Demonstrators protest the second anniversary of the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision. (Reuters/Shannon Stapleton)
Writing Contest Finalist
We’re delighted to announce the winners of The Nation’s eighth annual Student Writing Contest. This year we asked students to answer this question in 800 words: It’s clear that the political system in the US isn’t working for many. If you had to pick one root cause underlying our broken politics, what would it be and why? We received close to 700 submissions from high school and college students in forty-two states. We chose one college and one high school winner and ten finalists total. The winners are Jim Nichols (no relation to The Nation’s John Nichols), an undergraduate at Georgia State University; and Julia Di, a senior at Richard Montgomery High School in Darnestown, Maryland, and Bryn Grunwald, a recent graduate of the Peak to Peak Charter in Boulder, Colorado, who were co-winners in the high school category. The three winners receive cash awards of $1,000 and the finalists $200 each. All receive Nation subscriptions. Read all the winning essays here. —The Editor
The dewy foliage adorning the slopes of the Hudson Palisades swayed in the calm summer-night breeze. It was July of 1804 in Weehawken, New Jersey, a small township just across the river from Manhattan. Alexander Hamilton, former Secretary of the Treasury, founding father of the United States, and founder of the Federalist Party, lay just paces from the rocky bank in a pool of his own blood. Standing above him was his pistol-wielding assassin, loyal Democratic-Republican and sitting Vice President of the United States, Aaron Burr. The two high-profile statesmen had just participated in a duel, punctuating years of bitter political, ideological, and personal rivalry between them. Hamilton would die the next day, and Burr’s reputation would be forever tarnished. Imagine if Joe Biden had shot Timothy Geithner to death! It would be no different.
There is a lesson to be learned from that bloody brawl between the Vice President and the Secretary: argument and disagreement are a good thing in a republic such as ours, but only if the argument and disagreement are genuine. American democracy is being crippled by a lack of true ideology, not a surplus of it. We have been paralyzed by having too few constructive policy arguments. It has become common practice for Americans to dismiss politicians as hyper-partisan, and too rigidly committed to certain aspects of their respective party platforms. However, the opposite is actually true. Not only has the exchange of ideas dried up in recent decades, but we have also seen on a whole host of critical issues that the government is being run by two parties largely in agreement, and who show allegiance not to their beliefs, but to money and power. This has been the root cause of our governmental dysfunction in recent decades.