Sunday, November 27, 2016

Trump's Education Pick: Making American Public Schools Worse!

Just remember: Most voters rejected Donald Trump's vision of the United States. They rejected his rhetoric, his vile comments about women and minorities, and they don't want large tax cuts to the wealthy, a trade war with China or a Supreme Court that overturns hard won democratic victories for women, gays, and those that desperately need health insurance. They also rejected the far right's view that religious people should be able to discriminate in the name of God's love and that hate groups should have a seat at the country's table of power.

Donald Trump will, of course, not pay any attention to this. That's why we need to remind him at every turn that we are here and we will be loud. And by the way, Charles Blow is my new hero.

As Trump builds his cabinet, it's becoming clear that he is not a new Populist, but an old-style Republican with the added twist of not respecting the Constitution or his responsibility to be president 100% of the time, not part time so he can also sell his name on buildings. He also hasn't given a lot of thought about how his appointments will actually contradict what he ran on.

For example, his proposed choice for Secretary of Education, Betsy Devos. Had Hillary Clinton won the presidency, her choice would have reflected a commitment to public schools with a mixture of Charter School policies sprinkled in. Ms. DeVos, however, has never taught in a classroom, doesn't have experience with public schools, doesn't have any political experience, and doesn't respect that public school teachers need representation and protection from a very political public school system. She begins with a firm commitment to school vouchers and Charter School, with public schools an afterthought. Oddly, she worked with Jeb Bush in Florida and is a fan of national standards, though not calling them Common Core. Her track record is terrible. Just what we need for education policy.

It's a very good thing that the federal government has no constitutional role in the public schools because both Arne Duncan, President Obama's Secretary of Education, and Ms. DeVos could do far greater damage. As it is, Ms. DeVos can try to guide policy towards more school competition, but she can't force districts to radically change their curricula or administration. That's the good news.

The bad news is that the choice of Ms. DeVos sends a message that the Secretary of Education need not have very much actual education experience. It's insulting to have someone foisted on you who knows less about education or what works in the classroom for students than you do. It's also a travesty that Ms. DeVos has little respect for the associations, such as the NEA, that continue to work hard to defend teachers against unwarranted interference and ensure that every education professional earns a livable salary and works in a safe, productive environment. Living through the Christie years here in New Jersey saw the education establishment fight for every scrap of respect and bargaining right we ever had. We won some and lost some major ones. We will fight, but it would be nice if we didn't have to.

Donald Trump and the new know-nothing Republicans he's appointed so far have a point-of-view that does not reflect the majority of voters in this country. They are anti-Muslim, supportive of far right wing hate groups, or just inexperienced to the point that they will be learning on the job for the first year, including the president-elect himself. Many of his supporters want to make America great again, when it's pretty great as it is.

It's a shame that we'll be taking three steps backward before we take one stride forward.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, November 20, 2016

The Will of the Minority

The American people have spoken. And a majority voted for Hillary Clinton. Which would be great if we had a democracy in this country, but we don't. We have a republic, if we can keep it, and in a republic some funny things can happen. Like protecting the minority from the tyranny of the majority.

But who's going to protect the majority from an especially rabid minority who now controls every branch of the government and has little reason to consider the effects of their policy proposals on the country at large? It will take some thoughtful opposition from the GOP majority to put a brake on what I'm sure will be some terrible ideas. And I have very little confidence that Donald Trump, the rather self-centered con man huckster who will sit in the Oval Office, will moderate his ideas in the interests of unity. He might, but I am extremely skeptical.

Consider his latest appointments. He is bucking the Republican establishment with his picks for CIA Director, National Security Advisor and Attorney General. That mix of Mike Pompeo, Michael Flynn and Jeff Sessions should create an explosive brew of anti-Muslim sentiment, seasoned with a hatred of Hillary Clinton and a bias towards torture. And of course we have the very real prospect, I'd say a certainly, that Trump will nominate a climate denier for Interior and a hawk for Defense. I understand that the president-elect wants to shake up Washington, but he's doing nothing to help bridge the wide chasm between the majority who voted against him and the minority who set aside many of the things he said in the campaign that show him to be less than a moral leader for this country, including support from the far right voices of hatred. Does he care that a shift of 70,000 votes would have cost him the election? Probably not, but ignoring those voters will turn out to be perilous for him.

What's also becoming clear, and will be clearer as we get into the first months of his term, is that just because Donald Trump said he was going to do certain things like rip up trade agreements and set punishing tariff rates, doesn't mean that the world will stand still for them. China and Mexico have weapons at their disposal to make things difficult for our economy and the people whose manufacturing jobs Trump has promised to create. Getting rid of NAFTA will actually cost the country jobs. Plus, if the bond market continues to firm up, that will mean higher interest rates on mortgages and automobiles which will then require wage hikes and probably higher inflation. All we'll need is disco and polyester to complete the 70s throwback. How fun. And if you thought the Carter family was interesting, just wait. The Trump family will be far more entertaining and one of them will conduct themselves so badly that they will be disowned via Twitter by the midterm elections.

Despite the hopes of the liberal press, and even some of the conservative media, Donald Trump is no moderate. He will try to deport millions of people, demonize Islam, ignore his more enthusiastic right wing hate group supporters when he should be strongly condemning them, criminalize abortion in many states and open up more public land for commercial use. The rest of the GOP will then take a knife to social programs such as Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, which are exactly the programs that Trump's core supporters rely on. How terrible it will be when they realize, too late, that the Republicans actually want smaller social programs. Yes, we will likely get better roads, bridges and other infrastructure improvements and some jobs for the people who are hurting, but at what cost?

All of this will also come in an atmosphere where Trump will complain loudly and often on Twitter about the unfairness and inaccuracy of anyone who opposes him. This weekend's Hamilton incident is a case in point. We can debate whether the cast should have broken protocol and addressed Mike Pence, but in an era where Republicans and Democrats talk past, over and under each other, getting a message directly to the incoming Vice President was a smart move. Trump's response, that Hamilton is an overrated show, tells me volumes about the thickness of his skin and his artistic appreciation. And besides, the real point was to stop speech and to stifle dissent. 

For someone who doesn't command the will of the majority, that is dangerous.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, November 13, 2016

On the Election: This Is Bad, and It's Going to Get Worse.

Remember when Ronald Reagan--the actor--was supposed to represent the nadir of presidential victors? How could we elect a former actor? What a laugh riot.

This is not funny. This is bad.

I've read and watched a lot of news and I'm still having trouble reconciling the people who decided in the end that Donald Trump would make a good president. Don't get me wrong; I fully understand that many Americans are angry and frustrated, have lost their homes while wealthy bankers got bailouts, have seen their communities lose resources, jobs and hope, and generally don't see Washington as a place where problems are solved. I get that. I feel it too. But it takes a special leap sans parachute to go from that to seeing Donald Trump as the best person to solve these problems.

I especially don't understand how anybody associated with women (mothers, daughters, sisters) could vote for him after what he said about them. Those kinds of comments disqualify you from being a moral, upstanding person who will represent all Americans. Yet more white women voted for him than Hillary. Many of the articles I've read quote women as saying that he was going to bring back jobs. Or they just didn't like Hillary. Or maybe it was Comey's letter. It still doesn't excuse what he said. or make him in any way presidential.

The same thing goes for the other groups that Trump verbally assaulted during the campaign and the bitter, angry tone in which he not only said ugly things, but the way he tolerated that speech, and actions, in his followers. He ran a stupefyingly xenophobic, hateful campaign, but because enough people decided that despite that, he was the only candidate that would bring back their coal and steel jobs, that they could rationalize him away as refreshingly honest. It's no wonder that schoolchildren were actually afraid the day after the election.

But the joke will be on those who think that Trump will change Washington. Almost immediately, the same lobbyists and interest group attorneys who genuflect before Republican winners were back in the capitol, eager and willing to do whatever bidding the Trump trolls will ask of them. They will serve themselves at his table, but this time in the name of the oil and gas industries and, yes, the same multinational corporations that have no interest or intent in bringing jobs back to the United States. Trump will talk about ripping up trade deals and slapping 35% tariffs on Chinese goods, but that will produce higher prices, higher interest rates and higher anxiety as the world sees America as an adversary, not a friend. Choking off immigration will further erode our economy because new residents are a major source of strength and growth, and if you think that American citizens are eager to pick fruit, clean hotel rooms and do the dirty work at slaughterhouses, then you are in for a rude awakening.

And then there's the reason why Hillary lost in the states where she needed to win. Much of the reason is in the numbers below.

Republican votes by the year:
2008 59,930,551
2012 60,934,407
2016 59,022,040

Democratic votes by the year:
2008 69,438,98
2012 65,918,507
2016 59,245,315

Democrats didn't come out in the numbers they did for Obama, and it turned out that the Hispanic juggernaut and African-American support was a myth too. Even with President Obama stumping for Hillary in North Carolina and Florida. That, to me, was a sobering lesson. Not even Obama could get his coalition out in sufficient numbers. I guess too many people in key states just didn't like Clinton.

Then there's this piece of political stool-softening that tries to paint Trump as essentially a pragmatist who will likely jettison his most incendiary campaign proposals and rule from the center-right. I don't believe a word of it. Trump is not experienced enough in the ways of governing, nor do I think he really understands at more than a headline level what's involved in legislation and how it can hide some explosively nefarious provisions. With both Ryan and McConnell, but also the farthest-right and alt-right voices clamoring for his short attention span, he will be at the mercy of the Republicans who have been slobbering over themselves in anticipation of controlling the levers of power for the first time since 2006.

They will send him cuts to Medicare, Social Security, AFDC, Medicaid and any other social program they can get their hands on, and he'll probably sign most of them into law. He has promised to work first on an infrastructure bill, but the GOP regulars, allergic to any new revenue, will demand that a costly measure such as that be paid for with corresponding tax breaks to businesses and cuts to other programs. Guess which ones? The GOP will also attach their greatest hits such as cuts to Planned Parenthood, overseas family planning projects, and school programs other than abstinence education while restoring aid to religious institutions, And did you say women's health programs and abortion? By 2020, we might be wistfully remembering a country that had a heart.

As if the talking heads haven't been discredited enough, the news organizations are saying that the angry, tweeting, inappropriate, insulting, profane Donald Trump is a character that he will retire, a la Stephen Colbert. That one smells too nasty to even consider. The Donald Trump of the past two weeks is the real imposter and it's only a matter of time before he loses his cool and his credibility (what he has) over some perceived slight or media report. He's already advocated for laws that would make it easier to sue for libel, and, like Nixon but with a real personality, he will do something about it. The media will continue to play lap dog for him and find false equivalencies by comparing him to other presidents. There is not comparison. He is the Singularity.

But there is good news. More voters supported the Democratic vision of the country, as evidenced by the popular vote. And Trump's margins of victory in the states that mattered--Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan--were tiny and were also based on promises that he will have a difficult time keeping. If he and the GOP also decide to repeal the Affordable Care Act and millions lose their health insurance, then the GOP will be toast.  And then there's the future of the party. Right now, it's difficult to see who will emerge as the face of the Democrats in the coming years. Sanders can be the driving ideological force, but the party will need a younger face to run for president.

The best news, though, is that this means that the Democrats will likely gain seats in Congress in 2018 because the party in power usually suffers midterm losses. This bodes well for the Senate especially, where the Democrats will need to defend far more seats than the GOP. In the meantime, I expect new Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer to hold the line against the far right.

This will be a difficult four years for the country, andwe will even survive this, but only if we agitate, agitate, agitate.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Let's Not Do This Again

What, really, is there to say? We have come to the end of a truly unique and disturbing Presidential election, and in the end, most people will reject Donald Trump's twisted view of America and his repeated assertion that only he can fix our problems. Yes, I know that many on the left, and some on the right, are rightly appalled that he's stayed so close in the race through November. Why isn't Hillary Clinton trouncing him in the polls? What's wrong with the Republican Party? Where's the outrage?

The honest truth is that it was always going to be far more difficult electing a woman to the presidency. Overt sexism is alive and very well in the United States, and, more specifically, at Harvard University, and while I can't say that it's more or less virulent than racism, it does seem to manifest itself on a broader level in society. More people, it seems, see racism and treatment of African-Americans as more unjust, more obnoxious and more unfair than our historic treatment of women, and I think it's because mistreatment of women cuts across all ethnic and racial groups. Seeing women as second class citizens and/or as sex objects is still a cultural norm.

That Hillary Clinton will likely become the first female president will be a significant milestone in the country's development. She will have overcome an opponent who represents the worst of America and who reminds us that we are not a nation that wants to turn the clock back to a time when it was fine to refer to woman as inferior or to question someone's judgement because of their ethnicity. Three debates and countless news stories have shown that Donald Trump is not the kind of person most people want to lead our country. It will be close. In the end, it won't matter. Hillary will be the president and she will have the power of the office.

It will then be up to the Republicans to decide whether they want the country to move forward. Will they make good on their promise to block any Supreme Court nominee that Clinton send them? Will they threaten to shut down the government? Will they refuse to compromise on tax reform, immigration reform and background checks? We cannot afford four more years of one party believe that the other party's presidents are somehow illegitimate. It's time to move forward.

Make sure you get out and vote on Tuesday.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest