3 min read
Published in

3 min read

Democracy Online: A Record-Breaking January on Medium

M. Scott Mahaskey/POLITICO

Words matter. They’re critical tools for debate, inspiration, and understanding. We take them seriously at Medium. We know you take them seriously, too — 200 million words were published in January, Medium’s biggest month in history. Driving that growth are people well-known and unknown, sharing their insight into what’s happening in American politics and the world at-large. Your posts reveal that substance, candor, and credibility more than ever, from people who can deepen our perspectives and challenge our biases, are paramount.

To get you started, here are five top important topics rounded-up from January:

1. The travel ban for refugees and immigrants

Donald Trump issued a flurry of executive orders his first week as President, but none more controversial than the temporary travel ban on citizens from seven predominantly Muslim countries. This executive order, combined with his campaign rhetoric promising a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States,” led many to believe the executive order was an incremental step to make good on his promise.

Senator Kamala Harris was unequivocal in her response: “Make no mistake — this is a Muslim ban”, and the order reinvigorated protesters across the country. Senator Jeff Flake joined other conservative leaders who took issue with the clumsy enforcement of and roll out, stating “it’s unacceptable when even legal permanent residents are being detained or turned away at airports and ports of entry.”

Malala Yousafzai added her thoughts:

Writers shared stories from their own family. Neghar Fonooni told us about her Iranian father, who, at “17 and alone, didn’t speak a word of English when he boarded that plane.” Tasha Butler reminded us about another executive order from a previous generation:

This order declared that all people of Japanese ancestry be removed from their homes and relocated to internment camps.

Shibley Telhami points us towards data from The Brookings Institution which he believes illustrates “how Trump changed Americans’ view of Islam for the better.” And the Washington Post warns that the “Shock. Outrage. Resistance. Repeat.” catalyzed by the travel ban may be a reoccurring in Trump’s administration.

2. Media, democracy and entertainment

What has become abundantly clear, just 18 days into Trump’s presidency, is that the heightened frenzy he introduced to our politics during the campaign show no signs of slowing now that he occupies the Oval Office.

Hyperbolic partisan rage has been the norm for so long, it is more challenging than ever to vet for accurate information and assess when concern has merit. As Sean Blanda reminds us:

The methods used to fund modern journalism simultaneously undermine trust in the news outlets.

The level of mistrust might further expand by what Berny Belvedere describes as, an “alt-fact administration.” Michael Tracey contends:

[Trump] is keenly aware of how to prod the media into indulging its worst instincts, so a vicious cycle emerges where Trump does something outlandish, and then the media responds by acting outlandishly in its own right.

Michael Marinaccio says quit blaming the news media for feeding us exactly what consumers continually demand — entertainment.

Intensified concern doesn’t seem misplaced, just follow Amy Siskind and her weekly chronicles for Trump’s most recent assault on democratic norms. Conservatives from The Buckley Club like Tim Carlson have remained stalwartly #NeverTrump. And G. Clinton illustrated the slippery slope some conservatives navigate who are forsaking principle out of hatred for leftists:

The things that Donald Trump seems to stand for are the antithesis to what I believe a leader of conservatism should espouse.

Yonatan Zunger published a widely read post this month musing on Trump’s potentially sinister ulterior motives. As did Jake Fuentes on what he saw as Trump’s head fake. This drove an important discussion and incited some pointed criticism. Nicholas Grossman rejected the notion that this is part of a master plan from Trump and chief strategist Steve Bannon, and chalks it up to inexperience and human fallibility, while acknowledging:

As Americans are learning, most restraints on presidential power are norms. The modern United States has never been confronted with a White House that doesn’t care about precedent, democratic values, or conflicts of interest.

Abby Ohlheiser shared a similar critique (which doubled as a critique of Medium for helping give rise to “unproven speculations”) by citing heavily from Cornell professor Tom Pepinsky, who wrote:

…Everything that Zunger identifies is evidence not of a deliberate planning by an aspiring authoritarian, but of the exact opposite: the weakness and incoherence of administration by a narcissist.

Zunger acknowledged these counter points in a second post but emphasized:

You don’t need to be brilliant to be a danger to democracy; quite literally, an idiot could do it. Inventing effective authoritarianism from scratch may require an evil brilliance, but copying existing techniques requires only amorality.

3. Women march

The day after Trump’s Inauguration, millions of people throughout the world took to the streets as part of the Women’s March movement. Millions of others came to Medium to make sense of it all.

Melissa Harris-Perry asked what is normal. Is it Trump? The protestors? Both? Writer susan.speer said she marched for the women who couldn’t, and even for those who didn’t ask her to:

There’s a lot of women right here, in this country, who need things they aren’t getting, and they deserve their own conversation.

Dina Leygerman published a point-by-point case for why women are still not equal:

You are not equal. Even if you feel like you are. You still make less than a man for doing the same work. You make less as a CEO, as an athlete, as an actress, as a doctor. You make less in government, in the tech industry, in healthcare.

Stefanie Williams responded by challenging what she sees as the pervading wisdom of those who marched (eventually turning in her liberal card altogether):

The smugness of liberalism as of late has made me hesitant to declare my identity recently. The “we know better than you” attitude is too reminiscent of the patriarchal right.

And while helping to lead a march in Park City, UT, Chelsea Handler and Mary McCormack looked for the bright side of a Trump’s election:

4. The Russian dossier

Following BuzzFeed News’s release of a dossier that was produced by a former British intelligence officer and circulating the highest offices of American government, many weren’t sure what to make of the dossier’s accusations. Amongst other things, the dossier supported U.S. intelligence reports that Vladimir Putin ordered Russian powers to meddle in the U.S. presidential election to hurt Hillary Clinton’s candidacy and prop up Trump. But this dossier went further and claimed the Russian government had incriminating information on Trump they could use to blackmail him.

Former Department of Defense intelligence analyst, Jim Arkedis, drew upon his years of experience analyzing similar intelligence to share how he would assess the dossier’s credibility:

I think there’s enough evidence there that it would be irresponsible not to consider how this could impact our nation’s security and what, if anything, can be done to mitigate those potential impacts.

Taylor Griffin served in the White House and Treasury under President George W. Bush and viewed the document with a healthy degree of skepticism, saying; “It is telling that Trump’s primary opponents had the information, as apparently did Hillary Clinton’s allies, and chose not to use it.

To his fellow conservatives, Griffin offers these thoughts regarding Russian interference in the election:

How plausible is it, really, that Democrats, the media, every U.S. intelligence agency, and the vast majority of cybersecurity professionals are in on a conspiracy to spare Hillary Clinton’s feelings and discredit Donald Trump?

Russian journalist Alexey Kovalev has spent years covering authoritarian leaders and a blunt message to “doomed colleagues in American media” now tasked with covering Trump:

Facts don’t matter. You can’t hurt this man with facts or reason. He’ll always outmaneuver you. He’ll always wriggle out of whatever carefully crafted verbal trap you lay for him. Whatever he says, you won’t be able to challenge him. He always comes with a bag of meaningless factoids (Putin likes to drown questions he doesn’t like in dull, unverifiable stats, figures and percentages), platitudes, false moral equivalences and straight, undiluted bullshit. He knows it’s a one-way communication, not an interview.

5. A cabinet is nominated

Six cabinet members have been confirmed by the US Senate. Eleven are awaiting a confirmation vote, such as Sen. Jeff Sessions for Attorney General. Earlier this month Senator Cory Booker and Congressman John Lewis testified against Senator Sessions to articulate their concerns about Sessions’ record on civil rights:

But prior to her confirmation yesterday, the nomination of Betsy DeVos for Secretary of Education seemed to draw most of the Democrat’s ire.

U.S. Senator Bob Casey was concerned with DeVos’ testimony when he asked her about protecting victims of sexual assault by enforcing existing laws. In his words, “maintaining protections for the victims of campus sexual assault is not negotiable.” And Senator Kirsten Gillibrand writes:

I have never heard so many concerns from my constituents about someone so ill prepared for the position they were nominated for.

Sen. Lamar Alexander made the case for confirming DeVos. Claiming Democrats are “desperately are searching for a valid reason to oppose Betsy DeVos.”

As we move into February, things show no signs of slowing down.