I would have to say that this class may be one of the more formative classes I will take in my first year in college. This class who pushed us every week to explore the sources of power in government and within ourselves to find how we could make a difference now and in the future. It was a rigorous class. We were given something to read in addition to an essay response every week in which we were to deconstruct to sources and conduits of power in certain situation or how we could obtain power to meet our goals. This class was also lead by Eric Liu, who is the founder of Citizen University, where I will be working as an intern for the remainder of this quarter until the end of winter quarter and hopefully further. If it wasn't for this class I would have never found this amazing opportunity to intern at a non-profit that's purpose is civic engagement and education, a cause I care very deeply about. I feel extremely lucky to be in the honors program, and lucky that I chose to take this class among all the other choices. Something Eric Liu said during You Lead We Lead and during class really stuck with me and it comes to mind now as I type this out. To paraphrase: I ended up here mostly on dumb luck, and now I have to earn the privileges and opportunities I have. That is what I plan to do.
When looking at how power affects politics there are many different issues that can be explored to demonstrate the construction of a power structure. This year especially, gun rights has been a prevalent issue with the amount of mass shootings that has taken place in San Bernardino, Orlando, and many other cities. The arguments for and against gun control provide the perfect platform to explore the constructs of power, including the sources and conduits of each side’s power and how each side is benefitting from the laws of power explain by Eric Liu in his book You’re More Powerful Than You Think.
First, there must be an acknowledgment to a huge source of power on the side of the pro gun rights movement: The National Rifle Association (NRA). This organization empowers the pro gun movement by funneling huge amounts of money into lobbying for gun rights. Wealth can be a major source of power, and in this case, The NRA’s wealth is a huge advantage over the pro restriction movement, which comparatively has very little wealth. The NRA itself is a huge conduit of power: It is an organization that brings huge numbers of people together to vouch for a cause, and in its numbers it brings validity to the movement. The pro restriction movement does have numbers and it is organized, but it does not have the benefit of being organized under such a large, official organization that has the trappings of state recognition.
A source of power that both movements share is state action, which is the use of bureaucracy to compel people to do or not do certain things. On the pro gun rights side, state action is pursued through the conduit of law: a set of incentives and disincentives, rewards and punishments, that shape our public actions. There were major court cases that cemented gun rights in the law. One is District of Columbia v Heller (2008), in which the court ruled, as expressed in Justice Scalia’s majority opinion, that the second amendment should be read to "guarantee an individual right to possess and carry weapons in case of confrontation.” He also stated that “banning handguns, an entire class of arms that is commonly used for protection purposes, and prohibiting firearms from being kept functional in the home, the area traditionally in need of protection, violates the Second Amendment.” This sealed the idea that guns are a right that must be afforded to the people and created the narrative that guns are used for protection. It also created a standard for regulations and restrictions that had an effect on how gun laws and restrictions were drafted. On the side of the pro restriction movement, state action takes the form of Obama’s initiatives on gun control and his employment of congress to take action. HIs stance is to expand background checks for buyers so as to really limit who gets the right to bear arms. Other state action has been put into place in the form of the Federal Assault Weapons Ban which was a part of Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 and the background checks and license requirements that are already in place. Through the use of the institution of government and congress Obama and pro control activists hope to gain power through changing the laws in order to strengthen restrictions.
Another source of power that both sides use is the power of ideas. In this case, the idea of individual liberty is the driving force in the argument for gun rights. this idea is made especially strong by the presence of the second amendment in our Bill of Rights: the right to bear arms. The fact that this right is stated in such an important historical document gives a lot of power to the idea of individual liberty. There is a lot of historical relevance to this idea as well as during colonial times and throughout history guns were used for self defense and defense of property and against the British. This has created a narrative that guns are used for protection, strengthened by the decision in the supreme court case discussed earlier. Pro gun rights activists have now tapped into the fear of the people, stating that without guns many will be defenseless against attack. especially with the mass shooting that have garnered so much attention today many are starting to believe tat the only way to stop mass shootings and defend oneself against them is to have a gun unhand so that one can shoot an attacker down. There is also the idea that one is less likely to be attacked if they are known to be armed. another idea is extremely prevalent with gun rights activists, which is fear that if one gives the government an inch in terms of regulating guns, they will take it a mile and try to get rid of guns in general. This is a threat to many peoples way of life. Therefore, those who are advocating for gun rights are portraying themselves as the protectors of the individual. on the pro restrictions side, very similar dynamics are taking place. Pro restriction activist also tap into the public fear: the fear of gun violence and mass shooting. The increase of mass shooting in 2016 along with the increase in media attention has sparked many, including Obama to launch a campaign for gun control. The idea is that with more gun restrictions, people who are likely to insight violence on such a mass scale with not be able to access gun and the number of mass shooting with be curtailed. Pro restriction activist are also attacking the second amendment in it’s application to modern day. They bring up the argument that this amendment was created when very primitive gun technology was available, and now with the increased destructive ability of firearms, the law must be adjusted to accommodate this change. They also portray themselves as protectors, but in this case they are protectors of the masses instead of the individual. Both sides use the conduit of networks, especially social media to discuss their ideas and gain more supporters.
The NRA and pro gun rights activist seem to have the upper hand. This can be analyzed through the laws of power discussed by Eric Liu. The first law is that power compounds. Those who are in power gain more power and this is where the NRA has the upper hand. The right to bear arms established in District of Columbia v Heller (2008) was compounded by Mcdonald v City of Chicago (2010) which stated that the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms for the purpose of self-defense was applicable to the states. This further cemented the idea that the individual has the right to bear arms. The NRA also compounds its power by the grading system it gives politicians. They grade politicians based on their stances and the more people who align themselves with the NRA the more republicans fear how the grading system will affect their election. Therefore, politicians are more likely to align themselves with the NRA in order to get a higher grade and increase their chance of election. The second law is that power justifies itself, and again the NRA has the advantage over pro restriction activists. Supreme court cases and interpretations of the second amendment, again, are largely the cause of the justification behind gun ownership. Since such highly esteemed institutions favor the view of individuals rights to bear arms, the NRA is justified in its movement. When looking at these two laws it seems as though the NRA has a huge advantage, but as Eric Liu explains, the third law - power is infinite - gives hope that the pro restriction movement can prevail and make change. This infinite power is tapped into by organizing and gun control activist are beginning to organize in more effective ways. There have been protests and actions taken by government. The most memorable movement was the sit in by congress. They sat on the floor of the congress and refused to proceed unless there was a discussion on gun restrictions. Another way the pro restriction activists have tried to swing the balance in their favor is to employ a tactic Eric Liu explains in his book: “If reform activists are to succeed, they will have to demonstrate both in their storylines and in their policy proposals that power is positive-sum” (LIU). In a sense, they have to show that they aren’t taking away power or rights from anyone. They do this by explaining that their goal is not a total taking away of guns but a restriction so that only those who are eligible can get them, so law abiding citizens will still have access to guns. It is through this argument that there has been a to of success on the side of pro gun control.
A few months ago, The Stanford Rape case was all over the news. Brock Turner, a Stanford swimmer, was caught raping a women outside a fraternity house by two bicyclists after a party. This case seemed like it would be pretty simple as he was basically caught red handed, sadly that would not be the case. Yes, Brock Turner was convicted of sexual assault, but he would only be given six months with three years probation of his potential fourteen year sentence, and wouldn’t even serve the full six months as he was releases from jail within three months for good behavior. This case was thrust to the forefront of public attention because of the two letters associated with this case: A letter written by the rape victim and a letter written by the rapists father.
In the first, the victim describes just was being a victim of assault does to some one. She describes how she didn’t really learn what happened to her until she read the paper, and how she was only described as an “Unconscious intoxicated woman” while Brock Turner, her rapist, was described as an All American Swimmer who’s bright future and potential Olympic career was on the line. She wrote about how that one night had irreversibly changed her life forever, and how her life had been put on hold for a year while she waited for this case to be solved. She portrayed just how difficult it is for some one who is assaulted to press charges against her assailant, and just how mentally draining and potentially scaring the process can be. She had to sit in a court house and be mercilessly questioned. She recounted how Brock turner had suggested that she liked what was happening to her, how invasive the procedure was to gather the evidence for rape, and how, because she couldn’t remember what had happened, there was no real proof that she didn’t enjoy it. Brock’s attorney constantly restated that Brock was the only one they could trust because she couldn’t remember anything. Every question was aimed at invalidating her claim and proving that it was all a misunderstanding. The second letter, written by Brock’s father, tried to portray Brock as a victim in this situation as well. He described how Brock could no longer eat how his life is now consumed with anxiety and depression. The part that seemed to anger the public the most though, is when his father pleaded to the judge to lessen the sentence, claiming that the torment his son was going through was “a steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action out of his 20 plus years of life”. In Brock’s own statement, he tried to make himself into a victim as well, blaming his actions completely on alcohol and his inability to make good choices under the influence.
This case is a horrifying example of how we treat rape in our society today resulting from an imbalance of power shifted towards to rapist. This power originated from, and is justified (as by the second rule of power) by patriarchal ideas about the role of men and women especially when it comes to romantic and sexual relationships. In our society, a women who is coy and says no, at first, is seen as a challenge. This game of cat and mouse is romanticized popular culture. It creates this narrative that while a woman might say no, they really want the person to keep asking and keep pressing, and eventually they will give in. This story goes back even to medieval days wherein the idea of a virgin who was coerced into sex discovers halfway through how much she enjoys it and is sexually awakened was popularized. This has complicated our ideas of consent, as through this viewpoint, even though a no should mean no, how does one really know if it’s a serious no or all part of a game? There has been a huge movement against this as many in the field of sex education and many schools have started to have conversations about the topic of consent that send a very clear message: Only a clear an emphatic yes is consent. This movement has the mission of deconstructing the narrative set by many years of stories that have solidified the idea of cat and mouse, and the idea that women want to be coerced and dominated. They are changing the story. I think this is an important first step. We have to acknowledge where this narrative and, in a way, social norm came from that allows for victim blaming. Once acknowledged we can begin to change the story towards the clearer version of consent.
Another reason that many rapists tend to get off with easier sentences, is because of the first rule of power, that power compounds. In many cases of rape, the person who is assaulted in drugged, or in the case of the Stanford victim, under the extreme influence of alcohol. This impress memory and as seen in how the case played out, this loss of memory can be played to the assailants advantage. The court system is not very forgiving in this case. Without any clear evidence as to wether the victim consented, the advantage is in the assailants court. This is helped by the fact that there is really no law that outlines just what consent means. I think this is how one would change the game. First there needs to be laws in place that would define consent. For example, if some one is unconscious, as the Stanford victim was, there is no consent. If there was no verbal yes, there is no consent. California Governor Jerry Brown took the first step by passing the Yes Means Yes law. It removes the ambiguity of the previous No Means No law and requires that schools must teach consent and emphasize that some one who is intoxicated cannot give consent. Another part of the game that must be changed is the sentencing for those convicted of assault. Brock turner was convicted on all accounts of assault that were brought against him, yet he still received a pretty measly sentence. There must be change within the legislature tat guarantees that those convicted get a certain amount of jail time, instead of just a comparable slap on the wrist. This would ensure to those who are victims that if they come forward, they will receive justice, and the psychological damage they may go through in the process will be worth it.
Next, in order to change the equation and show that this change is positive sum, we must show how it would also help men, who are also often victims of assault. There is a narrative out there that men always want sex, so even if they don’t ask for it they should always be happy. In changing the narrative on consent for women, we are also changing the consent for men. They also must provide and emphatic yes. This will help them come forward as well and be sure that their assailant is put behind bars and punished accordingly.
For as long as there have been armies, war has been used as a means of gaining power. It has been a key element in expanding empires and gaining control. The Roman empire was so successful in part due to it’s amazing army, the British were feared because of their great naval power, and in World War II the Germans waged war in an attempt to restore their power. War has always been an integral part of the power struggle between nations, and this power struggle influenced Sun Tzu to write The Art of War. His observations of successful strategies and harmful pitfalls in war not only apply to war itself, but to politics in general. His observations on the nature of war and the sources and conduits in play can be used to analyze successful war strategies and campaign strategies alike, for as with war, politics is one organization against another in an attempt to defeat the enemy and gain greater political control.
Sun Tzu acknowledged that in order for one to win a war, there are many skills and strategies one must employ. He also explores how narrative, ideas, and networks, in addition to violence can be used to ensure victory. Violence is a main component, but generals must pay great attention to strategy because “In war, numbers alone confer no advantage. Do not advance relying on sheer military power” (122). Although military power is important, Sun Tzu explains how a battle can be won as a small army through the use of strategy. In fact, the entire book is dedicated to strategy and gathering knowledge about the different aspects of war, such as terrain, maneuver, energy, and weaknesses and strengths. To Sun Tzu, the most important aspect of war is gathering knowledge and knowing more about ones army and the enemy than the enemy knows: “With many calculations, one can win; with few one cannot” (71). One of these calculations is the strength and morale of the troops. A successful general must be able to create a loyal army that is willing and ready to fight for the cause. In order to do so he must convey ideas of a victorious and righteous war through a narrative that will solidify the morals of the war and cause “the people to be in harmony with their leaders, so that they will accompany then in life unto death without fear of mortal peril” (64). The strength of an army is found in the strength to which they hold their belief that they fight for the right cause. In World War II, the narrative of oppressive Nazi’s and freedom-fighting Allies pushed countries to contribute to the war efforts. In today’s world, the narrative of senseless killing and violence due to terrorism and the threat that they may try to gain power through violence against other countries has lead many to strengthen their convictions towards the war against terror, even those with opposing political views. Another calculation is the enemies strength. Sun Tzu states that “If you wish to conduct offensive war you must know the men employed by the enemy…having assessed their qualities, you prepare appropriate measures” (148). In order to exploit the enemies weaknesses, one must create a network in order to gather information about the enemy. Sun Tzu suggests the use of secret agents, which are still in use today as informants. The more knowledge gained about the enemy, the more confident one can be that one’s strategies will succeed. For example, today, the United States is trying to gather as much information as possible on the Middle East and on ISIS in order to launch an attack that will be successful in disbanding the terrorist organization.
Many of these nonviolent war strategies, especially the creation of narrative, can be carried over to this presidential campaign, as the two opposing parties seem as though they are at war. Both sides heavily rely on having the moral interest of the citizens of the United States in their favor. Both parties want the people to be “in harmony with their leaders” and against the enemies morals so that they are sure to vote for their candidate (64). They do this by creating a narrative of their side as being righteous and the other side as being evil. In this election especially there is an emphasis on the immoral character of the other candidate. Through their networks and social media, both parties gather information on the other candidate and use it to produce an anti american picture of their opponent. Hillary Clinton and many Democrats portray Trump as the scourge of the Earth and the embodiment of everything the constitution stands against. Articles and news stories are spread about the horrendous things that he has said about women and minorities in order to create this persona of an “enemy against humanity”. In this way, Hillary creates an image for herself of an advocate freedom and equality, which are fundamental beliefs of the United States. She is tying herself to the fundamental beliefs of the United States that many hold dear in order to create a network of people who identify with this American ideal. Donald Trump employs the same tactic in portraying Hillary as a corrupt politician incapable of rising to the demands of the nation. He also calls to question her honesty by bringing up her email scandal. Sun Tzu states that “If the army is confused and suspicious, neighboring rulers will cause trouble,” and that is exactly what Trump’s success is based on (82). In creating suspicion of Hillary Clinton and by always speaking his mind, he makes himself appear more trustworthy and honest. He is able to exploit the doubts of the people in his advantage and strengthen their convictions against Clinton.
Sun Tzu also explores the characters of a general that make him unsuccessful, which can be used to project the success of the candidate just as it would be used to project the success of a war. Sun Tzu emphasizes how a general who is unprepared or uneducated about the many facets of war is doomed to fail. He states that ““If one ignorant of military matters is sent to participate in the administration of the army, then in every movement there will be disagreement and mutual frustration and the entire army will be hamstrung” (82). This can be seen in the Republican party. Donald Trump, who has very little experience in politics and can be said to be ignorant of political matters, has largely contributed to the split of the Republican party. He has confused and frustrated many other Republican officials. The fact that many respected Republican officials have come out to say they will not support him due to his lack of experience and to his disrespect for their ideals leaves the Republican party weak and divided this election season. Sun Tzu also warns that “If [a general is] quick-tempered you can make him a fool” (114). This is exactly what Hillary Clinton and the democratic party have taken advantage of. There have been many instances in which Trump has demonstrated his lack of control over his temper. For example, he has threatened to sue news companies for insulting him inadvertently threatening freedom of the press, which is a strongly held American ideal. Clinton uses his quick temper as a key point in her campaign when she asks why Americans would be willing to give nuclear codes to some one with such a short fuse. Sun Tzu states that “it is the business of a general to be serene and inscrutable, impartial and self-controlled” (136). Trump displays none of these traits, yet Clinton - even when attacked relentlessly by Trump - has remained serene and self-controlled. In this way she gains an advantage. This ability to preserve self control and to have knowledge of the position which one would hold is of the utmost importance to Sun Tzu because in having more knowledge and in appearing calm and relaxed one has the upper hand over the enemy and may cause them to act prematurely, ensuring victory.
In a political climate such as this, it is easy to draw a parallel to war. This presidential race has become so opposed in its ideas that it truly seems as though two separate countries are fighting for political control. The two sides are fighting a war of ideas, and those with the best understanding of the climate should win. Again, war shows itself to be an important factor in power and whoever wins this war will have political control and will gain the power to change this country as they see fit.