Todd M. Sweet

Topics: Champaign-Urbana, higher ed, communications, movies, music, books, running, biking, parenthood. Opinions are my own.

Category: Politics

On the Covington Boys

In our current insane news cycle it’s hard to imagine that the confrontation at the Lincoln Memorial has already slipped out of the national conversation. There was the initial outrage, the additional context, the predictable backtracking, and then…

Here are a couple columns that have stuck with me.



Many on the right are using the equal opportunity bigotry of the Black Hebrew Israelites as a way to excuse the disrespectful and obnoxious behavior of the Covington boys. Others, such as Kyle Smith of the National Review, wag their fingers at the teens. But Smith added something else in reaction to the backlash received by Sandmann and his classmates that irked me to no end. “Until about ten minutes ago, it was broadly agreed in our culture that kids are allowed to do some dumb things because they’re kids,” Smith wrote. “Should these kids’ lives be ruined because some of them responded to obnoxious provocation by being a bit rude themselves?”


Let’s be clear: This assessment only applies to white kids.

Jonathan Capehart,
Nothing justifies what the Covington students did – The Washington Post


These people are willing to give the screaming mob of white teens the benefit of the doubt because it distinguishes them from the emotion-driven hordes. It’s something like virtue signaling, but instead of attempting to signal that they hold any type of moral or ethical principles, these people are attempting to show that they are willing to be chastened, and so are thoughtful. I can admit when I’m wrong, they say, so you can always trust me.

Laura Wagner,
New Video Shows MAGA Teens Are Just As Awful As Everyone Thought

Can someone please explain the poster on the table?

For over an hour and a half, President Trump spoke on a variety of topics, including the border wall, Syria, his unpopularity abroad and Mitt Romney. Not all of it was accurate.

Source: Trump’s Freewheeling and Fact-Free Cabinet Meeting

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Anand Giridharadas On the Concept of Generosity Versus Justice

Ezra Klein hosts what has become my favorite political podcast. While we share a very similar ideological viewpoint, Klein is open to a persuasive argument and hosts very civil conversations with people on the opposite end of the spectrum. For example, listen to this episode featuring David French, a conservative columnist for the National Review. Unlike serial podcasts, you can pick and choose from his archive based on the topic of the day. Klein’s conversation with author Anand Giridharadas (embedded audio below) has stuck with me and continues to make me think.

From the podcast description (emphasis mine):

Giridharadas has done his time in elite circles. His education took him through Oxford and Harvard, he spent years as a New York Times columnist, he’s a regular on Morning Joe, he’s a TED talker. And so when he mounted the stage at the Aspen Institute and told his fellow fellows that their pretensions of doing good were just that — pretensions — and that they were more the problem than the solution, it caused some controversy.

Giridharadas’s new book will make a lot of people angry.It’s about the difference between generosity and justice, the problems with only looking for win-win solutions, the ways the corporate world has come to dominate the discourse of change, and the fact that elite networks change the people who are part of them.

Generosity versus justice. I could point to a myriad of examples where tech billionaires used their philanthropic dollars to try and solve problems in unique ways outside of traditional systems (“the system is broken!”). However, I don’t have to look that far to see how this dynamic plays out – I only need to look at my own behavior. Last year I set up a GoFundMe account in an effort to eliminate all outstanding lunch debt at my daughter’s elementary school. We raised enough money in 10 days to pay off the debt, which felt incredibly good. Campaigns were launched to do the same at other schools in the district, and they raised even more money. The generosity of our community was on full display.

However, one of the follow-on campaigns took a slightly different approach. Not only did they raise money, but the organizers used the opportunity to advocate for a solution to the root problem. What can we do to make sure students have access to a healthy lunch without their family having to accumulate debt? That would represent justice. Listening to Giridharadas’s critique made me realize that while philanthropy is good, if possible we should try and repair systems and structures we consider broken rather than go around them or create alternatives. I’m sure there are exceptions, but the lesson I took away is that solving the root problem should be the primary focus of our efforts (justice), not how that effort reflects on us (generosity).

Reading List: Analyses of Midterm Elections

Rather than post these individually, here’s a list of midterm election recaps (local and national) I found interesting.

Reading List: Over 1 Million Florida Felons Win Right To Vote With Amendment 4

This was one of the best results from Tuesday’s election, IMHO.

The state approved a key ballot initiative that will restore voting rights to citizens who have served sentences for certain crimes.

Source: Over 1 Million Florida Felons Win Right To Vote With Amendment 4

Progress…slowly

My friend Clint shares why progressives should view Tuesday as a victory. I do.

Anti-Ammons Radio Spots

Thanks to Julie Wurth at The News-Gazette for reporting on the source of a recent radio ad against Democratic County Clerk candidate, Aaron Ammons. It turns out the ad was produced by an individual clearly NOT associated with the campaign of his opponent, Matt Grandone. Hopefully other publications (Update: Smile Politely has a follow up piece.), and the Ammons campaign itself, clarify and/or correct their coverage of the ads, which attributed the ad to the Grandone campaign. The ad is inflammatory, and Grandone’s response distances his campaign from the ad, but does not condemn the content, sadly.

However, before I had learned about this particular ad I was stunned by a different anti-Ammons radio spot paid for by the Champaign County Republican Party that aired on 94.5 FM. The ad is crafted in such a way that it’s possible to argue it’s about clout, but clearly the focus is on three words in the middle: felony heroin conviction. To my ears this ad is a clear attempt to reinforce racial stereotypes, and I find that shameful. And in this particular case Grandone’s local party leadership is responsible for the content.

You can listen to the audio below and decide for yourself. I’ve also included a transcript of the audio.

Transcript: Tired of Illinois politics? Candidate for county clerk Aaron Ammons sure isn’t. Aaron Ammons used his political influence with Laurel Prussing to elbow his way to the front of Governor Pat Quinn’s line to receive a pardon on his felony heroin conviction. No formal hearing. No waiting. No problem. Is that what you want from your Champaign County officials? Vote no to political clout. Vote no on Aaron Ammons and Laurel Prussing. Paid for by the Champaign County Republican Party.

If Ammons’ past criminal record and pardon were breaking news that would be one thing, but one of the reasons I find Ammons so compelling as a public servant is how open he has been about his troubled past. You might not agree with his politics, but you cannot argue with Ammons’ record of public service since he turned his life around.

Here’s a list of the GOP party leaders:

  • Chairman: Mark Ballard
  • First Vice-Chairman: Katie Blakeman
  • Second Vice-Chairman: John Farney
  • Secretary: Joseph Chamley
  • Treasurer: Jon Rector

Twitter Thread: David Rothkopf on pipe bomb conspiracy

Bill Bell on the scare-mongering tactics of the GOP re: immigration

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