Imagine, if you will, an alternative political universe.
Imagine that President Trump did what he told Bob Woodward he could have done.
Woodward says Trump told him, on tape, that he knew Covid-19 was a deadly virus, but that he didn’t want to panic Americans. So he downplayed the danger.
Set aside your feelings about Trump. Set aside whether he did the right thing. Set aside whether he should have talked so freely with one of the reporters who brought down Richard Nixon.
Instead, imagine a political universe in which Trump did the opposite of what he did.
If he had, he might be cruising to reelection right now.
Imagine that he had said, from day one, that the virus was a serious threat to Americans.
Imagine if he had said that Americans should stay home, stay out of crowds and wear masks.
Imagine if he had said: This will hurt our economy in the short term, but we’ll come back stronger than ever, and we will save lives.
Imagine if he had said: I listen to Dr. Fauci and you should too.
Remember the pre-Covid political world in late January.
Trump had just won the impeachment fight. Joe Biden was struggling to stay alive in the Democratic race. The economy was booming.
Then Covid hit.
Like any President facing an unexpected crisis, Trump had to make the best decision he could with the best information he had.
Those are never easy calls. Think George W. Bush after 9/11. Think Barack Obama after the 2008 financial crash. Think JFK in the Cuban Missile Crisis.
With such decisions, presidencies are made – or broken.
Today, Trump’s handling of Covid is his biggest election-year liability.
The polling website FiveThirtyEight says Americans disapprove of his handling of the pandemic by 56-40.
A New York Times/Siena College poll last week said that in four key states – Minnesota, Wisconsin, Nevada and New Hampshire – “Trump has not managed to overcome his fundamental political vulnerabilities — above all, his deep unpopularity with women and the widespread view among voters that he has mismanaged the coronavirus pandemic.”
If Trump had put on a mask and put up a beat-Covid banner in March, he might be coasting to reelection today.
He went the other way. That decision might cost him the race.
In an America bitterly divided over protests and politics, the least-familiar part of our Constitution’s First Amendment may be the most endangered: the right to peacefully protest.
That right is guaranteed in the last 18 words of the amendment, which says Congress shall make no law abridging “the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” The 14th Amendment makes that apply to states too.
Most all Americans affirm and actively exercise the First Amendment’s right of free speech. Many Americans swear by the Second Amendment’s right to bear arms. But “the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances”? We’re less certain about that one.
Pew Research Center this month reported a decline in how many Americans say “it is very important for the country that people are free to peacefully protest” – from 74% two years ago to 68% now.
Pew said the decline has come entirely among Republicans:
“Only about half of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents (53%) say it is veryimportant for the country that people are free to peacefully protest, while 33% say this is somewhat important; 13% say it is not too or not at all important. Two years ago, 64% of Republicans said that it was very important that people are free to protest peacefully.”
Ponder that for a moment. Barely a majority of those Americans say it’s very important to protect the right to protest and petition the government for change.
The picture is very different among Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents, Pew found: 82% said the freedom to peacefully protest is very important. That’s the same as two years ago. But only 43% of them believe the country does a good job of protecting that freedom, down dramatically from 68% two years ago. Among Republicans, 79% said the country does a good job protecting the right.
The Pew study interviewed 11,000 adults July 27-August 2.
The results no doubt reflect attitudes about protests against police brutality toward Blacks.
Democrats see peaceful, justified protests that sometimes are marred by violence and vandalism, whether caused by protesters or right-wing vigilantes. Sometimes the problem is overzealous and even hostile police.
Republicans see lawlessness and disorder. They see it constantly on Fox News. They hear President Trump’s dire warnings about allegedly rampant rioting in “Democrat cities.”
Throughout history, Americans have had an uneasy attitude toward protests, even though our country was born out of protest.
Labor strikes were brutally broken. Suffragettes were arrested. In 1932, when veterans marched on Washington demanding bonus legislation, President Herbert Hoover sent General Douglas McArthur and the Army to expel the marchers and burn their camps.
In the 1960s, protests erupted over civil rights for Blacks and the Vietnam War. Our feelings about those protests then, pro and con, still shape our politics today.
Today’s climate can lead to overreaction and repression. One free-speech group said 82 bills have been considered or adopted by 32 states to criminalize assembly and speech. Some were motivated by environmental protests as well as Black Lives Matter protests.
Critics say such bills have a chilling effect on protests and aren’t needed; there already are laws against violence and vandalism.
Conservatives who don’t value the right to protest should think twice. What about the Tea Party protests in 2010? Or gun-rights protests? Or this year’s “Reopen NC” protests?
Already, we’ve let political differences divide us. Will we let them threaten our most basic rights?
When North Carolina’s John Edwards ran for President in 2004 and 2008, he said there were two Americas: “one for all those people who have lived the American Dream and don’t have to worry, and another for most Americans, everybody else, who struggle to make ends meet every single day.”
Today, in the wake of Covid and economic collapse, the divide between the two Americas has grown even wider. Like when four K&W cafeterias across North Carolina closed their doors and their serving lines last month.
For those of us who enjoyed eating at the venerable (since 1968) K&W in Raleigh’s Cameron Village – and the ones in Chapel Hill, Goldsboro and Salisbury that also closed – this is an inconvenience.
We tended to be an older crowd, creatures of habit. We met friends for lunch during the week. Many families ate there after church Sunday.
We’ll miss the place and the food. But we won’t starve. We’ve kept eating through the shutdown. Some of us even put on a few pounds. We’ll find other places to eat.
But what about the people who worked there?
They had become familiar faces and even friends over the years as they piled food on our plates, offered us breads and desserts, filled our drinks and checked us out. They took away our trays, refilled the drinks and wiped the tables clean.
Some of them appeared to have mild intellectual disabilities. It never affected their good cheer and splendid service.
Where are they now? Will they find other jobs? How will they pay their bills and afford their food?
When Covid hit, K&W’s business dropped 80%. The federal Paycheck Protection Program, apparently $5-10 million, kept the company going for a while – and kept 500 people in their jobs.
But Congress hasn’t passed another economic relief package. House Democrats proposed a $3 trillion relief plan. But Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC) said, “Half the Republicans are going to vote no to any package. That’s just a fact.”
What did North Carolina legislators, some of whom frequented K&W, do to help? Our state has some of the lowest unemployment benefits in the nation; the maximum benefit now is $350 a week for up to 12 weeks.
The legislature last week increased unemployment benefits by $50, to $400 a week.
By comparison, a Capitol Broadcasting Company editorial noted, “Last year members of the North Carolina General Assembly received an average $510 a week in per diem.”
Gov. Roy Cooper had proposed raising the maximum to $500 and extending benefits to 24 weeks.
What do you think is fair for the folks who worked at K&W?
Most of K&W’s regulars in Raleigh live in the America that’s doing OK. We can work from home. We can pay the mortgage, buy groceries and get takeout. Our 401k’s are doing well.
The other America would happily trade places with us. Those who are still going to work may be exposed to Covid – in a restaurant, a gym, a hospital, a nursing home or a factory. Many others no longer have a place to go to work.
I think about Tyler, who was always quick to refill my ice water at the K&W. Will our America be as quick to help him?
An earlier version of this blog was sent out in error Friday.
Democrats are haunted this year by election ghosts. They’re suffering a form of PTSD – Past-Tuesdays Stress Disorder.
They’re haunted by 1968: “The riots and protests will help Trump like they helped Nixon. The Silent Majority elected him. I’m afraid it’s going to happen again.”
They’re haunted by 1988: “George H.W. Bush was way behind Michael Dukakis in the summer. Then Bush ran the Willie Horton ad and won. I’m afraid it’s going to happen again.”
They’re especially haunted by 2016. “The polls said Hillary Clinton would win. I’ll never forget how sick I felt when Trump won. I’m afraid it’s going to happen again.”
They’re like Charlie Brown waiting for Lucy to pull the football away, again, and leave them flat on their backs, again.
But Democrats’ obsession with past elections makes it hard to have a clear perception of this election. 2020 isn’t 1968, or 1988 or even 2016. America has changed dramatically these last four years, let alone the last 32 and 52 years.
President Trump has a big problem that Nixon didn’t have in 1968, Bush didn’t have in 1988 and Trump himself didn’t have in 2016: He’s an incumbent President presiding over a deadly pandemic, searing racial tensions and a collapsing economy, and voters have a negative view of his performance.
In its rolling aggregate of polls, the website FiveThirtyEight said last week that Trump’s approval rating was 43.6% and his disapproval rating, 52.2%. That is, more than half of Americans disapprove of the job he’s doing.
Yes, he could still be reelected, but that’s a harsh environment for an incumbent.
One experienced Democratic pollster told me, “I think it’s baked in that people don’t trust or believe Trump and think he’s not competent. Trump is the incumbent, and with no third-party alternatives, the key number is 50%. Trump hasn’t ever been at that level against Biden. He’s only been at that level in job approval a few weeks in over three and a half years.”
Another Democratic operative said, “Trump can’t win it, but Biden can lose it.”
Much of Democrats’ worry centers on race. That played a big part in 1968 and 1988. But racial attitudes have changed. We saw that when most white Americans didn’t object to removing Confederate statues and monuments. They’ve also been appalled by videos of police brutality.
News coverage of riots and violence worries Democrats, and rightly so. But news coverage of Covid-19 and the bad economy hurts Trump.
Here’s an election to compare: 1980. An incumbent President, Jimmy Carter, was running for reelection. The economy was a disaster. The Iranian hostage crisis had dragged on nearly a year.
Carter’s opponent, Reagan, would be the oldest man ever elected President. Carter attacked him as a dangerous right-wing ideologue who couldn’t be trusted. Reagan brushed it off: “There you go again.”
In their one debate, one week before the election, Reagan came across as a reassuring figure. He asked Americans a stark, simple question: “Are you better off today than you were four years ago?”
The polls were close to the end. The last weekend, with news focusing on the one-year anniversary of Iran taking Americans hostage, Carter’s support collapsed. He won only 49 electoral votes. Reagan won 489.
Americans were weary of Carter. They wanted change. But they wanted to know if they could trust Reagan with the Presidency. Reagan earned their trust.
This year, this campaign is about whether Joe Biden can earn Americans’ trust.
Covid has upended our schools, our jobs, our lives and, of course, our politics. Now the pandemic has upended that great political tradition – part circus, part TV infomercial and part democracy: the national party conventions.
There were no stem-winding, barn-burning orations to packed arenas. No standing ovations. No staged or spontaneous floor demonstrations.
No disastrous belly-flops that turn a lackluster speaker into a late-night punching bag. No delegates wearing donkey hats or elephant earrings. No floor fights. No fistfights.
Still, both the Democratic and Republican conventions were about the eternal essence of politics: telling a story.
That’s not “story” in the sense of “lies.” It’s about crafting a narrative that appeals to the American people. It’s telling a story about the nominees, about the times we live in and about our hopes and fears.
The party that tells the best story – with the most appealing characters, the best sense of the voters’ mood and the most compelling plot – is generally the party that prevails in November.
Franklin D. Roosevelt said Americans in a Depression needed a new deal. John F. Kennedy said a new generation of leadership was needed to face a New Frontier and get America moving again. Ronald Reagan said government was the problem and we needed to “make America great again.” (Yes, he coined the phrase.)
Politics is more like a novel than a political science textbook, more a Netflix drama than a PBS documentary. Campaigns are about character, not just issues.
Most political stories come straight from the Bible. First there was the Garden of Eden, where we all lived in paradise (when our party was in charge.) Then paradise was invaded by the snake (our opponent). But take heart; there is hope for salvation (our candidate).
This year, the Democrats’ story is that the country faces dark times because of President Trump. Joe Biden has been through dark times in his life, and he knows how to bring back hope, love and light to the nation.
The Republicans’ story is that Democrats would bring about social and economic disaster. They tried to soften Trump’s image on race, women’s issues and criminal justice reform.
Democrats focused on Covid. Republicans focused on law and order.
Some traditions were lost in the conventions.
There was little chance of a new face electrifying the convention and putting himself or herself on a trajectory toward the Presidency, like JFK in 1956 or Barack Obama in 2004.
This year, speakers didn’t have to do the hardest thing in politics: give a speech that works for both 10,000-plus people in an arena and for a national television audience. They had to do the second-hardest thing: speak directly to camera with little or no audience.
Biden gave a carefully crafted 25-minute speech designed to show he has the energy and faculties to be President. Even Fox News pundits said he pulled it off.
Trump gave a 70-minute speech to a mask-free crowd at the White House. As violence raged across the country, he said Biden’s election would cause violence across the country.
Both parties tried to preserve some convention hoopla. Biden gave his acceptance speech to a largely empty room, but he closed the convention by walking with Kamala Harris and their spouses outside to view fireworks with a socially distanced drive-in crowd.
The Republicans were largely shut out of two convention cities, Charlotte and Jacksonville. So they staged a controversial partisan rally on the White House grounds.
The story lines are set. Now we await the next act: the debates.
Correction: Friday’s blog, “100 Years Later, Where Are Women?”, should have noted that Kathy Manning is running in North Carolina’s 6th Congressional District.
Women won the right to vote 100 years ago this week. But they still haven’t won their rightful place in elected office in North Carolina. That hurts all of us, especially in these trying times.
Where do we stand?
A recent report ranked North Carolina 35th nationally in women’s political participation and gave the state a letter grade of D. The report ranked North Carolina 43rd in women in elected office. It said women are half of North Carolina’s population, but only 25 percent of the state legislature.
The report, “The Status of Women in North Carolina: Political Participation,” was issued by the N.C. Council for Women and Youth Involvement and the Washington-based Institute for Women’s Policy Research.
The share of women in the General Assembly peaked in 2008 at 27 percent, but has fallen since Republicans took the majority in 2010.
Deborah Ross, who is running for North Carolina’s 2nd Congressional District seat, tweeted:
“Representation matters. Women in NC hold only a third of statewide elected positions & women representing NC in the House decreased from 23.1% to 15.4% in the last five years. We need more women in office & we need more women to vote.”
This year, none of the candidates in three marquee races – U.S. Senator, Governor and Attorney General – are women. But women are running for two top offices, Lieutenant Governor and Chief Justice.
Why does it matter?
This isn’t just an issue of statistical fairness. It’s about whether our elected officials truly understand what people are going through. If they don’t understand, how can they know what to do?
A friend brought this reality home to me. She pointed out that most people on the frontlines of both the Covid crisis and the economic crisis are women: healthcare workers, teachers, restaurant wait staffs, store clerks, you name it.
At home, it’s mothers who bear most of the burden of working, paying the bills, running the household and making sure the kids do their remote schoolwork.
It’s not just that those women would benefit from more women in office. Men would benefit too. Female politicians are more likely to have that invaluable quality of empathy – for men as well as women. The men on the frontlines – healthcare workers, teachers, restaurant wait staffs, store clerks, truck drivers, custodians and fathers at home – would benefit from women in office who understand their struggles.
That empathy would also help heal our racial tensions right now.
Why aren’t more women in high office?
Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota said during the Democratic presidential race last year that “Women are held to a higher standard.”
Brianna Wu, a Democratic candidate for Congress in Massachusetts, put it this way: “The men are given the most generous interpretation possible about who they are and what they want to do, and the women are held to the most skeptical, cynical standard possible.”
When Senator Elizabeth Warren briefly led the Democratic race last year, she faced questions about whether she was “too angry” or “likable enough.”
Shades of Hillary Clinton.
Clearly, there’s voter bias against women. In 2019, an Ipsos/USA Today poll found that 84% of people who planned to vote in Democratic primaries said they would be “comfortable with a woman president.”
Sounds fine, right? No, because 5% said they weren’t comfortable and 11% wouldn’t say they’re comfortable. That’s 1 in 6 voters in the Democratic Party, which prides itself on welcoming women candidates, who aren’t willing to say they’re comfortable with a woman President.
Only 33% of all likely voters thought “their neighbors” would be comfortable with a female president. That’s a sly polling way to get at hidden bias.
Is there media bias against women? That’s hotly debated. But there should be no debate over bias in social media. The misogyny there is nauseating.
Maybe the stumbling block is perceived bias against women. Women look at what happened to Hillary Clinton in 2008 and 2016 – and to Geraldine Ferraro in 1984 and Sarah Palin in 2008 – and see a hostile climate.
The fact that Clinton lost to Donald Trump isn’t exactly encouraging.
Who is running this year?
While the top of the ballot in North Carolina this year is heavily male, there are more women down the ballot.
Yvonne Lewis Holley, a Black woman, is the Democratic candidate for Lieutenant Governor. If she wins, she’ll be positioned to run for Governor in 2024.
A Black woman, Cheri Beasley, was appointed Chief Justice of the Supreme Court by Governor Roy Cooper, and she’s running this year to hold the seat. Democrat Lucy Inman and Republican Tamara Barringer are also running for Supreme Court.
Five candidates for Council of State seats are Democratic women: incumbent Secretary of State Elaine Marshall, incumbent Auditor Beth Wood and Jen Mangrum (Superintendent of Public Instruction), Jenna Wadsworth (Commissioner of Agriculture) and Jessica Holmes (Commissioner of Labor).
Today, three members of the Council of State are women: Marshall, Wood and Commissioner of Labor Cherie Berry.
Two Democratic women are running for Congress, Ross in the 2nd District and Patricia Timmons-Goodson in the 8th. Only two of the state’s 13 congressional districts are represented now by women.
A number of women are running for the legislature. They’ll wield gavels and power, especially if Democrats take the House and Senate.
North Carolina has led the way before. In the last decade, we elected two female U.S. Senators, Elizabeth Dole and Kay Hagan, and a female Governor, Bev Perdue.
Now we’ve fallen behind. We have a long way to go. And we will all be better off if we do better.
The Great Covid Mask Debate of 2020 revives a tension that runs through our nation’s history. It’s the tension between two values: individual freedom versus community responsibility.
From the Roanoke Island voyages to the latest space mission, we’ve celebrated explorers, adventurers, pioneers, cowboys, mavericks, inventors, innovators and entrepreneurs.
But periodically, especially in times of crisis, we put the greater community’s good ahead of the individual’s wants. Even then, some people insist that their rights and freedoms outweigh all else. Like people today who won’t wear a mask even if it saves lives.
The tension plays out in an ongoing debate about the role of government in our lives, which is a deep undercurrent in this election. There are signs that our attitudes have changed dramatically since we’ve been hit with the greatest one-two punch since the Great Depression and World War II – a killer pandemic and an economic collapse.
Fox News does a poll asking voters which message they want to send the federal government: “leave me alone” or “lend me a hand.” Last October, 50% said “leave me alone” and 44%, “lend me a hand.”
Opinions have now reversed. In Fox’s August 9-12 poll, 57% said “lend me a hand” and 36%, “leave me alone.”
That’s a 37-point swing.
The 2020 election will be not only a referendum on President Trump, but also a decision on whether we continue a 40-year experiment with Ronald Reagan’s theory that government is the problem, not the solution.
For nearly 50 years before that, after Franklin D. Roosevelt’s election in 1932, we generally believed that an active government was needed to secure our health, safety and economic future.
We’ve gone back and forth between those two philosophies throughout our history. The early nation of yeoman farmers gave way to national banks, internal improvements, subsidized railroads and land-grant colleges. The Industrial Revolution and the Robber Barons gave way to trust-busting, national parks and the Progressive Era. The Roaring Twenties gave way to the New Deal.
No matter how bad the crisis and how dire the need for reform, the nay-sayers are always with us. Even in the depths of the Depression, with a third of adults out of work, farmers failing and people starving, Herbert Hoover, conservatives and Wall Street issued dark warnings about government action. It smacked of Stalin, they said.
When FDR proposed Social Security, unemployment relief and farm-price supports, conservatives said it was the end of freedom. People would rather go on the dole than go to work, they claimed.
Today, when Congress debates unemployment compensation, conservatives say it will just reward people for not working.
And today, with 1,000 Americans dying daily, some people insist on their right to not wear a mask.
2020 could be one of those elections that ushers in sweeping reforms like the Progressive Era and the New Deal.
Black Americans want government action against racism and police brutality. Younger voters – who’ve gone through the 2008 and 2020 economic meltdowns – want government action against economic inequality. Millions of Americans want more affordable health care. And they want super-rich individuals and big corporations that have thrived these last 40 years to pay their fair share.
Democrats, who could be running both the legislative and executive branches next year, have come a long way from Clinton-era “triangulation” and even from the Obama-Biden administration’s economic-recovery and health-care initiatives, which seem cautious in retrospect.
The convention last week showed where Democrats stand now. They’ve taken the temper of the times. They believe Americans want big changes.
In the seven Presidential elections since 1988, the Republican candidate has won the national popular vote only once. That was George W. Bush in 2004.
Twice, in 2000 and 2016, Republicans (Bush and Donald Trump) lost the popular vote but won the Presidency, thanks to the Electoral College.
This year, President Trump could make the GOP’s popular-vote record one for eight. In fact, polls suggest he could lose the popular vote to Joe Biden by even more than he did to Hillary Clinton. Yet he could still win another four years in the White House.
Pundits fret about what Trump will do if he loses. But what will Trump’s opponents do if he stays in the White House thanks to an Electoral College that was designed in the 18thCentury – and that critics say is undemocratic, unrepresentative and un-American?
Already, a poll this month shows, 55% of American adults are either “not too confident” or “not at all confident” that the November elections will be conducted in a fair and equal way. The NBC/SurveyMonkey poll said just 14% are “very confident” and 29% somewhat confident in the fairness of the election
As always, there’s a partisan split: 65% of Republicans are not confident in election fairness. That’s not surprising considering President Trump’s claims of voter fraud and a rigged election.
But Democrats have doubts, too; 46% of them aren’t confident about November’s results. So are a majority of independents, 56%.
You can bet those numbers will go up if Trump loses the popular vote and still gets reelected.
But don’t expect bipartisan support for abolishing the Electoral College. Republicans like how it has worked for them lately. Democrats hate it for the same reason.
It’s one more divide in our bitterly divided country.
Partisan lenses obscure how the Electoral College distorts presidential races.
Only a dozen or so states matter. The rest are so predictable that candidates pay no attention to them. That’s true of big states like California and New York and tiny ones like Wyoming and Rhode Island. It used to be true of North Carolina, until Barack Obama made us a battleground state.
This year, some analysts say only four states matter: Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
This wasn’t the Founding Fathers’ plan.
The Founders didn’t trust “the people” – which back then meant just white men – to elect Presidents. How could voters know enough about the candidates? They didn’t want Congress to pick the President; Congress would be too powerful.
So they settled on the Electoral College. Each state would elect “electors” who would size up the candidates and choose the best man.
But then states began instructing their electors to vote for the candidate who won the popular vote in their state. That winner-take-all system remains today, except in Maine and Nebraska, which award electors by congressional district.
That’s how we got to presidential elections that are all about battleground states.
Opponents of a national popular vote for President contend that only big cities and big states would get attention. That’s nonsense. The Presidential candidates, like candidates for Senator, Governor and every other office in our nation, would go wherever they could get votes: big cities, small towns, rural areas, suburbs. They’d go to blue states, red states and purple states.
President Trump would campaign in California and New York. Joe Biden would go to Alabama and Oklahoma. They’d go everywhere. They’d go to the people.
That would be good for the candidates, for the people and for America. Most of all, it could save us from an election crisis that tears our country apart.
Last week, I wrote a blog/newspaper column titled “We’re Governed by Geezers“. I noted how old our leaders are today and how dominant Baby Boomers are in politics. I said, “It’s time to pass the torch.”
That post got more comments than almost anything else I’ve written.
Not surprisingly, younger readers agreed. One emailed: “I have a regular breakfast group that is comprised entirely of Gen Xers. We are reading ‘A Generation of Sociopaths.’ This (the blog) could be the Cliff Notes.”
He wrote then, “57 of the 170 House and Senate members are now 65 years old or older. A decade ago, the number was 46 and two decades ago 37.”
One Geezer, who’s got about 10 years on me, was philosophical about aging: “Frankly, I think it’s a pretty nice place to be. When I forget something now, I have an excuse. When I have an occasional good idea, I’m pleased when those around me think I’ve still got it. And, best of all, my grandchildren treat me with a little more respect.”
Still, he added, “my kids don’t get it yet.”
Some Geezers were defiant: “Joe Biden is 2 years older than I am. I may be tapping mid-70 but I damn well feel like I’m in my early 50s!” She added, “We are activists, precinct officials, phone-bankers, fund-raisers and more. And we love it. Joe Biden is one of us!”
And there was this from fellow columnist D.G. Martin of Chapel Hill: “80 is the new 40. I’m not passing the torch just yet.”
The Covid-19 pandemic shows how we dump society’s problems on public schools, but don’t give them enough money to meet those challenges.
Six months of lockdown should remind us that schools provide more than education.
Working parents depend on schools for childcare. Children in poverty often depend on schools for decent meals and safe shelter. Many children depend on schools for the love, care and attention they don’t get at home.
Schools have to protect students from society’s epidemic of evils – from bullying in the lunchroom to sexual abuse to vicious gunmen with military assault weapons.
During COVID, parents have learned the hard way that home-schooling can get old fast. They’ve learned that teachers aren’t paid nearly enough.
Underpaid as they are, teachers would take a bullet to save their students. Do we also expect them to risk catching a vicious virus – and passing it on to their own families – so we can get our kids out of the house?
A teacher told me that many of her peers are preparing wills as they prepare for back-to-school.
Some parents send their children to private schools because they are more willing than public schools to reopen. Private Thales Academy in Wake County reopened its schools in July. Its Knightdale campus immediately reported a Covid case. Then a case at Thales’ Wake Forest campus forced the entire fourth grade to be quarantined for at least two weeks.
One Wake County principal pleaded with parents not to turn to private schools. Schools’ budgets are based on attendance; if attendance drops, budgets will be cut and teachers and staff, let go.
Unlike private schools and charter schools, traditional public schools can’t pick their students. They have to take whoever shows up and provide whatever they need.
The same politicians who push hardest for private schools are pushing hardest for public schools to reopen.
President Trump said in July that public schools teach children “to hate their own country.” Now he says they should reopen fully. In North Carolina, Lt. Gov. Dan Forest and State Senator Phil Berger criticize Governor Roy Cooper for not ordering all public schools to reopen.
Ferrel Guillory, who has observed North Carolina politics and government for nearly 50 years as a journalist, UNC-Chapel Hill professor and Vice Chairman of EducationNC, wrote recently that:
“…(A)fter their party won the governorship and solid legislative majorities in 2012, Republican lawmakers went on a tax-cut spree, reducing sales, corporate, and individual income taxes. Tax changes since 2013, according to a pre-pandemic joint assessment of legislative and administration budget staffs, reduced annual general fund revenues by more than $4 billion in 2019-2020.”
Public schools could use some of that $4 billion today.
Governor Cooper says K-12 schools, colleges, and universities need federal money:
“Without it, these institutions will not be able to purchase the essential cleaning supplies, personal protective equipment and other materials necessary to create a safe and productive learning environment, including the ability to pay teachers and staff who will be on the frontlines of the pandemic. We also must ensure our ability to address nutrition for students, both those in school and those distance learning.”
Plus, the state is under the Leandro court order to meet the North Carolina Constitution’s requirement of “a sound, basic education for all children.” Price tag: $427 million.
As Guillory noted, we need “a serious open discussion of revenues required for educational advancement.”
The pandemic shows how much we need our public schools – and how much we expect of them. Our support should match our expectations. We should put our money where our children are.