Trump, Opt-Outers, and the Politics of Resentment

Much has been written about the constituency driving Donald Trump’s candidacy, what Molly Ball (describing Trump’s progenitor Sarah Palin) calls a  “populist, antiestablishment politics of white working-class cultural resentment.”

This same sort of white populist resentment drives the anti-standards and accountability movement. While Trump’s supporters vilify the GOP establishment (Jeb Bush, Mitt Romney) and see themselves as victims of a new economy that renders traditional livelihoods obsolete and college unaffordable, the opt-out movement derives its energy from resentment towards Common Core and aligned testing.  For these refuseniks, the villains are the much-derided “reformers” who seek to remedy decades of educational inequity through school choice, proscribed intervention in failing schools, and attention to data.

This education politics of resentment was, according to news coverage,  in full display at last month’s United Opt-Out conference in Philadelphia. Politico notes that attendees were “almost exclusively white.” The article quotes Gus Morales, a Director at the Badass Teachers Association that defines itself as a defense against the "target-rich environment for corporate privatization by education reformers using tactics worthy of insider trading to sell school 'failure' as a way to market quick fixes and hedge fund solutions."

Mr. Morales told Politico, “We all know that in the suburbs, people are opting out in droves, and it’s mostly the white community."

(For more on the opt-out demographic, see this great piece from my colleague Caroline Bermudez.)

Similarly, the Philadelphia Inquirer coverage of the Philly conference  describes how a “small, angry band of parents and teachers in the Lower Merion School District took on a big challenge: convincing their neighbors that the intensifying emphasis on high-stakes standardized tests was harming their children's education.” The article then crosses state lines to Cherry Hill, N.J., where a parent there remarks, "I think it's catching on. There's a lot more people at least asking questions and trying to figure it out."

For the record, Lower Merion is 5.5% black, 3% Hispanic, 6% Asian, and 86% white. The median family income is $148,123, compared to the statewide median family income of $87,389.  Cherry Hill is 6% black, 5.6% Hispanic, 11.7% Asian, and 78% white. The median family income is  $109,786.

Trump’s constituency? Only in skin color. No guns and no walls (except those that restrict school district enrollment to zip code). But this dyspeptic resentment towards necessary shifts in public education is its defining characteristic. Both cohorts also share the conviction that (economic/educational) change is a rigged corporate conspiracy.

When Palin endorsed Trump in January at an Iowa rally, she shouted out,
“Trump’s candidacy, it has exposed not just that tragic ramifications of that betrayal of the transformation of our country, but too, he has exposed the complicity on both sides of the aisle that has enabled it, okay?” 
In similar  (if more grammatical) style, opt-outers, whether at Badass Teachers Association events or United Opt Out conferences, promote a nefarious conspiracy to “privatize” public education. Diane Ravitch, the conspiracy-theorists’ primary megaphone, insists that the nation’s beleaguered students, parents, and teachers have been betrayed by educational transformation, that  Bill Gates “bought and paid for ‘a swift revolution’ that bypassed any democratic participation by the public” in order to “assume control of the future of American education.”

Very Trump-ish, no? White, angry, and betrayed by change.

There are, of course, many differences between Trump supporters and opt-outers, the latter of whom are more likely to support  Bernie Sanders, another populist much revered by the Badass Teachers Association, than Hillary Clinton.  But they share the same politics of resentment.