Ariel Hill-Davis is a Republican from Pennsylvania who currently resides in Washington D.C. Ariel serves as Director of Industry Affairs for a trade association, working on legislative and regulatory issues that impact the mining industry.
Hillary Rodham Clinton is nothing if not resilient, and, with the release of her book What Happened, she is reminding us that if she can still stand up then so can we all. I had the privilege of attending the first night of her book tour, in DC, and found myself both inspired and pleasantly surprised that her message was largely devoid of partisan talking points. Despite being the target of substantial dislike and mistrust across the entire political spectrum, Hillary Rodham Clinton continues to fight for this country. I haven’t yet had the opportunity to finish her book, so while I cannot comment on its message, I can unpack some of the vast takeaways from her remarks that night. I want to draw attention to some aspects of her message I find critical for our ongoing national dialogue. While I could easily rehash the important exploration of gender dynamics and politics that she spoke to, I am going to focus on her concerns for our democratic institutions and the election process.
Over the last few days, I’ve found myself returning over and over to three different ideas Hillary raised during her remarks. All three will continue to influence our election cycles in the future as well as the direction of our country. Those three ideas revolve around: (1) the weaponization of false information; (2) the maintenance of the sanctity of our democratic processes and institutions; and (3) the importance of active civic engagement. The issues tied to these ideas transcend Hillary Clinton, party lines, and personality disputes. We should be talking about these things not to find blame for Donald Trump’s Presidency, but to ensure our country isn’t torn apart by differences that seem to be increasingly difficult to manage.
As I’ve written before, the aspect of our current political climate that worries me the most is the damage being done to our institutions and the public faith (or lack thereof) in our governance process. These concerns are not to say I believe our institutions are perfect or do not need to adapt and evolve as our nation ages. However, in acknowledging the faults we need to address issues like gerrymandering, voter suppression, and campaign finance — without trust in our institutions and elections the whole democratic system is at risk. As more and more news comes out, we are going to be forced to come to terms with the Russian interference in our 2016 elections and what that means for us moving forward. Removing the issue of active or unknowing collusion from the table, we still are left with a foreign power that actively worked to sow misinformation, doubt, mistrust and discontent throughout our electorate. We as a nation need to come to terms with Russian involvement in the election and establish a plan to combat foreign powers meddling in our domestic election cycles in the future. Furthermore, acknowledging we want to safeguard our election process from outside powers is not and should not be a partisan issue. Power flows back and forth between political parties, and we all benefit from finding ways to prohibit a Russian agenda from influencing the outcomes of our elections, whether directly or indirectly.
The safeguarding of our election process directly relates to the weaponization of false information in our modern world. Much has, rightly, been made of “Fake News” and the prevalence of our own curated and maintained echo chambers. Troubling though is the conflation of actual misinformation with unfavorable reports or stories. There is bias wherever you get your news that is simply a fact of our modern society. However, to view opinion pieces and flagrantly false stories as the same as fact-checked and researched articles is wildly dangerous. Hillary Clinton used “Pizzagate” as an example of how operating in active falsehoods for political purposes can have real world consequences. As she stated on Monday, the fabricated story involving a child sex trafficking ring run out of the non-existent basement of a DC pizza parlor was not intended to convince individuals, like Edgar Welch, to show up on the doorstep of Comet Ping Pong with a rifle. The story was part of the broadly disseminated, provocative, and fictitious stories pushed out online to influence public perceptions of the candidates. These stories were posted on websites built with the express purpose of knowingly spreading false information, a trend that has been widely reported on at this point. While this subject isn’t groundbreaking, I found the idea of weaponizing false information to have consequences far past our election cycles and political process. False facts and stories are circulated by non-verified and non-fact-checked sources to push different agendas, but these lies can and do have real life consequences.
To use another example, a common false statistic cited by the newly empowered white nationalists is that the United States was 95% white until 1965. This statistic is meant to stoke fear in white Americans of racial marginalization and even extinction at the hands of “others” in the United States. Despite that fact being demonstrably and laughably false, it is treated as evidence that “white America” is under attack and encourages hate and violence within our nation. We all apply different lenses when interpreting our worlds, but we need to find a way to restore some level of agreed-upon vetting process for widely-disseminated information. Activating political or violent actions by knowingly weaponizing false information puts us all at risk and creates enemies out of neighbors. We all lose when we take opinion pieces and unverified information as fact, regardless of whether it comes from the President, an online “news” source, social media, news channels, or our friends and family.
The final aspect of Hillary Clinton’s remarks that I keep coming back to is her focus on civic engagement with younger generations. As most people are aware, turning out the youth vote remains a tough nut to crack. The inability to reliably count on the turnout of younger voters dictates not only outcomes but also the resulting policies. This is not a new trend, but when one considers the drastic generational difference between those who supported Hillary Clinton and those who supported Donald Trump the importance of continued and improved engagement with the young vote is undeniable. We all have a vested interest in the continued prosperity of our country. Our ideas on how to proceed may differ, but we all have a right and perhaps a duty to be at the table. Finding ways to encourage younger people to see voting and civic engagement as both their right and privilege is of paramount importance. It isn’t enough to show up to marches or post on Facebook; political change grows from the local and state level. We all benefit from wide and diverse representation because we are a vast and diverse country. Hillary highlighted the numerous new organizations, like Republican Women For Progress, that sprung up in the wake of the election and underscored her hope that we all remain engaged in the governance of our country. As an associate of mine is fond of saying; “If you aren’t at the table, you’re probably on the menu.” It’s incumbent for all of us to continue demanding our seat at the table, particularly as a younger generation.
Hillary Clinton, Still Here and Still Speaking Truths was originally published in Republican Women for Progress on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.