Education, like slavery, for white Christian nationalists, is largely a theological proposition. Why, they ask, would I send my child to strangers who teach her to question her faith in Christ? Why, again, to a school that suggests the God-driven narrative of Manifest Destiny, Anglo-American style, has alternatives? Why, indeed.
When I arrived home the evening of this year’s fateful election my computer had been hacked. It was the only time this has ever happened. I wasn’t alone, but mine wasn’t counting votes. After realizing Trump had won, a possibility I had been quietly absorbing since July’s Brexit, my first impulse was to keep an eye on his Cabinet nominees. The Department of Education in particular.
I remembered Rick Perry’s infamous oops, failing in a debate to name the departments of the federal government he intended to shut-down. He had no trouble remembering one, Education. The extreme right-wing fringes of the Republican party, now holding center stage in Washington, D.C., have been pining away to end the Department of Education for a generation. They have found their savior this year. Betsy DeVos.
Mrs. DeVos (née Prince) is sister to Erik Prince, now a Trump advisor and founder of the mercenary army Blackwater. The Bush-Cheney junta was so fond of Mr. Prince and his private army, they commissioned Blackwater to protect their corporate interests in Afghanistan and Iraq, namely the Kellogg Brown and Root compounds in both occupied countries. Blackwater was also farmed out to do a great deal of dirty work normally consigned to American troops. Privatization. Eventually that work became so dirty that Mr. Prince and his cohorts were up to their eyeballs in charges of human rights abuse and torture. As is the corporate way, Blackwater changed its name to Xe to throw law dogs off the stench, and later still to Academi.
Mr. Prince, a former Navy Seal, has made no secret of his religious zealotry or intent to establish white Christian dominion across our planet. He regards himself as a crusader, in the classical sense, preparing the world for the eminent return of the Prince of Peace. His sister, Mrs. DeVos, has been a little more subtle. She weaponizes philanthropy. Mostly by way of think tank manipulation and dark money funding of their puppet candidates. Rather than settle scores at the end of a gun, Mrs. DeVos employs her billions to the tune of political action committees and the gullible voters they feed propaganda to.
That kind of warfare, so assiduously practiced by the now winning side, is in the last analysis no less violent than the practices that got her brother’s private armies in such hot international waters. Its development has been documented most recently with extraordinary clarity and rigor by Jane Mayer in her powerhouse book Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right. With well over a dozen entries on the DeVos family alone, Ms. Mayer’s work is the go-to text on this subject.
What I’d like to talk about here is something that has escaped most of our attention. Earlier I mentioned the idea of education as a theological proposition, a belief shared by most if not all white Christian nationalists, including the DeVos clan. For Mrs. DeVos this core principle arrived not just in her religious upbringing but also in her academic training at university.
As verified in interviews with former colleagues, first in the Washington Post (Betsy DeVos, Trump’s Education Pick, Is a Billionaire With Deep Ties to the Christian Reformed Community, November 23, 2016), Mrs. DeVos is a devotee of the Dutch theologian Abraham Kuyper. A Neo-Calvinist, Kuyper, like Nazi philosopher Martin Heidegger, viewed modernity as virulently corrupt, wishing to return the faithful to a pure state existing in a mythical spiritual past.
I seriously doubt if any of those questioning Mrs. DeVos this week in congressional hearings to determine her fitness for public service have heard of Kuyper. That ignorance on the part of lawmakers, however, is part of what makes this evolving situation with the incoming cabinet, and the Department of Education, so dangerous. Among Kuyper’s many contributions to the modern world he so despised is the intellectual framework that became the basis of legal apartheid in South Africa. Kuyper’s concept of kern der natie, roughly translated as seeds of the nation, became the clarion call of the Nederduitse Gereformeerde Kerk, which went on to establish the social, political, and economic institutions to enforce legal racism as a Christian doctrine.
Those who are not working in and as God’s will, these white Christian nationalists say, should be excluded from access to the institutions that administrate it. To put it country simple, “If we have the police, the jury, the lawyers, the judges, the law, why should we share that power with those vermin who oppose us?” (Remember, the Fraternal Order of Police was one of the first major political advocates of Trump.) From their point of view, the State apparatus should resemble the emanation of their God, not the teachings of the non-believers, whom they regard as a kind of disease to be cured.
Mrs. DeVos advocacy for the destruction of public education and its attendant employee unions is both shaped and informed by the same philosophy above and her adoration of Kuyper. Charter schools who do not or refuse to conform to the intellectual rigidity of white Christian nationalist guidelines will never have access to the vast economic resources provided by the network of radical right-wing foundations. The very foundations, think tanks, and PACs now roaring into Washington, D.C. Most certainly not those formed by the DeVos family, or the Kochs, or the scions of Mellon-Scaife.
In an even less noted detail, the attack on public education is spearheaded by a larger assault on public employee unions of all stripes, and for a very simple reason. Public employee unions are among the very few existing organizations that are able to fund progressive, left-leaning, Democrats, at any level commensurate with the money doled out by the aforementioned right-wing foundations and PACs.
So we are looking at a multi-faceted, occasionally asymmetrical strategy to not just dismantle public education in the name of God, but also to further privatize all existing public institutions except those most useful to the radical right-wing agenda.
For Mrs. DeVos and her family, racism is neither immoral nor unethical but common sense. In the literature circulated among their ilk, multiculturalism is regarded as an affront to their dignity. Diversity is considered to be a code word for anti-white. Challenges to their academic canon are seen as nothing more than the complaints of sore losers.
For them, white Christian nationalism is about one principle. Not shared love among all of God’s creation, but gaining and most importantly maintaining power. That power now demands privatization (or elimination) of government services, deregulation of financial markets, foreign as well as domestic, and defunding of any departments in government that stand in the way. Education chiefly among them.