I agree, the title has the appearance of a terrifying horror movie. However, America is enjoying vibrantly peculiar times owing to three things: Betsy DeVos, oligarchy and Russian relations, all of which are changing this country.
During the confirmation hearings for President Trump’s cabinet, there were fiery exchanges between the environmentalist Democrats and global-warming-denying Republicans. There was Rick Perry explaining why he is suitable for the Department of Energy, when he once sought to abolish it. Most of all, you also had Betsy DeVos, whose family is worth over $5 billion, discussing the future of America’s education system with egalitarian, socialist Bernie Sanders.
Now some background on our first distressing nightmare: Betsy DeVos. Described as an activist, philanthropist, and Republican fundraiser, DeVos has a wealthy background being the daughter of a billionaire industrialist. She also married into wealth, becoming the daughter-in-law of billionaire Richard DeVos, the co-founder of Amway. Mrs. DeVos has also a long and heavily religious-based background. So much so that she has been accused of funneling public money away from traditional public schools and towards religious ones. Thirdly, Devos has a history of donating millions of dollars to bigoted and anti-LGBTI groups such as Focus on The Family — a group that her mother has served on the board of. Meanwhile, her late father Edgar Prince, was a co-founder of the Family Research Council, which lobbies against LGBTI rights, abortion rights and many other liberal freedoms one should expect to take for granted.
Either way, her background is significant and can lead one to many stereotypes. However, this is not the aim and would be too easy. This is simply attempting to understand the political environment we have returned to. Besides, at least Mrs. DeVos is the lady who doubles the number of women in a cabinet of 16 nominees, from 1 to 2.
To be honest, I knew little of her until I watched her senate confirmation hearing, and it provided a few highlights. When asked by Sen. Chris Murphy whether she would denounce guns in schools, she could not answer. Considering Murphy was Senator during the Sandy Hook massacre you could appreciate his disbelief. Mrs. DeVos was seemingly unaware that the 1990 Individuals with Disabilities Education Act was a federal law and therefore a civil right. When asked about her thoughts on the act she responded: ‘I think that is a matter that’s best left to the states’. The questioning again became uneasy as Sen. Maggie Hassan, Democrat with a disabled son, asked more pointedly about DeVos’ knowledge of IDEA. However, the most stunning moment in an embarrassing questioning of the Secretary of Education was her inability to distinguish proficiency over growth — a concept DeVos did not seem capable of differentiating.
Returning to Bernie Sanders. He opened his question by raising what he believed to be a growing fear amongst America: that it is moving towards an oligarchic society. This resonated with me and I could immediately foresee some sort of return to the great monarchies of old Europe. Sanders, with one word, managed to address what my largest fears are about the next four years; an increasingly divine right to power based on mistruths and one’s background.
This oligarchic theme makes quite a bit of sense given the bizarre goings on with Trump and his close family. His daughter, whom he said he would date if she was not his child, will be living just down the corridor as an advisor. Meanwhile, Ivanka’s husband Jared will also have a role to play as advisor to Trump. Another billionaire, Trump described Jared as a ‘tremendous asset and trusted advisor throughout the campaign and transition’.
The point here is that, as the billionaires gather, some of them family members and some not, Sanders’ words become more potent. This is not a ‘nation-state’ democracy as Nigel Farage inaccurately described it. We are living in demonstrably scary times, and every day they seem to get worse.
These fears were not allayed given the freighting manner in which the Russian relationship has progressed. The situation has become one in which Vladimir Putin, a hostile autocrat, has had to support his now ‘close ally’ over allegations of sexual misdemeanours in a Russian hotel supposedly bugged by his spies. This gossip has been all over the media, printed by bright and respected journalists working for substantial news platforms. None of it concerns intellectual discussion of a meaningful issue — just what has happened to the challenging debates about the health of the Earth and its progress? These are strange times …
Sadly, I do not have a solution, and I apologise. Donald Trump is the inaugurated 45th President of the United States, the ‘leader of the free world’. And yes, I am terrified about that and people like Betsy DeVos and Jared Kushner. It is the job of all those on the periphery of power to not let these four years drift along haplessly. Hope will return, one day.