fbpx

Author: Lincoln Zaleski

Countering Information War: An American Offset Strategy

Twitter Limited The Sharing Of New York Post Story – Is It Social Media Censorship?Picture Kyiv in the 1950s, well behind the iron curtain and firmly under the grip of the Soviet Union. The terror of Stalin is omnipresent, and neighbors start disappearing, picked up off the streets walking home from work or pulled from their homes in the middle of the night. A friend disappears and soon KGB agents come to your door to ask questions about their habits, focused on one question in particular: what kind of books did they read?

 

Throughout most authoritarian regimes in history, information has been restricted by those in power. Whether it’s through physically removing information by burning books or outlawing certain types of speech and information flows, authoritarian governments dedicate entire ministries to preventing the public from certain knowledge. The level of resources dedicated to hiding, censoring, or destroying information highlighted a key insight to the liberal democratic world: information is the most powerful weapon against authoritarianism.

 

Authoritarian regimes still utilize many of the old tactics of censorship: banning books and websites, shutting down certain parts of the internet, and arresting those that preach versions of the truth that the government does not like. However, the introduction of anonymous online speech provided a new flow of information, difficult for authoritarian regimes to censor. Social media allows for whistleblowers, activists, and civil society groups to spread information publicly without the fear of KGB operatives coming to arrest them. Information in the public space shapes new narratives, where individual citizens have control, allowing for online investigation and more accountability for the government.

 

In theory, the development of social media as an information flow should be a societal good. The dissidents of the past have reclaimed a space online to hold the government accountable for their actions while protected by the anonymity of the internet. This new system should promote greater individual self-determination, voices from the minority, and democracy from the people, all values that Americans hold dear. However, through the internet, authoritarian regimes have developed some effective tricks to censor and manipulate the population more effectively than they have in the past.

 

One key tactic is manipulating the narrative. Russia is particularly adept at manipulation today, learning from its attempts at influencing media narratives and populations during the Cold War (known as active measures). Through state-run media outlets, fake media and online accounts run by troll farms, Russian-paid journalists for real Western newspapers, and government social media accounts, Russia can shape a dangerous and influential narrative for both Russian and foreign audiences. For example, during the Russian invasion of Eastern Ukraine in 2014, Russian state media insisted that their forces were local militia and protesters upset by the Euromaidan events in Kyiv. According to them, the warfare was antagonized by Ukrainian military forces trying to put down the anti-government protesters and Russia played no role in the conflict. Any social media posts to the contrary were bombarded with Twitter users defending Russia and condemning Ukraine. The volume of defense was deafening too, with Russian outlets and social media users repeating the lie constantly, creating an echo chamber to convince both Russian civilians and foreign observers that Russia was not involved in Ukraine. This Russian narrative manipulation ultimately worked, as Eastern Ukraine remains largely independent of Kyiv’s control today and little action has been taken from liberal democracies around the globe to prevent the Russian invasion.

 

Another newer tactic is censorship through noise. This strategy is often deployed by the Chinese government. Dissidents or activists will gather online and begin talking or posting about a problem with the Chinese government, such as human rights abuses against the Uyghur population in Xinjiang. Within minutes, hundreds of Chinese accounts will begin posting about a different story, perhaps US involvement in Afghanistan, effectively drowning out any criticism of the government. The posts from the activists get lost in the hundreds of posts about Afghanistan, preventing their intended audience from accessing them.

 

For both strategies, disinformation is a key component. Repeating falsehoods intentionally in an echo chamber has a powerful effect, and if you’re able to convince enough individuals that your lie is true, people will act on behalf of the lie. This is where authoritarian regimes have the upper hand against the United States and other liberal democracies: they know how to disseminate disinformation, drown out dissidents, and tell stories in the way that they want much better than liberal democracies do. This in turn creates action from those convinced of the lie, such as anti-vaxxers protesting in the United States or conspiracy theorists attacking politicians in Europe. In sum, authoritarian regimes have found a way to take the most powerful weapon against them and mutate it into a weapon that they can use against democracy.

 

What can liberal democracies do against this imbalance of skill? In the military, offset strategy seeks to rectify a strategic or technical weakness by using a relative strength. Basically, if you’re weak at one skill compared to an adversary, use your strengths to find a different way to compete with them. For the United States, our strengths against authoritarian information control lie in two places: our values of freedom, human rights, and liberal democracy, and our cultural image. These two strengths, if used correctly, can offset America’s relative weakness in the information space against authoritarian regimes.

 

Firstly, the United States has always been seen as the defender of human rights and individual freedoms around the world. Institutions such as USAID and the National Endowment for Democracy promote global health, women’s rights, media freedom, and minority empowerment amongst many other key areas of democratic society. And while the United States has not always been successful in its mission or has acted against its own values, the institutions are intended to be a tool to help bolster countries around the world. These democratic networks promote a stronger media and more power to the people despite authoritarian governments attempting to use their informational advantage to break down those networks. American institutions that promote our values are still one of our best tools in the fight against foreign disinformation and information manipulation.

 

Secondly, American culture is still a powerful force in the world. Movies that promote a sense of freedom from tyranny and power to the people work against deceitful information promoted by authoritarian regimes. American cultural figures, such as Captain America or John McClane, still dominate television sets around the world and American cultural appreciation is globally widespread. This cultural strength in relation to countries like China or Russia gives the United States an opportunity to combat disinformation and authoritarianism through widely consumed media, like television series, YouTube videos, music, film, and books.

 

By investing in our strengths, the United States should be able to engage in a global information campaign, driving out the online strengths of authoritarianism and continuing to fight for global democracy. Information is still our greatest weapon against authoritarianism and tyranny and only through an informational offset strategy will we be able to promote democracy worldwide.

 

The opinions of this blog post are solely of the author and not necessarily reflective of the opinions of Renew America Together.

Welcome to Across Talk!

Renew America Together is excited to re-introduce our readers to Across Talk, our monthly videocast! Hosted by Lincoln Zaleski, our resident disinformation specialist, Across Talk brings young researchers and professionals to talk about bipartisanship, disinformation, and civility. Thus far, Across Talk has covered topics from learning from Northern Irish models of democracy to bipartisan online forums to discuss policy issues to fighting disinformation with a team of college students.

After five episodes, Across Talk has grown in popularity and allows research from the oft-inaccessible “ivory tower” of academia to reach the public. It provides a space for the next generation of policymakers to promote their solutions to America’s largest problems. Most importantly, Across Talk cuts to the heart of Renew America Together’s mission in bringing together those with different backgrounds, holding a civil conversation, and showing that common ground exists for every group of people.

The final question of Across Talk is always the same: Who is a political figure, past or present, that you admire? We ask this question to see who young professionals seek to emulate as they think about changing the world through the policy and research that they generate. Of the six contributors to Across Talk, we have received a powerful group of influential figures, from Abraham Lincoln to Maya Angelou to Ruth Bader Ginsburg to John McCain. If the next generation has role models as bipartisan and respectable as these, America has a lot to look forward to in its future policymakers.

Ultimately, Across Talk promotes Renew America Together’s values of civil dialogue, education, and bipartisanship by allowing the next generation to make their voices and hard work heard. We look forward to producing more episodes with excited young professionals and hope that you will tune in to see what these incredible individuals have to say. The sixth episode of Across Talk will be released in August, but feel free to watch our previous videos on Renew America Together’s YouTube page, linked here.

 

The Disinformation Virus

Oftentimes, when we think of a viral phenomenon, we imagine a spread similar to an epidemic. An initial patient zero gets the disease and spreads it to those they become in contact with, whether that’s everyone in a subway car, those unlucky enough to be too close in a restaurant, or people having a brief encounter at the supermarket. These brief encounters leading to contagion are what the Center for Disease Control (CDC) has been encouraging us to avoid for almost a full year. The methods of exposure represent a “simple” viral contagion. One infected person can infect hundreds of others through brief, but close contact.

Interestingly, the transfer of most information works in a similar way. News stories, viral videos, and memes disseminate throughout society through brief interactions for their universal appeal and relatability. A friend sharing a meme on Facebook can reach hundreds of individuals, even those they may not know, and successfully spread a message. This simple contagion does not require any effort on the part of the sharer, simply a like or a share online can spread the message without any major personal endorsement or stated opinion that may make one stop and reconsider.

Historically, this “simple contagion” is how many social scientists have also treated phenomena like disinformation. One person picks up a false message and sounds the alarm, sharing the disinformation widely with all those the patient zero interacts with until it reaches a critical mass of endorsers online and a fireworks’ display of disinformation shows up on social media. However, recently, some sociologists have recognized a more accurate description for how social campaigns and disinformation spread throughout society.

The new concept for information sharing is called “complex contagion” and is outlined in the book Change by Damon Centola. Under this new framework for social dissemination, the message requires more than a like or share. In order for the phenomenon to be applicable, the stakes of sharing the information must be higher. By posting a more controversial message online, new converts feel as though they are “giving something up” when they share the message, as they may lose followers or perceived social standing for their views. By behaving differently from the majority of the population, the fear of social isolation resulting from the message is higher, raising the stakes to post the message. These ideas are not simple cat videos online that have universal appeal, but rather are more polarizing issues that people seek to share only within more trusted circles, especially since stakes are much higher in attaching this message to your perceived online persona.

In the past, I have described the spread of disinformation as “ink spots,” where the idea slowly seeps through society through localized entry points. A foreign adversary does their research and identifies a receptive community to a disinformation message. As they begin to reinforce the message within the community, the members of the community begin to distribute the message to those they trust or hold similar ideas to them. The receptive community grows, not virally through brief interactions or shares on Facebook and Twitter, but through direct messages, tight-knit community chat rooms, and over a beer at the dinner table. Targeted individuals become convinced of an idea and spread it to others that they perceive as receptive, not to anyone that walks by, slowly spreading the disinformation message throughout a growing receptive community. 

This high-risk spreading, or “complex contagion,” follows a well-established Russian propaganda technique. The disinformation actor only needs a few individuals that are staunchly dedicated to the message in order to spread the idea. Once they reveal their belief to others that are receptive, the community begins to slowly spread to friends, neighbors, and relatives, until a critical mass (according to Change, the critical mass is 25% of a network for messaging to change) is reached and influencers begin to adopt the message.

To summarize, complex contagion acts as an ink spot on a piece of paper. Starting at a few localized points, a message slowly permeates through society by means of close-knit ties, not through extensive online sharing. When those you trust send you false messaging, you are more receptive to the ideas, leading to continued sharing of dangerous disinformation.

As always, Renew America Together seeks to provide information to combat the spread of partisanship and polarization in America. Disinformation, both from home and abroad, drives much of the polarization in our country. Recognizing the way that it spreads and the channels that malign actors operate on is essential to protecting yourself and our nation from disinformation campaigns.

You can report disinformation to Renew America Together by tweeting with the hashtag #USvsDisinfo and join our network of online truth-seekers to identify and combat this threat online.

Disinformation and Beyond: Recap of Stanford United States-Russia Forum

On February 19, Gen. Wesley Clark held a discussion with the Stanford United States-Russia Forum (SURF) where he discussed the dynamics of the relationship between Russia and the United States. As the former NATO Supreme Allied Commander, Gen. Clark shared his insights on Russian interventions in democratic societies, disinformation campaigns and cyberwarfare, competition in the Arctic, and the role of the Russian government as a bad actor in the global system.

Gen. Clark fielded questions from the SURF fellows and recanted anecdotes from his time at NATO. He discussed the string of “color revolutions” across Europe and Eurasia throughout the late 1990s and early 2000s, where authoritarian states experienced mass protests calling for democratic reform, leading to the reinstatement of more democratic systems without a violent overthrow of the regime. Countries like Armenia and Ukraine, which experienced the Velvet Revolution and the Maidan protests respectively, could be considered states with recent color revolutions. Russia has consistently taken actions to undermine or thwart color revolutions in a number of countries that the Russian government considers to be within their sphere of influence.

Gen. Clark also discussed Russian attempts to undermine democratic elections in Western countries through disinformation campaigns. Through the efforts of our intelligence agencies, this election season saw low levels of foreign disinformation, compared with the rampant Russian disinformation in the 2016 presidential election. However, despite successful defense, this past November, the techniques of Russian disinformation have had a fundamental impact on our society, as domestic disinformation ran rampant, following the exact strategy that the Russians used in 2016. Gen. Clark noted that being aware of authoritarian strategies in propaganda was essential, as the Russian government wrote the rulebook for manipulation. Even if the Russian government did not successfully infiltrate this election, the strategies used by domestic actors and the encouragement of intentional manipulation is still cause for concern and still driven by foreign actors like Russia.

Between Russian influence in countries seeking democracy and Russian attempts to subvert democratic practices, the Russian government clearly operates in a way that undermines the principles that Americans hold dear. Through efforts, such as this talk, to bridge the gap between the American and Russian people, there is a possibility that the Russian government will understand the strength of a society comes from the people, not from an authoritarian regime.

 

Renew America Together in Colorado

On February 9, General Clark and Maryland Governor Larry Hogan held a discussion hosted by World Denver, the Colorado Springs World Affairs Council, and the Colorado Foothills World Affairs Council. Moderated by Rob Quirk, the talk centered around the January 6 insurrection at the Capitol, the importance of bipartisanship in protecting our democracy, and combating the American political system’s polarization.

The discussion kicked off with the sobering statistic that most Americans believe our democracy does not work. Our domestic polarization has led to an unhealthy political system, leading us to lose our international standing in our allies’ eyes and domestically lose faith in our government. Gen. Clark promoted the health of the United States through bipartisan cooperation, arguing that the polarization of the parties has caused insurmountable gridlock without bipartisanship. Gov. Hogan agreed and suggested that the best way to rebuild trust in our institutions is through passing a comprehensive COVID-19 relief bill by working with others across the aisle. The importance of unity in the face of a global deadly pandemic cannot be overstated.

Gov. Hogan and Gen. Clark next addressed the many Americans that feel disenfranchised by the government, emphasizing that domestic discord must be dealt with to project strength abroad. Gen. Clark promoted a three-pronged approach for helping Americans heal: first, hold those in the Capitol insurrection accountable for their actions, projecting the strength and practical functionality of the government. Second, explain to the public America’s system of governance and the Constitutional process through bipartisan teams, promoting education to fight conspiracy theories and disinformation about our government. Finally, after educating the populace and holding insurgents accountable, prove that the government can actually function properly, bypassing pandemic relief measures and having a successful vaccine rollout. We can project strength and unity through these actions, combating domestic polarization and reaffirming our relationship with our allies. As Gov. Hogan stated, there’s more that unites us as Americans than divides us.

The discussion then turned to President Trump’s Twitter account’s recent blocking and other forms of social media potential overreach. Both Gov. Hogan and Gen. Clark believed that these censorship actions are a slippery slope, as protection from misinformation is good, and it’s important to quell calls for violent action; however, removing first amendment rights sets a dangerous precedent for a democracy. Shutting down the accounts is an acceptable temporary stopgap but should not remain a permanent solution to conspiracy theories and disinformation problems. Gen. Clark also suggested that the government should look into the role of social media companies in democracy.

At Renew America Together, we seek to provide ways to “bridge the gap” in our hyper-partisan political environment. Gov. Hogan provided some insight from his own experiences establishing an independent citizen commission to implement redistricting in his home state of Maryland. Gerrymandering emphasizes both parties’ extremes, as politicians get to pick the voters rather than the voters picking the politicians. Through a non-partisan commission to facilitate redistricting, extreme views in Congress can be significantly curtailed.

The main takeaway from this insightful bipartisan discussion is that most Americans think their political system is broken. This perception of brokenness further translates to America’s weakening position in the international arena and the polarization of US politics. To heal America, cooperation at the highest levels of government must be achieved. Those that benefit from a more polarized government must be held accountable, and we must all work together to achieve a more unified America.

Voters Spoke, Time for Healing

Joe Biden official portrait 2013.jpg Two weeks ago, Americans voted for the next President of the United States. Despite allegations of voter fraud, media sensationalism, and continued foreign disinformation, the 2020 election was considered one of the most secure elections in American history. The preparations made by state governments and the readiness of the FBI, Homeland Security, and the FEC protected the integrity of our presidential election. There was no evidence of widespread voter fraud, no major foreign influence in the outcome of the election, and despite media concerns, no major riots or violence following the results.

 

The American people have spoken and Joseph Biden will be the next president of the United States. However, the American people want to see the partisan rancor emanating from Washington end. President-elect Biden has said he will be a president for all Americans, not just the Democratic Party. Will party leaders and members of both parties support this bipartisan approach? And if so, can the government regain the trust of more Americans by moving the country forward on jobs, health care, immigration and border security and other issues?  

 

While we still have two months until these questions are answered, the United States has undoubtedly entered a new chapter in which we must work together to combat divisive rhetoric, bigotry, misinformation, and hatred. Only through cooperation can we live up to our potential and become a truly united country. The partisan rhetoric indicative of the past administration is not new to American politics and each time in history, our society has overcome our polarized camps to maintain a united American identity.

 

At Renew America Together, we have no doubt that Americans will continue to push the boundaries of progress together. Republicans, Democrats, and non-partisan Americans make up the greatest democratic experiment in history, and through strong leadership and bipartisan cooperation, we can begin to heal from this divisive era. We humbly ask President Trump to concede the election for the safety and security of our democracy and to help this nation begin to heal from the polarized partisanship of American society.

Two Weeks to Go, Have You Voted?

With the election only two weeks away, knowing how you’re voting is a critical component of our democracy. At Renew America Together, we created a handy guide to recap how to vote and voting tips:

 

Firstly, voting by mail is safe and secure. Both the Federal Election Commission and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) have found no evidence that voter fraud is increased in any way through voting by mail. Despite claims to the contrary, no evidence exists of mass voter fraud in mail-in ballots. However, there are some concerns about voting by mail that you should know.

  • Voting by mail has requirements to make the system more secure. If a mail-in ballot is received without those requirements, the ballot will not be counted in the election. So, it is of the utmost importance to follow the instructions on the ballot in order to make sure your vote counts. These requirements may include:
    • Signing both the ballot and the envelope for the ballot
    • Completely filling in the circles for candidates with dark ink
    • Only voting for one candidate
    • Sealing the envelope completely
  • Once all the steps have been completed for your mail-in ballot, you can either send the ballot in the mail or deposit the sealed ballot in an official election dropbox, which locations can be found on your local government website. There have been some cases of fraudulent dropboxes in California, so be sure to confirm that the ballot box is official.
  • Finally, once all the above steps are complete, remember that you cannot vote in-person once you have voted by mail. In addition, you cannot vote on someone else’s behalf. There have been reported cases of mistaken swapped ballots, such as a married couple putting the two ballots in the same envelope or in the wrong envelopes. Your ballot must be in your signed envelope in order to count.

Secondly, you may not want to vote by mail! Here are some tips to help vote in-person:

  • Check for your local voting locations and make a plan to vote beforehand. One of the leading causes of low voter turnout is confusing polling locations, so make sure that you know where yours is and how to get there.
  • Make sure you go and vote! The next leading cause of low voter turnout is bad weather. Don’t let a little rain stop your civic engagement in our democracy! Commit to your plan and go vote to make your voice heard.
  • Voter intimidation is a potential threat, meaning that some people may try to influence the way you vote before you go into the polling place. Remember that this is your country and your vote counts equally as everyone else’s vote. It may be helpful to decide who you’re voting for before you arrive at the polling place.
  • To be a more informed voter, the federal government recommends BallotReady, which provides you a summary of your entire ballot based on your address. Each candidate and referendum is explained and included in the voting guide and can help you make decisions before you reach your polling place.

Renew America Together is committed to protecting our American democracy. The great experiment of our founding fathers lives on every time you cast a ballot. Use this guide, make a plan, and go vote on November 3.

Recap of World Affairs Council of Philadelphia Event

On September 11, General Clark and Maryland Governor Larry Hogan held a discussion at the World Affairs Council of Philadelphia. The talk centered around the importance of bipartisanship, the future of our democracy, and combating polarization of the American political system.

 

The discussion kicked off with concerns about the pivotal nature of this election cycle. Both Gov. Hogan and Gen. Clark expressed wary optimism that the election would not end in violence and a constitutional crisis, as suggested by this Washington Post article. However, both speakers recognized the deeply polarized environment in the United States, with Gen. Clark stating that, “this is the most polarized America has been since the Civil War.” Gov. Hogan called for the entrenched partisanship of our democracy to be quelled and more bipartisan cooperation to offset our polarized environment.

 

Gov. Hogan, a Republican governor in a deeply blue state, suggested that the best way to overcome polarization was to avoid party rhetoric and look for the right ideas, not just Republican or Democratic ideas. Using Maryland as an example, he highlighted that no bills would pass without bipartisanship.

 

The conversation then turned to the origin of American polarization. Gen. Clark and Gov. Hogan identified three major trends in creating a polarized United States. First, the American people tend to fall into echo chambers, where they only consume one news source that channels only one slant. This creates a news trap, where the populace only receives biased information from the same source. Second, the emergence of social media and online influencers make disinformation and misinformation much more accessible and widespread. Third, political parties deliberately create an enemy in the opposite party to drum up support against the opposing side. Through self-created echo chambers, disinformation on social media, and entrenched partisan rhetoric, we live in an increasingly polarized America.

 

Both men have either ran for president or expressed interest in becoming president, prompting the question: if you were president now, how would you unite America and solve the problem? Gen. Clark emphasized the need to get dark money out of elections and promoted open primaries to prevent far right and far left candidates from continuing to win primary cycles. He also emphasized the importance of the attitude of the president. A president needs to behave in a unifying manner, protecting all Americans, not just those in red states. Gov. Hogan agreed with Gen. Clark’s solutions and proposed a less polarized and more bipartisan approach to combating the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent economic recession.

 

Some questions from the audience included solutions to combat polarization, such as a moderate third party or ranked-choice voting. Gen. Clark stated that while a moderate third party has been attempted historically, but has never been successful, as evidenced by Ross Perot’s infamous presidential campaign. Gen. Clark also stated that ranked-choice voting is a possibility, but parties will try to combat a vote for it, as ranked-choice decentralizes party power.

 

In conclusion, a Republican Governor and a Democratic presidential candidate held an insightful and important conversation on the importance of bipartisanship, unity following this election cycle, and civil leadership. The event speaks to the importance of cooperation and looks to set an example for American political discourse during this polarizing time. The video for the event is linked here.

Why Black Lives Matter Should Be Bipartisan

The Black Lives Matter movement protests systemic racism, the justice system, and police brutality. This summer, a slew of African-American deaths at the hands of white police officers incited protests across the United States. Recently, the horrific killing of Jacob Blake by a police officer in front of his children in Kenosha, Wisconsin has sparked another wave of protests. However, the support for these protests have become highly partisan and polarized. The core of the debate circles around whether systemic racism exists in America; in sum, do the killings of black Americans at the hands of police officers constitute a trend of systemic racism? Or are they each individual cases?

 

This blog seeks to show some objective facts about racially motivated police violence and historical reasoning for these trends. To begin, let’s look at some analysis on the statistics for police violence and race.

 

This next graphic comes from a 2016 study from the Center for Policing Equity, highlighting the use of force by police officers per 100,000 residents by race. Based on this graphic, non-hispanic blacks had force used against them disproportionately higher than any other ethnicity. On an average year, 0.273% of the entire black American population had force used against them by police, compared with 0.076% of the entire white population, which is nearly four times as often.

 

However, these statistics can often be misleading, as the rates are population-based. The population of African-Americans in the United States is not the same as the population of white Americans. This means that one instance where police force was used against a black American will contribute a higher percentage of instances than one instance of white Americans. In fact, according to a 2019 Harvard study, while non-lethal force was used against black Americans at a 50% higher rate, lethal force was used at the same rate between black and white Americans.

 

At first glance, this equitable rate seems to disprove racial intent amongst use of lethal force. However, encounters with the police are also not the same between white and black Americans. As highlighted in this 538 article, black Americans have significantly higher encounters with police officers, due to racial profiling and other systemic practices like stop-and-frisk. If the lethal rates of police force are the same, but more black Americans are stopped due to racially biased practices, then the police use lethal force against more black Americans. In sum, if the police used lethal force against 20% of all stops, but stop 200 black Americans and 100 white Americans, then 40 black Americans are killed for every 20 white Americans.

 

In sum, systemic racism exists throughout the justice system. Racial profiling leads to more police stops of black Americans, which leads to more black Americans killed by police officers. Even if you account for statistical anomalies, like black Americans being a smaller share of the population than white Americans, these systemic trends continue to exist. The system of oppression has continued for years against ethnic and racial minorities in the United States and exists not only in the justice system, but throughout nearly all forms of governance.

 

Renew America Together fights for civility, leadership, and unity. Targeting minorities through a systemically racist justice system is neither civil nor unifying. Regardless of your political orientation, we can all agree that police officers should not use deadly force unless absolutely necessary. Looking at the objective facts and statistics, the systemic racism that plagues our country must be solved for our democracy to thrive and progress. Together, we can make a difference to reform our justice system and truly create an equitable system for all.

SpaceX and the Opportunity for Bipartisan Space Exploration

This past Sunday, the United States watched two astronauts complete the first water landing from space in 45 years. Despite these polarizing times, this incredible feat cut through the panicked headlines about the upcoming election, the deadly pandemic, and the civil unrest in our society and united Americans for an hour. Two astronauts, landing in the Gulf of Mexico, successfully united Americans and ignited, albeit temporarily, a sense of pride in the accomplishments of our country.

Massive scientific accomplishments, particularly with regard to space exploration, have always been a unifying force. The Apollo 11 mission drew an unprecedented 58 million American households and 650 million viewers worldwide, making the moon landing the largest television event to that point. Similarly, the peril of the astronauts in the Apollo 13 landing drew massive viewership, nearly 40 million Americans watched the splashdown in 1970. Space exploration provided an opportunity for Americans to be proud of the technological achievements of the United States and still hope for more, as the vast expanse of space provided infinite possibilities.

However, the accomplishments of the SpaceX capsule were not solely in the unifying nature of space exploration. SpaceX cooperated with NASA scientists and astronauts to make this event possible, showing important collaboration between private enterprises and the US government. In addition, while the partnership between SpaceX and NASA was finalized under President Obama, President Trump tweeted out a rare, non-partisan statement about the splashdown

While the sense of accomplishment and unity appeared fleeting, the lessons learned about bipartisan collaboration were very real. Space exploration and technological and scientific advancement provide an opportunity for bipartisan collaboration, while simultaneously working to unify our country around the minimal nature of our problems against the backdrop of space. At Renew America Together, we hope that more partnerships between unlikely collaborators will lead to a unified, less polarized America. Space is a great place to start.