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Category: Blog

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.

Clean Nuclear Energy & the Environment: A Discussion with Congressman Bob Inglis

Recently, the French government and a multinational coalition announced the groundbreaking of the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER), an experimental nuclear fusion power plant that could provide clean energy to all of Europe in the next five years. While nuclear fusion has long been theorized as a safe, clean energy source, no country has successfully created a nuclear fusion power plant. If successful, ITER could be the first large-scale nuclear fusion reactor in the world.

In response to this potentially massive leap for clean energy and the environment, Renew America Together asked Congressman Bob Inglis, founder and Executive Director of conservative environmental group republicEn.org, about his thoughts on nuclear fusion and the polarization of climate change in the United States. Congressman Inglis is the newest featured speaker at Renew America Together and is a Republican leading the fight against climate change.

The UK government invested £200 million into nuclear fusion last year. The French government and a coalition of other countries announced the creation of the ITER nuclear fusion reactor this year. What are the major obstacles to the US government investing in nuclear fusion?

Vision is the major obstacle. Fusion power in this century is about as audacious as the moon shot was in the last century. In his speech at Rice University in September 1962, President Kennedy admitted that some of the materials needed for the spacecraft hadn’t been invented yet. No matter; we were going to the moon. The means of containing and harnessing a fusion reaction are every bit as visionary. So the question is, do we have another moon shot in us? Can we say with President Kennedy: “We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.

What would it mean for Americans if the construction of the ITER nuclear fusion reactor in France is successful?

It would serve as a kick in the pants. It would remind us that France has pursued nuclear power in a way that we should have. It would tell us to dream bigger, to work harder, to invest more wisely and to believe that it really is possible to produce emissionless power.

With the withdrawal from the Paris Agreement and the failure of the Kyoto Agreement, do you believe that the United States can still garner support for a multinational coalition of countries to combat climate change?

Our slated departure from the Paris Agreement signals an abdication of leadership by the United States. If we are to reclaim our role as the leader of the free world, we need to reverse that withdrawal and reengage. Restating our commitment to a “will” to solve climate change would make us credible in asking other countries to join us in charting a “way” to that goal. Absent that reengagement with the Paris Agreement–an agreement that was so difficult to negotiate–how could we be credible in addressing the even harder work of finding a “way.”

How do politicians get Americans to support multinational collaboration in furthering technological advancement in potential clean energy sources?

Our political leaders should be telling us that we are great, not that we were great. Let us not be called back to some good old days that never existed, but challenged to rise to the even better days ahead. After all, when leaders are optimistic, they’re saying they believe in the people they represent. That kind of leadership would give us confidence to engage, to collaborate, to lead. It’s insecurity and a sense of having little to offer that causes withdrawal.

Where can Republicans and Democrats collaborate on environmental issues?

Conservatives are coming around on climate. As they make that turn, it’s vital for progressives to welcome them to the climate conversation without recrimination. While professional partisans will find it difficult to drop a very effective political wedge, I’m confident that many progressives will welcome their conservative neighbors to the climate conversation–in full recognition of the fact that we are literally all in this together.

Renew America Together works to combat the polarization of our society and find common ground as Americans. Why do you believe climate change is such a polarizing issue in the United States?

Climate action became polarized because some vested interests used the dislocation of the Great Recession to brand it as a left-wing cause so as to maintain their ability to socialize their soot and their CO2. Meanwhile, some on the left were glad to be handed that wedge and to sink it deep. The result is that climate action became culturally marked as a cause of the left. That marking can be undone if: (a) conservatives reassert themselves as conservationists, shedding the doctrines of populist grievance that have infected the GOP of late; and (b) partisan progressives drop that climate wedge that’s been working so well for them.

How can the United States take steps towards combating climate change, either in nuclear fusion and clean energy or in another aspect of environmental protection?

There are three ways to solve for climate change. You can regulate it, you can incentivize solutions, or you can price pollution. The challenge of the first two is getting them to go global. Our regulations don’t apply in China. Our tax incentives don’t work in India (unless early adoption in America leads to cost-crashes sufficient to make the cleaner technologies widely affordable in the developing world). Pricing pollution can go global if we collect a carbon tax at our borders on goods coming from countries without an equivalent price on carbon pollution (a “border adjustment”). If we make that carbon tax revenue-neutral by pairing it with a cut in existing taxes or a dividend of all of the carbon tax revenue back to our citizens, there would be no growth of government. Accountability for the true cost of burning of fossil fuels would bring the blessings of innovation. Free people engaged in free enterprise would lead the world to a cleaner future.

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.

Getting out the vote: Preventing voter suppression through mail-in voting

Voting via Absentee ballotIn order to have a representative democracy, the United States needs a government that looks like its people. At Renew America Together, we believe that bipartisan collaboration stems from the diversity of thought and the necessity to create the best possible solutions for America. The best way to achieve this goal is by expanding access to vote.

In the middle of a pandemic, expanding mail-in voter access is key. Older citizens that fear infection will still be able to cast their ballot. Families with children that cannot go to school will be able to vote from their home. No one will have to miss work, meetings, or deadlines in order to vote for the highest position in the country. However, this poses a question: what are the benefits and drawbacks of mail-in voting?

Despite claims from the president and other politicians, there is no evidence that expanding voting access leads to higher voter fraud. Currently, five states have universal mail-in voting: Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Utah, and Washington. Universal mail-in voting means that the state automatically mails every eligible voter a ballot before the election. 32 other states have mail-in voting by request, where eligible voters must request a mail-in ballot, but do not require an excuse to vote by mail. In past elections, there have not been increased cases of voter fraud in any of the five universal mail-in voting states, nor amongst the 32 additional states that have no-excuse mail-in voting.

However, the major drawback of an expansion of mail-in voting is the length of time that it takes to manually count mail-in ballots. In Wisconsin and New York, two states that tested out mail-in voting for state elections this year, it took over three weeks to count all the mail-in ballots and over 20% of all submitted ballots were marked as invalid. This provides an opportunity for foreign or domestic disinformation campaigns to run rampant through social media, undermining the legitimacy of the election and the eventual outcome of the winner.

In addition, if the votes are not counted by a specific deadline, a state will not be eligible to hold a recount. During the 2000 election, the Supreme Court ruled in Bush v. Gore that Florida could not manually recount the ballots before the state electoral deadline, preventing any recount from changing the outcome of the election. States could potentially suppress the vote by delaying counting the ballots until the last minute, preventing any external verification of the outcome.

How do we prevent potential voter suppression and disinformation from inhibiting expanding safe voting during a pandemic? Firstly, we should encourage as many people as possible to vote early. Mail-in ballots can be sent in early in most states and will pressure states to not delay counting the vote. Secondly, we should educate American voters about filling out mail-in ballots to prevent ineligible or invalid ballots from being discarded. Many mail-in ballots require multiple signatures and specific criteria in order to be valid. By educating voters about these specific requirements, fewer ballots will be marked invalid and more Americans will be able to cast their vote.

The United States needs to expand voting access for Americans during this pandemic in a secure and legitimate way. Through education and early voting, Americans can protect our electoral integrity from foreign disinformation and voter suppression.

What is Disinformation?

The battle against disinformation is global - Alliance for ScienceBetween the COVID-19 pandemic, the upcoming presidential election, and the Black Lives Matter protests, disinformation campaigns have run rampant throughout American society. False and inflammatory rhetoric about wearing masks, paid protestors, the dangers of mail-in voting, and even the existence of COVID-19 have spread across social media, echoed by mainstream media and elected officials. However, despite the amount of false information circulating around our democracy in 2020, not all fake news is disinformation. This prompts some questions: what is disinformation, where does it come from, why is it dangerous, and how do we combat it?

At its core, disinformation is the intentional spread of false information. The intent to disseminate contrasts disinformation with misinformation, the spread of false information without malicious intent. Misinformation has always been an aspect of our democracy; we often hear about “uninformed voters” in our elections, as it is easy to misunderstand the nuances of our complex political structures and policies. While misinformation muddies the waters of our political society, disinformation weaponizes false information and uses our own pre-existing biases against us.

Disinformation is similar to spreading a rumor. By targeting those that would be most interested in the false information, actors can spread disinformation quickly. For example, recent rumors about “paid protesters shipped into major cities to increase looting and violence” resonates with those that tend to view the protests as negative. When those individuals read posts that confirm that the protests are bad, their pre-existing belief that “Black Lives Matter protests are bad” is strengthened and a confirmation bias is created based on false information online. The confirmation bias encourages those individuals to continue to share the disinformation, further spreading the false information and perpetuating the confirmation bias.

Where do these false rumors come from? Much of the disinformation surrounding major events in our democracy originates in authoritarian regimes that seek to exploit inherent democratic vulnerabilities. Actors such as Russia, China, Iran, and Venezuela have built or funded armies of trolls to spread disinformation online and created automated social media bots to further the spread of disinformation. Wealthier countries, such as Russia and China, also utilize their economic might to pay for advertisements that perpetuate false information, hire journalists and political influencers to spread false messages, and even purchase radio stations and news outlets to broaden their control over American information.

However, not all disinformation comes from abroad. Some politicians and organizations here in the United States seek to manipulate the American people through disinformation. Despite clear warnings from the CDC, multiple academic research reports, and clear anecdotal evidence that masks are helpful in reducing COVID-19 cases, many organizations are spreading disinformation about the dangers of wearing masks and the existence of COVID-19, with some going as far as to say that COVID-19 is merely a government-created news story. While much of our disinformation comes from malicious actors abroad, many actors within American society still perpetuate disinformation for their own personal gain.

Why is disinformation dangerous? While the messages themselves are often dangerous, such as disinformation surrounding COVID-19, the real danger lies in the ability of disinformation to polarize our country and break our democracy. As disinformation influences actors on both sides, confirmation biases prevent any collaboration in the center, as society becomes so polarized that right-wing and left-wing individuals begin to shun those that cooperate with the other party. Progress and legislation becomes based on the members of the ruling party rather than the will of the people. Further polarization leads to politically motivated violence, the increased role of conspiracy theorists and bigots in our society, and no clear “American identity.” If we continue to allow disinformation to run rampant in American society, there will be nothing “united” about the United States.

With that grim warning, how do we combat this threat? The United States government, civil society, and the American people must work together to eliminate the power of disinformation. The government must punish countries that attack us through information warfare and crack down on domestic perpetrators of disinformation. Civil society must create frameworks to educate the public on the threat of disinformation and increasing media literacy. Most importantly, the American people must work together to identify false information online and mark it as false to prevent further spreading.

At Renew America Together, we launched a campaign to identify disinformation on Twitter. To help us combat disinformation, follow these simple steps:

  1. Ask yourself a few questions: Is this post providing evidence from their personal experience or is it an “I heard from a friend” article? Is the post from a reputable organization or individual? How many followers does the person posting this have?
  2. If the source seems legitimate and the evidence seems reputable, now it’s time to put on your detective caps. Do a quick search online for other reputable sources that support the claim.
  3. If there’s sufficient evidence to support their claim, look at their account and see if there’s anything strange: many bots are recently created but have hundreds of tweets already. If the account was created last week, but there are hundreds of posts, this is likely not a reputable source.
  4. If the account seems legitimate, the sources back up the claim, and the intent of the post seems genuine, this is not disinformation. Otherwise, congratulations! You’ve found a threat to our democracy. Please comment #usvsdisinfo under the disinformation to report it to us.

Thank you for your help in fighting the greatest threat to our democratic system. Together, we can overcome disinformation.

The Threat of Foreign Disinformation

Two hundred forty-four years ago, Thomas Jefferson wrote, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” With the final signing of our Declaration of Independence, these rights of man became the foundation of the American experiment.  On every Fourth of July, we celebrate the birth of American independence, and recall the magnificent courage of those patriots who signed this bold statement.  

Our American “experiment” has survived many difficult challenges over those 244 years. We overcame the injustices of slavery by a vicious, bloody Civil War that cost over 600,000 American lives and wrecked the economies of many states.  We struggled to find a way to live with our native Americans – and left a record of violence, broken treaties, and what we would call today ethnic cleansing which today we are still struggling to set right.  We built an industrial state on the backs of immigrant labor, and then fought decades of struggle to recognize the value of hard work and honest labor.  We overcame a crushing Depression that left a quarter of America’s work force long-term unemployed. We mobilized for two World Wars, built the world’s finest systems of public education, and brought in successive waves of immigrants.  We gave women the right to vote, and struggled to deal with the consequences of slavery, decade after decade. The Sexual Revolution and the Civil Rights movement brought such issues to the fore again in the late twentieth century, and there is much left to be done for both women’s rights and overcoming centuries of racism. We endured a four decades-long Cold War against the Soviet Union, and emerged as the world’s lone superpower, only to suffer the awful strikes of terrorists in New York and Washington on September 11, 2001.  The first two decades of the twenty-first century have brought war, and two severe economic crises, and the current pandemic.  Now, the United States faces rising international challengers in China and Russia.  

Why did American democracy survive?  Because, in the face of adversity, American democracy continued to prove self-correcting. Common sense eventually prevailed.  Americans saw, read, felt, and despite not always understanding the nuances and details, voted. But common sense wins over individual self-interest only when Americans have access to information. Our First Amendment rights, freedom of speech, the right to assemble, and freedom of the press are the essential guarantors that common sense will ultimately prevail.  This has been true despite the fact that bias has always existed in journalism, the press, the media, and indeed, all sources of information. Truth is always somewhat relative to the perspectives and beliefs of the observer. Inflammatory rhetoric has also remained the norm in American politics. Yet somehow the common sense of the voter has prevailed time and again to see us through.

When the Soviet Union fell, we thought that the great challenges to the American experiment had been left behind. We were wrong. The collapse of the Iron Curtain enabled incredible global interconnectivity, further enhanced by cell phones, messaging, and the explosion of social media.  Yet these developments also exposed our democracy to great peril: the threat of disinformation, strategically designed to sow division, spread false narratives, sway opinions and use our own freedoms as vectors of attack against our country.

However, the success of these new disinformation campaigns by our adversaries depends on the gullibility, naivete, or willfulness of the American people.  Members of both parties have mistakenly or purposefully shared Russian, Chinese and Iranian false messaging, and it is this domestic amplification of propaganda and disinformation that give it the punch to hurt us.  Sometimes even our leaders tweet and share intentionally false information online, deceiving and misleading us.

In 1838, Abraham Lincoln in his Lyceum Address stated that, “If destruction be our lot we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen we must live through all time or die by suicide.” In short, the American experiment can only be destroyed by Americans. We must recognize that disinformation – when amplified by us – is the greatest threat to our American “experiment.” 

The powerful disinformation campaigns perpetrated by adversarial nation-states take many forms. Social media bots spread the intended false messages across American feeds by the millions, Russian or Chinese-owned media outlets urge Americans to “question everything” and publish false articles to reinforce their false messages, our adversaries offer economic deals with top American politicians and corporations to encourage the further spread of false ideas in exchange for individual gain. 

As an example, in Texas in 2015, the US Army was conducting military training operations, known as the “Jade Helm” exercise. Russian media and bots were able to create a wave of conspiracy theories in the United States that furthered the idea that these military trainings were for nefarious purposes, threatening Texas civilians. The false Russian messages became mainstream and prompted the governor of Texas to send state militias to oversee the military training. The militias reported that normal military training took place, showing that the false Russian conspiracies had fooled the American people, our media institutions and some in our own government.

In 2020, the strategies of adversarial disinformation have become even more effective. False Russian messages of paid protestors at Black Lives Matter protests echo across social media constantly from American politicians, conspiracy theorists and social media bots. There remains no evidence that the majority, if any at all, of the protestors have been paid by any overarching organization. These disinformation attacks discredit our democracy and threaten our resilience, driving a wedge in our political system and preventing any bipartisan dialogue from solving other threats to American democracy.

So, what can be done?  Many throw up their hands and complain about the technology itself.  But at Renew America Together, we believe modern communications technology is not only an avenue of attack but also offers us the best means to solve this problem – by enabling hundreds, and even thousands of alert Americans to spot and call out the fake news, social media bots, disinformation and foreign propaganda, in real time, on a person-to-person basis. To this end we intend to highlight and publish information on active disinformation campaigns, to create tools that teach Americans about this threat to our democracy, and to invite all Americans to join together to identify, call out, and work against disinformation in all its forms.

To help our cause, 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. By actively identifying disinformation through social media, we can more readily combat and disprove disinformation campaigns that seek to polarize our democracy. Spotting disinformation is not too difficult, simply check the promoter of the false information and trace the facts to determine the accuracy of the statement. If the factual basis is false or the information promotes conspiracy content, if the person pushing the story is not an American but someone from abroad, if the messages are reinforced by so-called bot-nets, you’ve discovered disinformation. Call it out – and let us know!  

A hundred years ago, Americans had to learn rifle marksmanship to help defend America.  Today, you can do it from your couch, desk, or bedroom, online, with the incredible power of computers and networking.  Join us, help defend America’s precious freedoms, and renew the promise of America.  

We appreciate your help in defending our great nation against the threat of foreign disinformation.

Recap of College of William & Mary Event with Gov. Ridge and Gen. Clark

On May 19, Gen. Clark and Gov. Ridge held a discussion at the College of William and Mary, discussing the need for American leadership, civility and unity in order to overcome the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic and our polarized American society.

With the rise of Russian and Chinese illiberalism, the danger of a deadly pandemic, and a slowing of the American economy, many nations look to the United States for guidance and leadership. During the discussion, Gen. Clark remarked on the American political system, “it may not be a perfect system, but there is no better system that mankind has devised,” emphasizing the need for all politicians, regardless of ideological differences, to strengthen and utilize our political structure to protect democracy around the world.

Gov. Ridge also emphasized the need for bipartisan cooperation, saying “problem-solving normally requires the best thinking, multiple experiences and a general dialogue for all those that we pledge as officeholders to serve.” Gov. Ridge also highlighted the importance of civil discourse, emphasizing that his job as a governor was not to serve his party, but rather to determine the best solutions to the problems of all of his constituents. Bipartisanship drives better policy-making through a diversity of thought, experiences and backgrounds.

Moderator Liz Rosen kicked off the QA with questions about government responses to the pandemic. Gov. Ridge highlighted the need for bipartisan cooperation, noting “This is no time for politics. This is a war against Mother Nature.” He also discussed his role in creating the Bipartisan Commission on Biodefense, where Republicans and Democrats worked together to establish policy solutions to protect Americans from bioweapons and biological agents. Gen. Clark discussed his concern about the separation of state policy decisions from the policy decisions of the federal government in response to COVID-19, highlighting the need to strengthen the relationship between governors and the federal government.

In response to a question on the role of institutions operating past their duties, Gen. Clark compared the highly resourced nation-building efforts in Vietnam to the poorly resourced missions in Afghanistan and Iraq. Clark emphasized the need to use American talents and institutions, not the military, to strengthen democratic values abroad, “We don’t really understand how to reform anybody else’s country. We can’t. That’s their job. Our best talent is education and that’s what we should be doing more of and more graciously.” Gov. Ridge discussed the importance of allies and globalization, emphasizing the need to support our allies and combat American isolationism.

A key takeaway from the discussion is the highlighted concern of President Trump’s pandering solely to his base. Both Gen. Clark and Gov. Ridge emphasized the necessity of promoting solutions that benefit all Americans, not solely the partisan base, and warned that these actions are not the norm and should not become the norm of an American president.

Finally, Gov. Ridge discussed the role of the university in shaping the next generation of American leaders. Gov. Ridge emphasized the importance of a diversity of thought and ideology, for students to maintain an open mind and grow their intelligence and knowledge base through reasoned debate and discussion.

As a student virtually attending the discussion, I wanted to offer some thoughts on the excellent civil discussion between a life-long Republican and a proud Democrat. Firstly, one point by Gen. Clark rang true for me: “You can’t have global leadership if you don’t want to lead.” America must reassume responsibility for the global order that we created. The American global order protects self-determination, human rights, globalization, and democracy. It emphasizes the need for cooperation and collective problem-solving. As Americans, it is our responsibility to protect these ideals and the order that we established from illiberal actors, the economic lies of isolationism, and the dangerous precedent of polarized democracy that we have experienced in recent years.

Secondly, hearing a civil discourse between two life-long public servants that deeply care about our country is heartening. Much of American politics today is a partisan blame game, filled with “what-aboutism” and an inability to admit fault. Gov. Ridge and Gen. Clark admitted past faults, what they learned from them and how, through collaboration, better policy emerged from the ruins of failed policy. Gov. Ridge discussed cleaning the Great Lakes and the responsibility of Republicans to environmental stewardship, rather than denying science or attacking environmentalists on the left. Gen. Clark discussed the failures of nation-building in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan and how the military learned to support international development aid. These discussions of learning from failure to promote better policies at home and abroad show the damage to our system under the current toxicity of the political environment is temporary. As Americans, by admitting fault and learning from failure, we can greatly improve our society.

In conclusion, the event was wildly successful. As a student, I learned a lot and appreciated hearing from experienced policymakers. As an observer, I felt as though Gov. Ridge and Gen. Clark discussed incredibly important issues in a serious and civil manner and I hope to continue to see these events and discussions in the future.