Brooks and Nocera

Bobo has taken to the fainting couch, clutching his pearls.  In “The Anti-Party Men: Trump, Carson, Sanders and Corbyn” he moans that the rise of extreme political figures this summer is a result of the decline of civic institutions.  In the comments even “Aaron Walton” from as far away as Geelong, Australia can point out the obvious:  “”These four anti-party men have little experience in the profession of governing.” What an underhanded, untrue shot at Sanders! The man has only been in elected office since 1981 and has served as both an executive (mayor of Burlington) and as a legislator (House & Senate).  What more “experience in the profession of governing” do you want?”  Mr. Nocera has a question in “Mr. Zuckerberg’s Expensive Lesson:”  What happened to the Facebook founder’s $100 million gift to Newark’s schools?  Here’s Bobo:

Political parties are civic institutions. They are broad coalitions built for the purpose of creating a governing majority that can be used to win elections and pass agendas. This summer three American politicians have risen to the fore, and they all sit outside or at the margin of the party they are trying to lead.

Donald Trump didn’t even swear allegiance to his party’s eventual nominee until last week. He is a lone individual whose main cause and argument is Himself.

Ben Carson has no history in politics and a short history in the Republican Party. He is a politically unattached figure whose primary lifetime loyalty has been to the field of medicine.

Bernie Sanders is a socialist independent, who in the Senate caucuses with the Democrats.

And yet, these anti-party figures are surging in the party races for the presidential nominations.

This phenomenon is even more extreme in Britain. The British Labour Party suffered a crushing election defeat in May because people did not think its leader was strong enough, and because they thought its policy agenda was too far left.

And yet at the moment the favorite to become the next leader of the British Labour Party is Jeremy Corbyn. Mr. Corbyn has existed for decades on the leftward fringe of the Labour Party, tolerated as sort of a nice but dotty uncle.

He spent much of his career at the edge of the parliamentary party, writing columns for The Morning Star, a communist-founded newspaper. He’s a pacifist who called for British withdrawal from NATO. He’s spent his career consorting with the usual litany of anti-Western figures, including his friends in Hamas and Hezbollah. Until about three months ago he was considered the most outside of the outsiders — until a cult of personality developed around him, rocketing him to the top of the polls.

These four anti-party men have little experience in the profession of governing. They have no plausible path toward winning 50.1 percent of the vote in any national election. They have no prospect of forming a majority coalition that can enact their policies.

These sudden stars are not really about governing. They are tools for their supporters’ self-expression. They allow supporters to make a statement, demand respect or express anger or resentment. Sarah Palin was a pioneer in seeing politics not as a path to governance but as an expression of her followers’ id.

Why has this type risen so suddenly?

First, political parties, like institutions across society, are accorded less respect than in decades past. But we’re also seeing the political effects of a broader culture shift, the rise of what sociologists call expressive individualism.

There has always been a tension between self and society. Americans have always wanted to remain true to individual consciousness, but they also knew they were citizens, members of a joint national project, tied to one another by bonds as deep as the bonds of marriage and community.

As much as they might differ, there was some responsibility to maintain coalitions with people unlike themselves. That meant maintaining conversations and relationships, tolerating difference, living with dialectics and working with opposites. The Democratic Party was once an illogical coalition between Northeastern progressives and Southern evangelicals. The G.O.P. was an alliance between business and the farm belt.

But in the ethos of expressive individualism, individual authenticity is the supreme value. Compromise and coalition-building is regarded as a dirty and tainted activity. People congregate in segregated cultural and ideological bubbles and convince themselves that the purest example of their type could actually win.

The young British left forms a temporary cult of personality around Jeremy Corbyn. The alienated right forms serial cults around Glenn Beck, Herman Cain, Palin, Trump and Carson.

These cults never last because there is no institutional infrastructure. But along the way the civic institutions that actually could mobilize broad coalitions — the parties — get dismissed and gutted. Without these broad coalition parties, the country is ungovernable and cynicism ratchets up even further.

Maybe this is a summer squall and voters will get interested in the more traditional party candidates come autumn, the ones who can actually win majorities and govern. But institutional decay is real, and it’s what happens in a country in which people would rather live in solipsistic bubbles than build relationships across differences.

I wonder what would happen if a sensible Donald Trump appeared — a former cabinet secretary or somebody who could express the disgust for the political system many people feel, but who instead of adding to the cycle of cynicism, channeled it into citizenship, into the notion that we are still one people, compelled by love of country to live with one another, and charged with the responsibility to make the compromises, build the coalitions, practice messy politics and sustain the institutions that throughout history have made national greatness possible.

“A sensible Donald Trump” is an oxymoron, with the emphasis on moron.  Here’s Mr. Nocera:

It’s just hitting bookstores, but Dale Russakoff’s new book, “The Prize: Who’s in Charge of America’s Schools?,” has already become a source of enormous contention, both in Newark, where the story takes place, and among education advocates of various stripes.

The plotline revolves around what happened to the Newark school system after Mark Zuckerberg, the young founder and chief executive of Facebook, donated $100 million in 2010 to transform the city’s schools, a sum that was matched by the prodigious fund-raising of Cory Booker, Newark’s former mayor (now the state’s junior senator). The stated goal of the grant, according to Zuckerberg at the time, was to turn Newark’s schools into a “symbol of educational excellence for the whole nation.” Five years later, with the money basically gone, I think it is fair to say that hasn’t happened.

Russakoff’s story, in brief, is that Zuckerberg, knowing little about education reform, naïvely put his faith in the charismatic Booker, a champion of the reform movement. Booker advocated the usual things: more teacher accountability, more charter schools and new agreements with the teachers’ union that would allow for the best teachers to be rewarded — and the worst to be fired.

She goes on to describe a series of blunders by the reformers, including huge sums for consultants, the hiring of an abrasive superintendent, an unwillingness to fund useful programs that weren’t “transformative” enough, and a top-down approach that infuriated the people of Newark, who felt they were being dictated to by wealthy white outsiders.

Almost half of Zuckerberg’s grant was spent (or committed) to help gain new labor contracts; out of the $200 million in his money and the matching grant, a full $21 million went to buying out unwanted teachers and other staff members. Yet Zuckerberg didn’t realize until too late that New Jersey state law — not teacher contracts — imposed the seniority system he was trying to get rid of.

The education reform community is furious at the way it is portrayed in the book; one such critic, Laura Waters, described “The Prize” as “a fairy tale about reform.” Others believe that Russakoff overlooked some of the good things that have taken place in Newark, especially in the area of teacher training. And that the public schools are at least marginally better than they were.

But Russakoff doesn’t let those propagating the status quo off the hook, either. She describes the schools system as an “employer of last resort.” She shows the enormous impediments to real change imposed by the teachers’ union.

Most telling is her comparison between the resources that a very good charter school, Spark Academy, has at its disposal and those available to the public schools. The KIPP charter network gets $16,400 per pupil, of which $12,664 is devoted to Spark, its elementary school in Newark. The district schools get $19,650 per pupil, but only $9,604 trickles down to the school. Money that the charter school is spending on extra support is being soaked up by the bloated bureaucracy in the public school system. It is a devastating fact.

Here is another one: The primary change in Newark has been the increasing number of students — over 30 percent now — who are being educated in charter schools. I realize that many in the education reform community will applaud this fact, especially since those students have, by and large, shown enormous progress in test scores (though Russakoff is quick to note that as in all cities, some Newark charters failed “dramatically”). It’s great for the 30 percent who are learning from charter school teachers. But as Russakoff puts it in the most poignant line in her book, “What would become of the children left behind in district schools?”

The original idea behind the charter school movement was that this competition would spur traditional public schools to improve, to better compete for students. Instead, just as white flight drained urban school districts of white middle-class students when their families fled to the suburbs, now is there a new brain drain, with the black and Latino children of ambitious parents fleeing urban public schools now that they see an alternative.

There is another way to approach reform, a way that includes collaboration with the teachers, instead of bullying them or insulting them. A way that involves the community rather than imposing top-down decisions. A way that allows for cross-pollination between charters and traditional public schools so that the best teaching practices become commonplace in both kinds of schools.

As for Mark Zuckerberg, his experience in Newark does not appear to have deterred him. Last year he pledged to give $120 million in grants to high-poverty schools in the San Francisco Bay Area. This time, however, he is insisting that he will collaborate with parents, teachers, school leaders and officials of both charter organizations and school districts, according to an op-ed he wrote with his wife, Priscilla Chan, in The San Jose Mercury News.

Apparently, Zuckerberg has learned his lesson. What will it take for the rest of us to learn?

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