What’s Behind the Media Curtain?
The news was dominated at the beginning of this week by what amounts to media fanfare and click-bait: Trump’s press conference and the resignation of far-right Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopolous.
Quite honestly, while there are substantive (and misguided) First Amendment issues to unpack in the rantings and seeming missions of both, neither warrants any more airtime. They are relevant in so far as they convey what (some?) Trump supporters and conservatives believe. (A poll out of Quinnipiac University indicates that 78% of Republicans trust Trump over news reporting, despite the fact that, according to The Washington Post, Trump lies every day, most often between 4 and 6 times, consistent with his percentage of false and mostly false statements during his campaign.) Beyond that, they are media cycle distractions.
What’s happening behind this curtain of media fanfare that impacts our lives, our culture and our country?
We need to keep squinting to see through. We also need to find some solid ground and breathe before reacting. Because it is a barrage.
I believe it is intended to be a barrage: to frame Trump as a swift and decisive deliverer on campaign promises; to use Trump to pass pet agendas of Congressional Republican leadership; and to fatigue or disarm any effective resistance or opposition.
So, what’s going on — substantively?
Here are three substantive issues that highlight potential changes in directionsignaled by this administration.
Executive Order re: Deportation of Undocumented Immigrants
The executive order expands the scope of undocumented immigrants who are subject to deportation for criminal activity to include those who are charged (but not convicted) of a crime and who have “committed acts that constitute a chargeable offense.”
This potentially raises constitutional due process issues. We are (presumably) a country of laws, in which people are presumed innocent until proven guilty. The most troubling aspect of this order — and one for which I would like to see a legal advocacy group take the administration to court — is that the determination of guilt of a crime is removed from from a jury and the courts and placed within the discretion of ICE officers. I cannot see how that is constitutional, even within the broad discretion given the executive branch on immigration. Our justice system is set up with certain protections and protocols for those accused of a crime, and those protections and protocols apply to everyone accused of a crime, not just citizens. It is a feature of our judicial system, not a benefit of our individual citizenship.
As The Wall Street Journal reported, these changes mean that “almost anybody in the U.S. illegally is subject to deportation at any time.”
If this is true in practice, then the cloak of crime is truly an empty narrative spun to sell it to the portion of U.S. citizens inclined to believe it. (A not so side note: Watch the documentary 13th on Netflix about the criminalization of black men after the Civil War and the mass incarceration created by treating the drug epidemic as a crime issue rather than a health issue. Much the same narrative and tactics are present here in the immigration context.)
Underpinning the narrative is evident conflict in how execution of the order by ICE is being described by Trump and by Homeland Security, including Secretary. Trump calls it a “military operation” that’s rounding up criminals “at a rate that nobody’s ever seen before,” playing to his tough-on-crime, get-results, always-biggest-and-best narrative he spins around himself. Secretary Kelly describes the raids as consistent with previous administrations, including Obamas, placating those concerned about the efforts being unprecedented, overly broad sweeping and without due process.
Which is it? Because it can only be one.
Therein lies the tension within the Trump administration — and why we see so much chaos and media frenzy around everything. Trump speaks imprecisely, hyperbolically and in coded terms that will play to his most avid supporters, and surrogates run around attempting to explain him and his policies as both consistent with previous administrations and boldly and refreshingly renegade. Again, both cannot be true.
That — beyond the ill-advised, and in several instances likely unconstitutional, policy — is what is so maddenly head spinning and disorienting about this administration. We are being told two, obviously conflicting things at the same time and then being told they are consistent.
Transgender Bathroom Guidelines in Schools Revoked and Reverted to States
Under the Obama Administration, the Justice Department and Education Department had issued guidelines to public schools regarding the use of the bathroom (boys or girls) by transgendered students that most closely associated with their gender identity. The rationale for the guidelines was that sex discrimination laws, including Title IX (sex equity in education), which in other contexts have been found to apply to gender-identity in addition to the anatomical sex of a person, prevented schools from requiring students to use the bathroom of their biological sex at birth. A federal judge in Texas enjoined the guidelines, citing the overreach of executive and federal power into education, a matter constitutionally left to the province of the states. A case on this issue is currently pending before the Supreme Court.
The Trump administration, at the initiation of Attorney General Sessions and above dissent from Secretary of Education DeVos, revoked those guidelines, on grounds similar to those articulated by the federal judge in Texas.
A couple of things to note on this issue:
States’ rights, while on its face a legitimate constitutional argument in issues of education, have consistently and fervently been appropriated to push back against civil rights. I would argue that states’ rights has been so over-argued as a guise for discrimination and resistance to legal recognition of human rights that it belies itself as such veil. States’ rights were, in large part, conceived to allow the continuation of slavery as the economic system of the southern states. The ability to discriminate thus was built into the argument from its origins. But the argument has been used egregiously since the civil rights movement. For an understanding of how the same arguments — states’ rights, individual liberties — are being regurgitated verbatim today in the context of bathroom issues and “religious freedom” laws, I recommend revisiting the arguments in opposition to LBJ’s Civil Rights and Voting Rights acts and the Republicans’ Southern Strategy in the wake of it.
Men — biological-at-birth, pant-wearing, urinal-using, all-American men — are blatantly and disturbingly absent from analysis of this purported bathroom issue. (I say purported because (1) how absurd — a bathroom is a national controversy — and (2) I don’t believe it’s really the issue.) In all the discussions I’ve seen on this, the narrative runs incessantly around women. Transwomen (and apparently transgirls in elementary school) are a potential danger to ciswomen and cisgirls. (Cis- is the pre-fix that indicates biological-at-birth, literally meaning, did not change.) Men only come into the argument through the assumption that transwomen are deviant, and therefore, inherently harmful, men.
First, transwomen aren’t men; they’re women. They know themselves to be women; they identify as women; and as such, it’s hard to believe that they view women as prey.
Second, no where is there a discussion of potential violence by biological-at-birth, pant-wearing, urinal-using, all-American men. What are the dangers to transmen in the men’s room? I cannot say I’ve ever seen a discussion or concern about that from advocates or supporters of these sex-at-birth bathroom laws. If transwomen are men (in their argument), then it follows that transmen are women. As women, don’t they warrant the same grave concerns about their safety in a bathroom full of men?
But we hear no outrage of concern about this. Why? Because it’s not about the safety of women; it’s about policing those who are misunderstood or deemed deviant, which embeds law with religious-specific judgments.
It also conspicuously hides the locus of potential for violence against women, as played out in statistics. Violence against women is overwhelmingly perpetrated by men women know: husbands, fathers, boyfriends, friends. The threat of violence to women is at and close to home, not in public restrooms.
It is all slight of hand: to mask discrimination and violence and to codify a particular set of primarily religious judgments.
Federal School Voucher Program & Repeal of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 and the No Hungry Kid Act of 2012
From the congressional summary: “This bill repeals the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 and limits the authority of the Department of Education (ED) such that ED is authorized only to award block grants to qualified states.
“The bill establishes an education voucher program, through which each state shall distribute block grant funds among local educational agencies (LEAs) based on the number of eligible children within each LEA’s geographical area. From these amounts, each LEA shall: (1) distribute a portion of funds to parents who elect to enroll their child in a private school or to home-school their child, and (2) do so in a manner that ensures that such payments will be used for appropriate educational expenses.
“The bill repeals a specified rule that established certain nutrition standards for the national school lunch and breakfast programs. (In general, the rule requires schools to increase the availability of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat or fat free milk in school meals; reduce the levels of sodium, saturated fat, and trans fat in school meals; and meet children’s nutritional needs within their caloric requirements.)
This is Bill HR-610 and has been introduced to the House. You can follow the progress and outcome here.
This, like so much in this short digest, deserves much lengthier consideration. It raises the spector of states’ rights and free-market outcomes often proposed by the political right, and asks the question, again, of whether access and equity in education is a federal civil rights issue and whether, when faced with a national and international economy more and more rapidly disrupted by technology, a state-based education system actually serves to create sufficiently prepared citizens.
There are some sources below to get you started in thinking about it. Call your Representatives to express your views on this bill.
Dismal Voucher Results Surprise Researchers as DeVos Era Begins
Free Market for Education? Economists Generally Don’t Buy It
Urban Charter Schools Often Succeed. Surburban Ones Don’t.
It Turns Out Spending More Probably Does Improve Education
Why Betsy DeVos Won’t Be Able to Privatize Education
The Washington Post
100 Days of Trump Claims
Trump Touts Recent Immigration Raids, Calls Them A ‘Military Operation’
President Trump Is on Shaky Ground with His New Immigration Order
Trump Administration Issues New Immigration Enforcement Policies, Says Goal Is Not Mass Deportations
The Wall Street Journal
Trump Administration Tightens Deportation, Detention Law
Bureau of Justice Statistics
Female Victims of Violence
How the Southern Strategy Made Trump Possible