On Thursday, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos announced her vapid eagerness to rescind former President Barack Obama’s Title IX guidelines — measures that were necessary to ensure both women and men retained their civil and human rights in the wake of sexual assault. These were incremental changes that positively contributed, but stopped far short of solving what remains an endemic problem across all American universities. Of course, DeVos’ heedless commitment to dismantling almost every piece of common-sense, Obama-era educational reform — from regulations on for-profit colleges to a path to more affordable higher education — is nothing new; to say DeVos is a grossly unqualified and incompetent Secretary of Education is also repetitive, though necessary. What remains to be said, however, is that actions like these truly represent a different sort of crisis in American government: the inability of the Trump administration to represent any sort of leader in American cultural progress, national solidarity or moral principle.
I won’t waste time outlining the dire necessity of sexual assault reform and Title IX guidelines to a student body largely aware of these concerns. Nationally, however, sexual assault is on the rise; this University’s statistic is itself higher than the national average, and the vast majority — perhaps nearly the totality — of cases go unreported. Most women who report having experienced some form of sexual assault also report they were afraid to go to authorities. Our own Secretary of Education — the one their taxes bankroll — just took drastic steps to confirm and enforce those fears.
Let me make this very simple: Betsy DeVos thinks the major problem with Title IX is that it is too easy for rapists to be convicted. Are her fears founded? Nationally, the number of assault cases that go unreported hovers around 63 percent. The number of reported cases found either baseless or unsubstantiated is about 2 percent. Moreover, DeVos isn’t rolling back guidelines that unfairly discriminate against the accused — she is removing protections on the rights of survivors to pursue due legal action. The consequences of that action are largely subject to the processes of universities.
Nonetheless, if your child decides to spend his or Saturday nights physically and psychologically traumatizing fellow students, yes — they have forfeited their right to his education. That’s the meaning of the “law and order” Trumpians like DeVos are supposed to love so much — and I don’t know about you, but this ultra-sensitivity toward violent criminals sounds like the stuff of “snowflakes” to me.
But back to the larger problem: From Nazis to college rapists and climate change deniers, from white supremacist-led terrorism to police brutality, contrary to traditional decency and objective common sense, the new morality of the Trump administration is clear: Let your kids eat ice cream for dinner.
The administration equivocates the 98 percent of scientists who have observed and demonstrated evidence of climate change to the 2 percent who refuse to believe it. It equivocates the desires of neo-Nazis to terrorize with the civil rights of those citizens they seek to exterminate. It equivocates the voluntary danger of the police role with the involuntary danger of constant, life-threatening racial discrimination. You can say and do almost anything: praise Nazi ideas, defend rapists, commit acts of terrorism, argue against life-saving science, use a police badge as a license to kill, and the president and his cabinet will go out of the way to give you time. There is no larger purpose to the office as Trump sees it; he is not interested in crafting his administration to be a role model for the loftier ideals of American culture and society.
Of course, let me also add that these groups should have, and are entitled to, the full extent of their free speech. But when an administration goes out of its way to give a national platform to white supremacists, it is because that administration does not have the moral or social backbone to tell the crying children of a dying whitelash to put that swastika away and become a productive member of society. When an administration thinks the problem with Title IX is that it’s too hard to get away with rape, it’s because that administration does not have the moral or social backbone to tell these pathetic, entitled predators to assume some personal responsibility to change their behavior.
The highest office in the land should send a higher message — that is to say, if you felt bad for Brock Turner because his rape of another student destroyed his career of swimming to the end and back the fastest, you are not in line with the values of brotherhood, legalism and honor upon which this country was originally founded.
Be aware of the larger message the Trump administration is sending, and be vigilant that we do not allow it to be internalized into mainstream American society long after Trump is gone: In this country, we do not let anyone do exactly as they please. That is the alt-right’s bastardization of the meaning of American freedom. This administration is weak in myriad ways, but most especially in being a reliable leader in social progress and moral responsibility.
Lily Vaughan is a junior majoring in history and political science. Her column,“Playing Politics,” runs Fridays.