Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Betsy DeVos Is Not a Dope (With Betsy DeVos Reader)

From the grizzly bear jokes of her confirmation hearing, to late night television lampoons, to satire from the Onion and Borowitz, DeVos has become an easy mark. Everyone's in on the joke. Do the budget numbers not add up? It's that  wacky Betsy DeVos having trouble with math.

I've said this before-- it's a huge mistake to think Betsy DeVos is a dope. She is something else ay more dangerous. I've been reading her word and a ton of words about her for a year (and you can, too-- I've included an exhaustive reading list at the end of this piece), and while any game of armchair psycho-analysis has to come with huge caveats (like "I could be completely full of bovine fecal matter"), DeVos seems very much of a type that I've known my whole life, and it makes her both familiar and scary.

Betsy and I are of the same era, just eight months age difference between us, graduating high school in 1975. Our cohort includes Scott Adams, Brad Bird, Laura Branigan, Berke Breathed, LeVar Burton, Steve Buscemi, Dan Castellaneta, Andrew Dice Clay, Katie Couric, Bill Cowher, Daniel Day- Lewis, Michael Clarke Duncan, Bill Engvall, Stephen Fry, Nick Hornby, Jon Lovitz, Kelly McGillis, Donny Osmond, Kevin Pollack, Ray Romano, Michael W. Smith, Eddie Van Halen, Sid Vicious, Vanna White, Hans Zimmer, and, yes, Osama bin Laden. We are theoretically Baby Boomers, but we are the tail end of the generation. The US pulled out of Vietnam just in time to let us ignore the draft. And our older brethren, the Woodstock and protest march crowd looked a little silly to us; many of us suspected that they were kind of full of shit. Ideals were nice and all, but they seemed to have passed us a world that had scrambled old rules while not giving us much guidance. We were the guys having discussions in our college dorm rooms about whether or not it was okay to hold a door for a woman, and if it were okay for a woman to yell at us if we did. We were more cynical than idealistic; consequently, I have always known people my own age who wanted to rewind right past all of that to a God-sanctioned rule-bounded age of moral certainty. It felt as if we were living in age of painted cardboard, and so some of us longed for an age of steely solid certainty. I knew young women  who were probably young Betsy's, like the student who, offered a gifted class course of study of comparative religion, replied, "Why would we study those other religions? They're all wrong."

We are all sixty-or-so now, which means we are well-settled into our missions in life. It's easy to forget this about the well-preserved Betsy (we are, most of us, well preserved-- we're practical that way), but this is not a woman who's looking for a direction in her life, but a woman ready to take her life's work to its next level, maybe even its culmination.

She's not a politician, and she never has been. Politicians above all else respect and support the whole political game, the structures and traditions of what P. J. O'Rourke calls "unearned power." Politicians may scrap and fight over the chess board, but they honor an unspoken agreement to never flip over the table.

But DeVos is not a politician. She  (like many of her Trumpian fellow travelers) doesn't value the board and the table-- in fact, she believes they are actually part of the problem. Tell her that her actions threaten to tear apart the foundation of traditional order and she will simply smile that self-satisfied supremely smug smile and say, "Good."

Mind you, she is not a chaos muppet like her President. rump is prime boomer, like Bush II and Clinton secure in the boomer notion that if I want to do it, and I'm a righteous person, then whatever I want to do must be okay. Only with Trump, narcissism replaces "righteous person" with "only real person that exists." In many ways, Trump is the boomer id on very bad drugs. But that's an essay for another day.

And that's not the Class of '75. We have goals and we remain suspicious of our older brethren's unmoored moral compass. So DeVos is not a chaos muppet. She is Ernie, not Bert. She answers to a higher power, and she works in pursuit of a more important moral order.

An evangelical friend explained to me once that society started to go (literally) to hell when the church lost control of the major institutions. If we are going to fix our society, the church has to take those institutions back, and schools would be a great place to start. Talk to a lot of religious right and you were hear echoes of an idea that there was a Better Time in the past when Jesus's people ran the schools and the government and health care and plenty else. (Do not try to pin them down about when that time was, or try to argue that history shows no such place-- the books and the history and the so-called learning have all been infiltrated by the Godless hedonists who have written the church out of its rightful place in American history.)

DeVos has (just keep inserting disclaimers about my suppositions and best armchair interpretations) a clear idea of how the world is supposed to work, and what has gone wrong.

Here's how the world is supposed to work.

God has created means for sorting out people in a way that reflects His justice. People who make good health choices end up healthy. People who make proper relationship choices end up with families that please Him. People who choose well in life and honor Him will be rewarded with wealth and prosperity. People who end up holding the shitty end of the stick are only getting the just punishment they deserve, and if it stings, that because the pain is supposed to spur them to better life choices.

Here is how the world got screwed up.

Opportunistic Godless humanists sold the lie that our government was not supposed to be Christian, but some sort of Godless humanist state. Then, they bought votes by giving money to the poor and the sick and the rest of the Lower Classes. This act is a violation of God's law, a heretical attempt to thwart God's law with human action. Imagine that you were trying to discipline your child for some sort of serious misbehavior, and just as you had grounded that child for a month and encouraged them to think about what they've done, someone else busted in and gave your child a pony. That's what social programs look like to these folks.

So many modern institutions have been overrun by this Godless approach. God gives the rich and powerful dominion over parts of his world, and These People get in the way. Corporate leaders should be free to use their superior judgment to run their companies without interference from unions (a group of lower class laborers who don't know their place) or government regulations (produced by selfish money-grubbing people who relish the power they don't deserve to have). Capitalism is God's way of sorting out the Good from the Poor (that famous invisible hand is His). Communism is "godless" precisely because it interferes with God's will.

And God is not racist. Is it really racist to note that white folks have always stood at the forefront of a better society, of a world that more effectively brings kingdom gains? It's not that they don't believe in equality-- they do. But "equality" means that everyone has the opportunity to rise (or sink) to their appropriate level. Black and brown people can rise to higher levels-- they just have to prove they deserve it. And if that's harder for Their Kind-- well, that's not our fault is it. Society is suffering from attempts to give minorities unearned elevations (as exemplified by having the White House captured by a man who had no right to be there at all). DeVos has been consistently unable to imagine when the government should step in to protect the rights of minorities; she cannot shake the idea that such protection is a violation, that people who have lived good and righteous lives and made good choices should have nothing to fear.

So what is to be done?

God must be put back in charge, through the work of his most trusted servants. Unions should be crushed. Government powers should be made subordinate to the powers exercised by righteous servants of God. The church must take back the schools, which means that the public schools must be cut down, killed off. Like black and brown and poor folks, public schools should have the chance to rise if they do things the Right Way. But in the meantime, government must stop taking money away from the deserving people who earned it just to throw it away on Those People. Instead, if we could just harness the power of public tax dollars and direct them to private, Christian schools.

That's why Choice is paramount. Every parents should be free to choose a school that best fits their child, that puts their child in a place they belong, that is appropriate to their station. Future laborers should learn how to best serve their future employers, who should have a large say in how the schools can best serve their corporate needs. Some schools can best serve Those People by providing them with the discipline and control that they need in order to best serve society.

People should get what they deserve. No less, and no more.

And government should stay out of it-- if you answer to God, you don't need to answer to anyone else.

This is the secret of DeVos's apparent ignorance-- she doesn't know things because she doesn't need to know them. She already knows How the World Works, and after sixty years, she is well-practiced in blocking out the voices of a secular world that is lost, Godless, just plain wrong. DeVos was born into wealth and married into more wealth, and while some of us may look at that and see enormous luck, to DeVos it must seem obvious that she and her family are favored by, chosen by God. Every ornate chandelier and giant yacht is just further proof that they are on the right track, that they are good with God, that they are right. Just as DeVos could not think of any lesson that could be learned from the application of her education policies in Michigan, she is unlikely to think of areas where her understanding is poor and she needs the help of human experts. Experts in the things of this world who are not of the church are no experts at all. God gave her family that money to spend with the understanding that they-- and not some government functionary-- know best how to spend it. (And, incidentally, where others may see failure and chaos in Michigan and Detroit, DeVos sees water finally finding its own level, human capital being sorted into its appropriate bins).

Again, DeVos is not a politician. She is an advocate and a warrior. She has no interest in political give and take, in some sort of compromise that serves all stakeholders, because from her view, some stakeholders don't deserve to be stakeholders and as for US politics-- well, when it can be harnessed as a tool, that's fine, but you don't make deals with the devil. She famously admitted that they were buying influence and she's okay with that, because you can't corrupt a corrupt system, and you don't have to explain yourself to your Lessers-- particularly when they are allied with Satan.

As for managing her bad PR...

Betsy DeVos is not a dope. If you are on her side, tight with God and Jesus, then you already know that, and you know just what she is. If you aren't, then she doesn't really see any reason to explain herself to you. She doesn't need to have a conversation about you to achieve mutual understanding. She has spent a lifetime acquiring the power and position to win this battle for God and the Right and she doesn't need to understand the forces that she plans to trample with brute force (and really-- trying to understand Those People is just opening yourself up to the voice of Satan, and that's always a bad ides-- you know they're wrong and what else do you need to know).

I'll say again-- this is by no means all Christians or even all conservative Christians. I know people who believe much of this and yet can still have plenty of normal conversations with other, non-Christian humans. But of course none of them are incredibly wealthy and powerful, and there's nothing quite like wealth and power to insulate you from any need to interact with people Not Like You.

DeVos does not want to watch the world burn just for giggles. But there is much that she would like to tear down so that God's kingdom, white and happy and orderly, with everyone and everything in their proper places, can be raised up instead. She's almost sixty years old; nobody is going to talk her out of it.

Final disclaimer. I could be completely full of it. But here's a collection of some of the best writing about DeVos. Bookmark it; come back and work your way through it. And understand that Betsy DeVos is not a harmless incompetent ditz.

Religion Dispatches: Dutch Treat: Betsy DeVos and the Cjristian Schools Movement

Advancing God's Kingdom: Calvanism, Calvin Colege, and Betsy DeVos

Alternet: The DeVos Family: Meet the Super-Wealthy Right-Wingers Working with the Religious Right To Kill Public Education

New Yorker: Betsy DeVos and the Plan To Break Pubic Schools

Hidden Roots: Betsy DeVos's Educational Policies

Edushyster in DeVosland

Slate: How Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos Could Gut Public Education

Alternet: Betsy DeVos's Vision Goes Way Beyond Prinvatizing Education

Jacobin: Education, Privatization, Charters, Public Schools and Betsy DeVos

Progressive: The Long Game of Betsy DeVos

Politico: How Betsy and Dick DeVos Used God and Amway to Take Over Michigan Politics

Washington Post: Betsy DeVos Ties To Reformed Christian Community\

Mother Jones: Betsy DeVos Wants To Use America's Schools To Build God's Kingdom

New York Times: Betsy DeVos and God's Plans for School

Religion News: Faith Facts about Betsy DeVos

Rewire: DeVos Family Promoting Christian Orthodoxy

Betsy DeVos: Religion and Free Market View of Schools

Religion and Profit in the War on Education

Huffington Post: Betsy DeVos and Potters House Christian School


  1. I think you've painted a very accurate picture of DeVos. I've been saying since George W. Bush that it's a mistake to laugh at the "incompetence" of the right, especially the religious right. What amazes me about the religious right, though, is how much of their own supposedly sacred text they have to overlook to believe this sort of "prosperity gospel". The Bible is very clear about the hazards of money, wealth and arrogance. Personally, I'm agnostic, but I'm kind of pulling for Christianity because I'd really like to see the faces of those people surprised to find themselves amongst the goats at the final reckoning. (I'm also kind of partial to Buddhism, because I'd like to see them all come back as poor black or Muslim kids.)

  2. "Politicians may scrap and fight over the chess board, but they honor an unspoken agreement to never flip over the table."

    Public education is supposed to be the path to American success for emigrants and those in poverty. That was Dewey's promise; he was a table flipper too. That has been the promise of generations of educational reformers who moved the pieces around since. Considering our rising inequality and poor cultural assimilation though, those ideas have not panned out.

    CS Lewis said, "We all want progress, but if you're on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn; in that case, the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive."

    I happen to think it's time to turn over the tables again.

    1. What Dewey wanted was that the goal of education be "the realization of one's full potential and the ability to use those skills for the greater good". Do you not believe in that? What do you want the "about-turn" to go back to? Training students for work by providing them with a limited set of skills and information to do a particular job? Educating only students who want to go to college? Only the wealthy getting a good education?

      Progressive ideals were only in vogue in the 60's and 70's. Ever since then the reformsters have been trying to "flip the table" and take us back to those other three goals.

      Education hasn't helped with inequality because public education funding has been being starved, laws have been made to foment economic disparities, and integration of schools stopped being implemented.

      And in this country the problem isn't that immigrants aren't assimilating culturally, it's that some people refuse to let them be part of the society, period.

  3. Another one for the collection. Thanks.

  4. My neighboring district just threw a propaganda party for the Secretary, replete with SBAC, CTE and AVID cheerleading, photo ops. This may signal the the next phase of infiltration; soft-selling charter-lite already existing in public schools.

    U.S. Secretary of Education visits McMinnville High School


    Secretary Betsy DeVos said she came to McMinnville because she read a news article about high achievement in the district and wanted to see for herself what led to that success.


  5. I believe that Ms. DeVos critics are seriously underestimating her abilities. They do so at their peril.