowly workers in remote republics, and it saw a reemergence after the fall of the USSR. However, what was previously a fear had now become a conspiracy. As the USSR was falling, many were confused as to how this could be possible; it was easy to come up with a simple reason that the West again had intervened, and this time succeeded. The most famous of these conspiracy theories was that of the “Dulles Plan.” The theory maintained that the CIA, under director Allen Dulles, had infiltrated the Soviet Union. The infiltrators would then spread confusion, government infighting, and general social unrest for the sake of ultimately destroying Russian culture and the USSR as a whole (Scheie 2019). This theory was primarily spread by former Soviet officials and by members of the new Russian Federation government. They wanted to explain the collapse of the USSR in such a way that removed all blame from the Russian government; only malicious outside interference could have caused the collapse.

    Along with its roots in a fear of the West, the Dulles Plan theory also has roots in another concept important to understanding Russian conspiracy culture, the existence of powerful state security apparatuses. State security apparatuses have existed in Russia since before the Soviet period. Due to their long history, they have established themselves as permanent fixtures in Russian society. This has led to their inclusion in several conspiracy theories. It has also led to these agencies creating conspiracy theories to keep justifying their existence.

    Regarding the Dulles Plan, it uses fear of the West to create a necessity for agencies such as the KGB to exist. If there is an impending attack from the West that seeks to destroy Russian culture using hidden operatives, then there is only one response that makes sense: support the KGB. In writing about the role of state security agencies in the spread of the Dulles Plan conspiracy, Scheie writes, “this has created a high dependence on security services in order to preserve the Russian way of life” (2019). This dependency carried on into and past the Yeltsin years when the KGB was revived as the FSK/FSB. They adopted the mindset that only they could defend Russia against its usual hidden enemies.

    The West’s plot, in this case, took the form of journalists and media criticizing Russia’s government. This plot is presented in very conspiratorial-sounding language, which can be seen in a quote from Vasilii Stavitskii, an FSB public relations official. He writes, “Someone very ‘wise’ in the West has skillfully used a campaign in order to devastate the power structures… The impression is created that someone very ‘wise’ again wishes through the hands of journalists to suffocate the new democratic state.” The FSB uses the fears of the past to create new conspiracies which help them maintain their position of power and slander members of the opposition. The Western infiltrators have returned, this time as journalists and critics of the regime.

    Yet, while the FSB attempts to take a heroic stance as the saviors of Russia, their emergence came at a time of extreme government distrust (Soldatov and Borgan, 2010). This distrust, along with the FSB’s increasingly brutal nature and the massive amount of former KGB/FSB in government, led to conspiracies emerging about the agency. Consider, for instance, the aforementioned conspiracy theory floating around about the apartment bombings. At its basics, this theory combines elements of a general distrust in what the government says is happening, a sense of the FSB becoming increasingly more brutal, and the suspicious amount of former KGB/FSB agents getting key government positions. The production of conspiracies was not and is not just something done by the government and its supporters—the opposition is also involved in this culture of conspiracy theories.

    Another key factor from the Soviet period and before that was unfortunately revived in ‘90s conspiracy theories is anti-Semitism. Russia has a long and troubled history of anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. The most infamous case of this is The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a conspiracy theory alleging that a cabal of Jews was seeking to secretly control the world. The theory originated in Russia and was created by the Okhrana, the secret police of Imperial Russia, in the early 20th century (Anti-Defamation League, A Hoax of Hate: The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion). This troubled past remerged with the collapse of the USSR as the near-total social disorder led to old anti-Semitic biases being sown into new conspiracy theories. There was a prevalent theory that the oligarchs who emerged at this time were all Jewish. It was key to this theory that by being Jewish, they had to become oligarchs (Ortmann and Heathershaw 2012).

    During the ‘90s, anti-Semitic conspiracy theories also took the form of “alternate” history. Nationalist writers such as Aleksandr Prokhanov, Sergei Kurginian, Vadim Kozhinov, Igor Shafarevich, and Sergei Kara-Murza, who wrote texts claiming that Jews had threatened Russia throughout history, achieved peak popularity in the ‘90s (Laruelle, 2012). One subject often covered was the Medieval Khazar kingdom—a Jewish kingdom on the shores of the Caspian Sea which often conflicted with the Kievan Rus, often considered the predecessor of Russia (Laruelle, 2012). The goal of their incorrect readings of history was to paint Jews as an ancient, eternal enemy of the Russian people. 

    When these glaringly false histories were combined with theories of an Oligarchic class composed solely of Jews, an impression was created that Jews are not the same as orthodox Russians: they have always been enemies and outsiders, and now they have massive political and social power. The complexities of the post-Soviet period were simplified in terms of evil, wealthy Jews, and good, simple Russians.

    One of these more modern elements that contributed to this culture of conspiracies was simply the confusion of the times. It was hard for many Russians to believe that the Soviet Union went from being a global superpower to not even existing in a matter of years. The states left behind after the collapse were shadows of the former geopolitical colossus. The various political events that preceded the sudden downfall of the USSR were thus re-examined with a conspiratorial perspective.

    Events such as the August Coup and Gorbachev’s liberalizing policies were explained in terms of a conspiracy. The theory was that a Western plan to destroy the USSR and plunder its wealth had reached its ultimate goal. Gorbachev would use his liberalizing reforms to rouse liberals in Russia into becoming a pro-Western fifth column to topple both communism and the state (Yablokov 2018) This attempt was resisted by hardliners in the communist government and the KGB (Soldatov and Borgan 2010) which, of course, was positioned as the only force that could stop Western infiltrators. It is clear to see the pre-Soviet elements of conspiracy here, such as the nobility of the state security apparatus and an overall fear of Western infiltration.

    Lack of information was not the issue; it was an overabundance of information that caused confusion. When the Soviet Union collapsed, there was an influx of information into Russia propelled by new sources of media, like the internet and international news. A broad variety of contradictory information was now offered to the average Russian without the presence of Soviet-style censorship. This created an environment where average people did not know who to believe or which source to trust, thus creating a breeding ground for conspiracy theories to emerge (Ortmann and Heathershaw 2012).

    The processes of globalization and Westernization also contributed to the creation of conspiracy theories. Russia very suddenly transitioned from a mostly closed-off, communist state into a quasi-liberal, capitalist state. With the political and economic changes of globalization also came the social changes, which took the form of Westernization. What made these changes a root of conspiratorial thought was their suddenness and their lack of efficacy.

    These changes were part of Yeltsin’s program to rapidly transform the new Russia into a modern democracy; it was a plan known as shock therapy. The idea was for a rapid transition into a market economy that followed an equally fast change to democracy. Instead of a free market, though, Russia developed an inefficient economy in which private enterprises were controlled by a very small elite with ties to the government: the oligarchs. This economy was mired in Soviet-style inefficiency as unprofitable industries were propped up by the government due to their ties with the former Soviet system (Huygen 2012) This economic unrest was made worse by the new political freedoms allowed to the public, which allowed them to air their grievances publicly. (Huygen, 2012).

    Then to make matters worse, economists from the West were some of the primary advisors of Yeltsin in implementing shock therapy. The Clinton administration and the International Monetary Fund, after some pushing from the US, loaned billions of dollars to Yeltsin’s government with little oversight. The goals of these loans were to continue Russia’s efforts of shock therapy. But the quality of life continued to plummet as both these loans and shock therapy accomplished little for the Russian people, save for the new class of oligarchs (Huygen 2012).

    It was all this, along with an influx of Western culture and goods into Russia, that led to the growth of conspiracy theories. The forces of globalization and Westernization, along with the United States as a whole, were clumped under the title of the “New Order,” a term still used by Putin today. (Yablokov 2018) A prime example of a conspiracy based around the New Order is one perpetuated by Gennadii Zyuganov, the leader of the new Communist Party of the Russian Federation. He argued that 1991 was the start of the new world order composed of the Bilderberg Group, the Trilateral Commission, the American Council for International Relations, and the US government. This nefarious new order was working to ultimately destroy the Russian state in any capacity and to end Orthodox Christianity (Yablokov 2018). This theory presents the fears of cultural erosion via economic and political change held by many Russians.

    It was not just the opposition like Zyuganov that used conspiracy theories. The Russian government in the ‘90s also did not shy away from spreading conspiracy theories for political gain. One such example is the sinking of the Kursk. The Kursk was a Russian nuclear submarine that sank in 2000 in an accident that claimed the lives of everyone on board. The Kremlin, however, refused to accept the fact that the submarine sank due to poor maintenance and mismanagement. Instead, they promulgated a theory that the Kursk collided with a NATO submarine that was sailing illegally in Russian waters (Ortmann and Heathershaw 2012). This theory was spread by the Russian government to throw the blame on the West for a horrible mistake to which they did not want to own up. Despite their plan, the Kremlin’s theory never really spread among Russians and was even openly mocked.

    The conspiracy theories and the elements from which they were made were not just confined to the ‘90s and then lost to history; they are still very much alive in modern Russia. The difference is that, in 21st-century Russia, instead of being spread by opposition politicians or by ordinary citizens in conversation, conspiracies are spread by Russian state media (Yablokov 2018). The use of conspiracies by Russian politicians also has not disappeared after the ‘90s. In the 2007 and 2011-12 Parliamentary and Presidential elections, Russian political elites in United Russia, the ruling party, spread a conspiracy theory that there was again a Western plot to destroy Russia, this time through election interference (Yablokov 2018).

    Modern anti-Western conspiracy theories nearly all agree that the only shield against the menace of the West is Putin, his party, and his government. In a 2007 speech, Boris Gryzlov, the chairman of United Russia, spoke of Western aggression against Russia and how Russia is surrounded by the West or Western-aligned states. He also spoke of “well-wishers,” a veiled term for Western agents inside Russia hoping to spread unrest. But in this difficult time, Gryzlov reveals the one shield against Russia’s foes: “Modern Russia is Putin. Russia without Putin is Russia without leadership, Russia without will. Russia, which can be divided and with which you can do whatever you want. Russia as prey.” (Gryzlov 2007). Putin has absorbed the role of the KGB and other state security agencies in Russian conspiratorial thought as shields against the West.

    Putin and his political allies are men who have built their careers out of the conspiratorial culture of the ‘90s. As demonstrated, they use elements of conspiracy theories from this time to build support for themselves and their party. Yet it is not just elements of conspiracy theories that they use; they have crafted a zeitgeist of the ‘90s as a time of despair, confusion, chaos, and Western corruption. The so-called “tumultuous ‘90s” is a term modern politicians throw around as a tool against their enemies (Yablokov 2018). The implication is always that if someone other than a United Russia candidate is elected, then we will see a return to the “tumultuous ‘90s.” United Russia would have all Russians believe that the 1990s have never fully ended; they are right around the corner, ready to push the country into mayhem, and the only force that can stop them is Putin and his cronies.

    Matthew Beylinson is a political science and classical civilizations double major from Staten Island, NY. He is in his junior year and hopes to attend law school and eventually work in international law or government. Outside of Happy Medium, Matthew is a member of the History Club, Rowing Club, and works as a bus driver for OCCT. He is fluent in Russian and specializes in Post-Soviet politics and the analysis of autocratic and totalitarian regimes.


    Грызлов, Борис. 2007. “Борис Грызлов: Владимир Путин Останется Национальным Лидером – Независимо От Поста, Который Он Будет Занимать.” Российская газета, October 17. https://rg.ru/2007/10/17/grizlov.html.

    Baldwin, Robert Cushman. 1969. “The Allied Military Expedition to North Russia: 1918-1919.” Faculty of the College of Arts and Sciences of the American University.

    Diligensky, Guerman and Sergei Chugrov. “‘The West’ in Russian Mentality.” Office for Information and Press, Brussels, Institute of World Economy and International Relations, Moscow.

    “A Hoax of Hate: The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion.” 2013. Anti-Defamation League, January 5. https://www.adl.org/resources/backgrounders/a-hoax-of-hate-the-protocols-of-the-learned-elders-of-zion.

    Huygen, Christopher. 2012. “One Step Forward, Two Steps Back: Boris Yeltsin and the Failure of Shock Therapy.” Constellations 3(1). doi: 10.29173/cons16287.

    Laruelle, Marléne. 2012. “Conspiracy and Alternate History in Russia: A Nationalist Equation for Success?” The Russian Review, 71(4): 565–80. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9434.2012.00669.x.

    Ortmann, Stefanie and John Heathershaw. 2012. “Conspiracy Theories in the Post-Soviet Space.” The Russian Review, 71(4): 551–64. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9434.2012.00668.x.

    Scheie, Trina. 2019. “Post-cold War Russian Revisionism and Conspiratorial Thinking: Revealing Centuries of State Security and Intelligence Dependence.” Johns Hopkins University.

    Soldatov, Andrei and Irina Borogan. 2010. “Russia’s New Nobility: The Rise of the Security Services in Putin’s Kremlin.” Council on Foreign Relations, 89(5): 80–96.

    Yablokov, Ilya. 2018. “Conspiracy Theories in Post-Soviet Russia.” Conspiracy Theories and the People Who Believe Them, 360–71. doi: 10.1093/oso/9780190844073.003.0024.

    Yablokov, Ilya. 2018. Fortress Russia: Conspiracy Theories in Post-Soviet Russia. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.