Leadership matters. Political leaders have a choice: Appeal to the best in people or to the worst. It’s human for individuals to host an ongoing debate between our better angels on one shoulder and the devils of resentment and self-promotion on the other. But once in a while, the political landscape amplifies the dispute.
The 2022 election marks a distinctive moment in U.S. history. In Pennsylvania, the choices could not be more stark. The contest is not typically partisan in any way I can remember from a lifetime of being a political nerd. (In elementary school I watched the Democratic and Republican national conventions when other kids were watching “Kukla, Fran, and Ollie.”)
The confrontation this time is between democracy and autocracy; evidence and lies; reality and conspiracy theories; the peaceful transfer of power and armed violence.
Many understand the overall context of higher education as a public good and recognize that the United States is the only developed nation that forces individual citizens to incur monstrous debt for college attendance.
In his September 1 speech, President Biden made a clear distinction between “MAGA Republicans” and other members of the Republican party. I’ve long believed that, in a phrase originated in 2016 by my husband, MAGA should be MAHA, for “Make America Hate Again.” Hate people who are recent immigrants, even though your own family came through the golden door just a few generations ago. Hate those who don’t look like you. Hate and resent anyone who seems to have an advantage over you, especially an educational advantage.
The MAHA’s have always been with us, but until now they have dwelled on the periphery of American politics. Now, unfortunately, they are empowered by Republican enablers, who, for self-serving, partisan reasons, do not want to risk alienating the Trump base — base as it is. For short-term gain, they are willing to sacrifice the enduring health of American democracy.
Student loan forgiveness is a public good
I’ve been reading responses to the ideas in my August 29 article, “President Biden’s Higher Ed Transformation.”
Many understand the overall context of higher education as a public good and recognize that the United States is the only developed nation that forces individual citizens to incur monstrous debt for college attendance. Income-based payments and loan forgiveness are a matter of course in affluent countries around the world.
And yet in our “land of opportunity,” President Biden’s Executive Order on student loan forgiveness, while supported by a majority of Americans, has elicited some angry cries of, Not fair! and What about me?
Some Democrats, ignoring their better angels, have joined the chant, but the cries have been led mostly by Republicans, who want to take legal action and are seeking those who might have standing to challenge the Executive Order.
Members of the Student Loan Serving Alliance (SLSA), a trade association that processes student loans, have been suggested as possible plaintiffs. I have to confess that even with all the things to be outraged about these days, this idea pushed my buttons.
In a just society, who would give priority to money gained from the processing of student loans over the future prospects of debt-burdened students, whose freedom from prior debt might enable a resumption of study toward a degree? To his credit, Scott Buchanan, the president of the SLSA, has rejected seeking court action. Let’s hope that the companies and state agencies that comprise SLSA’s membership do likewise.
Can Republicans be serious about wanting to eliminate public service loan forgiveness?
Republicans in the House have introduced legislation, entitled “Responsible Education Assistance through Loan Reforms (REAL),”which would eliminate loan forgiveness for public servants. Let me point out that there are some good things in this bill. I am particularly in favor of legislated limits on student indebtedness, which would require college financial aid officers to do what they should be doing all along — serving as counselors, helping students to incur the minimum debt necessary for their financial needs.
But, but, but, “The bill would also eliminate … the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, which provides debt relief to borrowers working in public service jobs, such as teaching, nursing or military service, after making 120 payments. As of June 2022, $8.1 billion in student debt has been canceled for 145,000 borrowers through PSLF.”
In what universe does that make sense? As I have written before, it’s in the nation’s interest to increase support of public servants. The U.S. is now experiencing a teacher shortage of dangerous proportions. The “teacher pay penalty” has reached a new high. We must improve financial benefits for those who choose teaching and other public service careers.
Now is the time to elect leaders who think long-term and inspire commitment to the public good. In Pennsylvania, that means voting for individuals who will increase state funding for public higher education, including more generous grants for low-income students. Right now, Pennsylvania ranks among the worst states in funding higher education and in student loan debt.
I’m an educator, so these educational examples are in the forefront of my mind. But my overall concern is combating a creeping mean-spiritedness, the utterly selfish practice of “me-first and to hell with the rest!” Politicians in general are drawn naturally to self-serving four-year goals. But the choices are clearer than usual this time between “MAHA” and the public good.
What you can do:
- Register and vote. Up and down the ticket, select candidates who have proven a long-term commitment to the public good.
- Voice your support President Biden’s Executive Order on student loan forgiveness.
- Support reforms in loan forgiveness for public servants.
- Choose a generous spirit over short-term “me-first-ism.”
Elaine Maimon, Ph.D., is the author of Leading Academic Change: Vision, Strategy, Transformation. Her co-authored book, Writing In The Arts and Sciences, has been designated as a landmark text. She is a Distinguished Fellow of the Association for Writing Across the Curriculum. Follow @epmaimon on Twitter.
MORE HIGHER ED SOLUTIONS FROM ELAINE MAIMONTaylor University Commencement May 18, 2019 (Official White House Photo by D. Myles Cullen). Original public domain image from Flickr