Tag Archives: Ta-Nehisi Coates

Obama, Trump and Governing: Armageddon or a Breath of Fresh Air?

Carrie Fisher. forever Princess Leia, passed, and a few of the online comments are poignant,

I for one hope she is not resting, but at this moment being beamed to a galaxy beyond our imaginations, where she will adventure on … There has been a profound disturbance in the Force, as if thousands of voices have cried out in sorrow. 2016 cannot end soon enough.

Yes, 2016 has been a difficult year, the passing of icons as well as another force in the galaxy, the election of Donald Trump.

The passing of the torch is not without rough edges;  Obama in an interview muses that he could have been elected to  third term, (without that pesky 22nd amendment) and Trump tweeted back, no way.

Volumes will be written parsing his eight years at the helm: was he a memorable president, or was he the professor-in-chief? An op ed in New York Times asks: Was Barack Obama Bad for Democrats?

He rescued an economy in crisis and passed the recovery program, pulled America back from its military overreach, passed the Affordable Care Act and committed the nation to addressing climate change. To be truly transformative in the way he wanted, however, his success had to translate into electoral gains for those who shared his vision and wanted to reform government. On that count, Mr. Obama failed.

Mr. Obama also offered only tepid support to the most important political actor in progressive and Democratic politics: the labor movement.

Ta-Nisi Coates, in a lengthy essay in The Atlantic, “My President Was Black,” lauds his president,

… [With a Trump win] I knew what was coming—more Freddie Grays, more Rekia Boyds, more informants and undercover officers sent to infiltrate mosques.  

And I also knew that the man who could not countenance such a thing in his America had been responsible for the only time in my life when I felt, as the first lady had once said, proud of my country, and I knew that it was his very lack of countenance, his incredible faith, his improbable trust in his countrymen, that had made that feeling possible. The feeling was that little black boy touching the president’s hair. It was watching Obama on the campaign trail, always expecting the worst and amazed that the worst never happened. It was how I’d felt seeing Barack and Michelle during the inauguration, the car slow-dragging down Pennsylvania Avenue, the crowd cheering, and then the two of them rising up out of the limo, rising up from fear, smiling, waving, defying despair, defying history, defying gravity.

For years the arguments and books and PhD dissertations will debate: Is Obama the president who set the path for a caring/safe/prosperous world, addressing the critical issues of climate change and averting a worldwide conflagration, or, an aloof scholar who lost control of Congress and lost large segments of the American people. for some, an anti-Semite supporting policies that could lead to the destruction of Israel.

Trump, also, is reviled by many and revered by others.

For the last six years of the Obama administration Congress was led by Republicans, who thwarted many of the Obama initiatives and proposed a range of bills that died in the Senate.

For the first time in decades one party, currently the Republican Party will control both houses of Congress and the White House. Yes, the Cloture Rule in the Senate requires 60 votes to bring a bill to the floor; however, cabinet nominees only require a majority vote; additionally presidents have wide ranging powers in rule-making and establishing foreign policy. been

I have spoken with Trump supporters who argue that for decades Democratic administrations have created more and more entitlement programs. Social Security Disability Insurance, SNAP (food stamps), Medicaid and a host of others. They argue that entitlement programs discourage recipients from ever seeking employment setting up generational poverty dependent programs as well as unsustainable debt.

“The only way we can break the cycle of poverty is to force those dependent on the programs to seek employment and that will only happen if government sharply reduces the benefits, yes, there may be ‘hard years,’ in the long run we will benefit the entire nation.”

I have doubts, serious doubts about this approach, I read widely about a guaranteed national income; a discussion for another time

A swash-buckling, saber-rattling president, aggressive generals in leading policy positions, cabinet members antithetic to the department they are tasked to run and deficit hawks wanting to reduce the debt at all cost, and a president threatening tariffs to squeeze trading opponents.

is Trump the “right” leader; leadership has been the subject of debate for a millennium.

In the thirteenth century Catholic theologian and philosopher St. Thomas Aquinas wrote,

If it is natural for man to live in a numerous society, it is necessary that their should be provision for ruling such a society. Where there are many men and each seeks that which is agreeable to himself, the group will soon fall apart unless there is someone who cares for these things that concern the good of the aggregate …

In addition to that which works for the private advantage of each there should be something that acts for the common good of the many …

If the multitude is governed by a ruler for their common good, the government is right and just and appropriate … if the government is directed not to the common good, but to the private good of the ruler, then it is unjust and perverted. (St Thomas Aquinas, Concerning the Rule of Princes (1266)

Twentieth century Protestant theologian Reinhold Niebuhr also mused over the role of governmental leadership.

Niebuhr maintains that “…it may be taken as axiomatic that great disproportions of power lead to injustice,” and he adds “…the larger the group the more certainly will it express itself selfishly in the total community.” This is because “…it will be more powerful and therefore more able to defy  any social restraints which might be devised.” He insists that “…there has never been a scheme of justice in history which did not have a balance of power  at its foundation.” But he sees danger also in the balancing of power with the possibility of anarchy.”

He concludes that “… a healthy society must seek to achieve the greatest possible equilibrium of power, the greatest possible number of centers of power, the greatest possible social checks upon the administration of power, and the greatest possible inner moral check on human ambition, as well as the most effective use of forms of power in which consent and coercion are compounded.” (Reinhold Niebuhr on Politics, 1960).

Will the Trump administration work for the “common good of the many” or, will he work for “the private good of the ruler,” and, if so, according to Aquinas,  he will be  “unjust and perverted.”

Will our next administration evidence “the greatest possible equilibrium of power … the greatest possible social checks … the great possible inner moral checks on human ambition?”

As we edge toward the new year a gloom has descended, the deaths of iconic Americans compounded by fear, fear that our new president will drive the nation, and perhaps the world towards an Armageddon.  Most of us ignore the other side of the coin, the Trump supporters who see a new awakening, a potential sea change in the direction of the country.

I have no idea who is correct. The polls had Hillary comfortably in the lead, the New York Times gave her a 93% chance of winning two weeks before the election and an 83% chance on election day. Why were the pollsters so wrong? Why were the “experts,” the sages who dominate the air waves and opinion columns so off course? Is our future as bleak as The New Yotk Times forecasts?

The ultimate poll will be the American people, the “wisdom of crowds; from 140-character tweets to governing is a huge leap. In mid-March we will reach the debt ceiling limit, in prior years the White House and the Congress negotiated a way around the crises: not this time. Our new president and the Republican Congress will make every attempt to use the “crisis” to “balance the budget,” proposing  sharp reductions in entitlement programs ranging from Medicare to food stamps to Social Security. Perhaps the “crowd” will agree, these are necessary to avert economic ruin, or, the fickle “crowd,” that elected president-elect Trump will rise up in anger.

A divided America, some seeing dark clouds and a treacherous future, others rays of sunlight. I’m keeping my umbrella handy.

New York Schools Are the Most Segregated in the Nation: Are There Remedies? Is There the Political Will to Implement Remedies? And, Does School Integration Matter without Economic Equality?

n May, 2014 the UCLA Civil Rights Project issued a deeply disturbing report: Brown at 60: Great Progress, a Long Retreat and an Uncertain Future , the nation was slowly but surely moving away from integration to increasingly segregated schools.

In the unanimous Supreme Court decision, Brown v Board of Education (1954), the court ruled that “separate is inherently unequal,” and, the nation, albeit slowly, moved toward ending segregated schools. In reluctant states the courts ordered desegregation plans that were monitored by the courts. As court-ordered and court -enforced integration spread throughout the South the demographics in the nation continued to change, white populations declined, black populations rose and Latino populations skyrocketed.

Six decades of “separate but equal” as the law of the land have now been followed by six decades of “separate is inherently unequal” as our basic law. The Brown decision set large changes and political conflicts in motion and those struggles continue today.

In little more than four decades, enrollment trends in the nation’s schools (between 1968 and 2011) show a 28% decline in white enrollment, a 19% increase in the black enrollment, and an almost unbelievable 495% percent increase in the number of Latino students.

At the peak, 44% of black … students were in majority-white schools, the kind of schools that provided strong potential opportunities for diverse learning experiences. By 2011, that number had declined to 23%, a drop by nearly half, and the decline has accelerated in recent

The most striking element in the report, the state with the most segregated schools: New York State.

How could a state that prides itself as the most progressive state in the nation, one of the first states to pass a marriage equality law, a massive and progressive Medicaid system, both a governor and a mayor with deep progressive roots, also house the most segregated school system in the nation?

How can the state and the city begin to remedy the issue?

And, perhaps a deeper discussion, should the goal be to racially integrate schools? Is the goal of a racially integrated society still relevant sixty years after the Brown decision?

After page after page, chart after chart the report makes a series of recommendations:

* We recommend substantial expansion of magnet school funding,
strong civil rights policies for charter schools, serious incentives for regional collaboration, and teacher training for diverse and racially changing schools.

Are these recommendations the responsibility of the states or the federal government? What does the report mean by “strong civil rights policies for charter schools”? Does the report support federal funds for creating integrated charter schools? With a Republican Congress the recommendations are illusory.

* We … recommend that the Administration create a joint HUD, Justice Department, and Education Department staff assigned to work with experts outside government in devising a plan to support durable integration in communities and schools in the many racially changing suburbs, in gentrifying city neighborhoods, and in other locations.

Why would states accept the advice of “experts” to devise a plan to “support durable integration”? States look upon the federal government as intrusive, for example, the last seven years of the Obama investigation.

* We recommend that regional educators, researchers, urban planners and civil rights groups examine the results of various forms of regional cooperation in order to devise plans for regional magnets and student and faculty transfers. State officials could consider incentives or requirements for regional collaboration.

Once again the responsibility to “reduce racial isolation” lies with the states. Independent school districts are deeply entrenched in our history – school boards have not ignored “regional collaboration,” school boards have set up walls to continue racial isolation.

* We recommend that researchers, education writers, educational officials and leaders, education associations, teachers and teachers organizations begin to very actively communicate with the larger society about the vast opportunity gaps that exist and the costs of isolating disadvantaged children from middle class students and from students of other races in schools often overwhelmed by problems they did not cause and cannot completely overcome by themselves.

Asking the professional education community to “very actively communicate with the larger community” is beyond the scope of the role of educators. Barriers to integration are complex and in many cases did not happen by accident.

* [Educators] need to recommend systems of assessment and rewards that would keep good teachers in low-income minority schools rather than drive them out. They need to work very hard on broadening the diversity in their own ranks, which would entail a comprehensive effort of colleges of education, state education agencies, and teachers’ unions examining the ways in which the teaching preparation pipeline may lose teaching candidates of color. And they need, right now, to demand a voice in decisions which have been too often made in recent decades by politicians, foundation leaders, and others without any knowledge of the actual challenges facing schools segregated by race, poverty and language.

The New York City school system supports an “open market” transfer system, any teacher can transfer to any school and thousands of teachers avail themselves of the plan – a plan that encourages teachers to move from “low-income minority schools” to higher achieving schools. The current required pre-service teacher certification exams have resulted in significantly higher failure rates among applicants of color. These policies are the antithesis of the recommendation supra. To recommend that educators
“demand a voice” to counter decisions made by “politicians, foundation leaders, and others without a knowledge of the actual challenges” is an incredible burden in the era of Arne Duncan and the reformers’

The report concludes,

But a real celebration should also involve thinking seriously about
why the country has turned away from the goal of Brown and accepted deepening polarization and inequality in our schools. It is time to stop celebrating a version of history that ignores our last quarter century of retreat and to begin make new history by finding ways to apply the vision of Brown in a transformed, multiracial society in another century.

Ta-Nehisi Coates, in his brilliant and deeply troubling book, Between the World and Me (August, 2015) would disagree with the goal of racial integration of schools; he would abjure the “vision of Brown in a transformed, multiracial society ….” For Coates, “White America is a syndicate arrayed to protect exclusive power to dominate and control our bodies. Sometimes this power is direct (lynching) and sometimes it insidious (redlining). But however it appears, the power of domination and exclusion is central to the belief in being white, and without it “white people” would cease to exist for want of reasons.”

For Coates the concept of integration is a sham.

The New York City Council is strongly advocating that the Department of Education pursue integration policies. The School Diversity Accountability Act requires, “…[a report that] will include extensive school-by-school data, down to the grade level (and within specialized programs like gifted and talented programs), as well as the Department’s specific efforts and initiatives to strengthen diversity.” that is due in December, 2015.

Over the remainder of the school year school the issue of school integration will move to the forefront: expect a major and wide ranging debate.