Trump’s latest cabinet pick for Secretary of Education is ‘Michigan royalty’ Betsy DeVos. This is not only a potential disaster for American public education, it’s another sure sign that when Trump says ‘Drain the Swamp!’, he must mean his version of Opposite Day. As in crony capitalism on steroids.
How swampy is Betsy DeVos, in this context?
Neither she nor her children attended public school. She’s on record for many years as an opponent of public schooling. She’s an extremely wealthy woman who champions public money funneled to private religious schools, advocates pro-religious and anti-science teaching, favors racial school segregation under the guise of ‘school choice’, and has sent political dark money to some of the worst of the religious right’s ‘Christian’ PACs and Super-PACs.
What’s the religious angle? Her brother Erik Prince (of Blackwater infamy) has advocated a white Christian theocracy in America. From this article in The Intercept: The Prince and DeVos families gave the seed money for what came to be known as the Republican Revolution when Newt Gingrich became House speaker in 1994 on a far-right platform known as the Contract with America.
But the rot goes decades further back.
Why does Betsy DeVos want to kill public education? Probably because of its Common Core goals of teaching STEM skills and critical thinking, the natural enemies of theocracy.
Where’s the multi-level marketing angle? She married into the family that founded Amway and some other large MLM companies.
I first ran across MLMs in the late 1980’s, while researching money-making opportunities in Arizona. I quickly realized their mathematical impossibility, and didn’t commit myself to any of them. I looked into them again in 2012, while researching their similarities to and connections with several vanity-publishing companies.
MLMs are built on shaky legal underpinnings, since many of them skate near but not into Ponzi schemes. Most can claim they make money by selling real products. The hard truth is that most MLMs make far more money by leveraging commissions on more and more ‘new distributors’ who fuel the pyramid scheme. Only a few people, the early adopters at the top of the pyramid, are going to amass any real wealth. Basic mathematics shows that the pyramid runs out of earning power quickly, in its lower levels.
MLMs pitch a great ‘dream’ with little solid evidence, wrap their pitch in quasi-religious terms, rake in millions of dollars in commissions, and tend to put the blame of failure on their unsuccessful members. In short, they are the perfect compatriots of many Prosperity Gospel adherents and Tea-Party/Trumpvoters.
What’s Dunbar’s Number? A possible cognitive limit to how many social connections individuals can maintain, based upon British anthropologist Robin Dunbar’s studies of primate brain size and social group size.
In this context, ‘social connection’ indicates how many people one person can know well, and still know how everyone in that network relates to every other member. The bigger the brain, it seems, the bigger the ‘tribe’ to which one can maintain loyalty and mutual trust. For most humans, that number seems to hover around 150 people.
That 150 contains our close and distant kin groups, our co-workers and business partners, our social clubs and churches, and can stretch to cover distant and former associates. The ties of religious or social affiliation can extend a person’s allegiance to much bigger ‘tribes’ linked by agreed-upon behaviors. But it can also be co-opted very easily by authoritarian states and leaders, unscrupulous grifters, and others intent on gaming social networks.
The rise of Facebook ‘fake news’ was driven by false kinship signals created by for-profit and/or for-cause alt.right ‘news’ sites.
That 150 is not coincidentally the same average number of people that MLM sellers can beg to buy their ‘products’ or the average sales-to-family-and-friends by vanity-published authors.
John Oliver has a good overview of MLM faults here. Robert L. FitzPatrick has a quick guide to MLM’s here.
What does this rambling post come down to? Betsy DeVos does not speak for true American ideals, and she will probably use her wealth and MLM-honed dirty tricks to advance causes that will damage America.
Trump can’t factually state he’ll ‘Drain the Swamp’ while putting forward such divisive and disastrous cabinet picks. I don’t know whether he’s an evil genius, a practical businessman rewarding early loyalty, or a bored dilettante, but he’s outsourcing the fate of America to people diametrically opposed to our actual Founding Fathers’ Enlightenment goals.
What Donald J. Trump doesn’t seem to understand is that on January 21, 2017, he will effectively be obsolete in the eyes of his Vice President and his more-conservative cabinet picks. He did his job: he got Pence elected, and picked the Pence cabinet.
Trump has already lost control of his narrative.
People like Pence and DeVos will rule America whether Trump steps down in disgrace, is impeached, or killed (and look closely at Pence & Co then!), or simply ignores the day-to-day operation of what will be the Pence administration. That’s great for Pence, the DeVos and Prince Families, and the other right-wingers who want Christian religious rule of America for generations to come.
Not so good for pro-science folks, non-religious people, the LGBTQ community, moderate multi-culturalism, and anyone with brown skin.
What can we do? Be vigilant. Be logical. Prove that our tribe is bigger and better, and will win in the end.