What Trump Really Means When He Talks About "Government Schools"
The origins of the Overton window and the coming war on public education.
About halfway through Glenn Beck's 2010 "paranoid thriller" The Overton Window, his protagonist discovers a slide deck detailing a secret leftist plot to gradually subvert the American Way and take over the United States. The conspirators (who include the protagonist's dad) are employing an insidious, if somewhat wonky, tactic. As Beck's hero explains, "It's called the Overton Window. My father stole the concept from a think tank in the Midwest; it's a way of describing what the public is currently ready to accept on any issue, so you can decide how best to move them toward what you want."
That's a pretty good distillation of the Overton window, a concept that's suddenly gotten a lot of attention as Donald Trump and his allies have pushed the boundaries of acceptable political discourse. "On key issues, [Trump] didn't just move the Overton Window, he smashed it, scattered the shards, and rolled over them with a steamroller," National Review's David French noted with a mix of dismay and admiration in late 2015. Trump's disregard for mainstream conservatism has also emboldened his boosters on the extreme right. The day before he announced his run for Louisiana's Senate seat, ex-Ku Klux Klan leader and Trump fan David Duke tweeted about squeezing through the Overton window into a federal office. "If you want to radically shift the Overton window, you need that far-right flank," Richard Spencer, the white nationalist credited with coining the term "alt-right," told Mother Jones.
As Trump continues to push policies and embrace figures that would have been anathema not so long ago, we're about to see the Overton window shift to accommodate the defenestration of progressivism. One area to pay close attention to is education, where Trump has a direct link to the origins of the Overton window concept—and where the Trump administration will likely promote policies that would blow up public education as we know it.
Trump's connection to the Overton window starts with Betsy DeVos, his pick for secretary of education. She's married to Dick DeVos, heir to the multilevel marketing giant Amway and a leading bankroller of Republican and conservative causes and candidates in their home state of Michigan. The DeVoses have also been major funders of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a conservative think thank that has long pushed for deregulation, privatization, and weakening labor unions. (Dick DeVos has also served on the center's board of directors.) The Mackinac Center is also the birthplace of the Overton window.
The concept is named after its creator, Joseph Overton, the late senior vice president of the center. In the mid-'90s, Overton developed the idea to describe how a think tank might shift public opinion to consider ideas beyond the realm of conventional wisdom. Since politicians would not entertain these risky ideas for fear of rocking the boat, it was up to political outsiders and the public to nudge What Trump Really Means When He Talks About "Government Schools" | Mother Jones: