Archives for category: Inequality

Heather Cox Richardson writes in her blog “Letters from an American” about the Republican Right’s fascination with the authoritarian leader of Hungary, Viktor Orbán. Orbán is a critic of liberal democracy and a great admirer of Trump. It’s scary.

She writes:

At the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) last weekend, Daily Wire host Michael Knowles said that “for the good of society…transgenderism must be eradicated from public life entirely—the whole preposterous ideology, at every level.” He worded his statement in such a way that it would inevitably create outrage that he could then angrily refute by insisting that “eradicating transgenderism” was not the same thing as eradicating transgender people. This sort of word game is a well-known right-wing tactic for garnering media attention.

Make no mistake: this attack on transgender people represents a deadly attack on the fundamental principle of American democracy, the idea that all people are created equal.

CPAC and its representatives have become increasingly close to Hungarian president Victor Orbán as he has asserted autocratic power in his own country. Orbán has explicitly rejected the liberal democracy that his country used to enjoy, saying that its emphasis on multiculturalism weakens national cultures while its insistence on human equality undermines traditional society by recognizing that women and LGBTQ people have the same rights as straight white men. The age of liberal democracy is over, he says, and a new age has begun.

In place of equality, Orbán advocates what he calls “illiberal democracy” or “Christian democracy.” “Christian democracy is, by definition, not liberal,” he said in July 2018; “it is, if you like, illiberal. And we can specifically say this in connection with a few important issues—say, three great issues. Liberal democracy is in favor of multiculturalism, while Christian democracy gives priority to Christian culture; this is an illiberal concept. Liberal democracy is pro-immigration, while Christian democracy is anti-immigration; this is again a genuinely illiberal concept. And liberal democracy sides with adaptable family models, while Christian democracy rests on the foundations of the Christian family model; once more, this is an illiberal concept.”

Orbán has focused on LBGTQ rights as a danger to “Western civilization.” Arguing the need to protect children, his party has made it impossible for transgender people to change their gender identification on legal documents and made it illegal to share with minors any content that can be interpreted as promoting an LBGTQ lifestyle. After Orbán put allies in charge of Hungarian universities, his government banned public funding for gender studies courses. According to his chief of staff: “The Hungarian government is of the clear view that people are born either men or women.”

As the opening speaker at CPAC in Texas last August, Orbán called for the establishment of a global right wing to continue to work together to destroy liberal democracy and establish Christian democracy.

The American right wing has heard the call, openly embracing Orbán’s principles. Vox senior correspondent Zack Beauchamp, who is a crackerjack analyst of right-wing political ideology both in the U.S. and abroad, noted in 2021 the rise of right-wing ideologues who saw themselves as the vanguard of a “post-liberal order.”

Beauchamp explained that these ideologues reject American democracy. They argue that “religious liberty, limited government, ‘the inviolability of private institutions (e.g., corporations),’ academic freedom, constitutional originalism, free markets, and free speech”—all central tenets of democracy—have created “liberal totalitarianism” that has destroyed “all institutions that were originally responsible for fostering human virtue: family, ennobling friendship, community, university, polity, church.”

They see the government institutions that defend these democratic tenets as part of a totalitarian system designed to destroy national virtue. If this were truly the case (it is not), it would be an act of heroism to try to destroy those systems altogether. Right-wing attacks on the FBI, the Department of Justice, and even the government itself over the arrest of January 6th rioters who they insist were peaceful tourists shore up the idea that the FBI and DOJ are part of a government determined to crush Trump supporters. That ideology invites those who believe it to continue to attack our government.

Knowles’s statement last week that transgenderism must be eradicated from public life was not simply an attack on transgender individuals, although it was certainly that. Tapping into the anti-LGBTQ sentiment that Orbán and those like him have used to win voters, the statement was a crucial salvo in the attempt to destroy American democracy and replace it with Christian nationalism.

But there is a very simple answer to the radical right’s attack on LGBTQ people that also answers their rejection of democracy. It is an answer that history has proved again and again.

Once you give up the principle of equality, you have given up the whole game. You have admitted the principle that people are unequal, and that some people are better than others. Once you have replaced the principle of equality with the idea that humans are unequal, you have stamped your approval on the idea of rulers and subjects. At that point, all you can do is to hope that no one in power decides that you belong in the lesser group.

In 1858, Abraham Lincoln, then a candidate for the Senate, warned that arguments limiting American equality to white men and excluding black Americans were the same arguments “that kings have made for enslaving the people in all ages of the world…. Turn in whatever way you will—whether it come from the mouth of a King, an excuse for enslaving the people of his country, or from the mouth of men of one race as a reason for enslaving the men of another race, it is all the same old serpent.”

Either people—men, in his day—were equal, or they were not. Lincoln went on: “I should like to know if taking this old Declaration of Independence, which declares that all men are equal upon principle and making exceptions to it…where will it stop?”

Stephen J. Klees is Distinguished Scholar-Teacher and Professor of International Education Policy at the University of Maryland. Klees recently gave a talk at the Comparative and International Education Society’s (CIES) annual meeting in Washington D.C.. He considers the privatization of education to be a juggernaut of patriarchal racial neoliberal capitalism. Dr. Klees shared his talk with me.

Privatization is a scourge. Basic services should be public, publicly owned and run. It is not a question of effectiveness or costs. Privatized basic services are inequitable and violate human rights.

In education, the advent of neoliberalism in the 1980s drastically changed the narrative. Before neoliberalism, it was generally believed that basic education (primary and secondary) should usually be provided by governments, with private schooling mostly the preserve of the wealthy and religious schools. The changed narrative brought by neoliberalism no longer asked whether privatization was necessary; instead, it asked when and how should we privatize? This assault on public sector motivations, competence, and budgets happened almost overnight – due completely to ideology, there was no evidence for this shift.

This shift has led to the massive expansion of private schooling around the world, most especially in developing countries, with critics fighting a rear-guard action against this juggernaut. The fight has given us efforts like the work of PEHRCand others that led to the Abidjan Principles, Education International’s Global Response campaign, high-level reports by UN Special Rapporteurs, as well as groups in most countries challenging the privatization of education. Have all these efforts slowed the juggernaut? Perhaps, but not noticeably. Have they changed the narrative? Perhaps some, but certainly not enough.

Critical researchers have responded to the slew of studies by privatization advocates pointing out their ideological biases and methodological flaws and pointing to contrary evidence. While we critics must respond to the advocates, to me, all this research is in many ways a waste of time and money. In terms of the narrow measurement of “learning,” embodied in test scores in a few subjects, the conclusion is what we all know – with similar students, sometimes private schools perform a little better, sometimes public schools do, and often there are no important differences. The other conclusion, hardly challenged by the right, is that privatization, even with low-cost private schools, further stratifies the system exacerbating inequality. But has this critical research changed the narrative or slowed the juggernaut? Perhaps a little, but far from enough.

What can slow or stop the juggernaut and change the story? I see more hope in increased mobilization across sectors. In 2019, there was a conference in Amsterdam that brought together public service advocates and this past December an even bigger one in Santiago, Chile that had over a thousand representatives from over one hundred countries fighting for public services in education, health, water, energy, housing, food, transportation, social protection, and care sectors. The Global Manifesto produced prior to the meeting and the Santiago Declaration produced after are marvelous documents with excellent analyses of the problem and principles for universal quality public services that will hopefully serve as a rallying cry for cross-sector mobilization by civil society and social movements around the world. The argument that there is not enough money to fund needed public services is simply a refusal to change priorities and tax those who are well-off.

However, the underlying reason we don’t have essential basic public services – the big picture – are the structures of patriarchal racial neoliberal capitalism. Neoliberalism exalts the market, but what does this mean? The market is a euphemism. It means the private sector should basically run the world. Critics of capitalism are accused of believing in a conspiracy by the rich and powerful; the critics response is there is no need for conspiracy. The reproduction of poverty and inequality, environmental destruction, racism, sexism, and more are built into the very structures that surround us.

Yet let’s not dismiss conspiracies too soon. What is the World Economic Forum but the rich and powerful getting together to set an agenda for the world? How many have heard of the Trilateral Commission? It’s the same people as the WEF getting together without much publicity each year to do the same. The WEF has been pushing its 2010 Global Redesign Initiative which essentially wants to turn the UN itself into a giant PPP – with quite a bit of success. These patriarchal racial capitalist institutions, run essentially by rich white men, may not have bad intentions but they are deluded into the self-interest of believing that all we need are win-win solutions to reform current polices, supposedly for everyone – without, of course, changing any of the structures that maintain their wealth and power.

We will not stop or reverse the privatization of education juggernaut without system change. Under patriarchal racial capitalism, especially the neoliberal version, privatization is the solution to most of our ills. But business leaders are singularly unqualified to deal with education or other social problems that have no simple bottom line (like profits) and whose real solution may threaten their dominance and power. While system change is very difficult, there are many groups, organizations, and movements around the world working on exactly that. The Santiago Declaration explicitly recognizes that the battle for public services means we need to “move away from the racial, patriarchal, and colonial patterns of capitalism and towards socio-economic justice, ecological sustainability, human rights, and public services.”

In what kind of world is it considered legitimate to charge the poorest for basic services? The answer is in a patriarchal, racist, capitalist world. I hope and believe that future generations will look back in horror at the fundamentally uncivilized nature of today’s world.

George Scialabba wrote this essay in Commonweal. It is worth your while to read it and think about it. It might help explain why so many red states are unwilling to fund public schools and prefer to spend public money subsidizing the tuition of children already attending private schools, transferring public funds to private and religious schools.

Unless we have reached the end point of humankind’s moral development, it is pretty certain that the average educated human of the twenty-third century will look back at the average educated human of the twenty-first century and ask incredulously about a considerable number of our most cherished moral and political axioms, “How could they have believed that?” We do it every time a movie like Twelve Years a Slave or a novel like The Handmaid’s Tale or a play like Angels in America or a work of history like Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee or of journalism like Michael Harrington’s The Other America prompts us to ask, “How could decent, intelligent people have believed they were entitled to treat other human beings like that?”

So let’s interrogate some of our beliefs about political morality with the eyes of our descendants. Two four-letter words lie at the heart of contemporary America’s public morality: “free” and “fair.” “It’s a free country” is every American’s boast; “I only want a fair shake” is every American’s plea. I doubt I need to remind many Commonweal readers of the more flagrant forms of unfairness in our national life—that one American child in five lives below or near the poverty line; that somewhere between 80 and 90 percent of our economy’s productivity gains since 1980 have gone to the top 10 percent of the income distribution; that the top twenty-five hedge-fund managers earn more than all the nation’s kindergarten teachers combined; that 100,000 Americans will die for lack of health care over the next ten years in order to give a large tax cut to Americans with incomes above a half-million dollars; and so on and so on, down the long and shameful catalog. You all read the newspapers. Our twenty-third-century descendants may ask—they will ask—how we could have tolerated such unfairness; but they won’t ask how we could have believed such inequalities to be fair, because we don’t, most of us, believe them to be fair. Let’s instead consider a different question: whether our present-day ideals of fairness and freedom, even if we lived up to them, would satisfy our descendants.

The average CEO now earns around three hundred times as much as his or her average employee. Many people are dismayed at the contrast with the good old days of the Eisenhower administration, when CEOs earned only thirty times as much as their average employees and paid a far higher tax rate, and yet the country didn’t exactly seem to be going to the dogs. But let’s put aside our reaction to this striking change and ask more generally whether and why some people ought to earn more than others.

The usual answer, I suppose, is that people deserve whatever they get through the operation of supply and demand. The competitive marketplace quantifies the value that one’s efforts have for others. Some people (like doctors) employ vital skills; some people (like baseball players) give exceptional enjoyment; some people (like corporate executives) assume extra responsibilities; some people (like investors) forego luxury consumption. All such people are rewarded in proportion to the satisfaction they furnish others, as measured by others’ willingness to pay, directly or indirectly, for those satisfactions. No payment, no service. As Adam Smith wrote: “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest.”

Of course, it’s not that simple. Consider those doctors, baseball players, and executives I used as examples of economic agents who exchange services for money. In fact, they—like you, like me—live with only one foot in a market economy and the other in a gift economy. Any doctor or scientist or athlete or nurse or teacher or carpenter worth her salt feels at least occasionally that she is making a gift of her best efforts; and as with all such gifts, the chief reward is internal: the pleasures of giving and of exercising one’s faculties at their highest pitch.

Nowadays, the gift economy leads a precarious existence, appearing mostly in commencement-day addresses in which graduates are exhorted to follow their dreams, while most of the poor things are worrying frantically about how to pay their debts. The family is a gift economy, and so is culture, including both the arts and the sciences, as well as the shrinking public and nonprofit spheres. Ever since that most fateful of innovations, industrial mass production, has become virtually universal, the market economy has progressively squeezed out the gift economy. In a mature capitalist society, competition grows in both extent and intensity—that is, both between and within economic units. Creativity and generosity are not forbidden but they are no longer self-justifying; they are, on the contrary, subordinated, like all activity in the non-public sphere, to the goal of increasing shareholder value. In the private economy, you can do whatever you like—create beauty, pursue truth, help others—as long as what you like to do makes someone a profit.

I said earlier that people in a market economy are rewarded in proportion to others’ willingness to pay. That willingness to pay is the measure of value in a market economy; and so, to say that a person deserves what she earns is to say that there is at least a rough correspondence between the value of what she produces and the value of what she receives. As Milton Friedman, the high priest of American capitalism, put it: “The ethical principle [underlying] the distribution of income in a free-market society is, ‘To each according to what he and the instruments he owns produces.’”

This notion of desert rests on the assumption that two distinctions can be made rigorously: first, that one person’s input—to any output or outcome at all—can be sharply distinguished from all other inputs; second, that merit can be distinguished from luck—that is, that diligence, good judgment, talent, and other productive qualities and character traits are not fully attributable to biological endowment, early environment, education, and other contingent and therefore morally arbitrary sources. I don’t believe those distinctions hold up.

Let’s take that CEO, and let’s assume we know somehow that she produces thirty or three hundred times as much as her average employee. Causation is a transitive relation, and production is a kind of causation. If A is a cause of B, and B is a cause of C, then A is a cause of C. If A contributes to the production of B, and B contributes to the production of C, then A has contributed to the production of C. Now, who has contributed to the production of our CEO and, therefore, to the production of whatever she produces? Clearly, her parents, spouse, teachers, fellow students, predecessors, colleagues, rivals, and friends, along with all their parents, spouses, teachers, fellow students, predecessors, colleagues, rivals, and friends, along with all those who created the physical, organizational, and cultural resources employed in the production of whatever our CEO produces, along with all their parents, spouses, teachers, fellow students, predecessors, colleagues, rivals, and friends, and, it goes without saying, all their parents, spouses, teachers, and so on through what is, if one wants to insist on the point, an infinite chain of causes.

I do want to insist on the point. Einstein famously wrote: “I have all along been standing on the shoulders of giants.” So has our CEO. Exceptional contributions, whether to art, science, or the Gross National Product, are prepared for by the whole previous development of the field. People who make brilliant, courageous, and illuminating mistakes, which may be indispensable to the ultimate success of a rich and famous artist, scientist, or entrepreneur, are not, in a competitive market system, retrospectively and proportionately rewarded for their contributions, even though Friedman’s definition of justice would seem to require it.

My point is that all production is social production. The productive assets of every age are the joint product of all preceding ages, and all those born into the present are legitimately joint heirs of those assets. And the same arguments for joint rather than individual inheritance of wealth created in the past apply to the distribution of income in the present. If this seems counterintuitive, it is perhaps because there persists a deep and ancient distinction between luck and merit, according to which we deserve praise and reward for our good actions, though not for our good fortune. But what if our good actions are the results of our good fortune?

Philosophy assimilates scientific discoveries slowly. As a result, it is always riddled with archaic concepts and images, survivals from an earlier scientific epoch. One such survival, it seems to me, is the concept of merit. It has always been partly recognized (it is, indeed, implicit in the word “gifted”) that talents and aptitudes come under the heading of luck rather than merit. But the inescapable implication of modern genetics, neurobiology, and psychiatry is that character, no less than talent, is inherited or else formed by very early experiences. Diligence, decisiveness, initiative, coolness under pressure—all these entrepreneurial virtues—are, no less than intellectual or manual abilities, part of one’s natural endowment. And from a strictly moral point of view, no one deserves a reward for being born luckier than someone else. I imagine the twenty-third century will ask: “Why did you make talent and character the measure of an individual’s desert rather than of her obligations? How could you have overlooked what is to us the obvious and elementary principle of fairness: from each according to her abilities, to each according to her need?…”

If we could speak with our nineteenth-century counterparts, we might ask questions like: “Why did you believe it legitimate for one person to own another? Why did women seem to you incapable of self-determination? Why did you consider that political authority could be inherited, for example by monarchs or aristocrats?” If they defended their morality against ours, we might learn a good deal by trying to rebut them and vindicate our own moral intuitions.

Similarly, we should try to imagine which of our current beliefs might seem benighted to our twenty-third century descendants. I suspect they will want to ask us questions like: “Why did you base desert on performance, which can’t be measured and is in any case a function of one’s endowments? After all, no one deserves her endowments. Why did you make that strangely artificial distinction between the political and the economic? It looks as though your only purpose was to prevent economic democracy. Why did you define freedom so narrowly, as the absence of constraints on one person’s right to employ her capital but not on another person’s right to realize her capacities? Why did you assume that contracts between parties with radically unequal resources could be free?”

You should read it all and ask yourself: Why do we tolerate such radical inequalities?

David DeMatthews of the University of Texas and David S. Knight of the University of Washington wrote this article, which appeared in The Hill, a D.C. site. It’s by now well-established that students who take vouchers suffer academically; that vouchers will sudsidize the students already enrolled in private and religious schools; and that states will pay huge sums to underwrite affluent families. The Texas Observer, for example, estimated that if the 309,000 students currently in private schools get vouchers, the state’s public schools will lose $3 billion in the first year alone. What is more, voucher schools are free to discriminate on any basis, and they are exempt from any accountability.

They write:

School vouchers are a taxpayer swindle that fails to raise achievement while eroding public schools and the principle of equal protection under the law outlined in the U.S. Constitution. If more states adopt school voucher systems, most parents will find their top choice — a neighborhood public school — largely defunded and unable to recruit and retain high-quality teachers due to a transfer of funds into unregulated private schools.

Americans from all backgrounds have fought to gain access to public schools, including freed slaves, immigrants and people with disabilities. These struggles have led to a free universal public education system that propels each child into our democracy, communities and economy. Public schools also serve as community hubs where neighborhoods gather to vote, watch sports, participate in townhalls, among many other public events.

Vouchers jeopardize all of this because they transfer money from public schools to individual parents through grants, savings accounts or scholarships to pay private school tuition. It is a system where self-interest replaces the common good, culminating in separate education systems for children living on the same street in the same community.

Voucher supporters say parents know what is best for their children, but that is not necessarily the case. As education researchers, we know that voucher systems have led to significant declines in student achievement for voucher users in Louisiana, Indiana, New York City and Washington, D.C., especially for low-income students. In a study on the effects of the Louisiana Scholarship Program — a large voucher program established in 2008 and expanded in 2012 — researchers found that students participating in the voucher program were significantly behind their peers in reading and mathematics after four years.

There should also be concern that despite these well-documented failures, billionaires such as Betsy DeVos of Michigan and Charles Koch of Kansas use their fortunes to reportedly subvert state elections from thousands of miles away. This is not about parent choice or student achievement. It is political. null

Sadly, some state policymakers adopt equally hypocritical policy positions as they support vouchers. For example, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) has become a vocal voucher supporter, yet he’s also a supporter of high-stakes accountability. Texas battled in court for years to take control of the Houston Independent School District due to low performance. So, on one hand, the state is supporting accountability for public school performance, and on the other hand, there is support for vouchers — a policy where taxpayer dollars are transferred to private schools that do not follow state accountability standards and where the state has virtually no oversight.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) is also a voucher supporter. In 2022, DeSantis signed legislation dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill that banned classroom instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity — yet, his state’s voucher program has no oversight over private school curricula. This means a private school receiving taxpayer dollars can teach about sexual orientation and gender identity without any legal recourse from the state.

In Arizona, former Gov. Doug Ducey (R) supported voucher legislation based on his belief that it would “offer all families the option to choose the school setting that works best for them.” Nevertheless, Arizona’s voucher system has been overwhelmingly used by wealthy families that were already sending their children to private schools before voucher legislation. Few low-income families could afford private school tuition and transportation with the voucher — a predictable policy shortcoming.

To make matters worse, current and pending voucher legislation could even reportedly fund racist curricula. Recently, a Nazi homeschooling group in Ohio stated they were creating “Nazi-approved homeschool material.” Under Ohio state law and many current and proposed voucher laws, states would be left powerless to intervene if a private school adopted such a curriculum.

Vouchers just do not make sense, and we should recognize that vouchers offer a false choice. What parent wants the choice to defund public education while transferring taxpayer money to unaccountable private schools that do not improve student achievement but can deny admission, discriminate against children and develop ineffective or harmful curriculum without any recourse?

David DeMatthews is an associate professor in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy at The University of Texas at Austin.

David S. Knight is an associate professor of education finance and policy at the University of Washington.

Historian Jack Schneider and journalist Jennifer Berkshire call out the hidden secret of vouchers: they steal from the public schools of the poor to fund the private and religious schools of the affluent. In state after state, 75-80% of the kids who use voucher money are already enrolled in nonpublic schools.

In an article in The Nation, Schneider and Berkshire write:

The assault on public education currently unfolding in state legislatures across the United States stands to annually transfer tens of billions of dollars from public treasuries to the bank accounts of upper-income families. Those dollars, which otherwise would have gone to public schools, will instead reimburse parents currently paying private school tuition. It’s a reverse Robin Hood scheme that Americans would hate if they fully understood what was going on.

That’s not the sales pitch, of course. As Betsy DeVos and her allies like to put it, their cause is “education freedom.” They want American families to have “options” beyond their local public schools. And their plan for creating those options is to push various forms of school vouchers. The money that otherwise would have gone to local schools, instead, would be given to families. Families could then take those dollars—sometimes loaded on an actual debit card—and spend them at whatever kind of school, or on whatever kind of educational product, they want.

There are many reasons to dislike this plan. Public schools are open to all, meaning that they can’t turn students away on the basis of characteristics like ability or identity. And public schools serve the public good. That’s why we fund them with our tax dollars—because we expect them to serve all of us.

Private schools, by contrast, can turn students away for nearly any reason, including that they have disabilities that make them more expensive to educate. As more states adopt programs that use taxpayer dollars to fund private schools, taxpayers are increasingly footing the bill for discrimination.

In Florida, for instance, a religious school that notified families this fall that LGBTQ students were no longer welcome and would be asked to leave immediately still receives more than $1.6 million a year in public funds through the state’s private school voucher program.

But school voucher plans are a raw deal not just for public schools and the students who attend them but also for taxpayers. Programs like the one jammed through by the Republican legislature in Iowa this week stand to immediately transfer massive amounts of cash directly from state treasuries to the families that least need it.

While proponents, like Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds, sold the plan as a way to give choices to poor and middle-class families, the program will chiefly subsidize the parents who already send their kids to private schools. The cost of that subsidy is significant—an estimated $340 million each year once the plan is fully phased in—and will be borne by the 500,000 students who attend the state’s underfunded public schools.

And it’s not just in Iowa that Republicans are pulling off this reverse Robin Hood maneuver. In Arizona, where lawmakers recently made all students eligible for school vouchers, 75 percent of the students who applied for the new subsidy never attended public school. The same dynamic is playing out in New Hampshire, where GOP legislators enacted an “education freedom” program over stiff public opposition. At Laconia Christian Academy, for instance, all but two families in the school took advantage of the program, pulling roughly half a million dollars out of the public treasury.

Please open the link and finish reading the entire article. It nails the essential outcome of vouchers, which may also be their purpose. They subsidize the students who never attended public schools at the expense of the public schools of the poor.

Jamelle Bouie is an opinion writer for the New York Times. He is brilliant. He writes essays about politics, philosophy, and culture. I subscribe to his opinion feed, where he writes about which books he is reading and what he’s cooking. I have never met him but I love him.

He published his thoughts about why transgender people deserve the same rights, respect, and dignity as others.

Over the past year, we have seen a sweeping and ferocious attack on the rights and dignity of transgender people across the country.

In states led by Republicans, conservative lawmakers have introduced or passed dozens of laws that would give religious exemptions for discrimination against transgender people, prohibit the use of bathrooms consistent with their gender identity and limit access to gender-affirming care.

In lashing out against L.G.B.T.Q. people, lawmakers in at least eight states have even gone as far as to introduce bans on “drag” performance that are so broad as to threaten the ability of gender-nonconforming people simply to exist in public.

Some of the most powerful Republicans in the country want to go even further. Donald Trump has promised to radically limit transgender rights if he is returned to the White House in 2024. In a video address to supporters, he said he would push Congress to pass a national ban on gender-affirming care for transgender youth and restrict Medicare and Medicaid funding for hospitals and medical professionals providing that care.

He wants to target transgender adults as well. “I will sign a new executive order instructing every federal agency to cease all programs that promote the concept of sex and gender transition at any age,” Trump said. “I will ask Congress to pass a bill establishing that the only genders recognized by the United States government are male and female, and they are assigned at birth.”

There is plenty to say about the reasoning and motivation for this attack — whether it comes from Trump, Gov. Ron DeSantis in Florida or Gov. Greg Abbott in Texas — but the important thing to note, for now, is that it is a direct threat to the lives and livelihoods of transgender people. It’s the same for other L.G.B.T.Q. Americans, who once again find themselves in the cross-hairs of an aggressive movement of social conservatives who have become all the more emboldened in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade last year.

This is no accident. The attacks on transgender people and L.G.B.T.Q. rights are of a piece with the attack on abortion and reproductive rights. It is a singular assault on the bodily autonomy of all Americans, meant to uphold and reinforce traditional hierarchies of sex and gender.

Politicians and those of us in the media tend to frame these conflicts as part of a “culture war,” which downplays their significance to our lives — not just as people living in the world, but as presumably equal citizens in a democracy.

Democracy, remember, is not just a set of rules and institutions, but a way of life. In the democratic ideal, we meet one another in the public sphere as political and social equals, imbued with dignity and entitled to the same rights and privileges.

I have referred to dignity twice now. That is intentional. Outside of certain select phrases (“the dignity of labor”), we don’t talk much about dignity in American politics, despite the fact that the demands of many groups for dignity and respect in public life have been a driving force in American history since the beginning. To that point, one of the great theorists of dignity and democracy in the United States was none other than Frederick Douglass, whose experience in bondage gave him a lifelong preoccupation with the ways that dignity is either cultivated or denied.

Douglass observed “that although dignity seems to be woven into human nature, it is also something one possesses to the degree that one is conscious of having it,” the historian Nicholas Knowles Bromell writes in “The Powers of Dignity: The Black Political Philosophy of Frederick Douglass,” “and one’s own consciousness of having it depends in part on making others conscious of it. Others’ recognition of it then flows back and confirms one’s belief in having it, but conversely their refusal to recognize it has the opposite effect of weakening one’s confidence in one’s own dignity.”

Nicole Walker, a writer and editor, in “My Abortion at 11 Wasn’t a Choice. It Was My Life.”Read the guest essay.

“It’s important that the government is in sync with the public opinion, but I don’t think they are.”

Dwyarrn, one of the participants in an Opinion focus group with 12 pro-life voters.Read the focus group’s discussion.

“Sometime soon, I am going to meet a patient who has no ability to leave the state, and I am going to have to tell her that her baby has a lethal condition, and she is going to have to carry a pregnancy to term against her will.”

David N. Hackney, a maternal-fetal medicine specialist, in “I’m a High-Risk Obstetrician, and I’m Terrified for My Patients.”Read the guest essay.

“There are more of us than there are of them. That’s especially true if American men recognize that their way of life is also under attack. Men also have sex for pleasure. This is not just a women’s issue.”

“My fellow pro-lifers and I will also need to make the case to expectant mothers, and fathers too, that their unborn children are, like the rest of us, dependent and needy persons.”

Erika Bachiochi, a conservative legal scholar, in “What Makes a Fetus a Person?”Read the guest essay.

“The overturning of Roe v. Wade reveals the Supreme Court’s neglectful reading of the amendments that abolished slavery and guaranteed all people equal protection under the law. It means the erasure of Black women from the Constitution.”

It is easy to see how this relates to chattel slavery, a totalizing system in which enslaved Black Americans struggled to assert their dignity and self-respect in the face of a political, social and economic order that sought to rob them of both. But Douglass explored this idea in other contexts as well.

Michele Goodwin, a professor of law at the University of California, in “No, Justice Alito, Reproductive Justice Is in the Constitution.”Read the guest essay.

Writing after the Civil War on women’s suffrage, Douglass asked his readers to see the “plain” fact that “women themselves are divested of a large measure of their natural dignity by their exclusion from and participation in Government.” To “deny woman her vote,” Douglass continued, “is to abridge her natural and social power, and to deprive her of a certain measure of respect.” A woman, he concluded, “loses in her own estimation by her enforced exclusion from the elective franchise just as slaves doubted their own fitness for freedom, from the fact of being looked down upon as fit only for slaves.”

Similarly, in her analysis of Douglass’s political thought — published in the volume “African-American Political Thought: A Collected History” — the political theorist Sharon R. Krause shows how Douglass “clearly believed that slavery and prejudice can degrade an individual against his will” and generate, in his words, “poverty, ignorance and degradation.”

Although Douglass never wrote a systematic account of his vision of democracy, Bromell contends that we can extrapolate such an account from the totality of his writing and activism. “A democracy,” Douglass’s work suggests, “is a polity that prizes human dignity,” Bromell writes. “It comes into existence when a group of persons agrees to acknowledge each other’s dignity, both informally, through mutually respectful comportment, and formally, through the establishment of political rights.” All of our freedoms, in Bromell’s account of Douglass, “are meanstoward the end of maintaining a political community in which all persons collaboratively produce their dignity.”

The denial of dignity to one segment of the political community, then, threatens the dignity of all. This was true for Douglass and his time — it inspired his support for women’s suffrage and his opposition to the Chinese Exclusion Act — and it is true for us and ours as well. To deny equal respect and dignity to any part of the citizenry is to place the entire country on the road to tiered citizenship and limited rights, to liberty for some and hierarchy for the rest.

Put plainly, the attack on the dignity of transgender Americans is an attack on the dignity of all Americans. And like the battles for abortion rights and bodily autonomy, the stakes of the fight for the rights and dignity of transgender people are high for all of us. There is no world in which their freedom is suppressed and yours is sustained.

This is one of the best summaries I have seen of what Republicans will do if they are elected and gain control. It’s about two minutes. Please watch and share.

She leaves out one salient point, made by Kevin McCarthy. The Republicans will cut aid to Ukraine and use the money to finish building Trump’s Great Wall (that Mexico was supposed to pay for).

The New York Times Magazine recently published a startling article about Alabama’s tax system is designed to impoverish the poor and enrich the rich. Written by Robin Kaiser-Schatzlein, the article documents why Alabama remains a poor state with a high rate of poverty and underfunded public services. If you want to read a road map to how to institutionalize extreme poverty, racism, and underdevelopment, read “Alabama Takes from the Poor and Gives to the Rich.”

The author explains that the state constitution was written in 1904 by a convention controlled by rich landowners. It capped property taxes at a low rate, which meant that any public services had to be paid for by other taxes, fines, and fees. Fines and fees are assessed for almost every interaction with government.

He writes:

In states like Alabama, almost every interaction a person has with the criminal justice system comes with a financial cost. If you’re assigned to a pretrial program to reduce your sentence, each class attended incurs a fee. If you’re on probation, you’ll pay a fee to take your mandatory urine test. If you appear in drug court, you will face more fees, sometimes dozens of times a year. Often, you don’t even have to break the law; you’ll pay fees to pull a public record or apply for a permit. For poor people, this system is a trap, sucking them into a cycle of sometimes unpayable debt that constrains their lives and almost guarantees financial hardship.

While almost every state in the country, both red and blue, levies fines and fees that fall disproportionately on the bottom rung of the income ladder, the situation in Alabama is far more dramatic, thanks to the peculiarities of its Constitution. Over a century ago, wealthy landowners and businessmen rewrote the Constitution to cap taxes permanently. As a result, today, Alabama has one of the cruelest tax systems in the country.

Taxes on most property, for example, are exceptionally low. In 2019, property taxes accounted for just 7 percent of state and local revenue, the lowest among the states. (Even Mississippi, which also has low property taxes, got roughly 12 percent from property taxes. New Jersey, by contrast, got 29 percent.) Strapped for cash, all levels of government look for money anywhere they can get it. And often, that means creating revenue from fines and fees. A 2016 studyshowed that the median assessment for a felony in Alabama doubled between 1995 and 2005, to $2,000.

How did this unjust system take root?

In 1874, less than a decade into Reconstruction, the Democratic Party, representing the landowning, formerly slave-owning class, took over the state government in a rigged election and quickly passed a new Constitution that mandated taxes on property would remain permanently low.

In the next couple of decades, as cotton prices crashed, poor sharecroppers, both white and Black, banded together in a populist movement to unseat the elites who controlled the state. In response, in another set of contested elections, the elites called another constitutional convention to further consolidate their power over the state. “What is it that we want to do?” the convention president, John B. Knox, asked. “Establish white supremacy in this state.” But this time, he said, they wanted to “establish it by law — not by force or fraud.”

People like Knox weren’t just racist; they were virulently classist, too, and hoped to exclude all poor people from the political process. The result of the 1901 Constitution was the mass disenfranchisement and subjugation of poor people — white and Black. The Constitution established the basis for a literacy test, a poll tax and stringent residency requirements. By 1943, according to the Alabama Policy Institute, an estimated 520,000 Black people and 600,000 white people had been disqualified from voting by different aspects of the 1901 Constitution. “In most counties more whites were disenfranchised than registered,” the historian Wayne Flynt writes in his authoritative book “Alabama in the Twentieth Century,” “limiting the vote to a select elite.”

This system of minority rule starved public administration in the name of small government. The result was a “government of, by and for special interests,” writes Mr. Flynt. “The citizens of Alabama did not control their government. Trial lawyers, the Business Council of Alabama, ALFA, A.E.A. and their cohorts did.” And this government went about protecting the property owned by some of the wealthiest families and businesses in the state from any meaningful taxation. In 1920, property taxes accounted for 63 percent of state revenue, but by 1978, it was down to a measly 3.6 percent. In 1992, it was below 2 percent, he writes.

Alabama is an “internal colony,” controlled by out-of-state corporations and an elite, with no interest in change, progress, equality, or justice.

Sounds un-American to me.

Veteran educator Arnold Hillman and his wife Carol retired to South Carolina. But instead of golfing, they devoted themselves to a high-poverty high school and worked directly with the students to encourage them to aspire them to go to college.

Arnold writes here about what he has learned about South Carolina:

As with the beginning of any sports season, odds makers, fans, team owners, managers and coaches and players look forward to the onset of the games. In single person sports like golf, tennis, combat sports such as real wrestling, boxing, UFC, and the martial arts, expectations are even greater.

How do successful teams, individuals and those who are in charge, manage to rise above others? Why are certain teams and individuals levels of expectations so very high? Why is it that former doormats become champions in a few short years?

There are many examples of those kind or turnarounds. How about Cassius Clay (Muhammed Ali) destroying the world champion Sonny Liston? How did the 1980 USA hockey team come from obscurity to defeat the greatest teams in the world?. For pitysake, how did the New York Mets go from nothingness to World Series Champs in 1969?

There are so many examples of these kind of things that apply to what is happening in education here in South Carolina. Let’s go back to sports for a moment. Certainly, individuals have their own expectations of how they will succeed. Whether nature or nurture, is always a question. If a group of players on a football team have their own beliefs, and they are not shared by the coach, there will be little success.

Try and explain the success of the New England Patriots and then the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. In the case of New England, players wanted to be traded there because of the level of expectations the teams always had of themselves. Tom Brady and Bill Belicheck knew how to win and how to inspire others. Mediocre players who migrated to the Pats soon became integral parts of the success of the team.

Now that Tom Brady is with the Bucs and Bruce Arians, the Coach, there is also an expectation of victories. So, they win the Super Bowl in their first year together. On the other end is the Jacksonville Jaguars, with a super quarterback and a coach who had no level of expectations.

What does this have to do with education in South Carolina? Do we ever wonder why our state is always at the bottom of any ranking list in education? The history is long and continual. Here is a site that will take you a while to read. It is, however, a clear picture of why education has not flourished in our state.

Now that you understand our history, you can see why the level of expectation for our children is so low. Pat Conroy and his “Corridor of Shame,” described the situation in many of our poor and rural school districts. He taught in one of those districts. He understood.

For some reason, it appears that those in charge of education at the state level continue to treat parts of our state in a way that encourages low expectations. Here are some historical reasons why South Carolina’s education system has floundered though the years:


“1. A strong tradition brought from England that public support for education should be limited to the poor

2. Education seen as more of the responsibility of the Church than the State

3. Attitudes of those outside the wealthy class that worked against a unified system, including low regard for learning, reluctance to accept charity through free tuition, and the need to keep children in the family labor force

4. The very high cost in the 1700s and 1800s to provide quality schools outside the citiesand coastal areas, population was sparse and transportation poor

5. Strong resistance to local taxation for schools until the late 1800s

6. Interruption of a burgeoning “common school movement” in South Carolina by the CivilWar, and the subsequent disruption of a tax base

7. Increased white resistance to the public school idea following the Reconstruction government’s attempts to open schools to all races

8. An attitude on the part of some 20th century leaders that too much education would damage the state’s cheap labor force

9. The slow growth of state supervision of the schools due to strong sentiments toward local control

10. The financial burden of operating a racially segregated system, and the social and educational impact of combining two unequal systems”


(The History of South Carolina Schools

Edited by Virginia B. Bartels

Study commissioned by the Center for Educator Recruitment, Retention, and Advancement)



These historical happenings still are partially responsible for our current education system. Low test scores in the poor and rural sections of the state confound state leadership. Therefore, they have come to expect these outcomes year after year.

Yet, in travels across the state, SCORS (South Carolina Organization of Rural Schools) has seen how those school districts and their children make huge efforts to improve education. We have worked with these children in one local high school and seen the lack of resources, lack of quality of instruction, and actual lack of teachers in math and sciences.

In many of the rural and poor school districts, there has been “white flight” to private schools, charter schools, religious schools and home schoolings. Once again the wealthier the school district, the higher they are in the rankings of school districts in the state.

So, what is left- a lack of expectations for those left in the public schools. Why, say the talking heads and misunderstanders, aren’t these schools doing better. The system is really stacked against those poor and rural folks. However, are the children really unable to learn or compete, on any level, with the lighthouse districts? You bet they can. I have seen it.

Let me give you some anecdotal evidence. Dr. Vernon (not her real name) was the superintendent of a rural school district in South Carolina. She was, in fact, a product of the public schools in SC. She came from humble beginings and rose to her position as superintendent with some help from people and a great desire to help youngsters like herself.

After 5 years as superintendent, her board changed dramatically. One of her board members said that the students test scores on certain state tests were not true and that she had elevated those test scores. The Department of Education was called in and found none of those charges to be true. Board members could not believe that the children could be this good. By the way the superintendent and board parted ways with much acrimony.

Certainly there was much politics in her leaving. She also sued the board for defamation of character and won. Was all this because the level of expectations for the poor, minority and rural children were unable to improve on their test scores?

Another anecdote centers about a student (and an excellent basketball player) was placed in a prep school outside of Philadelphia. He spent a year there as a post graduate. After the first four weeks of school, he retook the SATs and got 120 more points than he had at his old school. He got an athletic scholarship from a prestigious university.

So what does all that mean? We can tell you from my 61 years in education that there is a blanket on our poor and rural children that leads to a lack of expectations and a lack of will to help these children.

Bob Shepherd, polymath and educator, predicts the truly extraordinary goal of the far-right extremist Supreme Court. It mainly consists of dismantling the federal government’s powers. This was proclaimed by Steve Bannon in 2016 before the Trump election. In this rightwing dream, all federal laws protecting civil rights, women’s rights, climate change, etc. would disappear.

Shepherd writes:

Let me be as clear about this as I can be. My reading of what the Extreme Court has been up to is NOT that it means to do away with the doctrine of stare decisis. No. It means to establish, with Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health and West Virginia v. EPA, in this term, and with Moore v. Harper in the next term a new set of precedents designed to fulfil the conservative goals of a) shrinking the federal government down to a size at which it can be drowned in a bathtub and b) turning over power to state governments, many of which will be de facto theocracies under the new legal order. Dobbs provides a template or boilerplate for eliminating whole bodies of federal law and regulation related to unenumerated rights and with these these agencies and departments that do that regulation and enforcement. WV v. EPA is a template or boilerplate for eliminating government agencies or departments (or parts of these) that promulgate regulations pursuant to Congressional legislation on the basis of an argument that Congress can’t turn such decision-making over to Executive Branch agencies or departments because the Constitution insists that these are legislative matters. The idea, again, is to shrink the power and authority of the federal administrative state in full knowledge the fact that Congress,being divided, will not step into these various roles (will not, for example, agree on real climate change). And again, the effect of that will be, with the federal executive and legislature and courts all out of the picture, to turn all this power back to the states. And, finally, Moore will enable the court to rule that the feds cannot pass legislation to protect voting rights because determination of how voting is to be conducted is entirely up to state legislatures under this extremist reading of the Constitution. Again, the effect will be to eliminate federal power and agencies/departments and turn this all over to the states.

All this is revolutionary and is meant to be. It’s the fulfillment of a dream that conservatives in America have had for a long, long time. They have long believed in state’s rights, in the federal government being a monster not envisioned by the founders. This Extreme Court is simply making good on that.

And, btw, as with the various coup methods undertaken by Trump and his team, this has all been discussed on Steve Bannon’s War Room podcast (or whatever he wants to call it). He recently devoted much of a program to this very topic: the ways in which work is underway to completely “dismantle the administrative state.”