Graduating from Politics

The last few weeks of any senior’s time at Hamilton are rife with reflection. Through all the final papers and presentations, it is exciting to look forward to a postgraduate life but also nostalgic to consider how Hamilton has changed each of us. I know, through positively and negatively impactful experiences, that Hamilton has shaped me in innumerable ways. The Alexander Hamilton Institute and my connection to political controversy on campus through this publication have certainly helped define my political views and how I see myself participating in politics at all after graduation. One of the many things I am looking forward to upon graduating is leaving behind a political categorization game which is played by both students and faculty.

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Name Calling

The last year has not been kind to our language. Students throw racist, homophobic, Islamophobic, etc. around to end a conversation on a virtue signal instead of engaging in a challenging discussion. While the necessity to use these words may be more frequent, their meanings, and thus the arguments stemming from them, lose their punch without proper definition. John McWhorter, a distinguished linguist at Columbia University, observes: “The Martian anthropologist would recognize no difference between the way those accused of being witches were treated in 17th-century Salem, Mass., and the way many innocent people are being accused of ‘racism’ today.”

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Erdogan and the State of Turkey

On April 16, the Turkish government underwent a seismic constitutional shift. With the referendum results uncertain till late into the night, Turkey voted to centralize power in the hands of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The referendum, which won with 51.3 percent of the vote, abolishes the post of prime minister and transfers executive power to the president. This allows him to appoint the judges and officials responsible for scrutinizing his decisions. This not only violates many Turks’ sense of proper constitutional order, but also sets the stage for Erdogan to assume a more dictatorial role in the long run. (Additionally, however, the referendum limits the president to two five-year terms.)

The supporting campaign argued that a stronger centralized government would better enable Turkey to take on its challenges: a struggling economy, the world’s largest Syrian refugee population, a war against Kurdish insurgents, and the Syrian war on Turkey’s southern border.

The opposition worried that the new presidential powers will, according to the New York Times, “threaten the separation of powers on which liberal democracies have traditionally depended.” Judicial independence in Turkey was already weak before the change, and now it is in more peril. President Erdogan will now have unilateral authority in selecting the judges, as well as other administrators, who will review his actions to decide their constitutionality. This tightens his grip on the Turkish bureaucracy even further, a process that began after the attempted military coup last summer.”

Since the failed coup, Erdogan has constantly monitored the media, and journalists themselves, for anti-government opinions. One journalist, Kadri Grusel, has been imprisoned since October. His work at Cumhuriyet, Turkey’s last major independent media outlet, was questioned due to his alleged connections to the Islamist Gulenist movement and the Kurdish Independence Movement. Mr. Grusel and at least 81 other journalists are held in detention at Silivri prison, just south of Istanbul, where shuttle services are provided so families can visit the large number of imprisoned newspaper employees. Turkey has now surpassed China as the world’s biggest jailer of journalists. Furthermore, Erdogan’s actions concerning the press have garnered attention from several international human rights organizations.

In addition to silencing the press, Erdogan immediately imprisoned more than 45,000 of the 130,000 state employees he fired after the coup attempt. These imprisonments include punishment for alleged anti-Erdogan sentiments, insulting Erdogan directly over social media, or being suspected of participating in the coup. A former Miss Turkey, Merve Buyuksarac, posted on Instagram a satirical rewording of the country’s national anthem: I am like a wild flood, I smash over the law and beyond / I follow state bids, take my bribe and live. She was sentenced to fourteen months.  

Moreover, the legitimacy of the vote is already under scrutiny. The results will take time to confirm, but the opposition Republican People’s Party is already calling for a recount of more than one-third of the ballots – around 2.5 million votes. The opposition claims the president’s campaign on behalf of the referendum was corrupt in that it supposedly threatened people who intended to vote “no.” Many Turks either voted “yes” or stayed away from the polls in fear of their safety. Additionally, a last-minute raising of the standard for proving allegations of ballot stuffing made it easier to tamper with the election results. As of the day after the referendum, there was only one case of voter fraud caught on camera.

The result of the vote, if it holds up, cannot bode well for Turkey. Erdogan has been exceptionally power-hungry and on guard after last year’s coup attempt. All the evidence we can see points to the likelihood that given the opportunity, he will continue to limit the media and centralize more power to himself. This constitutional change will not benefit Turkey in the long run, particularly if Erdogan is elected for a second term.

Uber: Silicon Valley Darling

Uber is at the center of renewed scandal after a flood of sexual harassment allegations revealed a widespread “bro culture” at the company. But it’s not the only startup to suffer under the questionable leadership of a “CEBro,” as Dan Lyons, a former senior editor for Forbes Magazine, recently called it in the New York Times. It is, actually, the latest in a long string of Silicon Valley darlings to come under increased scrutiny and criticism.

These 40ish man-child CEOs push a tech culture with campus-like headquarters instead of office buildings, nap lounges instead of cubicles, and company bars instead of water coolers. As Lyons argues, their offices “become corporate frat houses, where employees are chosen like pledges, based on ‘culture fit’ ” instead of merit. This work environment tends to alienate women and minorities, even leading some to quit.

Additionally, the relative immaturity of these so-called “CEBros” creates an environment in which reckless spending and excessive partying become the norm, and bad behavior is not just tolerated but encouraged. While the executives of these companies appear – at least at the surface level – to have great people skills, they have no clue how to manage their employees or run an expanding multi-billion dollar company. They surround themselves with like-minded people and fail to understand how to build a stable corporate structure. This is what led to Uber’s problems and ones that plague similar startups.  

Consider everyone’s favorite startup – Facebook. We got a dramatized look into its founding through “The Social Network,” but this is apparently only the tip of the iceberg. The company culture at Uber sounds more like “Wolf of Wall Street” than “The Office.” Top executives are little more than hustlers, winning over investors like Goldman Sachs and Merrill Lynch, who hold stakes of more than $1 billion each.

With man-children at the helm, the “bro culture” at Uber is not confined to the workplace’s physical aspects; it permeates the manner in which the company is run and expands. Initially, Uber dealt with customer safety problems after several women came forward about being sexually assaulted by their drivers. It then weathered corporate espionage lawsuits from Google, related to the development of self-driving cars. Sexual harassment allegations from their employees are only the latest problem. How many times can a high-profile “millennial” company be hit before it falls? Companies that are too reactive rather than proactive do not last long – if you don’t see a storm coming, it may tear you down. Startups like Uber have seemed to be the exception, but probably aren’t.  

Despite their cultural and structural flaws, startups like Uber still have great potential for making a positive impact on society as a whole. In identifying unmet problems in major areas of life, such as transportation or housing, these companies can revolutionize services in ways that make them more accessible or affordable. They can also pivot significantly faster than industrial giants, like Google or Unilever, because of their narrow, efficient focus. Moreover, these companies contribute to more than just app development. Uber, for example, is running a large behavioral science study to examine the motivation among independent contractors to maximize revenue for themselves and the corporations they work for. Companies across Silicon Valley are taking up new initiatives to contribute to scientific research and maximize profits.

It is my hope that potential founders see the failures in some of the successful tech-bubble companies and can modify the startup culture so it doesn’t produce toxic work environments. The experience of ventures that have been more successful in these respects can be taught to young founders, just as the Wharton School teaches the structures of the mainstream business community. They will see the storms coming and will be prepared with a sturdy foundation rather than a rickety fence.


Melania as FLOTUS

The tradition of the First Lady taking up a social cause during her time in office developed from Dolley Madison’s role as a hostess at the White House while her husband James was president more than 200 years ago. After the recent presidential election, we have a new First Lady, Melania Trump, along with the new president. We have also lost a vital role model in Michelle Obama – a dignified and caring woman who, while not all agreed with her, always carried herself with respect.

On the campaign trail, Melania shied away from cameras and speeches. She hosted a few fundraisers, but that is quite different from making appeals to the general public, and she rarely gave public testimonials. We all remember her catastrophe of a speech at the Republican national convention, when she appropriated large chunks of text from Michelle Obama’s 2008 speech at the Democratic convention. As CNN reported: “Melania Trump’s speech was warmly received by the rowdy Republican crowd but did not include behind-the-scenes glimpses of life in Trump Tower or other details that might offer some insight into the man behind the image.”

The lack of such details in the speech was an early indicator of Melania’s current image as a reluctant presidential spouse. In Donald Trump’s first month and a half in office, she is much more seen than heard. She makes rare appearances at his major speeches but is never leading events of her own. She has, however, apparently decided what her cause will be as First Lady: She will work vigilantly to end cyber-bullying.

While this choice is amusing considering her husband’s behavior on social media, Melania has committed herself to fight, for children across the country, against a problem that is currently beyond effective control by parents and school administrators. More generally, she says she will focus on women’s and children’s issues. Although Melania has yet to begin doing much on these issues, Ivanka Trump has stepped up to fulfill many duties of the First Lady – attending state events, hosting dignitaries at the White House, and serving as a role model figure for young girls who one day hope to experience corporate success of their own.    

Melania also proclaimed that she wants to revive the legacies of Jackie Kennedy and Betty Ford, both of whom were very “traditional” first ladies. Now, Melania may be too young to remember Kennedy and Ford, but they were far from traditional – these women laid the foundation for the active first ladies of the past two decades. The most recent first ladies adopted active roles in their position to take on national healthcare, education, and childhood obesity. Hillary Clinton, Laura Bush, and Michele Obama heralded a new type of First Lady who uses her position of power in the press and the eyes of the citizens to do good.

Melania will probably not make any impact against cyber-bullying if she continues to lack a substantive presence in the public eye. If she continues to shy away from speeches, hides away in Trump Tower, and refuses to manage her own image and only promotes President Trump’s, Melania will fade into obscurity as she sits next to the most powerful man in the country.