The drama of the impeachment of the nation’s president, reports indicate, simply has not captured the interest or concern of the American audience. Apparently the melodrama of daytime soap operas attracts their attention more than the antics of a corrupt president and administration actively undermining the nation’s security for personal gain at the expense of the people’s interests.
Arguably, Trump’s corrupt behavior and incessant lying should concern the American people. He has misled the people about his support for healthcare policy that ensures coverage for people with pre-existing conditions, his refusal to cut medicare and social security, and hosts of other issues most Americans would tend to understand as “kitchen table” issues, those issues that directly impact their pocketbooks, livelihoods, and ability to take care of their families. It would seem that the corrupt behavior of a president everyday seeking to make American lives worse in the most basic ways would interest voters.
But there is no point arguing. I tried as much when I wrote a piece arguing in a similar vein, titled “Why the Mueller Report is the Kitchen Table Issue of all Kitchen Table Issues,” back when that report was released.
What IS worth highlighting in reporting, though, is the kind of corruption we see in the Trump administration in relation to issues that we actually know Americans care deeply about and which just doesn’t receive as much attention.
I’m talking about issues of public education and the ongoing corrupt behavior of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who continues to work against Americans’ abilities to attain affordable and quality public education. And she does so, like Trump, to line her own pockets.
The magnitude of the impeachment hearings and “trial,” dominating the attention of the American media, provided cover for DeVos’ own more mundane corruption.
Early last December, DeVos proposed a plan to transfer the government’s $1.5 trillion student loan portfolio to a “stand-alone government corporation,” spinning off the Education Department’s Federal Student Aid office into a new and supposedly independent federal agency.
That sounds innocent enough, right?
Especially when you hear her talk about it. She tweeted at the time, “One has to wonder: why isn’t Federal Student Aid a stand-alone government corporation, run by a professional, expert, and apolitical Board of Governors? A separate Federal Student Aid would be better positioned to deliver world-class service to students and their families as they finance higher education.”
Let’s fill in some context and assess how innocent this plan is.
Writing for Common Dreams, Jake Johnson reported that observers condemned the move “as a corrupt ploy to strip the next president of the ability to cancel student loan debt.”
He quoted the analysis of The Intercept’s Ryan Grim, who wrote, “This very much appears to be a Betsy DeVos scheme to block the next president from unilaterally forgiving federal student debt, which she is well aware a president could do without Congress. The DeVos family is heavily invested in the student loan industry and this is just flat-out corruption.”
This is just the latest episode of DeVos’ ongoing saga of corruption and assault on Americans in quest of an education.
At the end of last August, DeVos, reversing policies put in place during the Obama administration to enable students to seek forgiveness for loans they received when for-profit colleges defrauded them, made it more difficult for students to qualify for such loan forgiveness.
She complained students were just raising their hands to get “free money.”
Then, late last October, DeVos had her day—or rather her follow-up day–in federal district court on another but related matter dating back to a June 2018 ruling from Magistrate Judge Sallie Kim that ordered DeVos and the Department of Education to cease and desist from collecting on loans students owed from Corinthian Colleges, a for-profit chain of colleges that collapsed in 2014 after being exposed for cheating students with deceptive recruiting practices and falsified job placement data. At one of DeVos’s hearings last October, Magistrate Judge Kim held DeVos in contempt of court, levying a $100,000 fine, for violating that 2018 order and continuing to pursue the collection of debt from roughly 16,000 students, in many cases garnering wages and tax refunds, in addition to sending bills to borrowers for debts they did not owe.
At this same hearing, Kim also declared, “At best it is gross negligence, at worst it’s an intentional flouting of my order. I’m not sure if this is contempt or sanctions. I’m not sending anyone to jail yet but it’s good to know I have that ability.”
Maybe DeVos should be locked up for, in Kim’s words, having “harmed individual borrowers who were forced to repay loans.”
And we know, of course, this refusal to forgive student loan debt, even when students are victims of the fraudulent for-profit so-called institutions of higher education, is linked to DeVos’ own profit motives.
Americans care about this corruption and recognize its immediate consequences on their lives.
In Michigan, Democrats Darrin Camilleri in 2016 and Padma Kuppa and Matt Koleszar in 2018 flipped Republican-held state representative seats in their respective districts by foregrounding the erosion of public schools in those districts due to a gross underfunding caused in part by DeVos’ long-standing charter school movement in the state.
Also in 2018, Kansas voters elected Democrats Laura Kelly as Governor and Sharice Davids to the House of Representatives who ran on support for public education, after Sam Brownback’s cuts to education were so egregious that they were deemed unconstitutional by the state’s supreme court.
Last November, Democrat Andy Beshear defeated always-Trumper incumbent Governor Matt Bevin largely, by many accounts, because of his support for teachers and public education, while Bevin ran on a platform that refused to increase education budgets while he also outright slandered and insulted teachers.
DeVos’ corruption, in its outright attack on people, is tangible to voters.
Democrats need to highlight this corruption, lost in the impeachment cloud.
Tim Libretti is a professor of U.S. literature and culture at a state university in Chicago. A long-time progressive voice, he has published many academic and journalistic articles on culture, class, race, gender, and politics, for which he has received awards from the Working Class Studies Association, the International Labor Communications Association, the National Federation of Press Women, and the Illinois Woman’s Press Association.