The “Sacred” Right to College

One of the cries of the left, not just the far left, unfortunately, has been a clamor for “free” college educations and even a forgiving of college-incurred debt. As someone who has raised college-educated offspring, who has taught on the collegiate level, and who is married to a university professor, I’m strongly opposed to both.

Why?

Because it would not only be a tremendous waste of money and resources, but because it would be absolutely the wrong thing to do. Obviously, I believe that a college education is valuable, but it’s not valuable to everyone. I also believe that while a college education should not be a blanket right, it should not be denied to anyone on the basis of race, color, creed, or economic background.

Unhappily, far too many incoming college students are not only lacking in basic skills, but also don’t know how to work intellectually, don’t want to do the hard work necessary to learn higher level skills, and don’t seem to want to learn anything that doesn’t interest them. But university administrations seem determined to increase their numbers, rather than to increase the quality of the education provided. Rather than flunking out the uninterested and the lazy, the pressure mounts on faculty, especially at public institutions, to provide watered-down “edutainment.”

This emphasis deprives the better and more motivated students of the best education that they could have while saddling those merely “processed” through the system with debts that they cannot pay and a pricey and close to useless “credential.” The result of doing this for the last fifty years has been degree inflation, so that additional education at additional cost is required in many fields as more of a “screening tool” than for work-related requirements.

Now, a college degree has become the panacea for economic inequality and the optimal way to assure a “better” life for one’s children. For the fortunate, highly intelligent, and well-connected, it usually is, but not always. Given the skyrocketing cost of higher education, and the even higher cost of graduate degrees such as law and medicine, the inexorable result is that as many as half of those graduates are so burdened by debt that they can barely make ends meet… and that’s without house payments or the cost of having children.

The political reaction is to forgive all that debt. Unfortunately, that will ensure the continuation of creating more graduates who cannot find jobs in their field of study. It will also increase the federal debt, which is fast reaching unsustainable levels, unless taxes are increased. While those on the left claim that higher real incomes of those graduates will contribute to higher tax revenues, that assumption rests on such jobs being continually created… and that’s highly unlikely.

As I’ve noted previously, the United States is producing roughly twice as many college graduates annually as there are jobs for them. The scientist and historian Peter Turchin terms this the “overproduction of elites” and has pointed out that such “overproduction” over history has always led to severe societal unrest, if not worse, as in the case of the French and Russian revolutions, because, in time, a significant number of those who view themselves as elites but who do not get elite jobs and income reject the “system” and enlist the help of the economically disenfranchised to attack the elites. In a sense, that was the whole message of the Trump presidency, beginning with Trump himself, who has always felt that the “elite of the elites” minimized him.

Over time, college can’t be for everyone. The question that needs to be asked isn’t how everyone can go to college, but who should attend, and for what reason, because assuming that everyone can and should go is an expensive proposition that isn’t working and that will become more unworkable every year.

The Party of “NO!”

What Democrats – and everyone else besides Republicans – fail to understand is that Republicans are opposed to any real improvement in government or the condition of anyone, including themselves. They don’t even like the status quo; it’s too “progressive” for them.

They’ve cheered every time that Trump rolled back environmental protections. They cheered when the Supreme Court declared that unlimited money could speak in elections, the way it did in the time of the Robber Barons of the 1890s. They initially even opposed the removal of lead from gasoline and warnings on the carcinogenic effects of tobacco. They opposed the clean-up of hazardous waste sites. They’ve consistently tried to minimize the voting rights of pretty much everyone but white males. They’ve opposed giving women equal rights to men under law. They’ve opposed affordable health care and worked to remove the prohibition on charging more or refusing health care coverage for individuals with pre-existing conditions. Now, it even appears that Republicans even oppose fair elections, or at least any fair election that they don’t win.

The list of what Republicans oppose is almost endless. At present, I can’t think of a single positive measure that Republicans have seriously proposed in recent years.

What this means is that there likely won’t be any legislative compromises in the coming session of Congress. That’s because stopping any forward movement on almost anything is viewed as a victory by Republicans. The notable exception is tax cuts, because any tax cut limits federal spending and puts money in their pockets.

Unless the Democrats win both seats in the Georgia Senate run-off elections, Mitch McConnell will halt virtually all legislation that might benefit poor working Americans, and he and most Republicans will see that as a victory.

They aren’t looking forward to creating a better United States; they’re looking backward to an America that never was… and close to half of the United States agrees with them.

Facing Reality

There’s been much talk about the President not facing reality… and that’s obvious… and unfortunate. It’s already led to street violence between Biden supporters and Trump partisans who can’t and won’t accept the fact that Trump lost in a free and fair election. Trump is fomenting the illusion that the election was stolen because that illusion preserves his power. No great surprise there.

But there’s another illusion, one less obvious, that could prove far more dangerous over the years to come… that’s the failure of the Democratic Party to understand that, in all practical terms, it lost the election of 2020, if narrowly.

In an election where the Republican Party ticket was headed by a lying, crooked, misogynistic racist, who mishandled the greatest pandemic in a century, and whose mishandling resulted in enormous economic damage to the entire country and especially to the poorest segments of society, the Democrats lost seats in the House of Representatives, and so far have failed to gain enough seats to capture control of the Senate (despite the fact that 23 Republican Senators were up for re-election and only 12 Democrat Senate seats were on the ballot). Democrats also lost ground overall in state-level elections.

If this was the best the Democrats could do against a ticket headed by Donald Trump, unless the Democratic Party does a complete overhaul of its strategy and messaging, the 2022 mid-term election will be a disaster for Democrats. Some perceptive Democrats have already voiced that concern, but the loud voices of the “progressive” wing of the party seem to be prevailing for the moment.

One well-known and progressive F&SF writer has publicly opposed the idea that “‘defund the police’ should be called something else.” That author goes on to say, “This argument is the same tactic that misogynists use re feminism and racists re BLM, derailing conversations on substance into pedantic nonsense about the name.”

Frankly, while I respect the author and that author’s work, the comment misses the point that any author should know. Words and labels matter. People are overwhelmingly in favor of the “Affordable Care Act,” but a majority oppose “Obamacare.” And too many don’t know that the two are exactly the same thing.

The columnist and author Carl Bernstein [one of the two who uncovered the Watergate conspiracy that ended the Nixon Presidency] has observed that Donald Trump has ignited the “civil cold war” into a hot civil war. And in war, labels become “truths” even when they’re not true at all.

James Clyburn, the black U.S. Congressman whose endorsement ignited Joe Biden’s candidacy has said, “Make headway, not headlines.” And he’s right. When rhetoric gets in the way of accomplishment, it’s time to ditch the rhetoric.

Several others have claimed that progressive Democrats won, while centrist Democrats lost. That’s not quite accurate. Progressive Democrats won progressively inclined districts; they lost ground in less progressive districts. To obtain enough power to change things, they need to win both.

Whether Democrats really understand this or will do anything about it remains to be seen.

Words For Democrats

Joe Biden got a personal mandate to do his best to unite the country, but the voters delivered a very different message to the Democratic Party. Voters don’t want radical change, and they especially don’t like radical rhetoric. They didn’t like Trump’s inflammatory statements, and they didn’t like what they heard from the far left of the Democratic Party, and what they did hear resulted in losses in the U. S. House and the squandering of an opportunity to flip the Senate.

Now, I just heard a newly elected Democrat Congressman dispute that, saying that the progressive movement elected Joe Biden and that candidates should be free to choose the message that galvanizes their own voters. I agree with the second point, as well as the fact that Biden wouldn’t have been elected without progressive votes, but what the Congressman ignores is that Biden also couldn’t have won with just progressive votes. He also said that he didn’t see how such slogans would matter in other districts. There… I disagree. Given today’s communications systems, Republicans and Democrats alike have taken words and slogans from anywhere in the U.S. and weaponized them. The Republicans were far more effective… and used lies effectively to make people see red, literally and figuratively.

What Democrats need to do is to craft their message in ways that don’t do that to their opponents while still maintaining their goals and positions. As I’ve written more than a few times before, Democrats are too often totally tone-deaf in choosing their slogans and rhetoric. They pick or adopt phrases and terms that, while they resonate within their own groups, absolutely alienate the majority of the body politic.

“Defund the Police” is an example. First, the very words frighten most whites and many others, while unnecessarily angering most police officers. Second, those words misstate the aim of the movement. What those behind the movement want is not to reduce policing, but to reduce bad policing and police brutality, to incorporate better community relations, to develop better strategies and tactics for avoiding confrontation, to develop expertise in dealing with individuals with mental problems [rather than immediately shooting them]… in short, to improve policing so that police force is a last resort rather than the immediate option. But no one simply wanted to rally behind “Improve Policing!”

A second area is health care. Millions of people need affordable healthcare, but right now, government healthcare replacing private insurance isn’t going to fly economically, politically, or practically, and endorsing it raises the spectre of “socialized medicine,” a spectre that a number of Democrat politicians have said cost the party seats in the House and Senate. It also fails to address the real problems, which include the sky-high cost of healthcare itself, the lack of adequate healthcare at all in too many rural and inner city areas, and the high cost of medical education, which forces doctors out of lower-paying medical practices such as in rural areas, or in family/general practice. Making healthcare insurance cheaper and expanding availability while not addressing costs is a recipe for disaster.

Taxes are another area where the Democrats blew it. Raising taxes in any form and on anyone just doesn’t resonate well with most of the electorate, besides which, the tax rates themselves aren’t the real problem and increasing them won’t raise that much money, not without other reforms. The problem is all the special treatments in the tax code. Non-renewable resources can get up to a fifteen percent “depletion” allowance – effectively reducing taxable income by fifteen percent. That’s a subsidy pure and simple, and the tax code is filled with such subsidies. That’s one of the principal reasons why companies and millionaires often don’t pay taxes. Merely increasing tax rates on high earners is likely to be a cosmetic measure that won’t do much at all to increase tax revenues from billionaires, or corporations, but which will scare everyone else.

The Green New Deal and a confused message on energy and environmental issues definitely hurt the Democrats in energy-producing regions… and it was unnecessary. All they had to do was to press for economically-efficient clean energy… and insist that fossil fuels meet clean air standards – which is all they’d ever be able to get out of Congress anyway… if that. But the “progressives” pushed hard for the “Green New Deal” and that alone hurt the Democrats badly in Texas and in other energy-producing areas.

As I’ve also written before, the Democrats need to gain power before they start pressing for radical change. Pressing for such change without power is a sure way to assure that you don’t get power in the Congress, where all changes in law have to occur – and so far they don’t have that power, and likely won’t get it, even if they manage to win both run-off elections in Georgia.

While replacing Trump will improve a great many things, what it won’t do is improve the laws. For that, you need control of both House and Senate, which is looking highly unlikely. And if the Democrats don’t stay focused and united, matters will get even worse… both for the party and the country.

And A Few Words for Republicans

To begin with, stop trying to thwart the will of the electorate. While Donald Trump certainly has the legal “right” to lie [so long as it’s not under oath], to create frivolous lawsuits, and to keep the incoming Administration in the dark for as long as possible, that doesn’t make it right, and it’s certainly not good for the country…and you don’t have to go along with it.

But then, much of what the Republican Party has done in this election hasn’t been good for the country. You’ve whipped up the old-line conservatives, the misogynists, the ultra-conservatives, the rednecks, and the non-college-educated white males into a rage with lies about what the Democrats haven’t done, won’t do, and can’t do. That was enough to trim the Democrat majority in the House and will likely retain your hold on the Senate.

Now you’re pandering to a lying, narcissistic, bullying crook by supporting unsupported charges of non-existent voting fraud, an effort which strongly appears to resemble an attempted coup at worst and delaying and attempting to undermine the transition to a new Administration at best.

All this is, of course, a culmination of the past four years, where the majority of Republican accomplishments were largely destructive, based on an unthinking visceral attempt to gut anything accomplished by the previous administration, regardless of the impact on the country, the economy, public health, or the environment. So far as I can determine, the majority of the positive Republican “accomplishments” in the past four years consisted of a tax bill that provided small tax cuts to most Americans and enormous tax cuts to the wealthy and a modest criminal justice reform bill.

The trade war with China hurt U.S. farmers more than it punished China; China just bought soybeans and other crops elsewhere. The costs of parts and components manufactured in China went up, and so did the prices of U.S. products incorporating them. Despite promising a better health care plan for four years, no plan was ever even drafted. Being against masks and not taking Covid-19 seriously for most of the past year showed a total lack of positive leadership, with the possible exception of speeding up the development of a vaccine. The “deregulation” effort increased air and water pollution and added to the U.S. contribution to global warming. The great Trump wall largely consisted of rebuilding existing barriers and was funded, likely illegally in part, by shifting federal funds Congress allocated to other uses, while the most notable feature of immigration efforts was to rip infants and children from their parents.

Foreign policy, if it can be called that, consisted of being friendly to dictators and other authoritarian governments, while attacking and/or minimizing long-time allies, and, of course, steadfastly refusing to condemn Russian interference in U.S. elections.

And to top it all off, most elected and appointed Republicans in Washington have now demonstrated that they’re largely Donald Trump’s bitches, with neither the guts nor the decency to stand up for democracy and for a peaceful transition of power to a new president.

Is that the kind of legacy and reputation you want?