“This is wheeeeeeere the party ends…”
(Guest post by Greg Forster)
The most realistic thing about fairy tales is this: You don’t realize you’re making a titanic moral choice that will determine whether you triumph or die until the moment after you have made the choice.
Betsy DeVos will likely make a very good education secretary if 1) she can prevent her department from sabotaging her and 2) she focuses on choice and puts Common Core and all associated initiatives to rest. #2 is highly likely given what was said during the campaign. #1 is always something of a crapshoot. Being a conservative cabinet secretary is an inherently dangerous undertaking.
But I’m less interested in her choices and more interested in the choices of the school choice movement.
Trump will be president. All of us who work on policy issues have to live in a world where Trump is president. It’s not necessarily a good idea for every decent person to shun him; that means government will be run by scoundrels like Trump.
Every movement needs its Vaclav Klauses as well as its Vaclav Havels – people who are willing to hold their noses and work for a corrupt regime. You simply can’t get anything done otherwise, because there are no non-corrupt regimes.
Milton went to Chile and advised Pinochet. When challenged, he said: “I gave him good advice.”
But if they forget to hold their noses, if they think the regime is good, the movement dies. And they will forget if no one plays Vaclav Havel and goes to jail for telling the truth about the regime.
My biggest fear is that the school choice issue will become tied to Trump. It can never be said too many times: Donald Trump is a notorious racist who discriminates against blacks in his businesses, said a judge of Mexican ancestry couldn’t judge him impartially, constantly flirted with the alt-right, and refused, three times, to repuidate the KKK when first asked to do so. (Just in case this is unclear, the KKK is a criminal organization that murders people and exists to make war on the US government in the name of white nationalism. If Trump wants to learn more about it, he can ask his attorney general, who had a Klan leader executed.)
We in the school choice movement have spent a generation building bridges between the conservatives and libertarians traditionally associated with the issue and progressives and ethnic minority communities. We can’t afford to throw all that away.
But in the last few years the Common Core disaster has polarized the education reform movement. CC progressives (not identical with choice-friendly progressives, although there’s overlap) have declared war on conservatives, denouncing us as racist for the crime of not being progressives.
So far that hasn’t had much effect on the choice wing of the movement’s relationships with minority communities. But we choice people increasingly feel outcast, despised, wronged by those whom we had regarded as friends and allies, but who turned on us the moment they found it expedient to do so.
The temptation will be to say “F all these progressives who stabbed us in the back for Common Core, and who now tell us we’re racist solely because we’re not left-wing extremists. Let’s go all in with someone who won’t tell us we’re evil for being conservative.”
And of course that will be the death of us. Because then we really will have turned a blind eye to racism.
We should keep the focus where it belongs: on the states. If we’re offered a big federal push to impose choice on the states, we should say “thanks, but no thanks.” On the merits, yes, and for other reasons, too.
As someone once said on this issue, you can’t shake the devil’s hand and say you’re only kidding.
We can work with Trump (on, for example, choice in DC and other federal jurisdictions) the same way we might work with any bad person who holds office. But with the demonization of conservatives in the movement and the big opportunities for choice that Trump will soon likely be offering us, the temptation will be to forget what we spent the last generation saying: That school choice will die if it doesn’t build a trans-partisan, trans-ethnic coalition.