I’VE BEEN THINKING
On this Presidents’ Day weekend, I’ve been thinking a lot about our founding fathers, the foundation they built, and yes, the president overseeing that foundation today.
Donald Trump has unleashed something that few other politicians have been able to do. He did something in my own home that I as a parent wasn’t really successful at doing.
But somehow Donald Trump did it.
He got everyone interested in civics, the government, and, yes, the press.
Yes, he did. Today, my kids and their friends are engaged in our democracy in a way that I have never seen. They follow the news like it’s their business. They ask really smart questions about executive orders, about the role of the national security advisor, and about the justice department and how its jurisdiction differs from the FBI. They talk about the new Supreme Court pick and how he might impact the Supreme Court and hence, the laws of our nation. They talk about the ninth circuit and about what’s constitutional and what’s not.
They know the names of the people “in the room,” thanks in large part to their avid consumption of all forms of news media (which, thankfully, is enjoying a record number of subscriptions and ratings).
And speaking of the news, what a week for journalism.
It was an incredible week for those in it, for those defending it, and for those who have invested millions into it, like Jeff Bezos (yes, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos). Bezos bought the Washington Post for $250 million in 2013 and has invested millions more into its investigative journalism, empowering them to be able to break stories like the one they did this week.
America is so alive that it feels as energized as the Broadway play “Hamilton” (which I saw for the second time last week). People are engaged in our democracy. They are writing and calling their representatives. They are taking to the streets. They are making their voices heard. And perhaps most amazingly, there are record numbers of people jumping into the arena.
Meanwhile, middle and high school teachers across the country are reporting that their students are showing a level of engagement in civics that they haven’t seen in years. Lindsey Beam, a teacher in Greer, S.C., told the NY Times that her students now “know a lot, and they’re proud that they know a lot. What’s on their radar in terms of world events and domestic issues has grown exponentially.”
Believe it or not, civics are hot. The news is hot. Facts are as “in” as a pair of Yeezy sneakers. And politics is way hotter than any reality show on TV. Who would have thought? (I can’t wait to see the ratings for that president’s much-debated news conference.)
So on this Presidents’ Day weekend, I want to thank the founding fathers for building us that strong foundation.
I want to applaud the press for staying on the story and for letting us know “who’s in the room” and what they are saying, even if those people deny what they’re actually saying. The press is not “an enemy of the American people,” as President Trump tweeted on Friday. It is, as founding father Thomas Jefferson once wrote, the very thing that guards our liberty.
I also want to shout out to all those who are showing up, speaking up and letting our elected leaders and the president know what they think, what they care about, and what they are willing to fight for.
So as accusations fly, it’s important to remember that our nation’s strong foundation is indeed intact. The three branches of government work. And we are lucky to live in a country with a free press.
Every president has to find their way of dealing with it.
So before our president decides if he wants to continue bashing it, it might be worth listening to another president who tried that strategy.
History offers us all lessons for the future. It’s up to each of us to learn from them.
Happy Presidents’ Day.
Every week here at The Sunday Paper, we honor individuals who use their voices, their hearts, and their minds to Move Humanity Forward.
This week, we honor Brandon Stanton as our Architect of Change of the Week. Brandon is the visionary behind the wildly popular digital photo platform Humans of New York. Brandon’s philosophy is that every person has a story and that we need to hear those stories so that we can better understand one another. Through his use of media, Brandon is giving us insight into who we are as human beings, and that is indeed Moving Humanity Forward. While he may not be running for something, he’s definitely doing something.
1. When I first began Humans of New York, a lot of skeptics asked me: ‘Why would anyone care about the stories of ordinary people?’ Most photography and journalism at the time seemed to focus on people who were famous or successful. I think the success of HONY shows that anyone can be interesting if you really know their story. Interestingly, the stories that I post of famous people tend to get the least engagement. I think the audience really values the randomness and anonymity of the subjects.
2. I try to focus on the person in front of me, and how to best tell their story. Paradoxically, the narrower my focus, the more wide-ranging HONY’s impact has become. But even as I travel more, and the audience becomes more international, I still try to avoid forming a ‘higher narrative’ about the collection of people I’ve interviewed. For me, it’s all about the next person’s story.
3. I’ll give you a recent photo that really moved me. I’m in Argentina right now, and I was taking a coffee break at a Buenos Aires Starbucks. I was about to head back out to work, when I saw a woman sitting alone. I normally only approach people on the street, but something told me to ask her for an interview. I think the power of the story is self-evident. As opposed to being a unique case, it’s representative of what happens to me every day. I’m constantly being amazed by the lives and narratives of randomly chosen people.
To read this woman’s story and see Brandon’s other work, go to HumansofNewYork.com.
SOMETHING TO WATCH THIS WEEK
Films That Show Heroic Journalism in Action
Since the press has been so in the news, we thought it would be worth looking back at some of the biggest stories that the mainstream press broke, even when they were told there was no story to uncover. It’s worth remembering at this time.
Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman play Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, The Washington Post’s intrepid reporters who uncovered the Watergate scandal and toppled President Nixon.
SOMETHING TO LEARN
Sandra Day O’Connor’s Gift to the Next Generation
Ask anyone about Sandra Day O’Connor and they’re likely to recall her as the first woman to serve on the Supreme Court. But since her retirement in 2006, the former associate justice has added a new title to her name: video game creator.
O’Connor is the founder of iCivics, a series of free-to-play video games that teach kids about civics, the U.S. Constitution and how government works. Each year, over 4 million students benefit from O’Connor’s creation, which she says is the most important part of her legacy.
“The practice of democracy is not passed down through the gene pool. It must be taught and learned anew by each generation of citizens.”
– Justice Sandra Day O’Connor
CITIZENSHIP TEST: COULD YOU PASS?
Every person who wants to become a United States citizen must first pass a civics test as part of their naturalization interview. The civics test quizzes their knowledge of basic facts about U.S. history and government. These are facts any citizen should know, but how many of us would pass this test ourselves? Below are a few sample questions to test your own knowledge. (Answers are at the end.)
1.) The Constitution;
3.) Checks and balances, or separation of powers
YOUR SUNDAY SPACE
On this 3-day weekend, we share with you this photo from Colleen Sharkey, who sent in her favorite Sunday space in New Smyrna Beach, FL (which she calls the best-kept secret in the state).
We want to see where you spend your Sundays reading the Sunday Paper. Email your photos to firstname.lastname@example.org.
JOIN US THIS WEEK
A THOUGHT FOR THE WEEK AHEAD