Will Incompetence Save Us?

This Dana Milbank column on Betsy DeVos is nothing short of wonderful. For one thing, it is really funny, and laughs are hard to come by these days. Beyond the humor, however,  Milbank also offers a ray of hope in the wake of yesterday’s (bare) confirmation of DeVos as Secretary of Education. He begins:

Rarely is the question asked: Is our Cabinet secretaries learning?

And if we is being honest with ourself, we says: No, they is not.

Today’s lesson: the education of Betsy DeVos.

Anyone who hasn’t been hiding under a rock (and I’m not judging–hiding under a rock is perfectly understandable in the Age of Trump) knows at least four things about Betsy DeVos: 1) she is monumentally unqualified for her post; 2) she gave gazillions of dollars to a large number of the Republican Senators who voted to confirm her (Conflict of interest? What conflict of interest?); 3) she is a proponent of siphoning taxpayer dollars from public schools to support Christian schools via vouchers; and public opposition to her confirmation was more intense and widespread than most observers can ever recall seeing.

It took DeVos’ longtime collaborator and fellow culture-warrior Mike Pence to break a 50/50 tie and get her over the finish line.

Milbank has words of consolation for those of us who view DeVos as an unmitigated disaster.

Democrats in the long run may thank the majority Republicans for confirming DeVos. In the fight against President Trump’s agenda, the new administration’s incompetence is their friend. Trump’s choice of DeVos signals a dangerous desire to dismantle public schools. It would be more dangerous if he chose somebody who was up to the task.

As bad as DeVos is, Milbank points out that she is only marginally the worst of a crew that includes Ben Carson (at Housing and Urban Development because–hey!–he lives in a house), Rick Perry (who admitted he had no idea what the Department of Energy did) and others.

Heading the National Security Council is Mike Flynn, reportedly drummed out as head of the Defense Intelligence Agency for poor management. Nikki Haley, the U.N. ambassador, has no foreign policy experience; Treasury nominee Steven Mnuchin has no government experience and displayed his financial skills during his confirmation hearing by failing to disclose $100 million in personal assets.

One can already see future Cabinet meetings shaping up in the White House, as Trump goes around the table asking for updates:

Carson: “Pass.”

DeVos: “Could you come back to me, please?”

Flynn: “Sorry, what?”

Perry: “Oops.”

No doubt there is some value in nominating people outside the “establishment.” But the value is diminished if your outsiders can’t do the job.

Milbank noted that after Senate Democrats spent hours addressing DeVos’ manifest ignorance of even the most basic issues facing the Department of Education, John Cornyn’s response failed to rebut any of those charges. Instead he simply said that “The president will get the Cabinet he nominated and deserves.”

As Milbank concluded: Yes, he will.


  1. When this finally implodes (or explodes) the Republicans will have a hard time saying they were not a part of the Trump destruction of America. They are all in.

  2. The grand plan is to end public education as we know it, hand us a voucher, that doesn’t cover the cost of private education and then send us all to their friends in the banks to borrow the rest. This has been in the works since the Bush era. Al Lord spoke about it, he got wealthy off the Sallie Mae part of the plan.

  3. Theresa; you stole my one liner…lol. That is word-for-word what I signed on to say. A letter to the editor of the Star today is titled, “Make Kindergarten mandatory”. Kindergartens and pre-schools have been active in this country, for those who can afford them, for many years and we are still graduating high school seniors who are barely literate. Colleges and universities have complained for years about incoming students who can barely read and write the English language, I haven’t yet seen complaints about those who were not taught cursive writing. Has it been long enough to know if our tax supported Charter Schools and Voucher Students are arriving at college better educated than those from underfunded public schools? The ISTEP question here in Indiana is still a loose thread; will it be usefully woven into the fabric of education or snipped off to get it out of the way?

    After the ill conceived confirmation of Betsy DeVos; Senator Liz Warren was silenced by McConnell and the Republican Senate body for reading a letter from Coretta Scott King which quoted Sessions’ lack of qualification for confirmation due to his decades long racism and public support of KKK and white supremacist organizations now operating under the title of White Nationalists. It has been made blatantly obvious, due to Trump’s selected and confirmed appointees, that qualifications and experience are not required. Why should we have expected that to apply to our national education system? It is simply another of those foregone conclusions I referred to yesterday.

  4. “Rarely is the question asked: Is our Cabinet secretaries learning?

    And if we is being honest with ourself, we says: No, they is not.”

    I beg to differ. Our cabinet secretaries are learning how to sweep away all vestiges of democracy in the quickest way possible even if it “fucks up” the country. I give them an A+ on carrying out their number one agenda.

    What are we going to be left with after this “laughing matter” is over with? It sounds like to me that Dana Milbank, like everyone else, is having trouble dealing with reality.

  5. Let’s be honest. Trump/Pence are using a Nazi Playbook and it looks like they’re going to win by default. Everyone is scared to death to take the field and play against them. They want the final score to be “100” for FASCISM and “0” for DEMOCRACY. It’s now close to halftime and the score is “50” to “0”.

    The Republicans play “political tackle football” and the Democrats play “political touch football.” Anyone for betting on the Democrats?

    It’s just a STAGE-MANAGED TAKE OVER as I have been trying to explain, unsuccessfully, since George Bush took office in 2000. It’s a RE-CREATION of the basic political structure of Nazi Germany and will eventually meet the same fate, but probably with more devastation, since we are now in the nuclear age.

  6. “The president will get the Cabinet he nominated and deserves.”

    As Milbank concluded: Yes, he will.”

    I understand Dana Milbank’s comment to mean that our current unqualified, inexperienced, racist, bigoted president doesn’t deserve a qualified, experienced cabinet and is getting one HE deserves. Hopefully, they will aid him in failure quickly. WE, as a nation based on democracy as provided in the Constitution, do not deserve Trump or his appointees but this is what we must deal with. Confirming DeVos as Secretary of Education will insure the continuation of these ill conceived elected officials and confirmed appointees as our leaders.

    Of course; we also do NOT deserve Pence or Ryan who are next in line for the presidency.

  7. It’s all very simple. Instead of re-creating sporting events over the air like Ronald Regan did early in his career, you just re-create, for example, the HATRED OF NAZI GERMANY and let the memes go viral under the “sonar.”

  8. No fan of Rick Perry, but the purpose of the department of energy was to reduce dependence on foreign oil. At its inception, we got about 1/3 of our oil from foreign sources. Until the fracking escalation, foreign oil represented over 3/4 of consumption. Evidently, Perry will be a continuation of incompetence in that department.

  9. America always assumed that government could consist of competent dedicated people following laws and rules beginning with the Constitution and elected by an informed electorate who wanted successful government.

    That entire foundation is crumpling because people with more wealth than they could ever possibly need wanted more.

    The America of the great middle class is being sold off piece by piece. The first thing to go was the patriotism of that massive group that was our backbone. The media artfully convinced them that government was the problem not the solution and the path to the American Dream was not through hard work and education but through Wall St bankers.

    Can this process really be blunted by an incompetent cabinet? All they have to do is nothing. Stay out of the way. Run around in circles. Leave government up to Trump, Bannon, Reibus, Conjob, Ryan, McConnell.

    All the while that the looting is going on the media will maintain their profitability singing for their supper the same old song. Government is the problem not the solution. Support global businesses.

    All this at the time when the rest of the world is becoming one.

  10. Hopefully, America can wake up before the GAME is all over. This is NOW a ZERO SUM game, not a WIN-WIN game. That’s the big difference between FASCISM and DEMOCRACY. And the victors in the past presidential election are FASCISTS using a NAZI PLAYBOOK. If you NOW want to play the game then you have to use an ANTI-NAZI PLAYBOOK [Dana Milbank doesn’t know how to play the game, if he tries to hard to learn how, he will be out of a job]. Consequently, he’s left with his only weapon, laughing, like many others in his position.

    We’re facing a FUNDAMENTAL CHANGE, the old ways are no longer effective. By the time the Germans woke up to that reality in a similar situation, they had lost their freedom.

  11. JoAnn

    Maybe we, as members of this small group, don’t deserve what we’re getting, but as Americans we certainly do. When we slough off our civic responsibility and say our votes don’t matter, this is what we get. Even on this blog we saw comments about a Democratic sweep shortly before the election. Attitudes like that tell people their votes aren’t even necessary. Those who didn’t vote should wake up. Hopefully, this will be the alarm they needed.

  12. We have had 10+ years of micro-managing public education at the state level and it has brought us complaints of students being unprepared for college, lack of qualified workers just out of high school and now teachers that can’t pass a test for their licensing. Just in case I didn’t draw a clear line, the amount of testing and obsession with labeling public schools as failing has made us have produce students that can’t think. The politicians that have saddled us with testing that has proven to be a waste of time and money, vouchers that have never passed the test for improvements and labeling schools as failing or bad, want to double down from the top and continue all of these policies from the throughout the entire country. I guess the logic that says it has to get as bad as it can get before you can make it better, could apply to what we are in for with Betsy DeVos. I can only say that Trump and Pence should be reminded about Tony Bennett; a perfect example of what can happen when you really piss off teachers and parents.

  13. Ken Glass, I’d be interested to know if you are old enough to remember 1977 firsthand. I am, and I know that even back then, “oil” was seen as just one part of the “energy” picture. Yes, it’s true that the Arab oil embargo of the 70’s was a triggering event, but to claim that “THE purpose of the department of energy was to reduce dependence on foreign oil” is wearing blinders about the energy world then, and the energy world now.

  14. Obviously, incompetence has its downsides for them all, but be glad that we have a whole raft of incompetent demagogues who can’t find the exist in a room with one door. We could have had a bunch of competent, gifted demagogues. With the current bunch, it’s like having a bunch of untrained slow learners manning a ship. That will not end well. I’m afraid that we will just have to wait for it to hit the shoals. There must be a play somewhere that is illustrative.

  15. Mary; I was going to comment on Ken’s statements but decided it wouldn’t be understood. I am way old enough to remember 1977, can remember back the first election I voted in in 1958. The subject of “foreign oil” has long been in our headlines and remains a problem. Trying to think like Trump; you can do it if you shut down your brain, remember he has referred to a possible second chance to return to Iraq and take their oil this time. He would then consider it “our oil” when we take it from them. There is also the issue of “foreign oil” connected to the Trump/Putin/Russia unresolved mystery. ExxonMobil owns oil land in many foreign countries; their largest holding is in Russia but Russia will not allow them (us) to drill for the oil…and so it remains another “foreign oil” problem.

  16. Political Philosophy Day – We are stuck in a choice between democracy and fascism, but what if there is something in our future worse than fascism? Bannon has written and said that he wants a New World and that the present order must be destroyed so that we can move on to that New World. He is apparently hard at work in destroying our present order (such as it is) and may well be successful with a boss who spends most of his time nurturing his ego and tweeting about his tremendous victory while signing directives he hasn’t read (witness his appointment of Bannon to the National Security Council which Trump said he didn’t mean to do but which he could undo with the stroke of a pen if he could get Bannon to write it up).

    Charlemagne, or Charles the Great in French, was appointed by the pope to be emperor of the Holy Roman Empire in 1,000 A.D., which Voltaire correctly noted was neither holy, Roman nor an empire. Charlemagne was illiterate, and Donald the Great might as well be. Literacy is of no help when he neither reads nor understands what is put before him by an adviser that is playing him like a drum.

    So if Bannon writes the directives and a clueless Trump signs them, perhaps we are on the road to Bannon’s New World where fascism is only a pit stop. It may be after having arrived at our New World and the certain serfdom awaiting us that we will yearn for the good old days of fascism. It’s all relative, including the ways we organize our economy and society.

    So is the foregoing political philosopy or just way-out thinking? Someone tell me in this day of lies are truth and facts are un-facts what far-out thinking is. It seems to me that when standards for truth and our reliance on them go to pot that all bets are off. Presently Bannon and his stooge with the orange hair are moving us toward the former’s New World at warp speed and are following Orwell’s 1984 fantasy to a T. This is neither Kansas nor fantasy anymore, Toto.

  17. I think the Congress needs to set aside all pretense and simply put in a budget line item for the ACLU. This is going to be bonanza year for them.

  18. The Republican Party view our society as an ala carte menu. If you can afford the Gold Standard Health Care, or if your employer provides the Gold Standard – fine. If you cannot afford the Gold you get the Silver, Bronze, Tin or nothing.

    Schools are the same if you can live in a wealthy suburb you get the Gold, if not too bad, so sad. I suppose it is too much to ask that we look at how other countries have solved education issues.

    DeVos has now been rewarded for all her campaign donations. I suspect the combination of the ideology of the privatization of profits and socialization of costs will result in some people getting rich off of the Education System in the USA. More Creationism less Science, perhaps in the near future the Bible will be a required text book in schools and a DeVos Company will have the exclusive contract to sell those Bibles.

  19. No point in complaining anymore. Twisted, evil people elected by simpletons. Unless you are willing to consider a plan to sterilize simpletons (which at this point is sounding better and better), then time to make the best of it.

    Best advise I heard this week: never refer to anything as Bannon’s plan, Trump’s plan, or anything BUT the REPUBLICAN PLAN. They need to own what is about to happen to America 100%.

  20. Gerald,

    I agree with you. It’s called screwed-up fascism. Pardon my lighter substituted language. We have been on the road to workable [Bush] fascism for some time. Trump, Pence, Bannon & Company hijacked the “bus.” And now we’re witnessing something much worse as you have just pointed out.

    They have little understanding of what they have stolen. It reminds me of a TV thriller, I viewed some time ago, where a few thieves stole some material that they didn’t realise was radioactive; and contaminated themselves and everyone else around them. Finally, they all died, the guilty and the innocent.

  21. No chance any of them four being as or smarter than Drumpf. That is a big plus for Donnie’s eagle.

  22. Hello Pete. It is 3:08 p.m. so you may not read this. I agree that gasoline cars should be phased out but where do we get the electricity to refuel our electric cars. I want to go 1,00 miles and my electric car need to be recharged so I must stay home . No charging stations between here and there. Solar power alone is not the answer. At least not for some time

  23. “…I haven’t yet seen complaints about those who were not taught cursive writing…”

    Actually, it *is* a problem, but it isn’t as obvious, because many parents are teaching cursive at home if their school doesn’t offer it. Steve Jobs is famous for having attributed his focus on ground breaking design on a calligraphy class he took, and I believe that there is something to the connection between fine motor skills and attention to aesthetics that changes how we think.

  24. Yes, she is as totally incompetent as someone could be to hold this position, but all she’s there for is to funnel money to privateers who want to help themselves to those education dollars. She’ll have help setting that up, so it will happen, and Dumpster will praise her for doing an “amazing” job.

    As to education policy, expect an ongoing horror show. She’ll do the bidding of those with an agenda, because she hasn’t even a clue about education. So, look for doing away with any form of accountability for anything that goes on in schools, like standards for teacher licensing, schools that consistently fail, private schools, charters and magnets that do worse than public schools–she’ll just get rid of the means by which success is measured and then lie about what an “amazing” job she’s done in handing over tax dollars to privateers. Just take your Zantac and wait it out. It’s all you can do.

  25. Stuart,

    “With the current bunch, it’s like having a bunch of untrained slow learners manning a ship. That will not end well. I’m afraid that we will just have to wait for it to hit the shoals. There must be a play somewhere that is illustrative.”

    How about the Crusades [with nuclear weapons]? We don’t need fiction, just plain old history. Say back to about 1090 when it all started.

  26. From the United States Naval Academy, http://www.USNA.edu:

    1096: People’s Crusade. About 20,000 lesser nobles and peasants from northern France and Germany, led in part by Peter the Hermit and Walter Sansavoir. Peasants massacred Jews of Rhineland along the way. Many of the crusaders were killed by Hungarians in retaliation for their looting of the countryside. Those that made it to Constantinople were slaughtered by the Turks in Anatolia. Remnant, about 3,000 strong, including Peter the Hermit, joined up with Prince’s Crusade. Probably the greatest significance of the People’s Crusade was that it revealed the wide-spread popular appeal of Urban’s call to crusade and that the poor military showing it made against the Turks lulled the Sultan Kilij Arslan to underestimating the threat of the Princes’ Crusade that followed.

  27. I can write a blue streak but it probably would not get posted for the cursing. 🙂

  28. “Will Incompetence Save Us?”

    Sessions was just confirmed as Attorney General.

    Liz Warren has been “red carded”; she is no longer allowed to speak on the Senate floor for reading the letter from Coretta Scott King reporting Sessions’ denial of the vote to Blacks.

    Trump is on a public vendetta against Nordstrom’s for removing Ivanka’s products…and she is such a wonderful person…so says her Daddy.

    Neil Gorsuch, Trump’s nominee to SCOTUS, stated that Trump’s personal attack on Judge Robart for blocking his immigrant ban is disheartening and demoralizing. Any odds he will be confirmed…or still the nominee this time tomorrow?

    That is just a few of the events of the day, February 8, 2017, with Trump in office less than three weeks.

    How much more incompetence do we need to be saved?

  29. Gerald and Marv,
    Thanks for the nice words about the wisdom of the Cree Indian philosophy. It’s both profound and prophetic. The quote is a damn site better than anything we will ever hear from the Tweeter.

    Here it is again for those who missed it:
    “Only when the last tree has been cut down, the last fish caught, and the last stream poisoned, will we realize we cannot eat money.” ~ Cree Indian Philosophy

  30. At the end of the day, it matters little what the Cree say, moreover, it matters who wins the election. Rahm Emanuel summed it up nicely in his 2/6/17 speech to the audience at Stanford Graduate Business School when he said, “Winning is everything.”

    Without winning the election, we’re left with parroting the unattractive words of gloom, despair, and agony from the old Hee Haw quartet. Is that the best we can do?

  31. No use to belabor the point at this hour of the evening; however, the Cree said so much in just 25 words. ???⏳ if we have learned anything along the way, it is that we must be up and doing…but NOT doing what we have done in the past. Right, Marv?

  32. BSH,

    “At the end of the day, it matters little what the Cree say, moreover, it matters who wins the election. ”

    No doubt the elections in 2018 are extremely important, however, I believe what Betty has repeated again by the Cree Indians is a more valuable lesson. Because by the time the elections roll around there might be little left to make a difference. In other words, you can’t win when there’s nothing left to win.

    The following is from “The Revolution of Nihilism” by Hermann Rauchning (New York: Alliance Book Corporation, 1939) p. XV-XVI

    “The general view now is that National Socialism can only be unseated after a sensational collapse, but this overlooks the urgent need for a change to be effected BEFORE that happens. The ideas at the back of this policy of WAITING FOR A CATASTROPHE are only intelligible when it is recalled that one of the objects of the bargain of 1933 was to give the dangerous National Socialist movement an opportunity to exhaust itself politically. Such was the tactical intention of the alliance of middle class nationalism and monarchial conservatism with revolutionary “dynamism”—the restless revolutionizing energy of the National Socialists.

    It has proved UNSOUND, equally UNSOUND is the idea of ever being able to guide developments once the crash comes, from whatever side. If there were not this urgency for a change before it is too late (and that means an early change)……”

    Rahm Emanuel has no experience in dealing with a situation like we’re now in. This involves much more than an election. I’m going with Betty.

  33. I have to agree with Dana Milbank – at least with regard to Betsy DeVos. She does not understand federal law or regulations, and that – at a minimum will slow her down. It’s likely also to lead to multiple lawsuits to slow her down further.

    But I have to draw a line against incompetence when it comes to national and world survival. Generals Mattis and Kelly at the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security seem well-qualified for which I’m immensely thankful. (I wish I had confidence the President and his staff would be guided by them.) Sec’y of State Tillerson has no experience defending our national interests (as opposed to his oil interests), but he does seem intelligent, studious, and competent.

    By contrast, Michael Flynn, Steve Bannon, and Donald Trump himself show lack of competence, temperament, studious attention to important details, and the self-discipline to avoid believing hair-brained conspiracy theories they WANT to believe. Unforunately, it’s not apparent that these folks have any intention of improving their preparedness to protect the rest of us.

  34. Lovely and fitting quotes, everyone. Let me add this one: “When the power of love is stronger than the love of power, we will have peace.” Jimi Hendrix

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