Experts Weigh in on the Importance of the Electoral College

Any attempt to reform the Electoral College will bring seismic changes to American politics and government, and we have to take these reforms seriously and discuss them.

I was in a meeting in November of last year for the TU Election Initiative when the idea of a webinar open to all students and faculty was floated. Several topics were discussed before we settled for something relevant at the time: the Electoral College. Scheduling the webinar for late January, we figured the institution would be a good topic to keep students engaged and give them an opportunity to field questions to experts (we got three experts to attend: Gary Gregg, John Fortier, and James Pfiffer). I volunteered to moderate the Q&A portion, giving myself a front-row seat and facilitating discussion between the panelists and the Trinity community. The only thing I worried about was that students would be disengaged by the time of the webinar, and there would be scant interest.

That changed when the pro-Trump mob stormed the Capitol building on January 6, the day Congress was to certify the electoral votes and cement Joe Biden as the 46th President. While the Electoral College was not front and center in news coverage following the riot, I was hopeful that interest in the Electoral College in the Trinity community was revamped. I saw that that was the case when well over 50 students, faculty, and staff attended the webinar. 

Each of the experts took around 15-20 minutes explaining their positions and opinions on the Electoral College. Each discussed the Electoral College history, why it is the way it is, and possible reforms (e.g., the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact). After they were finished, I took over as moderator and fielded as many questions as I could. I have to give credit to the audience for asking many tough and insightful questions, such as asking about the compatibility of alternative voting systems (e.g., ranked-choice voting) with the Electoral College and any possible bias toward red/blue states. I was impressed with the number of questions that were asked, but I could only get to so many before the webinar was over. 

Overall, I think the webinar went very well. The attendance rate, the expertise offered, and the questions asked prove that the Electoral College factors heavily in people’s minds when they think about politics and voting. Additionally, it is still a controversial institution with serious efforts being mounted to reform or abolish it, although the Electoral College is probably not going away anytime soon. That means we have to continue to have conversations, discussions, and debates about the future of the Electoral College because the institution is more than a method of picking the next president. It represents what kind of republic we want and what values we prioritize.

Any attempt to reform the Electoral College will bring seismic changes to American politics and government, and we have to take these reforms seriously and discuss them. And it always helps to remember our history and know-how the Electoral College has shaped the presidency and how it continues to function today. Its future is certainly up in the air but based on what I saw during the webinar, and I am confident that we will find a way to make the institution more democratic while preserving the republican principles this country was founded on.

Soleimani killing not moral, Trinity professor claims

“This is less about whether or not it was justified, and more about whether or not it was morally right.”

On Wednesday February 19, Trinity Diversity Connection (TDC) held an open discussion panel that featured political science professor Sussan Siavoshi, religion professor Sajida Jalalzai and communications professor Sarah Erickson. One TDC representative, acting as moderator, asked a series of questions for each panelist for about an hour before the panel was opened up to the audience to ask questions. 

Siavoshi began with a little bit of background about the situation of the U.S. killing of Iranian General Soleimani. She said that Iran considered the killing of Soleimani an act of terrorism. Jalalzai noted the international ambiguity about the framing of Soleimani’s killing. “We must look at how we and Iran differ in what the killing was called,” she said. “Was it a murder? An assassination?”

Additionally, Jalalzai discussed how religion plays a role in the international relations of Iran, noting that Iran is predominantly Shia Muslim, which affects whom they support across the region. Erickson talked about the biases of the American media, and how it damages the images of Iranians and Muslims in America. 

One student asked if killing Soleimani was justified. “Well, it depends on who you ask,” Siavoshi answered. “This is less about whether or not it was justified, and more about whether or not it was morally right.” Siavoshi argued that it was not morally right or justified, claiming it went against the grain of certain laws and doctrines of international relations and that it created more unnecessary tensions between the U.S. and Iran.

“It creates tension at home too because there are Iran-Americans, Muslim-Americans,” Erickson said. “People who have never met, or had close relations with an Iranian or a Muslim tend to have very stereotypical views on them. They have negative views because of the media.”

The panelists all agreed that war with Iran would hurt the Iranian people more than anything. 

Siavoshi argued for an approach of “humanizing” people instead of viewing them as a target, weapon, or object.

Bob Fu of ChinaAid Speaks to YCT about Christianity, Communism

Tuesday, March 19, Trinity University’s Young Conservatives of Texas (YCT) hosted Bob Fu. Fu is the founder and president of ChinaAid, a non-profit, Christian-based organization that advocates for human rights and religious freedom in China. ChinaAid gives financial and moral support to Christian Chinese families who have been persecuted by the Chinese government. His main goal is for Chinese Christians and other religious groups to express their religion with ease and without persecution from the Chinese government.

To begin his speech, Fu gave a short backstory about his earlier life and how ChinaAid came to be founded. While attending university in Beijing, he participated in the 1989 Tiananmen Square student and intellectuals demonstrations. During which Fu and his girlfriend at the time, now his wife, Heidi, converted to Christianity. Soon after the Tiananmen Square Massacre, he was imprisoned in China for identifying as a Christian. It was these incidents in his life that highlight his history of fighting for freedom and democracy in China.

Bob Fu is not the only one to have been imprisoned for his religious beliefs. Even today, many Chinese Christians are being imprisoned for their faith. In fact, one who expresses his or her faith is considered a political dissident, which can warrant imprisonment.

“Hearing that from the point of view of someone who grew up under a regime like China was shocking,” said Daniel Mitchell, a junior at Trinity University.

However, it is not only Chinese Christians who are being persecuted for their faith. “One to three million Muslims are being put into concentration camps by the Communist Party,” explained Fu.

The Uyghurs, a majority Muslim ethnic minority from Xinjiang province, are being torn from their homes and sent to concentration camps by the Chinese Communist Party.

Fu further explained that the amount of Christians in China actually grew after the Tiananmen Square Massacre. He predicts that there will be over 200 million Christians in China within the next 20 to 30 years.

“It was interesting to see Fu’s predictions of the numbers regarding the amount of future Chinese Christians,” said Ian Kavanagh, a senior at Trinity University who worked at ChinaAid this past summer.

Fu is optimistic about the growth of the amount of Christians in China, he predicted there will soon be more than 200 million Chinese Christians. “Sooner or later, they [Chinese government] will realize that imprisoning these Christians will not be a sustainable policy,” he said.

Fu believes that imprisoning people for their faith will eventually become unsustainable because Chinese prisons “will not able to hold every single Christian in China.”

Even though religious persecution continues in China, Bob Fu will not give up. Today, he continues as president of ChinaAid to advocate for religious freedom and basic human rights in China. ChinaAid continues to support persecuted families in need and educating those who are not familiar with this issue.

Photo courtesy YCT.

Religion, Noise, and Dr. Seuss

On Tuesday, March 26, Dr. Isaac Weiner gave a lecture “When Religion Becomes Noise” at Trinity University. Dr. Weiner has a Ph.D. in Religious Studies from the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill and currently serves as a faculty member in the department of Comparative Studies at Ohio State University.

Weiner’s lecture discussed religious pluralism in the U.S. and the way that public religious sounds, such as Christian church bells or the Islamic call to prayer, complicate the issue. He explained that sounds are more invasive than sights, and are more likely to be the cause of complaint.

This begs the questions: Which sounds get classified as merely “noise” and which sounds are tolerated on the basis of religious freedom? Which sounds are “out of place” and which sounds belong in the public sphere? How do religions coexist? How are Americans inclusive without becoming oppressive?

“I want people to think about the relationship between our public culture and our assumptions about the kind of society we want to build,” said Weiner. “What we’re willing to tolerate in public says something about what we aspire to be as a society.”

According to Weiner, only the sounds of the majority typically prevail. The majority has the ability to reclassify their sounds as secular in order to justify their presence. For example, a church’s bells are not a call to the service, but a secular marking of time; Christmas is not a religious celebration, but rather a national holiday.

Weiner referred to a well-known children’s book, Dr. Seuss’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas, to illustrate his point. The Grinch’s heart grows three sizes after the Whos are unaffected by his attempts to ruin Christmas, and he joins in with the Whoville caroling. Weiner asked attendees to imagine a more sinister reading of the story, in which the Whos’ singing is forced upon the Grinch, a minority, who is then forced to assimilate to their attitudes and join in their sound. As it turns out, this is the reality of religious pluralism in the U.S. today.

Weiner presented several historical examples of regulation or repression of religious sounds, including St. Mark’s church bells in 1870s Philadelphia, Jehovah’s Witness sound cars in 1946, and the Islah Islamic Center’s call to prayer in Hamtramck, MI in 2004.

Each of these case studies is heavily discussed in Weiner’s book, Religion Out Loud: Religious Sound, Public Space, and American Pluralism. In each case, the sound is treated differently depending on the majority opinion and tradition.

For example, in Hamtramck, MI, many claimed the Islamic call to prayer was “out of place” in the historically Polish Catholic city where church bells were practically a part of the landscape. In one sweep, people could suffocate the sounds they didn’t want to hear and replace them with ones they did. In cases like this, the minority finds itself unable to make sound and instead forced to join in with the noise of the majority, as the Grinch does with the Whos’ caroling in Dr. Seuss’s story.

“As we negotiate what it means to live in a religiously diverse society,” said Weiner, “we must continue to work toward the full inclusion of all religious communities in our public and civic life.”

The public sphere should be a place for the freedom of religious expression, including religious sound. Oppression of minority expression is not an option for Americans who wish to build a better and more virtuous society.

The lecture was sponsored by the Trinity University Humanities Collective as part of their current focus on the First Amendment, particularly the freedom of religion clause. On April 8 at 5:30pm in Chapman Auditorium, Trinity University will host another religion scholar, Dr. Nicola Denzey Lewis from Claremont Graduate University, to speak on lost ancient Christian documents from Egypt.

Photo by Kathleen Arbogast.

Presidential Historian Doris Kearns Goodwin Comes to Trinity

This year’s Flora Cameron lecture at Trinity University became commemorative with the unfortunate passing of Flora Cameron Crichton on March 2 of this year. Before her passing, Crichton was able to select Doris Kearns Goodwin as the speaker for the lecture. Goodwin is a presidential historian, political commentator and award-winning author/biographer. She spoke on her book Leadership in Turbulent Times, a New York Times bestseller on March 27 in Laurie Auditorium.

“Little could I have imagined how relevant that title would be today,” joked Goodwin at the beginning of the lecture. However, she switched to a more serious demeanor and contemplated a question that she is often asked: ‘are these the worst of times?’ “The answer history provides is no,” said Goodwin in answer to the question. She pointed to and referenced many American Presidents, but focused on Lyndon B. Johnson, Abraham Lincoln, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Theodore Roosevelt. She highlighted the “turbulent times“ that all these men faced, such as the civil war and industrial revolution, and stated that “each one of these situations cried out for leadership, and each of the four men was peculiarly fitted for the time.”

Goodwin shifted her focus to the qualities that make up leaders. She pulled a Teddy Roosevelt quote in which he said, “most success comes when people develop ordinary talents to an extraordinary degree from hard sustained work.” This she acknowledged as being a key to success but not a universal key to leadership. She made a list of qualities that are almost universally applicable, “humility, empathy, resilience, courage, the ability to listen to diverse opinions, controlling of impulses, connect with all manner of people, communicate through stories and keep[ing] one’s word.” Goodwin went into great detail on how her studied presidents portrayed these qualities and acknowledged that there is not just one key to being a successful leader.

Nearing the end of her lecture she recalled a quote from Leo Tolstoy about Lincoln.  “He wasn’t as great a general as Napoleon, he wasn’t as great a statesman as Frederick the great. But his greatness consisted in the integrity of his character and the moral fiber of his being, the ultimate standard for judging our leaders.” She concluded that it wasn’t necessarily the triumphs of a leader that determined their success, but the effect they have as people, on people.

Goodwin closed with a touching and powerful personal anecdote on why history came to interest her and why it is so important. She thanked history for “allowing me to spend a lifetime looking back in the past, allowing me to believe in the pride and people we have lost and love in our families, and the public figures we have respected in history really can live on, so long as we pledge to tell and retell the stories of their lives.”

Photo by “Rhododendrites” on Wikimedia Commons. (CC BY-SA 4.0)

CSG Lecturer Uses Mathematics and Philosophy to Create Proof of God’s Existence

On Mar. 4, Trinity University’s Catholic Student Group (CSG) hosted a speaker from the Thomistic Institute: Alexander R. Pruss, a professor of philosophy at Baylor University. This is their second speaker from the Thomistic Institute this semester. Pruss’s lecture focused on one of the many philosophical proofs for God’s existence: The First Cause. The First Cause proof is a cosmological argument proving the existence of God based on the idea that some first cause must have caused the universe to exist, and that this first cause is God.

CSG’s motivations for the talk were very similar to Pruss’s motivation for coming to campus: both hoped that students on campus would see that religion and the belief in God are not a matter of faith, but of logical reasoning. “There are good reasons to believe, it is something reasonable to believe,” said Pruss.

Alex Jacobs, the Activities Director of CSG, said, “As a Catholic, the history of the Christian tradition is full of very good arguments for the existence of God, that I think that a lot of people don’t know about or don’t fully understand. I’ve heard people here at Trinity claim that it’s unreasonable to believe in God, and so we wanted to bring in Dr. Pruss because we think that a lot of people could benefit from hearing him talk about why it is reasonable to believe in God.”

Pruss has two PhDs, one in Mathematics from the University of British Columbia, and another in philosophy from the University of Pittsburgh. Pruss said that his background in mathematics is helpful in his theology. “[My degree] helps with seeing how all these infinities are handled. I think mathematics gives one the picture of how to reason in a precise way,” said Pruss.

Pruss focused on only one proof so that he could thoroughly explain the proof and his reasoning to the audience—a fully-packed lecture room on Trinity University’s campus. Before starting his lecture, he addressed the idea that it is unreasonable to believe in God.

“Some people think that believing in God is entirely based off of faith. They also believe that faith cannot be reasoned. This causes some people to believe that it is unreasonable to believe in God,” said Pruss. He explained how passages in the New Testament (Romans 1:20 and 1 Peter 3:15) encourages Christians to use logical reasoning in their own faith and when telling others about their faith.

“Pruss approached his argument slightly differently than the approach taken by the typical theologian,” Blaise Fort, a senior student at Trinity who attended the lecture, said. “Most theologians go from the supernatural to the scientific to make this argument. Dr. Pruss explained the science and logic behind the proof, and then explained how that related to a supernatural being.”

Pruss approached his argument very methodically. He fully explained each step of the First Cause proof before moving on to the next set of ideas. His lecture was very easy to understand, even if the concepts were difficult.

While Pruss’s argument was laid out clearly, not everyone in the audience agreed with him or liked some of the things he had to say about the typical atheist argument. Alex Bradley, the founder and president of the Secular Student Alliance (SSA) at Trinity University, said, “There was at least one part where I felt misrepresented as an atheist, especially when Pruss said that an atheist argument is that some things have no explanation. I personally don’t believe that, I believe that we as a human species do not know the true cause of some things.”

CSG brought in Pruss to explain why it is reasonable to believe in God. They hoped that his lecture would have an effect on campus, or at least on those who came to his lecture, according to Jacobs. “[The effect on campus] is directly related to their openness to hear what he said. So, I think that if people were open to what he said, then it will have a big impact on them. The impact depends on how people respond tonight, and how they received his talk. At the very least, the next time someone tries to argue with me that God doesn’t exist, I can ask why they didn’t come to the lecture, which proved that He does,” said Jacobs.