The Deadly Consequences of the Trump Debate over U.S. Citizenship

December 2018

We are  paying a great price for our ignorance these days. Typified by a dangerous lack of consciousness, ignorance fosters cruelty.   

Nowhere is this more notable than in the  Trump administration. Everyone from the disabled, the poor, the young, immigrants, women, gays, religious ethnicities, and people of color has been the target of his attacks. Trump’s bellicose policies have assailed our notions of American identity and set a course for the  dangerous shoals of national intolerance that further imperils our already battered ship of state. 

What could be the source of such unapologetic ignorance?  Look no further than our once-vaunted American educational system. 

In 1954, Brown v. Board of Education ruled that the Jim Crow doctrine of “separate but equal” was unconstitutional.  Educator and activist, Jonathan Kozol, points out that attempts to fulfill the promise of Brown through racial integration via bussing programs were largely unsuccessful. Consequently,  we have witnessed the re-segregation of public schools over the years. He has dubbed our current system  “apartheid schooling.”    

This problem is only aggravated by the trend toward the privatization of education. Betsy DeVos, head of the Department of Education, openly touts for-profit schools and describes public education as a “dead end.”  Lured by the reputed competitiveness of a business model of education, the affluent have fled en masse from public to private schools.  The rise of charter schools, voucher programs, and other “school choice” programs, along with the imposition of harsh standardized testing for public schools, has further defunded public education.  

Teacher strikes in West Virginia, Kentucky, Arizona, and Oklahoma have drawn national attention to the plight of public school teachers forced to live on starvation wages.  In the words of Chicago educator Timothy Meegan, “Our schools are being starved into failure in order to justify mass privatization.

All evidence indicates that in 2018, U.S. education is more deeply divided along race and class lines than ever before.  

The failure of racial integration and with it the promise of upward mobility has sounded the death knell for equal opportunity in the United States. In the words of President Trump, “The American dream is dead.”   What remains of our educational system is under systematic attack by Betsy DeVos, who, like every other Trump appointment, is busily dismantling the very institution she is charged with protecting. 

Consequently we are confronted everyday with the results of our national ignorance over who and what constitutes an American. 

Trump’s bigoted attacks on immigrants conveniently ignores the fact that his own wife is an immigrant, as are his parents.  He is rapidly militarizing the U.S./Mexican border and he has promised to send the army to stop a caravan of Central American refugees seeking safety in the U.S.

Further undermining our Democratic values is a Neo-con Supreme Court that frequently rules against established Civil Rights precedents.    

Since a 2013 decision to overturn protections for African American voters,  there has been a rise in voter purges across the country.  The most recent case can be seen in Georgia, where a white male Republican candidate for Governor has used his office as Secretary of State to purge blacks from the voting rolls in an attempt to rig the election against his contender, a popular black female Democrat. 

In North Dakota, Native Americans have been the targets of restrictive voter identification measures that will ensure their removal from state voting rolls.  This comes at a time when their political activism against the environmental destruction caused by oil pipelines in North Dakota has drawn national and international support.

Since his days on the campaign trail, Trump has encouraged white nationalists.  The result is that they have been emboldened to act out their  fantasies of racial purity through ethnic cleansing. The most recent example of a white supremacist run amok is Robert Bower, the Pittsburgh native who killed eleven members of a Jewish synagogue in October.  

A couple of days prior to that, it was Gregory Bush in Jeffersontown Kentucky.  When he was thwarted from breaking into an African American church service, he went on a shooting spree in a local grocery store that left two black community leaders dead.  And in the week before that, a Trump-follower in Florida sent pipe-bombs to a few of the president’s Democratic critics in an obvious ploy to deter Democrats in the upcoming election.

Closer to home, the debate over national identity is an enduring topic of conversation in the Santa Barbara Unified School District (SBUSD). In a shot across the bow at the Ethnic Studies curriculum now in development in the SBUSD, a group of anonymous parents threatened to sue the school district for teaching inclusivity and cultural proficiency in our public classrooms.  This comes following the SBUSD’s decision to implement Ethnic Studies as a graduation requirement by next year.

Lead by attorney Eric Early, the secretive group appears to be calling itself “Fair Communities Education, Inc.” and has claimed that  the school district’s collaboration with Just Communities Central Coast (JCCC) for instructing classes of diversity and social parity is “radical, discriminatory, and illegal” and “indoctrinates students with anti-white and anti-Christian bias.” Fortunately, JCCC successfully refuted Early’s allegations of racial discrimination towards whites and has continued to garner popular support for its programs of educational equity in the school district.  

This frontal assault on critical pedagogy leaves little doubt that it is a controversial subject for the fair city of Santa Barbara.  

The Neo-con argument that teaching Ethnic Studies is discriminatory towards whites can only be countenanced if you believe that American citizenship is restricted to whites.  Any deviation from this reactionary perspective is an attack on “traditional American” values insofar as it promotes an understanding of the disenfranchised in American history.  A pluralistic vision of the United States is anathema to Neo-cons and so non-white and marginalized Americans have all but been excluded from our public school textbooks. 

But the disavowal of the position of marginalized Americans in our society is dangerously ignorant and has given rise to the resurgence of white nationalism we see under the Trump administration.  

Fifty years after the Civil Rights movement, we have returned to the Jim Crow era of apartheid education that has resulted in an irrational and xenophobic ignorance of American citizenship. We are here, now, on the brink of a Trump-fueled civil conflict of epic proportions because our schools are still struggling to explain the basic role of U.S. naturalization and citizenship to the vitality of our American democracy. 

Now more than ever, pedagogies of cultural proficiency, educational equity, and ethnic studies are necessary to cohere our Democratic principles and return a measure of sanity to our divided country. 


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