Archives for the month of: December, 2020

While Republicans are filing lawsuits asking courts to expand the Vice President’s power to reject slates of certified electors, Mike Pence rejected the expanded power they want the courts to give him, which would enable the Vice President to ignore the Electoral College and pick the incoming President.

This lawsuit may be the most hare-brained effort by Trump’s cult to throw out the Constitution.

Vice President Pence asked a judge late Thursday to reject a lawsuit that aims to expand his power to use a congressional ceremony to overturn the presidential election, arguing that he is not the right person to sue over the issue.

The filing will come as a disappointment to supporters of President Trump, who hoped that Pence would attempt to reject some of President-elect Joe Biden’s electoral college votes and recognize votes for Trump instead when Congress meets next week to certify the November election.

The filing came in response to a lawsuit from Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Tex.) and a number of Republicans in Arizona, who argued that an 1887 law that governs how Congress certifies presidential elections is unconstitutional. The suit argues that the Constitution gives the vice president, in his role as president of Senate, sole discretion to determine whether electors put forward by the states are valid.

It asks a federal judge to take the extraordinary step of telling Pence that he has the right, on his own, to decide that the electoral college votes cast earlier in December for Biden are invalid and to instead recognize self-appointed Trump electors who gathered in several state capitals to challenge the results.

While experts agree that the law is vague and confusing, it has never before been challenged; it has been accepted by officials in both parties for more than 130 years as establishing a process in which the voters, ultimately, choose the president. This year, 81 million voters supported Biden, earning him 306 electoral college votes to Trump’s 232.

To win a lawsuit, a plaintiff must convince a judge that the interests of the person they are suing are opposed to their own — there must be some controversy or conflict between them that could be resolved through the litigation.

In this case, a Justice Department lawyer, writing on Pence’s behalf, wrote that the interests of Gohmert and the other plaintiffs were not sufficiently opposed to Pence’s own — since they were seeking to expand his power — to justify a suit.

“The Vice President is not the proper defendant to this lawsuit,” wrote Deputy Assistant Attorney General John V. Coghlan.
“The Vice President — the only defendant in this case — is ironically the very person whose power they seek to promote,” he added. “A suit to establish that the Vice President has discretion over the count, filed against the Vice President, is a walking legal contradiction.”

Instead, Coghlan wrote that Congress was the proper defendant for such a suit.

Coghlan wrote that the lawsuit has other problems, too, and that, as a result, the judge should reject the suit, particularly given the limited timeline before next week’s vote, without trying to weigh difficult and never-before-tested constitutional issues.

While the filing dealt with a narrow legal issue, it still offered the first indication that Pence may not plan to reinterpret his role in next week’s ceremony in an attempt to change the election results. Since the election, Pence has echoed some of Trump’s unfounded complaints about the election, but he has been silent on Trump’s attempts to badger Republicans into overturning the results.

Lawyers for the House of Representatives also asked the judge to reject the suit late Thursday, arguing that it called for “a radical departure from our constitutional procedures and consistent legislative practices” and would “authorize the Vice President to ignore the will of the Nation’s voters.” In a statement, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said the suit had “zero legal merit” and was “yet another sabotage of our democracy.”

Fred Smith, assessment expert (retired from the New York City Board of Education) and part-time poet, published this poem today in the New York Daily News.

The night before New Year’s: A Message from Your President!



  ‘Tis the eve of the new year and in his White House

Sits a lame duck-tailed bad man with unsmiling spouse.

“This may be my last chance before my thoughts drift

To give all those who miffed me one parting gift. 

Whether I liked them or hated, they can’t escape blame,

They’re bound to be “Fired” in my blazing endgame:

To my faithless AG and once true legal goon,

I leave Barr to flame out in a hot air balloon.

As to Mitch, the traitor, who acknowledged Joe’s win,

Here’s a carton of face masks to smother his chin;

And for Rudolph, the red-faced, sputt’ring buffoon, 

Nothing’s better to drown in than a pool-sized spittoon.

The prize for Pompeo requires some thinking,

Backtracking on hacking without even blinking;

As for Doctor Birx, as well as for Fauci,

A pox on both jerks for making me grouchy. 

To my dearest friends, Pelosi and Schumer,

A set of false teeth and an unbenign tumor;

Bah, to Gorsuch, Kavanaugh and Coney Barrett;

I’ll defrock the three for not being my parrots. 

To NBC cable’s O’Donnell and Maddow,

Go choke on your words, and sleep in the shadow;

Which goes for CNN cronies, Tapper and Blitzer,

Have Cheez Doodles washed down with a Clorox-laced spritzer. 

The Judiciary Committee and Adam Schiff

Will ride a one-way train, heading straight off a cliff;

For Masha, Colonel Vindman and Fiona Hill,

You uttered the truth; here’s a poisonous pill. 

This thing ‘bout the virus and how many have died?

QAnon swears that every one of them lied;

That proves there are 300,000 folks hidin’;

No goodies for the “dead” who voted for Biden. 

Of course, can’t forget those phony Obamas,

Who I’d exile to starve on an isle full of llamas;

And I have to keep waiting until one week hence

To decide what determines the fate of Mike Pence. 

At last, I’ll heap ashes upon mini-Mnuchin,

Whose stimulus deal was smaller than a capuchin;

When I told my pet monkey to get a bill signed,

This blind four-year flunky failed to read my mind. 

Allegiance to me must remain undiminished;

One step out of line and you know you are finished,

‘Cept for Putin, who says I lost the election;

For some weird reason I can’t spurn his defection. 

Yet still, there are more who have sorely peeved me,

Who think I’m a fool and those who have grieved me:

And that would include all the world’s foreign leaders

Who laughed at my power, those dumb bottom feeders. 

I’ll give them all coal to stuff in their crotches;

And spoiled milk to SNL which nobody watches.

There’s a surprise in store for Stephen Colbert;

It’s something set for ticking under his chair. 

Forget about pardons and exoneration,

I truly deserve an extended vacation

Where I won’t have to pretend to read even one book;

And I’ll have full time for golfing and being a crook.

 Now it’s almost midnight on this dark New Year’s Eve,

And a terrible time to be taking my leave.

But I swear I’ll keep tweeting my message of cheer

To do more for America this coming year.” 

Smith, who worked for the New York City Department of Education, writes occasional poems.

I’m used to hearing people say, “It’s all about the Benjamins,” referring to someone who has sold their principles for money. A Benjamin refers to $100 bills, which have the face of Benjamin Franklin.

So we refer to politicians who support positions we don’t like as having taken money to align with the lobbyists or the donor with a lot of Benjamins. Of course, these days we have documentary evidence drawn from campaign finance records.

But what do you call a bill worth $1,000? Does it even exist?

It did, but not any more. I asked my friend teacher-blogger Arthur Goldstein the question, and he found this article.

The $1,000 bill had the face of Grover Cleveland. I assume it was discontinued in 1969 because of the ubiquity of checks and credit cards. There just wasn’t much need or demand for the $1,000 bill. Meanwhile, my ATM spits out Benjamins.

So, next time a politician sells out, say, “It’s all about the Grovers.”

Unfortunately, no one will know what you are talking about.

George Packer is a staff writer for The Atlantic, where this article appears.

To assess the legacy of Donald Trump’s presidency, start by quantifying it. Since last February, more than a quarter of a million Americans have died from COVID-19—a fifth of the world’s deaths from the disease, the highest number of any country. In the three years before the pandemic, 2.3 million Americans lost their health insurance, accounting for up to 10,000 “excess deaths”; millions more lost coverage during the pandemic. The United States’ score on the human-rights organization Freedom House’s annual index dropped from 90 out of 100 under President Barack Obama to 86 under Trump, below that of Greece and Mauritius. Trump withdrew the U.S. from 13 international organizations, agreements, and treaties. The number of refugees admitted into the country annually fell from 85,000 to 12,000. About 400 miles of barrier were built along the southern border. The whereabouts of the parents of 666 children seized at the border by U.S. officials remain unknown.

America under Trump became less free, less equal, more divided, more alone, deeper in debt, swampier, dirtier, meaner, sicker, and deader. It also became more delusional. No number from Trump’s years in power will be more lastingly destructive than his 25,000 false or misleading statements. Super-spread by social media and cable news, they contaminated the minds of tens of millions of people. Trump’s lies will linger for years, poisoning the atmosphere like radioactive dust.

Presidents lie routinely, about everything from war to sex to their health. When the lies are consequential enough, they have a corrosive effect on democracy. Lyndon B. Johnson deceived Americans about the Gulf of Tonkin incident and everything else concerning the Vietnam War. Richard Nixon’s lifelong habit of prevaricating gave him the nickname “Tricky Dick.” After Vietnam and Watergate, Americans never fully recovered their trust in government. But these cases of presidential lying came from a time when the purpose was limited and rational: to cover up a scandal, make a disaster disappear, mislead the public in service of a particular goal. In a sense, Americans expected a degree of fabrication from their leaders. After Jimmy Carter, in his 1976 campaign, promised, “I’ll never lie to you,” and then pretty much kept his word, voters sent him back to Georgia. Ronald Reagan’s gauzy fictions were far more popular.

Trump’s lies were different. They belonged to the postmodern era. They were assaults against not this or that fact, but reality itself. They spread beyond public policy to invade private life, clouding the mental faculties of everyone who had to breathe his air, dissolving the very distinction between truth and falsehood. Their purpose was never the conventional desire to conceal something shameful from the public. He was stunningly forthright about things that other presidents would have gone to great lengths to keep secret: his true feelings about Senator John McCain and other war heroes; his eagerness to get rid of disloyal underlings; his desire for law enforcement to protect his friends and hurt his enemies; his effort to extort a foreign leader for dirt on a political adversary; his affection for Kim Jong Un and admiration for Vladimir Putin; his positive view of white nationalists; his hostility toward racial and religious minorities; and his contempt for women.

The most mendacious of Trump’s predecessors would have been careful to limit these thoughts to private recording systems. Trump spoke them openly, not because he couldn’t control his impulses, but intentionally, even systematically, in order to demolish the norms that would otherwise have constrained his power. To his supporters, his shamelessness became a badge of honesty and strength. They grasped the message that they, too, could say whatever they wanted without apology. To his opponents, fighting by the rules—even in as small a way as calling him “President Trump”—seemed like a sucker’s game. So the level of American political language was everywhere dragged down, leaving a gaping shame deficit.

Trump’s barrage of falsehoods—as many as 50 daily in the last fevered months of the 2020 campaign—complemented his unconcealed brutality. Lying was another variety of shamelessness. Just as he said aloud what he was supposed to keep to himself, he lied again and again about matters of settled fact—the more brazen and frequent the lie, the better. Two days after the polls closed, with the returns showing him almost certain to lose, Trump stood at the White House podium and declared himself the winner of an election that his opponent was trying to steal.

This crowning conspiracy theory of Trump’s presidency activated his entitled children, compliant staff, and sycophants in Congress and the media to issue dozens of statements declaring that the election was fraudulent. Following the mechanism of every big lie of the Trump years, the Republican Party establishment fell in line. Within a week of Election Day, false claims of voter fraud in swing states had received almost 5 million mentions in the press and on social media. In one poll, 70 percent of Republican voters concluded that the election hadn’t been free or fair.

So a stab-in-the-back narrative was buried in the minds of millions of Americans, where it burns away, as imperishable as a carbon isotope, consuming whatever is left of their trust in democratic institutions and values. This narrative will widen the gap between Trump believers and their compatriots who might live in the same town, but a different universe. And that was Trump’s purpose—to keep us locked in a mental prison where reality was unknowable so that he could go on wielding power, whether in or out of office, including the power to destroy.

For his opponents, the lies were intended to be profoundly demoralizing. Neither counting them nor checking facts nor debunking conspiracies made any difference. Trump demonstrated again and again that the truth doesn’t matter. In rational people this provoked incredulity, outrage, exhaustion, and finally an impulse to crawl away and abandon the field of politics to the fantasists.

For believers, the consequences were worse. They surrendered the ability to make basic judgments about facts, exiling themselves from the common framework of self-government. They became litter swirling in the wind of any preposterous claim that blew from @realDonaldTrump. Truth was whatever made the world whole again by hurting their enemies—the more far-fetched, the more potent and thrilling. After the election, as charges of voter fraud began to pile up, Matthew Sheffield, a reformed right-wing media activist, tweeted: “Truth for conservative journalists is anything that harms ‘the left.’ It doesn’t even have to be a fact. Trump’s numerous lies about any subject under the sun are thus justified because his deceptions point to a larger truth: that liberals are evil.”

How did half the country—practical, hands-on, self-reliant Americans, still balancing family budgets and following complex repair manuals—slip into such cognitive decline when it came to politics? Blaming ignorance or stupidity would be a mistake. You have to summon an act of will, a certain energy and imagination, to replace truth with the authority of a con man like Trump. Hannah Arendt, in The Origins of Totalitarianism, describes the susceptibility to propaganda of the atomized modern masses, “obsessed by a desire to escape from reality because in their essential homelessness they can no longer bear its accidental, incomprehensible aspects.” They seek refuge in “a man-made pattern of relative consistency” that bears little relation to reality. Though the U.S. is still a democratic republic, not a totalitarian regime, and Trump was an all-American demagogue, not a fascist dictator, his followers abandoned common sense and found their guide to the world in him. Defeat won’t change that.

Trump damaged the rest of us, too. He got as far as he did by appealing to the perennial hostility of popular masses toward elites. In a democracy, who gets to say what is true—the experts or the people? The historian Sophia Rosenfeld, author of Democracy and Truth, traces this conflict back to the Enlightenment, when modern democracy overthrew the authority of kings and priests: “The ideal of the democratic truth process has been threatened repeatedly ever since the late eighteenth century by the efforts of one or the other of these epistemic cohorts, expert or popular, to monopolize it.”

Monopoly of public policy by experts—trade negotiators, government bureaucrats, think tankers, professors, journalists—helped create the populist backlash that empowered Trump. His reign of lies drove educated Americans to place their faith, and even their identity, all the more certainly in experts, who didn’t always deserve it (the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, election pollsters). The war between populists and experts relieved both sides of the democratic imperative to persuade. The standoff turned them into caricatures.

Trump’s legacy includes an extremist Republican Party that tries to hold on to power by flagrantly undemocratic means, and an opposition pushed toward its own version of extremism. He leaves behind a society in which the bonds of trust are degraded, in which his example licenses everyone to cheat on taxes and mock affliction. Many of his policies can be reversed or mitigated. It will be much harder to clear our minds of his lies and restore the shared understanding of reality—the agreement, however inconvenient, that A is A and not B—on which a democracy depends.

But we now have the chance, because two events in Trump’s last year in office broke the spell of his sinister perversion of the truth. The first was the coronavirus. The beginning of the end of Trump’s presidency arrived on March 11, 2020, when he addressed the nation for the first time on the subject of the pandemic and showed himself to be completely out of his depth. The virus was a fact that Trump couldn’t lie into oblivion or forge into a political weapon—it was too personal and frightening, too real. As hundreds of thousands of Americans died, many of them needlessly, and the administration flailed between fantasy, partisan incitement, and criminal negligence, a crucial number of Americans realized that Trump’s lies could get someone they love killed.

The second event came on November 3. For months Trump had tried frantically to destroy Americans’ trust in the election—the essence of the democratic system, the one lever of power that belongs undeniably to the people. His effort consisted of nonstop lies about the fraudulence of mail-in ballots. But the ballots flooded into election offices, and people lined up before dawn on the first day of early voting, and some of them waited 10 hours to vote, and by the end of Election Day, despite the soaring threat of the virus, more than 150 million Americans had cast ballots—the highest turnout rate since at least 1900. The defeated president tried again to soil our faith, by taking away our votes. The election didn’t end his lies—nothing will—or the deeper conflicts that the lies revealed. But we learned that we still want democracy. This, too, is the legacy of Donald Trump.

The Washington Post reports that Trump allies have filed more lawsuits to overturn the election and are pressuring Mike Pence to block the certification of the results on January 6. Pence has to choose between his loyalty to Trump and his Constitutional duty. Never in American history has a president refused to accept his loss in the election and continued to fight to overturn the results long after the election was decided by bothe voters and the Electoral College. I one of the lawsuits described below, the plaintiffs are suing the “Electoral College,” even though it has no address to serve papers. The most interesting parts of the story are in the second half. Trump’s supporters are ready to shred the Constitution as they fight for the leader of their cult. They are counting on Pence to recognize “electors” who were not certified. It seems almost quaint to remember that ice President Al Gore announced Nixon’s election after Gore won the popular vote but lost Florida’s electors by 537 votes. Gore congratulated the new president. And it was Vice-President Biden who announced Trump’s election in 2016. Trump lost decisively in the Electoral College in 2020, and Biden received seven million votes more than Trump. But Trump will never concede.

President Trump and his allies are growing increasingly desperate as Congress prepares to formally receive the votes that will confirm his election loss next week, filing lawsuits against nonexistent entities and even Trump’s own vice president as they try to come up with new ways to overturn the vote.

One lawsuit filed last week by a conservative group that supports Trump targeted, among others, the electoral college — which does not exist as a permanent body. Another lawsuit filed Sunday by U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Tex.) and several Arizona Republicans against Vice President Pence attempts to get a federal judge to expand Pence’s power to affect the outcome.

Pence will preside over next week’s joint session of Congress, where the electoral votes cast earlier this month will be read aloud. President-elect Joe Biden won 306 electoral votes to Trump’s 232, reflecting Biden’s 81 million votes nationwide as he secured the White House.

Trump has been working to incite his supporters over the ceremonial milestone, falsely portraying it as a final showdown in his battle to alter the election’s outcome. “See you in Washington, DC, on January 6th. Don’t miss it,” Trump tweeted Sunday.

There were some initial signs Tuesday that Trump’s last-ditch appeal may be faltering, even among some of his most fervent supporters.

In an interview, Stanley Grot, a Trump elector in Michigan, a longtime Republican and the clerk of the Detroit suburb of Shelby Township, said he does not plan to come to Washington.

When the electoral college met Dec. 14 to certify Biden’s win in the state, Grot joined other Trump electors in Lansing to register their continued support for the president in a state where Trump has exerted especially strong pressure on supporters to overturn the vote. But Grot said Tuesday that there is nothing more he can do next week.

“It is out of our hands now,” he said.

He said if Congress certifies Biden’s victory, he would “not be in a position to challenge anything,” adding, “we always must respect the office of the presidency.”

Another Michigan elector for Trump, Timothy King of Ypsilanti, also said he has no plans to travel to D.C. — though he said he will not be persuaded of the legitimacy of Biden’s win regardless of what happens in Congress.

“I don’t think Joe Biden would be the legal president if they go through with this,” the retired autoworker said. “People are not stepping up and doing their constitutional duty,” he said, to examine unverified claims of fraud that he and others allege took place.

King is a plaintiff in a lawsuit challenging the Michigan election results that has already been rejected by a federal judge; he and his fellow plaintiffs have asked the Supreme Court to review the matter.

Also Tuesday, the Georgia secretary of state’s office announced the results of a signature audit conducted of mail-in ballots from the November election cast in Cobb County. Working with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, the secretary of state’s office said it reviewed signatures on 15,118 ballot envelopes, finding none were fraudulent and that all but two included signatures that matched that of the voter on file — demonstrating that election officials who examined the signatures before the vote had a 99.99 percent accuracy rate. Of the two ballots, one was signed by a voter in the wrong place and the second was improperly signed by a voter’s spouse. The voter indicated in an interview with state officials that he filled out the actual ballot.

Republicans’ ability to challenge the congressional process is limited.

Any member of the House, joined by a member of the Senate, could contest the electoral votes, citing an 1880s election law. But the challenge will merely prompt a floor debate followed by a vote in each chamber. Trump will inevitably lose that vote, given that Democrats control the House and a number of Senate Republicans have publicly recognized Biden’s victory, including Sen. Mitt Romney (Utah), who has called Trump’s refusal to accept the election dangerous.

Even in the unlikely event that Trump were to prevail in the Senate, where Pence would be in position to cast a tie-breaking vote if needed, the challenge still would fail given the House vote.

Still, a number of Republican members of the House, led by Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) and egged on by the president, have said they plan to challenge votes in swing states where they have made unfounded allegations that the vote was marred by fraud.

One incoming Republican senator, newly elected Tommy Tuberville of Alabama, has said he is considering signing on, as well. He would do so over the opposition of Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and other leading Republican senators, who have said it would be politically harmful to force Republicans to decide whether to back Trump out of loyalty in a vote bound to fail.

Even so, experts fear the vote could cast a cloud over Biden as he prepares to take office Jan. 20, creating the misimpression that his victory was in some way contested or that he was installed by congressional Democrats.

Next week’s ceremony will come at the end of a grueling period in Congress in which Trump angered members of his own party by vetoing a major defense bill and initially balking at a coronavirus relief measure that had been negotiated by his own aides. The legislative maneuvering may also dampen Republican enthusiasm to back Trump’s futile effort to overturn the election.

The lawsuits are designed to get a judge to expand Republican options in Congress next week — or to create the impression that the law might allow additional options.

Trump and his allies have already sought judicial intervention in dozens of suits filed since the election and have met no success. More than 90 state and federal judges, appointed by members of both parties, have rejected challenges to the election by the president, his campaign and his allies.

In some cases, judges have found that the party objecting to the election did not have standing to sue, or inappropriately challenged the voting procedures only after the election.

But in many of the suits, judges evaluated Trump’s claims of fraud and found there was no evidence to support them.

Gohmert’s suit, which was joined by a group of Republicans in Arizona including the chairwoman of the state GOP, argued that the law that governs next week’s congressional action is unconstitutional because it impinges on Pence’s sole authority to recognize electors. The suit argues that a federal judge should order that Pence can choose to recognize alternate electors who support Trump should he wish to do so.

Legal experts said the lawsuit was meritless and would probably be dismissed by a federal judge for multiple reasons.

Among other things, the suit envisions competing slates of electors from which Pence could choose. However, despite intense pressure from Trump, no state legislature actually agreed to set aside the November vote and appoint alternate electors. Instead, informal groups of Trump supporters met in some state capitols earlier this month and appointed themselves electors, in ceremonies that had no force of law.

In a statement, Gohmert nevertheless asserted that seven states had sent “dueling slates of electors” to Washington.

“We continue to hold out hope that there is a federal judge who understands that the fraud that stole this election will mean the end of our republic, and this suit would insure that the Vice-President will only accept electors legitimately and legally elected,” he said.

The case, which was filed in Texas, has been randomly assigned to District Judge Jeremy Kernodle, a Trump appointee who took the bench in 2018.

Gohmert and his fellow plaintiffs have requested a hearing no later than Thursday and a ruling by the judge by Monday. In a filing Tuesday, their lawyers revealed that they had contact with attorneys for the vice president and the Justice Department and were unable to come to an agreement with them about the suit, including about when Pence must file a response. They asked the judge to order Pence to respond by the close of business Wednesday.

In a video posted to Twitter on Tuesday, Arizona Republican Party Chairwoman Kelli Ward, also a plaintiff in the suit, called it a “friendly lawsuit.”

“It’s all on the shoulders of Vice President Mike Pence, and we have this lawsuit to assist him in being able to do his job and to do it well,” she said.

The suit highlights the awkward role Pence will play next week, when, by law, the task of presiding over the last step before Biden takes the oath falls to the vice president. A Pence spokesman did not respond to questions about the suit. A spokesman for the Department of Justice declined to comment.

“This Gohmert suit has had me scratching my head, and I don’t think the courts will take it seriously,” said Trevor Potter, a Republican election law expert who has been reviewing such cases as a member of the nonpartisan National Task Force on Election Crises.

Among other problems, Potter said the remedy Gohmert is seeking “would stand the Constitution on its head. It would effectively deliver to the vice president the right to determine who won the presidential election. If the vice president has authority to pick his favorite electors, then you wouldn’t need a Congress or a Constitution.”

Norm Eisen, a Democrat who is counsel to the nonpartisan Voter Protection Program, called the Gohmert lawsuit even more “absurd and extreme” than those that came before.

“This attempt to throw out the entire legal structure which has guided American presidential elections for almost 150 years is utterly unfounded,” Eisen said. “It is destined to end up where sixty-plus other cases have: the legal ash heap.”

Eisen’s group has been monitoring the efforts closely in the courts and in key states and has worked out an expected timeline of events on Jan. 6, when the two chambers will meet at 1 p.m.

They confidently predict that the day will end with Biden officially being declared the president-elect.

“If they choose to waste the time of Congress and the nation in the middle of a health and economic crisis, it will be for no purpose at all, except to stroke the president’s ego,” Eisen said.

Rick Hess conducts an “exit interview” with Betsy DeVos, which was published at Education Week. Rick is a fellow at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, which is funded in part by DeVos.

DeVos came to Washington to destroy public education, and she failed. She bitterly dismisses the “entrenched interests” and bureaucrats who frustrated her ambitions to turn billions of public dollars over to religious and private schools and to extinguish teachers’ unions altogether. During her confirmation, she was unable to answer direct questions about education policy, and she was ultimately confirmed only when Vice-President Pence cast a tie-breaking vote. This had never happened before. In poll after poll, DeVos was characterized as the most unpopular member of Trump’s Cabinet. She did her best to skewer the Department’s Office of Civil Rights, to abandon college students who were defrauded by for-profit colleges, to divert COVID funding to elite private schools. Fortunately, most of the changes–maybe all of them–will be reversed by the Biden administration. Here is a fun fact that DeVos doesn’t mention: She is right that the number of voucher programs has grown, but she fails to point out that fewer than 1% of American students use vouchers. Nor does she mention that most independent voucher studies find that students in voucher schools are worse off than their peers in public schools. When a 2017 evaluation of the voucher program in D.C. reported that the students in voucher schools actually lost ground, DeVos didn’t care. She said: “When school choice policies are fully implemented, there should not be differences in achievement among the various types of schools.” Nonetheless, in this exit interview, DeVos continues to promote voucher propaganda, and Hess doesn’t challenge her.

Here is an excerpt:

Rick: Back in 2017, your confirmation process was remarkably contentious. Looking back, what did you take from that and how did it affect your approach to the role?

Secretary DeVos: It confirmed my belief that entrenched interests were going to do their best to protect the status quo, their power, and their jobs no matter what. It gave me a clear-eyed look at the uphill battle I knew we would face as we pivoted the federal focus away from adults’ interests to what’s best for kids.

Rick: You came to your position as an outsider—how has that mattered?

DeVos: Like I’ve said before, I didn’t know all the things you “can’t do.” So I came in with fresh eyes and a laser focus on rethinking the way we approach all aspects of work at the department.

Rick: What surprised you most about the job?

DeVos: A couple of things. First, that the bureaucracy is even more bureaucratic than any of us could have ever imagined, and it takes longer to get anything done than I could have ever imagined. Second, seeing firsthand just how difficult it is for people in Washington to see beyond what is and imagine what could be. Third, and importantly, I am consistently inspired by what parents will do for their kids’ educations. I’ve met single mothers driving Uber in addition to holding two other jobs just so their children can learn in schools that work for them. I’ve met parents who didn’t wait for permission to home school their children nor did they wait for their schools to open this past spring, establishing their own learning pods and microschools so their children could continue learning. I suppose I’m not surprised by the ingenuity of America’s parents, but I am inspired by them and their students.

Rick: For you, what’s one anecdote that really captures what it’s like to be secretary of education?

DeVos: I remember talking with a group of young African American students in a school where they were benefiting from the Milwaukee voucher program and looking outside at a sea of middle-aged white protestors who apparently thought those students didn’t deserve that opportunity. I think that’s a pretty good microcosm of what my experience in office was like.

Rick: What was the most useful preparation you had to be secretary?

DeVos: I’ve dedicated more than 30 years of my life to fighting for students, starting in my community, then throughout Michigan and in states across the country. I know what parents want and need for their children’s educations because I am one and because I’ve fought alongside them to have the same choices and opportunities for their kids that I had for mine. People also forget this is ultimately a management job, not a teaching job. Among other things, you run one of the nation’s largest banks. Having actually led large organizations was very important preparation.

Rick: If you had to point to just one, what’s the single data point that really illuminates your thinking about American education?

DeVos: Half of lower-income 4th graders are below-basic readers, according to the most recent Nation’s Report Card. If the system is failing to teach the most basic of skills to the most vulnerable of students, how can anyone defend it? Worse yet, for the past quarter century, there has been no meaningful change in test scores, yet as taxpayers, we spend more and more for education each year. And by too many measures, these gaps are even widening. Perhaps the largest gap is between American students and their international peers. We’re not in the top 10—in anything. That’s not because our students aren’t capable; it’s because “the system” is culpable for failing them. And, if I could point to a couple more data points, there are currently millions of kids on charter school wait lists, and 3 out of 4 parents who say, if given the opportunity, they would choose a different school than their assigned one for their child. Parents are making clear what they think the solution is to the system’s failures.

Rick: What’s one thing that advocates and reformers should understand about federal education policy which they may not already?

DeVos: It needs your voices. Reformers rightly focus on the states, which are in control of education, but ignoring Washington comes with peril. Remember, a different president and secretary most certainly would have implemented the Every Student Succeeds Act in significantly more controlling ways.

Rick: What would you regard as your most significant accomplishment in office?

DeVos: Hands down, it’s changing the national conversation around what K-12 education can and should be. The concept of school choice is more popular across racial, ethnic, and political lines than ever before. I’m also proud of the team’s work on the historic Title IX rule which codified into law protections for all students.

Rick: And what would you say is your biggest regret?

DeVos: In four years, we set out to change the course set by the past 40 years of the department’s history. Though we’ve made remarkable progress, as long as there are students stuck in schools that do not meet their needs, the work is not yet done. I believe that all children have unlimited potential and promise, and so every single one of them deserves the opportunity to find their educational fit. I regret that we didn’t push harder and earlier in the term.

Rick: Throughout your tenure, your emphasis has been on expanding educational choice for students and families. How would you evaluate your record on this score?

DeVos: My team and I have worked very hard to advance education freedom—or school choice, as most know it. This idea, which President Trump rightly calls “the civil rights issue of our time,” is on the march across the country. Students in more states have more opportunities to pursue the education that’s right for them today than when I first took office. Consider the bold expansions in North Carolina, Florida, West Virginia, Tennessee, and even in Illinois. Right here in D.C., participation in the school choice program is now 50 percent higher than it was four years ago, and there is still massive unmet demand. We’ve changed the conversation at the federal level, too. Our proposal for Education Freedom Scholarships is the most ambitious in the nation’s history, and now there are more than 120 co-sponsors in Congress and more than 50 Senators who voted for Sen. McConnell’s COVID relief package who are helping us champion the idea.

The Financial Times reported a major data breach of personally identifiable student data on a website funded by the Gates Foundation. Bill Gates, as we know, is a data aficionado. Several years ago, he created an ill-fated project called InBloom with the intent of gathering the personal data of millions of students. Fortunately it was killed off by parent activists Leonie Haimson and Rachel Stickland, who created the Parent Coalition for Student Privacy. The “cloud” is not secure.

The personal details of hundreds of thousands of US students were exposed to hackers after a database was left unsecured by Get Schooled, an education charity set up by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Viacom. Get Schooled was set up a decade ago to help students from low-income, minority and immigrant backgrounds with their college applications and financial aid, and to offer job advice. But it left a database of 125m records, including 930,000 email addresses belonging to children, teenagers and college students, “open and accessible” earlier this year when it overhauled its website, said the UK cyber security company TurgenSec. TurgenSec said the database included names, age, gender and school and graduation details of the individuals. Contact information such as addresses and phone numbers was also accessible.

Perhaps you remember the jacket that Melania Trump wore when she was boarding a flight to see for herself the inhumane treatment of immigrants and their children at the southern border. It said on its back: “I Really Don’t Care. Do U?” She shouted out her indifference to suffering.

Masha Gessen says that the defining characteristic of Trump too is indifference. His vanity, his ego, his golfing, his self matters very much. The rest of us? Not so much. She says that life under an autocracy is always dull. Here I disagree with her. Life under Trump was never dull. Every day there was another threat to our safety, our sense of confidence in the competence of our government, our fear of what Trump might do next to destroy the future of the planet. Chaos was the rule, and chaos is very discomforting.

She writes in The New Yorker:

We have come to expect this President to fail Americans, catastrophically, and we have become accustomed to understanding these failures through two traits of his Administration: cruelty and militant incompetence. But there is a third one, characteristic of many, if not all, autocracies: indifference...

From what we know about Donald Trump, he will remember 2020 as a year when he was unfairly treated by the voters, the courts, and the media, and also a year when he golfed. In this year of the coronavirus, Trump has oscillated between holding briefings and acting like the pandemic was over, while recommending bleach and bragging about his own tremendous recovery. But what he has demonstrated consistently, while three hundred thousand people in this country have died and millions became sick, is that he couldn’t be bothered. Memorable news stories have focussed on the cruel and self-serving ways in which the Administration has addressed the pandemic, as when the President’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, reportedly found it to be politically advantageous that the virus was disproportionately affecting states with Democratic governments, or when Trump withheld resources from states whose governors had criticized him...

I have written a lot of articles and several books about Russia’s transformation under Vladimir Putin, but the experience I’ve always found hardest to describe is one of feeling as if creativity and imagination were sucked out of society after he came to power. The reason is not so much censorship or even intimidation as it is indifference. When the state took over television, for example, it wasn’t just that the news was censored: it was that the new bosses didn’t care about the quality of the visuals or the writing. The same thing happened in other media, in architecture, in filmmaking. Life in an autocracy is, among other things, dull.

Nothing has reminded me of Russia quite so much as the Trump Administration’s belated effort to encourage Americans to vaccinate. It will build on an earlier effort to “defeat despair” about the pandemic, which either wasted or simply failed to spend more than a quarter of a billion dollars, because the officials involved tried to ideologically vet two hundred and seventy-four celebrities who may or may not have been asked to take part. Many, according to documents released by the House Oversight and Reform Committee, appeared to have been disqualified because they had been critical of Trump. Several said no, and only a handful, Dennis Quaid among them, accepted; Quaid then apparently backed out, and the campaign went dormant. Had it all been a scam? A particularly dumb version of a Hollywood witch-hunt? Probably not. It was probably another story about a President and an Administration that cares about slights but not about people.

Peter Goodman is a veteran observer of education policy and politics in New York City and State.

In this post, he asks, who is Miguel Cardona?

The answer is that Cardona will do what Joe Biden and Dr. Jill Biden want him to do.

He remains an unknown quantity. The only thing we know for sure is that he will roll back whatever damage DeVos did in her four year tenure.

Will he grant waivers from the federally mandated standardized tests this spring?

Will he seek to roll back 20 years of failed education policy?

Will he pare back or ask Congress to eliminate the federal Charter Schools Program, which hands out $440 million every year to start new charters? CSP started during the Clinton administration with the intent of helping little teacher-led or mom-and-pop charters get a start. It has since turned into a behemoth that helps corporate charter chains like KIPP, Success Academy, and IDEA expand.

Stay tuned.

Steve Nelson was head of school at the Calhoun School. He is now in retirement. He writes frequently about the need for child-centered education.

“RESIST!”  Bernie Sanders? AOC?  Malcom X? Saul Alinsky?

No, this was Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’s plea to Education Department staffers as she ends her term in office. As reported in The Hill, she specifically implored them to “Be the resistance against forces that will derail you from doing what’s right for students.”  DeVos evoking the language of progressive activism is rich – almost as rich as DeVos herself.

She has gotten scant attention in the chaos of these last days.  It seems unjust to allow her to go so quietly from the party.  It is only in the shadow of Bill Barr, Scott Pruitt, Michael Flynn, Wilbur Ross, Steve Bannon, Paul Manafort, Mike Pompeo, Ben Carson, Stephen Miller and many others that DeVos’s breathtaking awfulness would go uncelebrated.

I am here to right that wrong.

As with other Trump appointees, her most luminous qualification for the position was absolute disdain for the mission she was tapped to lead.  She had demonstrated  decades of hostility toward public education and her antipathy has continued unabated on the job.

Her educational “philosophy” is built on several premises that have informed her life’s work. 

Her education activism and support of reform are, in her words, “a means to advance God’s Kingdom.”   She has proclaimed that “the system of education in the country . . . really may have greater Kingdom gain in the long run.”  To this end she has been a tireless advocate for voucher programs which allow parents to use tax dollars for their children’s enrollment in religious schools.  In Florida, for example, 80% of vouchers, to the tune of $1 billion, go to religious schools, where evolution is just theory, gay students are unwelcome and every course is offered through a Christian lens.

Her advocacy for charter schools is built on the second premise: Profit is a divine right and any budding entrepreneur who can walk and chew gum is qualified to give education a shot. In her home state of Michigan this has resulted in a checkerboard of charter schools that fail as often as Trump casinos and where the odds of getting a good education are like playing the roulette wheel.  The shifting of public money to charters has hollowed out the public system in Detroit, for example, where kids of color are often shuffled to and from a half dozen startups and shutdowns in just one school year.  To extend the simile, it’s a bad deal for children.

This manifestation of her “activism” seems very much like the source of her immense wealth:  Amway.  The very American Amway system also allows  any budding entrepreneur who can walk and chew gum to give Amway a whirl. The odds of success are similar to the odds of success for charter startups – meaning very low indeed.  Unless, of course, you are at the top of the pyramid. Every sucker who loses is a gain for the house.  

Amway aside, her business acumen is a bit suspect.  She was a major investor in Theranos, a remarkable scam whose founder is facing felony counts of fraud.  She and her husband are also up to their corrupt ears in another corporate scam, Neurocore, which has been charged for using unapproved (FDA) devices and deceptive (FTC) marketing.  As a kicker, they invested in a Broadway show that closed after three weeks.  Like her patron saint Trump, it’s just so much winning.

I would be remiss if not pointing out that she is, in these respects, an iconic representative of the contemporary Grand Old Party which is committed to the same principles: that we are a Christian nation and that everything done for private profit is de facto better and more efficient than anything done for public good.

A few other highlights:

She supports using federal funds to arm teachers.

She dramatically altered Title IX to give more rights to boys and men accused of sexual misconduct and to significantly limit the authority of educational institutions to support women or use their own discretion.

In her confirmation hearing, she knew nothing about the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), saying states should do whatever they want.

She called historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) “pioneers of school choice,” seeming to miss that they were the result of segregation and that they were founded because black students had no choices.  It’s like admiring a particularly fine porcelain drinking fountain in Jim-Crow-era Alabama and praising it as a pioneer in hydration choice.

President-elect Biden has selected Dr. Miguel Cardona to replace DeVos.  He is a vast improvement.  For those who continue to work  in the Department of Education, we must say, “Resist!”