Aug 25, 2023

Answering all your questions.

On Trump, education, the 2024 election, abortion, and random personal musings.

I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, nonpartisan, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum on the news of the day — then “my take.”

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One of my favorite things about Tangle is hearing from my readers and listeners. Every day, dozens of people fill out our question form and reply to our newsletters, and I do my best to keep up. But, obviously, it isn't possible to get back to everyone.

So, today, I thought I'd tackle some questions that I haven’t gotten a chance to answer yet. I tried to pick some that were similar to questions asked by other people and some that I thought were unique or challenging. Thank you all for writing in, and please keep it up! Remember, whether politics or personal, I’ll always try to be honest about where I stand. So don’t be afraid to ask.

Q: Why do people have such a strong disregard for education and teachers? I'll concede right away that teachers are not blameless, but it certainly seems like one group politically has strong negative opinions on education today. I have worked in schools for 10 years now, [teaching students] from kindergarten to 8th grade. Perhaps I'm naïve, but I'm just not seeing all of the things that many people are claiming happen in schools. What I do see in every school I've been in are teachers who care deeply, and teachers who work incredibly hard every day for their students and students' families.

— John from Wisconsin

Tangle: There's a lot implied by this question, so I just want to cut through that and get to what I think you're claiming: Republicans are fighting against the institutions that shape public education. During the debate on Wednesday, several candidates stated that they want to fight teachers unions or do away with the Department of Education altogether.

And when you say you're "just not seeing all of the things that many people are claiming happen in schools," I'm going to assume you mean gender discussion and Critical Race Theory. And yes, I think those are overstated issues — at least in the sense that Critical Race Theory has an ever-changing definition to fit political talking points. I do think it’s true that some very progressive world views are being commonly taught in public schools, though in the times we've covered Florida's bills that legislated "age-appropriate" gender education and limited Critical Race Theory in the classroom, I've pushed back on just how dangerous or prevalent these issues actually are. I think, generally, Republicans are using the most ideological leftist educators in public schools to motivate broader education reform.

All that taken into account, Republicans do have a platform for reforming education, and it isn’t unusual for politicians to use cultural issues to argue for their causes. When you say that "teachers aren't blameless," I think you're referring to some of what I got into above. Additionally, teachers tend to lean left and embody a lot of the values that conservative parents might not agree with. And if you take teachers unions leaning left and promoting tenured salaries, and conservatives leaning right and promoting free market solutions, the rest of the picture paints itself.

Then there's what I think is the most direct answer I can give you: People are dissatisfied with education in general, "school choice" is growing in popularity to counter the public education model, and Republicans are the party of school choice. Given that the concerns about gender ideology and Critical Race Theory being taught in K-12 schools aren’t just made up, it’s easy for those issues — which are deeply political and divisive — to be used as wedges for the kinds of education reform conservatives want. 

Q: Why is it that abortion is a government issue? How did abortion get to be decided by legislation and is not a personal decision for women?

— Mary from Chino, California

Tangle: I’ve got to say, I think this question assumes the conclusion. "A personal decision for women" is basically the definition of a "pro-choice" stance on abortion, and there is and always has been significant debate over when a human life begins. People who are "pro-life" see human life as beginning at conception, or at some point during a pregnancy, and are speaking out for those human lives. That's a political stance — which means it will involve the government.

I'll probe a little further, though: When we wrote about the history of abortion a few years ago, we told the story of how Roe v. Wade came to be, starting with us copying the laws on the books in England. For the first decades of U.S. history, abortions were legal so long as they happened before "quickening," a time period when women could feel fetal movements, typically around 15 to 20 weeks into a pregnancy. 

In the 1850's, The American Medical Association led a significant push to criminalize abortion, saying there was no difference in fetal development before "quickening" compared to after. The movement was supported by a wave of anti-immigrant sentiment, and with the Catholic Church changing its position in 1869 from tolerating early-term abortions to fully against it at all stages of pregnancy, prohibitions on abortion increased.

And it's been a contentious issue ever since. To read more about our history with abortion, and how it became so political and tangled up with the Supreme Court, you should check out our full article on it.

Q: Would you consider serving as a debate moderator (whether in a primary election or general election process) if you were ever asked to do so? What would you do differently from what most moderators currently do (whether that has to do with handling participants' behavior, which participants are directed to answer different questions, etc.)? What would be your priority questions/topics to ask to the participants that you'd want to hear insights on from each participant?

— Sean, Washington D.C.