Late last month the Government Accounting Office found that more than 60 years after the Brown v. Board decision declaring “separate but equal” schooling unconstitutional, the segregation of black and Hispanic students in K-12 schools in America was increasing.
As Bobby Scott, a black Congressman from Virginia, put it, “Segregation in public K-12 schools isn’t getting better, it’s getting worse, and getting worse quickly.” The report found that 20 million students are now attending racially segregated schools, 16 per cent of the total student body, up from 9 per cent in 2000. And it didn’t even deal with the large cities of the nation, from New York to Los Angeles, where 90 per cent of the students have segregated schools.
None of which will come as a surprise to anyone in the country who has paid attention to the progress of racial desegregation in the past half-century. Hidden History: An Exp... Best Price: $8.00 (as of 07:20 EST - Details)
It all hinges on Brown v. Board when the Supreme Court in 1954 decided that school segregation was illegal. They had solid moral and political grounds, found some psychological grounds, but had not quite so solid legal grounds, assuming that the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause somehow forbade segregation. It was a unanimous decision and it was trumpeted as a vital step for equality and justice to the black population.
But it was an act of fiat. This was not an issue that had been discussed and debated in public in any full or systematic way, not something that went beyond a quarter of the states forbidding segregation (de jure), another quarter practicing it, and the rest of the states taking no position. The system of “separate but equal” had been in place since 1894, some states trying to live up to it, and there had been no great public outcry even from those who realized that in fact most black schools were clearly inferior.
An act of fiat that, worse still, made no suggestions about how to achieve the desired goal of integration, and ultimately that was left up to the federal judiciary to try to cope with, leading to outcries in almost every jurisdiction that had to toe the line of some judge with no experience in solving such weighty social issues, since that wasn’t what the judicial system was really designed to do. There was great resistance in the South, of course, but many Northern cities were in turmoil for months, even years.
And as this latest report shows, and dozens of others over the years, it did not work very well.
Which is what always happens when a supposedly democratic government decides to do something on its own, without debate and discussion, exchange and examination, argument and altercation. Let me offer a few examples.
The Emancipation Proclamation was concocted by Lincoln as a war measure against the South, entirely on his own with only a few suggestions from his cabinet. It was foist on the South without any thought as to the consequences, how it was to be enforced, what would happen to the newly freed slaves, what effect it would have on the plantations. It made no provision for compensation, for integrating freedmen economically or politically into the system, for resettlement, not even 40 acres and a mule.
In the late 1990s, Bill Clinton, with support from his cabinet but with no consultation with Congress, put pressure on his aides to advance home ownership, specifically pressuring Fannie Mae (Federal National Mortgage Association) to underwrite mortgages to low- and moderate-income families, especially in inner cities, and to allow subprime borrowers into the market. It was a foolish gamble to advance the Democratic Party’s ideal of homeownership for all and inevitably resulted in the housing bubble that finally burst in 2007 and caused the Great Recession and its multiple tragedies.
Obamacare, though it did indeed formally pass a Democratic Congress in 2010, was an act put together by a few specialists assembled by Obama, and was intentionally made so long and complex and untransparent that its lead designer said it was intended to fool the American people. It is doubtful that anyone in Congress actually read it through, and there was no substantive debate, chiefly because House leader Nancy Pelosi said that “we have to pass this bill to find out what’s in it.” Inevitably Obamacare did not work the way it was supposed to, has had many faults and revisions, and has not made more than a small dent—a drop from 16 per cent of 18-64 year-olds to 13 per cent—in the number of previously uncovered citizens.
There’s a clear lesson here: all these schemes were apparently well-meaning with laudable goals, but that is not enough: government by fiat, instead of by consultation and deliberation, will never work and sometimes can create real disasters. I wouldn’t call Brown v. Board a disaster, more like a failure, but it shows the folly of trying to rule a democracy by fiat.