As this column is being written on November 9, the sky outside is gray and weeping—literally—symbolic of how I and most of the country feel in the wake of the November 8 election disaster. The very thought of Donald J. Trump succeeding George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt, and Barack Obama in the White House is profoundly disturbing. Readers need not be reminded of the election’s overall results, adequately detailed elsewhere, but let’s look deeper into what all this means for our future. As President-elect Trump likes to throw around the word loser, let’s list some of the main losers in the Election Day debacle:
- the plurality of voters who went for Hillary Clinton, who outnumbered the voters for Trump by over two million, but whose winning plurality was neutralized by the outdated, flawed Electoral College system embedded in the Constitution that Trump himself derided during the campaign;
- America’s image before the world, tarnished by the accession to the most prestigious political position in the world by the least qualified, least experienced candidate in our history;
- the millions of people who voted for Trump but who will likely lose their medical insurance if the Affordable Care Act is eliminated;
- women, massively disrespected by Trump for decades;
- the disabled, made fun of by Trump during the campaign;
- the third of all women in America who will during their lifetimes, in keeping with their freedom of conscience and religious liberty, choose to terminate a problem pregnancy;
- the public schools that serve 90 percent of our children, threatened by Trump’s pledge to divert $20 billion in federal education funds through block grants to states to dispense to special interest private schools (mostly church-run) through vouchers and tax credits and to for-profit charter schools (since 2008, fully half of the states have cut per-student spending for public schools that were already under- and unevenly funded);
- Earth, the one and only planet we have to live on, as our new chief executive ignores the science of anthropogenic climate change, which he called a “Chinese hoax” (during the campaign, neither party gave adequate attention to this supreme threat to civilization and our environment and all its concomitants, including human overpopulation, whose remedy—universal access to contraception and legal abortion—is hampered by the Helms and Hyde amendments and by opposition from conservative religious leaders);
- ethnic minorities, derided by Trump during the campaign; and
- the religious liberty of Americans of all persuasions, threatened by Trump and by Republican pushes to impose nonconsensus religious views on everyone (with reference to contraception, abortion, and LGBT rights) and to compel all taxpayers to support sectarian religious schools (never mind the fact that in referendum elections held over a span of fifty years voters have opposed expanding public aid to religious schools by about two to one).
The winners, obviously, include hordes of misogynists, xenophobes, the KKK, racists, the poorly educated, and the hypocritical religious Right.
Before moving on to what Americans might/must do the end this nightmare, we might note a few tiny trickles of good news on November 8.
- Massachusetts voters defeated the state’s Question 2 by about 62 percent to 37 percent. It would have authorized twelve new charter schools per year. The proposal was pushed by about $25 million from largely out-of-state noneducator “reformists” and opposed with about $15 million of locally raised campaign funds.
- Georgia voters, by 60 percent to 40 percent, defeated Amendment 1, which would have authorized the governor to take over low-scoring public schools and put them in an “Opportunity School District” of charter schools, some of them for-profit outfits. As Diane Ravitch put it, “Georgians apparently didn’t like the idea of abolishing local control of their schools.”
- And in Washington State, voters reelected the Supreme Court judges who had declared that charter schools are not public schools, rejecting judicial candidates supported by billionaire Bill Gates.
Now, what to do? First of all, we must not give in to despair. Americans across the ideological, ethnic, social class, religious/nonreligious, sexual orientation, and political spectra who value our American democratic values must pull together and organize on the local, state, and national levels to win elections: national, state, city, county, school board, you name it. We must support the groups that are working to end the voter suppression and gerrymandering that have helped create the mess we are in. We must engage through social media, letters to editors, and comments posted on newspaper websites. We must grow better informed by reading the leading journals, push our schools to do a better job of teaching civics and government, and donate to cause organizations.
We need to get over being finicky about what labels people have. This haiku hits the nail on the head: “Labels may conceal / far more than they might reveal / they can mask what’s real.”
We need to press Democrats and more moderate Republicans in the Senate to block appointments to the Supreme Court who would weaken reproductive choice, public education, environmental protection, and church-state separation. If Republicans can block appointments by Barack Obama, then Democrats can do likewise, tit for tat.
As I was proofing this column, three more developments popped up—two good ones and one awful one.
Democrat Pat Cooper was declared the winner of the governor’s race in North Carolina, a state that went for Trump. Cooper ran on a platform favoring public education; he wants to increase funding and opposes vouchers for all religious-run schools. He also wants to address the state’s charter school situation.
On December 1, the Supreme Court of Nevada ruled that the state’s voucher-style Education Savings Account program, passed in 2015 by the Republican state legislature, was in violation of the state constitution. Article XI, Sections 9 and 10 read: “No sectarian instruction shall be imparted or tolerated in any school or university that may be established under this Constitution,” and “No public funds of any kind or character whatever, State, County or Municipal, shall be used for sectarian purposes.” The new legislature has a Democratic majority in both houses, but a Republican governor wants to keep the voucher plan alive.
In late November, Trump announced that he was appointing as secretary of education Michigan Amway billionaire Betsy DeVos, who, like Trump, never attended public school or sent her children to one. The Washington Post published my letter on the subject on November 28. It said in part: “President-elect Donald Trump’s choice of Betsy DeVos as secretary of education is terrible. Ms. DeVos has a long record of working to undermine public education. But the voters in her home state of Michigan are not buying it. In 2000 Ms. DeVos and her husband backed a proposed amendment to the state constitution to allow tax aid to private schools through vouchers. Michigan voters defeated it 69 percent to 31 percent.”
My December 2016/January 2017 FI column noted that in August the New York Times reported that twenty-five states had cut spending for public education since 2008. In late November, Education Week reported that these states actually numbered thirty-five and that the cuts averaged about 7 percent.