It’s easy in this era of Trump’s America — and particularly in the last couple weeks — to focus all our energies on the loud issues. Which usually revolves around whatever Donald Trump himself is doing and saying. But it’s just as important to keep track of what’s going on behind Trump, as Seth Meyers noted in a new edition of “The Check In” on Tuesday’s episode of “Late Night.”
“It is important to note that while the media focuses on Trump’s daily tweets and scandals, outbursts and distractions, the government he installed is hard at work making policy that affects our lives,” Meyers said to begin the segment. “And one of those installations, secretary of education Betsy DeVos, has been quietly overseeing a massive rollback of civil rights regulations in her department.”
“The Check In,” for those who aren’t familiar with this segment, is more of a big picture look at what’s going on than Meyers’ popular “A Closer Look,” which focuses more on the events of the past day or two. It’s kind of a “hey, remember this big, slowly developing story that you may not be paying all that much attention to but you really should” kind of thing. And the story of what Betsy DeVos has been up to is exactly that sort of thing.
“So, within the Department of Education, there is an important office called the Office for Civil Rights. Now, for people who can’t afford a lawyer, appealing to this office is often the only way they can seek justice if they feel a civil rights violation has occurred,” Meyers said. “The problem is, it doesn’t seem like Betsy DeVos knows much about it, at least based on this exchange.”
“Late Night” then played a clip of DeVos in a hearing speaking with Democratic congresswoman Marcia Fudge about the Office of Civil Rights that went like this:
DeVos: “The Office for Civil Rights is committed to protecting the civil rights as determined under the law of this land.”
Fudge: “That’s not the mission statement. Do you know what it is?”
DeVos: “Perhaps you can share it– “
Fudge: “That’s — that’s okay.”
DeVos: “I have not memorized– “
Fudge: “No, that’s okay.”
DeVos: ” –the mission statement.”
Fudge: “Please explain for me what you would believe to be vigorous enforcement of civil rights in the context of schools today?”
DeVos: “It would be following the law and enforcing the law as stated.”
Fudge: [long pause] “Okay.”
“She just fully gave up,” Meyers said after the clip finished. “That’s how I sound when i’m stuck on the phone with Time Warner. ‘I want an operator. No, operator! Okay. Fios it is.’
“So DeVos claims to respect the mission statement, but the reality is she’s been dismantling and defunding the civil rights office. In fact, shortly after that exchange, three civil rights organizations, including the NAACP — which, incidentally, is how Betsy DeVos spells kneecap — sued the Department of Education over new procedures that allow its Office for Civil Rights to dismiss complaints that it determines to be burdensome.”
Meyers then went in on one particularly egregious example of the shift in priorities at the Office for Civil Rights under DeVos.
“Before DeVos, the office was obligated to review any complaint in which a civil rights violation may have occurred. But now, DeVos is using the Office for Civil Rights to investigate complaints like whether programs supporting women at Yale University and the University of Southern California violate federal law by discriminating against men,” Meyers said.
“That’s right — the civil rights office is taking up the cause of white guys trying to get into Yale. Because I believe it was Martin Luther King who said, ‘I have a dream that my bro, Chad, could be accepted to Yale with a 2.6 GPA and a letter from his dad and not be tossed aside into Dartmouth or, god forbid, Cornell.’ “
You can watch all of the “The Check In” segment from Tuesday’s episode of “Late Night With Seth Meyers” in the video embedded at the top of this post.