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State of American History, Civics, and Politics

Civics and the Citizenship Test in the Time of Trump, June 11, 2016

Naturalized Americans unlike native Americans are obligated to demonstrate mastery of civics. To do so applicants take an exam covering American history, government, and ideals. It is a multiple choice question exam. This means that as with the SAT, it is possible for the tester to measure the results on the questions: which questions do applicants tend to get right and which ones do they answer incorrectly. Presumably the results enable the testers to better formulate questions for the next round of tests.

On July 4, 2019, the New York Times printed the article “Citizenship Test to Beat All Citizenship Tests: Thousands of Immigrants Pass a Difficult Rite to Take the Oath of Allegiance. Could You Do the Same?” It identified the ten questions most likely to be answered incorrectly from a 2011 study. This blog will address two questions and do so based on the present.

#2. Which of these is something Benjamin Franklin is known for?

A. He was the first person to sign the Constitution
B. He discovered electricity
C. He was the nation’s first postmaster general
D. He was the nation’s second president

The officially correct answer is “C.” Yes Franklin was our first postmaster general. How many people who are not students of American history or who do not live along a mile marker on the Boston Post Road as I do know this? What is Franklin best known for? Answer: Flying a kite…in a storm…that was hit by lightning…which was electric. True, that does not mean he discovered electricity. What he did discover was the lighting was electric and could be “encouraged” to strike a metal object thrust up to the heavens, hence the lighting rod. The real problem with this question is in its wording and not in the ignorance of the applicants. It needs to be revised.

The second question to be addressed poses other problems that are quite current not only today but as I am typing this blog.

#4. Which statement correctly describes the “rule of Law”?

A. The law is what the president says it is
B. The people who enforce the laws do not have to follow the law
C. No one is above the law
D. Judges can rewrite laws they disagree with

Again the officially correct answer is “C.” I imagine even as you were reading the choices you were chuckling or gasping at the options. Was one supposed to answer based on the real world or “on paper”?  Judges are routinely criticized by people on all sides for rewriting or concocting laws to fit their preferences. Congress routinely exempts itself from the laws it passes to apply to We the People. As for choice “A”, think of what is going on right now.

This article appeared on page 12 on the left side of the printed paper. On page 13 on the right side of the paper, the above-the-fold article was “After Navy SEAL’s Acquittal, Fears That War Crimes Will Go Unreported.” The article was about the acquittal of Edward Gallagher in a court martial for war crimes committed in Iraq in 2017. The charges included stabbing a wounded captive to death and shooting unarmed civilians. Gallagher was convicted and demoted on the charge of posing for inappropriate photos with the captive corpse.

What did this ruling mean for the answering of the question?

The SEALs who reported these actions chose option “C”, no one is above the law.

The President of the United States personally intervened in the case to have the accused released from pretrial detention. After the verdicts were announced, he tweeted congratulations and said “Glad I could help!”

Gallagher himself then appeared on “Fox and Friends,” no surprise there, and said:

To future Navy SEALs, loyalty is a trait that seems to be lost, and I would say bring that back. You are part of a brotherhood. You are there to watch your brother’s back, he’s there to watch your back ⸺ you just stay loyal.

By contrast, the SEALs who reported the actions felt otherwise.

Maybe I was naïve to think that justice would be served.

Based on option “C”, loyalty to the law and the Constitution trumps loyalty to the band of brothers. Here we have a live example of “A Few Good Men” where Jack Nicholson triumphs and Tom Cruise is defeated with the applause of the President of the United States. So why should an immigrant seeking to be naturalized answer “C” on the exam when obviously it is incorrect.

Want more? Turning to page 21 of the very same issue of paper on July 4, there was an article “’Bridge Scandal Posing a Threat to Legal Lanes.” According to the article legal experts were surprised by a Supreme Court decision that potentially would weaken the ability to prosecute politicians for political malfeasance. What was once considered to be illegal is increasingly regarded as normal political behavior. Actions like shutting lanes on the George Washington Bridge as retribution against a mayor who did not support the governor was just politics regardless of the disruption to the people. Given this view that what is political is not illegal, the recent gerrymandering verdict should be no surprise. Of course, since the rule of law no longer applies to politics, all political parties and politicians can now claim their double “O” license to politic without considering the rule of law.

Still think option “C” is the correct one? Let’s turn to the citizenship question and the census. That article was on page 14 of the same day, beginning as the lead article on the front page. Before turning to it, I would like to remind you of what I first wrote on September 7, 2018, about the Supreme Court and the President about his leaving the White House after 2020 elections if he loses.

There may be a preview of the 2020 crisis with his tax returns. Individual #1 will not voluntarily release his tax returns. It does not matter how the Democrats submit their requisition, he will not honor it. If his court rules in his favor, then the issue ends there. If the Supreme Court also has a traitor and the ruling is against Individual #1 he will not honor it. Instead he will claim Executive Privilege and that the Court has no authority over him. What will the Supreme Court do then? Or to update Andrew Jackson: “John Roberts has made his decision; now let him enforce it.”

I repeated it on May 6, 2019, following Michael Cohen’s testimony that Individual #1 would not voluntarily vacate the White House.

The article on July 4 reported the surprise of the Justice Department officials on the census case. They were “blindsided” by the comments that an effort was underway to put the citizenship question back in the census despite the Supreme Court ruling. Claims that the President had acceded to the ruling were tweeted as “fake news.”

The next step was the attempted removal from the case of these government lawyers who had defended the census question inclusion. The reporting referred to this action as “unprecedented” and again used the term “blindsided” to refer to how the lawyers learned about the shift in decision from acceptance to defiance. The removal appears to have occurred because the lawyers chose option “C” while the Attorney General and President chose option “A|”: the law is what the president says it is. According to the article these lawyers regarded themselves as professional or apolitical who like school debaters can vociferously advocate for whatever side they are assigned in the competition. What they cannot do is reverse themselves from what they had just argued or defend statements that they know not to be true. Therefore, as a matter of principle they declined to pursue the case after the Supreme Court ruling. The search for replacements was underway as was the issue of whether or not the judge would even allow the change in the lawyers midstream for no satisfactory reason.

Then after exhausting all options to defy or circumvent the Supreme Court, the battle ended. There actually does seem to be a line he will not cross.

In the meantime, Nancy Peolosi has threatened a vote in the House to subpoena the relevant documents. They would demonstrate that the true purpose of the census citizen question was to depress the population count in Democratic districts and thereby undermine the redistricting process. Obviously such a subpoena would be defied. Then the Department of Justice would decline to prosecute the people who had defied the court order to comply with the subpoena.

Still think option “C” “No one is above the law” is the correct answer? In your dreams. Not in this reality.

PS Since July 4 there has been Jeffrey Epstein, Alexander Acosta, and Donald Trump. Option “C” is the only wrong answer.

2 thoughts on “Civics and the Citizenship Test in the Time of Trump

  1. I have to wholeheartedly agree with option “C” as being the only wrong answer. Although that phrase is often touted by the Progressives, especially in Congress, it is painfully obvious that this is not the case. One only needs to look at the millions of people who enter the U.S. illegally, i.e., broke our laws passed by Congress, yet we are told that they have every right to be here.

  2. You’re amazing, Peter! Why isn’t this an article in the Times Sunday Magazine?
    I will pass it to a friend who is taking this citizenship test. Alas, her English may not be good enough to follow all your reasoning.
    Thanks for this, Lola

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