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Words matter: Gendered language in politics weaponizes them against women

One of the most striking aspects of language is its ability to be interpreted in many different ways. A phrase could mean a million different things to a million different people, and a simple change in tone, word choice and syntax could change everything. 

Language and politics are inseparable. Words are the modus operandi of all politicians, and the impact of modern language on women in politics is something to be wary of. 

There are 2,967 women holding elected office in the U.S. This number pales in comparison to the approximately 167.5 million women, of all ages, in the U.S. Women make up more than 50% of America’s population. Yet, they only hold 30% of elected offices on the federal, state and local levels – and this 30% is a record-breaking high, as more than ever before women are now engaging in political office.

A meager 30% is impressively low for a “record-breaking high.” Holding the right to vote for over a century and exceeding men in both quantity and quality of persons educated, American women have all of the tools necessary for success in the political sphere. Yet, the gendered language of constituents, media and other politicians presents an almost impenetrable barrier to women running for elected office. 

For decades, men have benefited from stereotypes around gender in politics, which consistently associate masculinity and effective leadership

Meredith Conroy, a political science professor at California State University San Bernardino, engaged in a research study to examine the use of gendered language in presidential elections from 2000 to 2012. Examining a random sample of 300 print-edition news articles from New York Times and USA Today, Conroy recorded all traits used to describe all presidential candidates and created what is, in essence, a “traits database.” Relying on an existent understanding of “gendered traits” from psychology and political science, traits within the database were labeled as masculine, feminine or gender-neutral. Masculine traits might include “risk-taker” or “fighter,” feminine traits could be “compassionate” or “cautious” and neutral traits were those like “intelligent,” “old” or “liar.” 

Among the articles examined, 56% of the traits recorded as describing presidential candidates were categorized as neutral, 30% as masculine and 14% as feminine. The most common masculine traits were “aggressive” and “confident,” generally framed in a positive light. The most common feminine traits were “weak” and “inconsistent,” generally used negatively. Delving further into the data, Conroy found that, among all feminine traits used to describe candidates, only 31% carried a positive tone. Compare this to the overwhelming 67% of masculine traits used positively, and it is no surprise that masculinity has become associated with effective political leadership. 

Though this study was published in 2015, the use — and potential harm — of gendered language is more relevant now than ever before. And it’s no longer as subtle as character traits. 

Donald Trump’s language during his presidency alone provides one of the clearest examples of the harm done to women in politics by use of gendered, and frankly sexist, language: 

At a news conference in April of 2016, the former president claimed that his opponent, Hillary Clinton, has “nothing else to offer” beyond her “woman’s card … and the beautiful thing is women don’t [even] like her.” 

Following the 2020 vice presidential debate, Trump said that “[Kamala Harris is] this monster that was onstage with Mike Pence … She was terrible. I don’t think you could get worse. And totally unlikeable.” 

Speaking of Senator Elizabeth Warren, Trump said, “Goofy Elizabeth Warren, one of the least productive US senators, has a nasty mouth.” 

Trump referred to former Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, as “Nervous Nancy” on his public twitter account. 

During an interview with Rolling Stone, Trump berated Carly Fiorina, his opponent in the Republican primary, saying that she could never be president because of her appearance. He said, “Look at that face! Would anyone vote for that … I mean, she’s a woman, and I’m not supposed to say bad things, but really … come on.” 

Unfortunately, the above quotes are only a small portion of the long list of abrasive comments Trump has made toward women in the political sphere. From degrading women for their appearance to calling them weak or unlikeable for exhibiting very normal human behaviors, the former president made a sport of calling forth hostile sexism against women in politics.

Beyond direct attacks on women, Trump’s attempts to emasculate other male politicians by feminizing them further builds the metaphorical wall to women entering the political sphere. In an attempt to convince former Vice President Mike Pence to overturn the results of the 2020 election, Trump said, “[Pence] can either go down in history as a patriot … or [he] can go down in history as a p*ssy.” Trump directly contrasts being a patriot — a positive and almost essential trait for any nation’s leader — and being a woman. By evoking female genitalia in a clearly negative connotation, the former president promoted the historical tie between masculinity and political leadership. 

If the executive leader of one of the most powerful nations in the world told you time and time again that you were not suited for politics because of your gender or sex, would you not eventually start to believe him? 

The heavily gendered language we hear used regularly to describe suitability for the office of the president, compounded with the traditional belief that masculine traits are necessary for executive leadership, fortifies the idea that femininity and feminine qualities are ill-suited for leadership. In consequence, the improper idea that women are not capable of effective political leadership becomes more and more deeply ingrained in the American psyche.   

From their youth, women are taught through history, experiential learning and the language of our culture that politics is a “man’s world” with no room for women. We are incredibly lucky to be seeing so many women run for political office right now — especially given the culture of toxic masculinity which has washed over the American political sphere. 

We need to elect the most qualified candidates to office, regardless of their gender. However, the current pool of candidates is limited by the use of gendered language, as many highly qualified women are discouraged from even considering candidacy. 

We cannot allow gendered language to continue socializing the notion that women don’t have a place in politics. We cannot allow gendered language to continue excluding more than half of the American population from politics. And in a time of such volatility — where change is not only necessary, but also decidedly happening — we certainly cannot allow gendered language to waste our opportunity to put more women in office. 

Such minor things as what we say can impact such major effects as who leads the free world. Choose your words wisely.

Ainsley Hillman, a sophomore living in Johnson Family Hall, is studying Business Analytics and Political Science. She currently serves as the Director of Operations within BridgeND. Some of her research interests include U.S. foreign policy and the intersection of environmental and social justice. 

BridgeND is a multi-partisan political club committed to bridging the partisan divide through respectful and productive discourse. It meets on Tuesdays at 5 p.m. in Duncan Student Center W246 to learn about and discuss current political issues, and can be reached at bridgend@nd.edu or on Twitter @bridge_ND.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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The opposite of war isn’t peace, it’s education

Mahatma Gandhi once said,“If we are to reach real peace in this world, we shall have to begin with the children.” If we are to begin with the children, we are to begin with their education. A quality education contributes not only to socioeconomic progress, but also to the holistic development of the individual. I think that many, like myself, would agree with this philosophy on education — there is much more to it than training for the workforce. Still, Gandhi’s proposition begs the question: Can the education of children truly build peace? Fortunately, it can; accessible and quality education can serve as the keystone of peace within a society and ultimately, the world.

I grew up being told that my education was a privilege, not a right —that I should be grateful to have attended highly-rated public schools meant to prepare me for a successful career and a life of financial security. While I am certainly privileged to have received a quality education, I now believe that a good education is, in fact, a right. In 1948, education was recognized as a basic human right by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This means that the right to education is legally guaranteed for all, that states are obligated to protect and fulfill this right and that they can be held accountable for violating it. In my first year at Notre Dame, I gained the ability to articulate what my education means to me, as well as what it can mean for the world’s youth. If every child was able to complete secondary education, UNESCO data shows that globally, the number of poor people could be reduced by more than half. Universal access to quality education is an urgent need, but committed changemakers are needed to create a tangible impact.

I feel called to defend the right to education because I recognize the value of my own educational opportunities. Above all else, I believe that education produces hope. Confucius once said, “Education breeds confidence. Confidence breeds hope. Hope breeds peace.” My education has given me the confidence to ask difficult questions, offer my perspective and engage in discussions with experts in the field. My professors at Notre Dame have encouraged me to brainstorm innovative solutions to elusive issues, such as world peace. Drawing on John Paul Lederach’s “The Moral Imagination,” peacebuilding requires “innovative responses to impossible situations.” In the hope of creating a better future, we must step into the unknown that exists between what is and what is possible without the guarantee of success.

I live one mile away from Paterson, New Jersey, a city with a rich history dating back to its days as a mighty industrial capital. The city, though still diverse and heavily populated, is now characterized by violence, crime and drugs. I noticed educational disparities from a young age, but these disparities were exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, when schools were forced to shut down. During the early days of the pandemic, the public high school dropout rate in Paterson was at an all-time high. The same resources that were provided to me — sufficient school funding, experienced teachers, textbooks and technologies — were not distributed to students living in Paterson. As my peers struggled to transition to online platforms and learn how to navigate Zoom, few realized that schools in our own county lacked the resources and capacity to even offer virtual classes. Disparities in education are present in my own community — the same disparities that impact children globally. If Paterson was used as a case study, there would undoubtedly be connections between quality of education and participation in crime and violence. Ingrained within me early on was the value of my education; it was something to be taken seriously and never for granted. Still, I have grappled with the educational discrepancies to which I have borne witness and have been empowered to search for a solution.

Anyone can be a peacebuilder, and everyone should be. Throughout my life, I have always wanted to change the world for the better, and now I am able to express my “why” (or more specifically, my “who”). I believe that children are the future; at a minimum, education creates opportunities for the future parents, leaders and changemakers of the world to determine their own paths. A quality education offers career enhancement, employment opportunities and higher earnings, and studies show that education helps reduce attitudes toward participation in violence. This is likely because a quality education encourages the development of communication skills (a critical key to conflict resolution), effective collaboration and sociopolitical participation, especially for women. As peacebuilders, our ultimate duty is to the global common good, consisting of economic prosperity, social justice and peace. Our ultimate duty is to the most vulnerable members of society, as well as those previously excluded from shaping their futures. In our increasingly globalized world, it is important to recognize our shared responsibility to protect human rights everywhere.

After all, “Violence is known; peace is the mystery.” At Notre Dame, we are imaginative and creative individuals; we must be willing to step into the unknown that exists between what is and what is possible. We must boldly question the status quo — to understand why things are as they are and attempt to make them better.

Ashlyn Poppe is a sophomore living in Pasquerilla West Hall studying global affairs and political science. She currently serves as the director of operations for BridgeND.

BridgeND is a multi-partisan political club committed to bridging the partisan divide through respectful and productive discourse. It meets on Tuesdays at 5 p.m. in Duncan Student Center W246 to learn about and discuss current political issues and can be reached at bridgend@nd.edu or on Twitter @bridge_ND.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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The forgotten cities

As Homeless encampments continue to grow, thousands of Americans are left in the dust. We need to do more. 

I will never forget the first time I drove through “The Zone,” a massive homeless encampment in the heart of downtown Phoenix. Far from my hometown of Cincinnati, I had arrived in Phoenix, Arizona the night before to spend the summer working at Andre House of Hospitality, a soup kitchen and daytime service center for people experiencing homelessness. Driving slowly to avoid hitting people in the street, I saw block after block lined with tents and tarps, hundreds of people living on the streets in the sweltering Arizona summer. The tents surrounded Phoenix’s Human Services Campus, St. Vincent DePaul and Andre House, organizations where people experiencing homelessness could access shelter beds, meals, showers and other necessities. However, in Phoenix, the needs of vulnerable unhoused people extend far beyond available resources. Last reported, Maricopa County had about 1,800 shelter beds but approximately 7,500 people experiencing homelessness. Over half of these people are unsheltered. 

This phenomenon isn’t unique to Phoenix. From Seattle, to Oregon, to Los Angeles’ infamous “Skid Row,” communities of people living on the streets have emerged in many major American cities. In 2019, the Ninth Circuit Court (Jurisdiction: Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon and Washington) ruled that, if there are not enough beds available to shelter a city’s homeless population, it is unconstitutional to criminalize people for sleeping in public spaces. Thus, alongside increased rates of homelessness due to the pandemic, the amount of people living on the streets has grown rapidly while cities struggle to meet the need for shelter beds. Although the decriminalization of homelessness is critical, it is not enough for cities to just turn a blind eye to people living on the streets. Instead, there must be actual investments made to ensure that people are moved off the streets into temporary shelters and eventually, permanent, stable housing. 

Homelessness is an extremely complicated issue. Addiction and mental health both play a massive role — approximately 20% of homeless Americans suffer from severe mental illness and a substantial portion of the homeless population suffers from addiction. Furthermore, incarceration and homelessness are strongly correlated, a lack of effective rehabilitation programs creating a “revolving door” between the streets and the system. The most notable cause of homelessness, however, is a lack of affordable housing, and for good reason. In Phoenix, rent rose by an average of 30% in 2021 and continues to rise. It is shown that in communities where rent prices exceed 32% of average annual income, there are sharp increases in homelessness. Therefore, as long as rent continues to rise at a quicker rate than wages, it is likely that we will continue to witness the growth of tent cities. While all Americans feel the effects of inflation, low income populations are especially vulnerable, and rising rents could force thousands of already struggling Americans into homelessness.

Andre House is a presence-based ministry, and throughout the summer I had the privilege of hearing the stories of many of our guests. Every story was different, and it caused me to realize how nuanced the issue of homelessness is. I met people who had been on the streets for a few days, and people who had been on the streets for years. I befriended girls my age whose parents had kicked them out and watched while elderly, disabled people struggled to navigate life on the streets. I saw firsthand how debilitating addiction could be, and I realized how prevalent untreated mental illness is among the homeless population. Above all else, however, I learned what an immense barrier homelessness is to full human expression. I met so many incredible individuals who were living on the streets of Phoenix, yet their conditions allowed them to do little more than just survive. 

In places like Phoenix, homeless people die preventable deaths every day due to treacherous climates, experience extremely high rates of sexual assault and have a mortality rate that is three times greater than the general population. It is clear that something must be done. The solution does not lie in criminalizing homelessness, and it does not lie in simply allowing people to live on the streets unbothered. Instead, politicians from both sides of the aisle must work together to create more temporary shelters, put protections in place against skyrocketing rents and address the need for better rehabilitation programs. For me, growing up in a middle class suburb and now the ”“Notre Dame Bubble,” it can be easy to ignore the complexity of the issue and place the blame on people for their situations. However, at its core, homelessness is not a political issue, but a matter of human dignity. As a society, it should be our goal to give all people the resources they need to participate fully; thus, it is imperative that something is done to get people off the streets, and eventually, into permanent housing. 

Leah Moody is a sophomore living in Flaherty Hall studying economics and philosophy. She is the Director of Events for BridgeND, an organization that seeks to promote bipartisan discussion on campus. She spent the past summer working at Andre House in Phoenix, AZ through the Notre Dame Summer Service Learning Program.

BridgeND is a multi-partisan political club committed to bridging the partisan divide through respectful and productive discourse. It meets on Tuesdays at 5 p.m. in Duncan Student Center W246 to learn about and discuss current political issues, and can be reached at bridgend@nd.edu or on Twitter @bridge_ND.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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How misinformation/ disinformation on social media is destroying our democracy 

Social media has given a platform for individuals to share their voices faster and to a broader audience than ever before. At our nation’s founding, it would have been unimaginable to predict that anyone would be able to speak at any time from anywhere. This phenomenon has lent itself to the creation of a new type of speaker, a bolder ego unafraid of sharing what is on their mind. In reaction, our government is stuck with a thought-provoking dilemma of what “free speech” truly entails in this day and age. The oratory vehicle that social media has become provides several cultural stresses on the democratic structure, such as an overload of information, the creation of a hive mind and radicalization. Perhaps the greatest threat to democracy, which works in tandem with the aforementioned, is the growing misinformation and disinformation online.

Anyone can fall into the snares of believing and spreading false information. This was evidenced by a study done by researchers at MIT which found that “false news stories are 70 percent more likely to be retweeted than true stories are.” That study becomes even more potent when looking at a mass of individuals, where it was mentioned that “it takes true stories about six times as long to reach 1,500 people as it does for false stories to reach the same number of people.” Another study that exemplifies the true might of this swelling issue is done by PEW Research Center which found that “62% of Americans get their news from social media” and “two-in-three U.S. adults (64%) say fabricated news stories cause a great deal of confusion about the basic facts of current issues and events.” These numbers become even more alarming when noticing that this study was conducted in 2016, and one can assume that with social media gaining more influence almost daily, the percentages of adults that receive their news from social media has increased since then. In addition to this, recent controversies such as the 2016 and 2020 elections, the pandemic and the Russia-Ukraine conflict have further contributed to the public’s perception of inaccurate information in their daily news consumption. 

If speech has lost its value in society and is no longer desired to be truthful, then what exactly drives speech to be productive? The founding fathers, with Madison serving as a preeminent example, believed that speech would be a tool to uphold the democratic structure by allowing people to put forth their best argument and allow society to choose the superior. However, platforms, in the form of social media, have sanctioned speech that is innately worthless with the intent to troll and solicit a reaction. The more salacious a headline, the more engagement it is bound to receive. Not only does this cultivate fake news, but it also changes insights of the general public. Fake rhetoric allows for radicalization and a strengthening of ideals through an echo-chamber. It also may allow for individuals to feel overwhelmed with the sheer amount of information available and discourage them from participating in the wider political sphere. This problem then breeds bigger issues such as the political polarization that seemingly widens each day. Thus, our democracy is on its way to facing a grave peril.

The question now beckons — which approach should the government enforce to tackle this menacing predicament? To start, it should be noted that the government would be greatly overstepping its power to combat this problem, because it has no jurisdiction over these social media platforms as they are private entities. One should ask themselves if they believe that social media should be held accountable by the government for allowing false information to be spread. Is the problem so dire that it would require the government to encroach in the private sector? 

To answer this, there are two salient schools of thought that are worth mentioning. The first of which is libertarianism, which essentially believes the marketplace of ideas should be allowed to occur naturally and be shown deference from the government. Justice Kennedy, who prescribes to this ideology (Fish, Stanley Eugene, “What Is the First Amendment For?), has shown his wariness to the government’s “chilling” speech. On the other side lies consequentialism, which argues that speech should be regulated by the government if the harms outweigh the benefits of the speech. A growing outcry in favor of consequentialism has emerged with false information being spewed across a myriad of social media channels. Consequentialists would most likely believe that the threat posed by misinformation is too hazardous and thus should be controlled by the government. 

Personally, I identify more in the libertarian camp. I struggle with allowing a government to have control over censoring voices, as this could eventually lead to the silencing of opposing voices. However, I do think that social media has transformed speech as we understand it and that the government must adjust to our new reality. The government should not have the power to dictate what constitutes “false” information, but perhaps it should put pressure on social media misinformation warning, and I think we should ensure that apps begin to make this the norm in order to address this problem. Regardless if this is the answer or not, something must be done to stop the spread of misinformation. Maybe then people will be able to have more productive conversations about politics and can come to understand their own beliefs on a deeper and more truthful level.

Kelly Harris is a senior at the University of Notre Dame majoring in political science and minoring in digital marketing, musical theatre and Glynn Honors. She is originally from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and resided in Pangborn and Johnson Family Halls. If you wish to reach Kelly with any questions or concerns feel free to email kharri22@nd.edu.

BridgeND is a multi-partisan political club committed to bridging the partisan divide through respectful and productive discourse. It meets on Tuesdays at 5 p.m. in Duncan Student Center W246 to learn about and discuss current political issues, and can be reached at bridgend@nd.edu or on Twitter @bridge_ND.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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Restorative justice practices in America

I never thought I could feel sorry for a murderer. But, sitting across from Anthony, I did not see a convicted killer. Instead, I looked into the haunted eyes of a forgotten kid trapped in a perpetual cycle of abuse, drugs and violence. I saw regret across the face of a young man who, as a scared 16-year-old, had made a colossal mistake. Molested as a child and brought up in a family of drug dealers and gangs, the world had done Anthony no favors. When he was found guilty of manslaughter in an accidental car shoot-out, Anthony began to serve his sentence at San Quentin, which is a maximum-security prison and one of California’s oldest and best-known correctional institutions. During my sophomore year of high school, I visited this prison. The experience fundamentally transformed my perception of incarceration and highlighted the perilous cracks in the justice system. I realized that we ostracize and stigmatize prisoners to such an extent that we no longer see them as human beings worthy of dignity or respect. Consequently, I began to see the ramifications of Americans’ misguided and preconceived notions of “scary” populations. I saw these “hopeless” populations as men in dire need of rehabilitation, rather than purposeless punishment. 

The most obvious sign of our broken criminal justice system is the United States’ dangerously high recidivism, or re-arrest, rate: “76.6% of prisoners are rearrested within five years” (Harvard Political Review). Evidently, our systems are acutely ineffective if the vast majority of prisoners are back in jail within five years. On the contrary, when an inmate leaves prison in Norway, they are extremely unlikely to return. Norway has an impressively low re-arrest rate at 20% (Harvard Political Review). But, the Norwegian prison system more closely resembled ours until the 1990s when the country abandoned punitive measures and adopted restorative justice. Norway’s recidivism rate dropped from a staggering 60-70% to the incredibly impressive 20% (Borgen Project). With these blatant statistics highlighting the incontrovertible failures of our systems, I could not fathom why American attitudes frequently trend toward implementing more and more disciplinary measures. An overemphasis on “law and order” politics cloaks the simple facts of recidivism rates in our country. So, what accounts for the vast difference in recidivism between the U.S. and a place like Norway? It’s the rehabilitation practices of restorative justice that encourage reintegration. Restorative justice is “an approach to justice that seeks to repair harm by providing an opportunity for those harmed and those who take responsibility for the harm to communicate about and address their needs in the aftermath of a crime” (Department of Justice, Canada). 

During my junior and senior years of high school, I interned with the California Reentry Institute (“CRI”). CRI uses cognitive-behavioral therapy and restorative justice to help inmates at San Quentin Prison become safe contributing members of society. I learned about the power of intensive trauma-informed empathy workshops, and how understanding why you committed a crime is an essential component of legitimate accountability. Formerly incarcerated men who went through this restorative justice experience attest to its success, stating that “understanding anger, abandonment and anger management, I now understand how to cope, control and release my anger in manners that don’t harm or hurt others” (California Reentry Institute). Anthony, the first inmate I ever spoke to, has spent his time in prison reforming himself and through restorative justice, he had the opportunity to apologize to his victim’s family. Through restorative justice, the victim and/or their family share with the offender how their lives have been impacted, and can ask the offender any questions. Restorative justice helped Anthony understand his childhood hurt, and transformed his pain into a journey of healing. While it might seem that restorative justice is too soft on crime, it creates quite the opposite effect. During interviews with incarcerated men, “a common theme was how their focus when they entered prison was on survival, not reflecting on the actions that had brought them here” (The New York Times). If we want to stop offenders from committing the same crimes over and over again, they have to understand why they are in prison, who they hurt and how they can move forward. 

Restorative justice is the conduit through which we can reform the prison system. Most modern criminal justice systems focus rather narrowly on a crime, a lawbreaker and a punishment. But, the idea of restorative justice strives for reconciliation from all those harmed and concerned: the community, offender and victim. Everyone participates, and everyone is heard. Ultimately, if we want to reduce our disturbingly high recidivism rate, restorative justice is our clear path forward. 

Libby Eggemeier, a sophomore living in McGlinn Hall, studies History and Romance Languages. She currently serves as Director of Marketing for BridgeND.

BridgeND is a multi-partisan political club committed to bridging the partisan divide through respectful and productive discourse. It meets on Tuesdays at 5 p.m. in Duncan Student Center W246 to learn about and discuss current political issues and can be reached at bridgend@nd.edu or on Twitter @bridge_ND.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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Money talks

On June 30, the Supreme Court’s majority opinion on West Virginia v. EPA (2022) delivered a blow to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to regulate the production practices and carbon emissions of large corporations. On Aug. 8, the Senate passed the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022, marking the single largest legislative commitment to combat climate change in American history. The bill intends to make a $370 billion investment in clean energy to decrease U.S. carbon emissions 40% by 2030 and place the country on track to reach President Joe Biden’s goal of cutting current U.S. carbon emissions in half by 2030. “Today, Senate Democrats sided with American families over special interests, voting to lower the cost of prescription drugs, health insurance, and everyday energy costs and reduce the deficit, while making the wealthiest corporations finally pay their fair share,” Biden said. 

Any large corporation in America would be confused by these juxtaposing actions implemented in the United States government just 39 days apart. They should not be morally confused though. In his essay “The Uninhabitable Earth,” Journalist David Wallace-Wells cites one speculative paper that tabulates a staggering additional 22,000 murders, 180,000 rapes, 3.5 million assaults and 3.76 million robberies due to climate change’s impacts predicted by the turn of the century. Nor should corporations be confused regarding the best course of action for long term financial gains. Recent studies demonstrate that an increase in average global temperatures of 0.04 degrees Celsius (a still modest prediction assuming higher emissions in absence of climate change policies) will reduce global real GDP per capita 7.22% by 2100. Rather, businesses are likely confused about the United States government’s expectations of corporate sustainability practices. 

Unfortunately, our climate is running out of time for confusion. The U.S. government is far from united on various matters, but on the front of combating climate change, lack of direct and immediate action is only causing more sporadic weather patterns, higher global temperatures, increased global health outbreaks and an increased rate of infrastructure collapsing under conditions it was not built to sustain. Given the urgency of the situation apace with government inaction, perhaps we should instead place our faith in investors. Seeing as 63% of investors report they are likely to purchase stocks or funds associated with companies that align with their values, and 70% would include sustainable investing funds as part of their 401k plan, there are immense payoffs to be had in fighting a profit-oriented system with profit-oriented solutions. 

Now, let me introduce you to the booming field of ESG, or environmental, social and governance. ESG is a ranking on a set of environmental and societal health standards communicated to investors before they make their investment decisions. Since coining its name in 2005, ESG has grown into an over $20 trillion field. “E” factors prioritize low carbon emissions, waste production and energy resource usage of large corporations. “S” factors prioritize diversity and inclusion in the workplace, leading to increased corporate efficiency as diverse firms are 1.32 times more productive than firms lacking diversity. Lastly, the “G” is the “g”lue holding ESG together by ensuring companies comply with set environmental and social standards to meet the needs of external stakeholders. Not only does this motivate firms to attain high ratings on sustainable measures to retain maximum funding from investors, but it also allows individual investors to increase their funds in a socially responsible way. ESG is a means for investments to be made in the preservation of humankind for generations to come. 

Unfortunately, one cannot expect a majority of investors to prioritize the environment out of the good of their hearts. Yet, ESG assets are predicted to reach $53 trillion, equivalent to one third of global assets under management by 2025. Thus, one can expect many investors to recognize the immense potential profits they might miss out on if they do not familiarize themselves with ESG. Many have gotten rich off of the expansion of the fossil fuel industry, but the time has now come for a new wave to monetize the transition into a sustainably fueled economy. 

ESG substantially increases the ability individuals have to “vote with their dollar” beyond deciding whether or not to purchase grass-fed beef in the grocery store aisle. Consumers eager to see a change in climate action can be motivated to invest in and spend their everyday dollars at firms with high ESG ratings such as Microsoft, often commended for blazing the trail in ESG. Money, or lack thereof, will always be at the heart of politics. Thus, in a more politically divided atmosphere than ever, the necessary source to combat climate change is consumers —guiding the prioritization of sustainable and ethical corporate practices. After all, money talks.

Emma Schoenauer is a sophomore living in Johnson Family Hall studying economics and minoring in sustainability and the Hesburgh program in public service. Emma is Design Chief of BridgeND and heavily involved in sustainability efforts on campus. She is passionate about utilizing economics to establish efficient and sustainable practices for financial firms and government institutions in her future.

BridgeND is a multi-partisan political club committed to bridging the partisan divide through respectful and productive discourse. It meets on Tuesdays at 5 p.m. in Duncan Student Center W246 to learn about and discuss current political issues, and can be reached at bridgend@nd.edu or on Twitter @bridge_ND.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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Fight for economic, civil and environmental justice. Regulate cryptocurrency, now.

It’d be incorrect to say that we don’t know much about cryptocurrency. It’d be a blatant lie to claim that what we do know about cryptocurrency is good. Realistically, our knowledge of the innovation’s impact is disheartening.

The first form of cryptocurrency, Bitcoin, was circulated in 2009. Initially, Bitcoin, and other digital coinage, appeared promising, intended to limit government power, eliminate middlemen and provide equal opportunity for profit.

However, it’s proven to be quite different. Over the past decade, we have watched cryptocurrency’s volatility disrupt the flow of economy, its anonymity enable criminal activity and the extortionate energy requirements of its “mining” process take a toll on the environment. It’s time to regulate cryptocurrency.

Demand for cryptocurrencies has skyrocketed, reaching a market cap of over $3 trillion. This is a striking value — roughly equal to the GDP of Britain or India. What is most striking, however, is that it was reached without having any traditional monetary backing.

Cryptocurrencies are “decentralized autonomous organizations,” or DAOs, meaning that one-on-one transactions are unrestricted and effectively anonymous. The creation and exchange of cryptocurrencies are wholly unregulated and unbacked by financial institutions or governments.

Decentralization triggers damaging economic effects. In September 2019, the Bank of Canada estimated that the overproduction and underuse of Bitcoin in 2015 produced a welfare loss about 500 times as large as a cash economy with two percent inflation. This massive loss signals a clear market inefficiency. Moreover, the nature of the cryptocurrency market is such that double-spending, or stealing cryptocurrencies, is not only possible, but present. Double-spending puts honest individuals in competition with criminals, threatening the average users’ investments and generating market volatility. The lack of centralized regulation over cryptocurrency allows for market inefficiencies and volatility that may soon have dire economic consequences.

Further, the anonymity of cryptocurrencies as DAOs enables untraceable crime. Many of the advantages provided by cryptocurrencies — efficient payment, low transaction costs, simple exchange — are commonly used to conduct illegal business. Cryptocurrency critics recognize that this creates a prime environment to purchase drugs, launder money, avoid capital controls and engage in various criminal activities. In 2019, the FBI seized over $4 million worth of Bitcoin from the first darknet market called the “Silk Road,” which sold everything from stolen credit card information to murders-for-hire. Studies of Bitcoin exchange patterns uncovered that nearly half of all transactions are associated with illegal activity… and that’s just Bitcoin.

The most damaging impact of cryptocurrencies results from its mining process and extortionate energy requirements. Cryptocurrencies were crafted so anyone with a computer could own, trade and “mine” them. “Mining” is the process of winning cryptocurrency by solving mathematical puzzles. During mining, thousands of individuals race to solve these problems. Those who solve them first are granted cryptocurrency. However, the system was designed such that, as competition grows, so does the puzzle’s complexity. 

While at first these puzzles could be solved using a traditional personal computer (PC), the evolving complexity of each puzzle now demands that competitive miners use more powerful technologies that require exorbitant energy to operate. These miners rely on specialized computers called Application-Specific Integrated Circuits (“ASICs”) that are more efficient at mining than a traditional PC but also consume much more energy. ASIC use has shattered the intended equality of cryptocurrency and created devastating environmental effects.

Considering the massive market, with thousands of people mining the same coin, the energy costs of ASIC operation have become excessive. Researchers estimate that mining and exchanging just one Bitcoin consumes 2100 kilowatt hours — the average American household consumption in 2.5 months. According to a 2021 study, a year of Bitcoin mining consumes 121.36 terawatt hours — more energy than used in the global consumption of Google, Apple, Facebook and Microsoft combined. Unfortunately, most of the energy used in cryptocurrency mining comes from nonrenewable resources. Thus, cryptocurrencies leave massive carbon footprints. Scientists warn that carbon emissions from Bitcoin mining alone could push global warming beyond 2 degrees Celsius, taking a hefty toll on the environment.

To protect our earth, national security, economy and ultimately the future of humanity, we must regulate cryptocurrency and its mining processes.

This regulation should not criminalize cryptocurrency. Many critics of extreme cryptocurrency regulation argue the importance of technology neutrality and the impossibility of prosecuting over 46 million American cryptocurrency users were the coinage to be made illegal. It would be imprudent to ban cryptocurrency simply because it can be abused. If that logic was applied to other financial instruments, we would have to ban cash, which can just as easily facilitate anonymous or illegal transactions. Nonetheless, it is clear that cryptocurrency requires some regulation. A middle ground — protecting innovation and promoting freedom while addressing the economic, civil and environmental implications of cryptocurrency — should be the goal.

Given modern technological advances and the importance of maintaining freedom of choice, there is no easy answer. Potential solutions lie in ASIC regulation — placing a carbon-tax on users, implementing a pollution cap or even banning the use of mining-specific technology altogether. ASIC regulation could reduce the environmental repercussions of cryptocurrency while maintaining technological neutrality. By disincentivizing the use of ASICs and returning miners to traditional PC usage, governments could more easily track criminal activity and double-spending.

Leaders have taken small steps towards regulation, as seen in the President’s recent Executive Order and bills like the Responsible Financial Innovation Act. These are merely initial steps on the path toward effective regulation. We must continue to educate ourselves on the growth and impacts of cryptocurrency. With that knowledge, we must vote for leaders willing to address the negative impacts of cryptocurrency through measured regulation. 

Ainsley Hillman, a sophomore living in Johnson Family Hall, is studying Business Analytics and Political Science. She currently serves as assistant direction of operations within BridgeND. Some of her research interests include U.S. foreign policy and the intersection of environmental and social justice.

BridgeND is a multi-partisan political club committed to bridging the partisan divide through respectful and productive discourse. It meets on Tuesdays at 5 p.m. in Duncan Student Center W246 to learn about and discuss current political issues and can be reached at bridgend@nd.edu or on Twitter @bridge_ND.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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LIV: Making golf the 54th sport to sellout

If I asked you what Phil Mickleson, Dustin Johnson and Sergio Garcia all have in common, what would you say? Well, some of you might say you have no idea who they are. Those familiar with the game of golf would likely say something along the lines of them being legends in the game of golf or all being champions of the most prestigious tournament in golf, The Masters. Those who pay close attention to the golf world, however, might identify them as three of the most prominent golfers to defect from the established PGA Tour to the new LIV Golf Tour. 

A great deal of you may be wondering why you should care. And that is totally fair. I did not expect to be writing a column about sports, let alone golf. The LIV Golf Tour is important, however, because of who runs it — The Saudi Arabia Sovereign Wealth Fund. The Saudis created the LIV Golf Tour in order to rival the American PGA Tour that has existed without a serious challenger for decades. 

Now, there are serious grievances to be had with the PGA Tour and the way it treats its players. This includes the fact that they do not disclose how much of their profits they keep and that they do not pay a significant number of players in each tournament (essentially those that play the worst). This is part of the argument those players who chose to go LIV have made. Some of the players have even gone as far as suing the PGA Tour for anti-competitive practices when they were suspended for playing on the LIV Tour.

Along with these grievances, many LIV golfers include platitudes about ‘growing’ and ‘transforming’ the game of golf as their last line of defense. Yet, when it comes down to it, we all know why the players went to LIV: money. Dustin Johnson has made $75 million over the course of his 15 year career on the PGA Tour, which is the third greatest amount of money ever made on the PGA tour. It is rumored that he will make $125 million to join LIV golf. Phil Mickleson has made the second greatest amount of money ever on the PGA Tour, $95 million, and his contract with LIV is said to be worth $200 million. The PGA’s highest ever earner, Tiger Woods, has made $125 million on the Tour. LIV is rumored to have offered Woods $800 million. Yes, $800 million. Unlike the other two, Woods declined. 

So, this is where the controversy begins. First, some critics, including fellow PGA Tour golfers like Rory McIlroy, do not like the prospect of an exorbitant amount of money being poured in to change the direction of the game. More importantly, I would argue, many people take issue with the idea that these golfers would agree to play on a tour sponsored by the Saudi Arabian government. The Saudi government is known for numerous human rights violations including the recent killing of a US based journalist, Jamal Khashoggi.

I do not have a strong opinion on the former, but I can tell you that every inch of me agrees with the latter of these criticisms. The Saudi government does many bad things, and these golfers are allowing themselves to be bought off so that the Saudi government can sportswash its image and direct the attention away from these problems. Yet, there are a couple of things that give me pause before using every bad word possible to describe these golfers. 

First, these golfers are being offered life-changing, and sometimes generational, wealth. I am not just talking about Dustin Johnson and Phil Mickleson, who with their PGA Tour earnings and sponsorship deals have made plenty of money in their careers, but also the lesser known players. For example, James Piot, the 2021 US Amateur Champion, who is only 23 years old, was offered $1 million. Another key point: the cumulative prize money for only eight tournaments is $225 million. A player can make up $4 million in prize money based on their performance at each individual tournament, and each player is guaranteed to make at least $120,000. Yes, the player that gets last will make six-figures for three days of work.

Second, Saudi money is already all over the sporting world, and even other golf tournaments. Saudi Aramco is one of the biggest sponsors of the Women’s European Golf Tour. It is also extremely prominent in the sport of Formula One. Now, I am not someone in a position to decide whether or not this is a good strategy on the part of those organizations, but it does cause me to wonder what makes LIV golf all that different. It is important to note some nuances including that there isn’t a strong alternative for Formula 1 drivers and these other leagues are not exclusively bankrolled by the Saudis. Yet, these nuances do not change the fact that a significant source of revenue for many existing sports leagues is the Saudi Government or one of its entities. This is not to mention that the 2022 Men’s World Cup is being held in Qatar and the Olympics were held in China earlier this year. FIFA, the international governing body for soccer, was openly bribed to put the tournament in Qatar, another country known for its human rights violations particularly against immigrant workers. And, I probably don’t need to mention it, but China does some bad stuff too, especially to its Muslim Uyghur population. Yet, no one seems to be calling on participants to boycott these competitions. So, why should these golfers be held to a higher standard?

My point is not that these golfers should be absolved of their culpability in aiding Saudi sportswashing. I find it pretty disingenuous that Phil Mickleson called the Saudis “scary motherf******,” but is more than happy to take their $200 million and continue on his way. My point is, rather, that the criticism of LIV golfers seems like a double standard. 

Beyond the leagues themselves, by and large we expect athletes to do what is in their best financial interest. Alexander Isak, one of the most talented young soccer players in the world, just signed a contract with Newcastle United, the English Premier League club owned by the Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund. No one batted an eye. Kylian Mbappe, a soccer player widely considered as one of the best two or three in the world, just signed the most lucrative contract the soccer world has ever seen, to play for Paris Saint Germain, the French club owned by a subsidiary of the Qatari Sovereign Wealth Fund. And, while some people criticized the decision of Mbappe to stay at PSG, it was largely due to his flirting with Real Madrid before choosing to stay rather than him taking Qatari money. Why is that? Maybe because it’s a little less obvious, maybe because people don’t want to think about it: I’m not sure. All I know is that if we are to draw a line against human rights violations through sports, then we should expect that line to be drawn in all competitions, not just LIV golf. 

To make my point clear — criticize LIV golf all you want, just make sure you don’t turn a blind eye to all the other dirty money pouring into sports because it’s a little harder to see.

Patrick Condon is a Junior in Siegfried Hall. He is currently serving as the Vice President of BridgeND.

BridgeND is a multi-partisan political club committed to bridging the partisan divide through respectful and productive discourse. It meets on Tuesdays at 5pm in Duncan Student Center W246 to learn about and discuss current political issues, and can be reached at bridgend@nd.edu or on Twitter @bridge_ND.

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Ladies, bring your folding chairs. We’re getting a seat at this table.

Duncan Student Center replaced the legislative chamber of the United States Capitol for Senator Mallory McMorrow this past March. Returning to her Alma Mater, the 2008 graduate joined a panel of eight Notre Dame alumnae to celebrate the 50 year anniversary of the admission of undergraduate women at the University of Notre Dame.

Part of the celebration dubbed “Golden is Thy Fame,” Career Conversations with Trailblazing Women invited Sen. McMorrow to share her experience building a career in the contentious domain of American politics. More specifically, building a successful career as a woman. The aforementioned title of the event deserves commendation for its accuracy. The female panelists boldly blazed trails in their respective fields — trails that others now have the option to follow.

Sen. McMorrow in particular is a critical figure for young women aspiring to work in politics and government. She represents what is possible for women given enough strength and passion. She proves what is possible for women when we risk, persevere and demand a seat at the table.

Sen. McMorrow currently serves Michigan’s eighth district — a significant feat considering the state of Michigan did not elect a woman to the U.S. Senate until 2000. Michigan’s first female senator, Debbie Stabenow and Sen. McMorrow both campaigned in the 2018 election cycle. 2018 continues to be a beacon of hope for proponents of equal political representation. Women candidacies reached a historical high in 2018, exposing a promising trend in American politics—the increased mobilization and political engagement of women. Female leaders benefit society as a whole; however, real, lasting change requires more than individual successes. It requires action. Now. When inadequacy translates to candidacy, things get done.

Despite the unprecedented number of women running for office, the discouraging reality is that we still have a long way to go. While 51 percent of the United States population are women, women make up just 24 percent of the Senate. The result? The underrepresentation of women in American politics.

Of the people. By the people. For the people.

The issues we face as a country are women’s issues. If social, political and structural barriers exist for women in electoral politics, we must find a way to alter the system. Our country suffers when half of its population is granted a quarter of its voice.

Trailblazers like Sen. Mallory McMorrow provide an essential perspective on Capitol Hill. Women’s issues must be at the forefront of the American agenda — not only for lawmakers, but for the general public. The U.S. lags behind other established democracies when it comes to women’s representation in politics. But we cannot win seats if we do not run. At our current rate, the U.S. will not reach complete legislative parity for another hundred years. We must accelerate this timeline. Instead of asking for a seat at the table, women must demand a seat at every table.

You can contact Ashlyn at apoppe2@nd.edu

BridgeND is a multi-partisan political club committed to bridging the partisan divide through respectful and productive discourse. It meets on Tuesdays at 5pm in Duncan Student Center W246 to learn about and discuss current political issues, and can be reached at bridgend@nd.edu or on Twitter @bridge_ND.

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Our communities are struggling. Are we to blame?

Our communities are increasingly divided and weakened. Is Notre Dame partially to blame?

During the last presidential election, nearly eight in ten registered voters believed that their disagreements with the other side were not only about politics and policies, but “core American values.” While the right and left diagnose society’s ills differently, they surprisingly identify one of the same symptoms. Scholars as disparate as Patrick Deneen and Cornel West agree that the loss of community felt by many Americans is a problem of immediate and fundamental concern. At the University of Notre Dame, community is foremost; the mission statement affirms that “[i]n all dimensions of the University, Notre Dame pursues its objectives through the formation of an authentic human community [emphasis added] graced by the Spirit of Christ.” Why, then, is Notre Dame and its student body a significant — and often unknowing — perpetrator of this loss of community?

The answer to this question is simple: Notre Dame suffers from the same destructive meritocratic hubris infecting elite institutions everywhere. In his book “The Tyranny of Merit,” Michael Sandel defines meritocratic hubris as “the tendency of winners to inhale too deeply of their success to forget the luck and good fortune that helped them on their way.” Meritocrats believe people should and do get ahead on their own ability, and that credentials are the gold standard for determining success and prestige. Thus, in a meritocracy, the most credentialed and talented rule. For all the talk about Notre Dame’s unique Catholic identity, we often forget the Catholic Church’s universal call to family, community and participation when we hyper-fixate on self-fulfilling credentials such as prestigious internships, fellowships and job offers. 

What makes meritocratic hubris so pernicious is the ease with which it develops in people who genuinely mean well. It often arises from supportive friends and family telling us that we deserve the opportunity to attend Notre Dame because of our hard work. While there is nothing wrong with kind words from others, we often internalize the notion that we’ve gotten ahead all on our own. We convince ourselves that because we worked hard, we deserve all the success that comes from it. We forget — especially at a university where 75% of students come from families in the top 20% of income — that without our family, teachers, friends, neighbors and overall community, we would not be where we are today. In “A Theory of Justice,” John Rawls reminds us that “[e]ven the willingness to make an effort, to try, and so to be deserving [emphasis added] in the ordinary sense is itself dependent upon happy family and social circumstances.” Tragically, our hubris weakens the communities most worthy of our support and gratitude.

Let me be clear: We should still celebrate our accomplishments. But having a healthy dose of meritocratic humility and understanding the sacrifice of the people around us and the inevitable luck involved in our success can go a long way in making the world a more inclusive, community-oriented place. We can’t build up our communities if we fail to realize their value. Without incredible teachers, a supportive family, a bit of luck and financial assistance from my community, I would not be attending Notre Dame. With humility, we can better understand the importance of community and work toward strengthening it, not diminishing it.

If we don’t strengthen our communities, our democracy is at stake. In “The Origins of Totalitarianism,” Hannah Arendt warns that societies are more susceptible to authoritarianism when loneliness becomes an everyday experience. It is no surprise that Donald Trump has risen to power during the present time of isolation, inequality and cultural grievances. He tapped into a growing number of Americans who felt forgotten, detached from their communities and disdained by the meritocratic elite. Without a course correction and newfound emphasis on community, illiberal forces will only get stronger. 

This gets back to my first point. As more Americans feel a loss of community because of the disconnect between themselves and the credentialed elite, Notre Dame and its student body must do some introspection about the role they play in cultivating this tension. Meritocracy and credentialism are not completely morally bankrupt; I’d definitely prefer to have a surgeon remove my appendix and an electrician wire my house. If we want to thrive, we can’t completely avoid a society where technical/professional competence is valued. But if we are to get serious about addressing what’s ailing our society and the role Notre Dame plays in perpetuating it, it’s time to acknowledge their corrosive effects. As a Catholic institution, we can play a critical role in affirming the dignity of all humans — regardless of credentials or merit — while also promoting the virtue of humility. It starts by acknowledging and reflecting on the hubris we hold.

We must not forget Jesus’s teaching, “For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Jacob Sherer is a junior majoring in political science with a minor in philosophy, politics and economics (PPE). Originally from Wisconsin, Jacob lives in Duncan Hall on campus. He currently serves as the President of BridgeND. Feel free to contact him by email, jsherer@nd.edu, with any questions, comments or general inquiries.

BridgeND is a student-led discussion club that is committed to bridging polarization in politics and educating on how to engage in respectful and productive discourse. BridgeND welcomes students of all backgrounds, viewpoints and experiences who want to strengthen their knowledge of current issues or educate others on an issue that is important to them. The club meets weekly on Mondays at 7 p.m. in the McNeill Room of LaFortune. Want to learn more? Contact bridgend@nd.edu or @bridge_ND on Twitter and Instagram.