Boston University

Trump, DeVos, and Title IX Through the Lens of Stealth Authoritarianism by Lauren Hilliard @ Boston University

#KnowYourIX and #StopBesty hashtags were trending on Twitter in Los Angeles, Boston, and Chicago on September 7th. That day, Betsy DeVos, Education Secretary for the Trump administration, announced that reforms would be made to Title IX guidelines previously established by the Obama administration regarding how schools should handle sexual assault cases.

Originally enacted in 1972 to prohibit gender based discrimination in schools, Title IX has expanded over a multitude of women’s equality issues, including sexual assault. DeVos’ plan adds many new protections for the accused causing women’s rights activists, and even Joe Biden, to object to the new legislation. The new protocol for college sexual assault cases are given in Q & A format. Another new stipulation of the reform eliminates any time restrictions for colleges that receive federal funding to complete investigations.

Previous blog posts have stated that the Trump administration often employs Ozan Varo’s “stealth authoritarianism” to advance President Trump’s political agenda. The goal of this post is to examine the Title IX reformation and determine if this new legislation fits into the category of stealth authoritarianism.

Varo insists that stealth authoritarian leaders will, “shape perceptions and deflect attention from anti-democratic practices, they frequently enact democratic reforms and invoke rule-of-law rhetoric … in the face of changing political preferences by the electorate.” DeVos’ actions are far from stealthy. The administration has made zero attempt to deflect attention from this issue, mainly because these claims do not pose an inconsistency to Trump’s history. Over a dozen women have come forward accusing Trump of sexual misconduct.

Nevertheless, DeVos explains new regulations with rule-of-law rhetoric. “Any perceived offense can become a full-blown Title IX investigation,” DeVos said. “But if everything is harassment, nothing is.” By taking shortcuts to explain the implications of these reforms, she undervalues the electorate (and more importantly, sexual assault survivors).

The unempathetic nature of Devos’ reforms and her justifications for them have not gone unnoticed by our nation’s voters. There is clear opposition from the electorate: a group of Columbia University students stormed a classroom of a Title IX administrator, and students at George Mason University protested outside the building where DeVos first made the announcement. Government officials and community leaders have spoken out as well: Senator Bernie Sanders made a statement calling the new reforms a “disgrace,” and Sofie Karasek, co-founder of End Rape on Campus, said, “intentions are clear: to protect those who ‘grab’ by the genitals and brag about it — and make college campuses a safer place for them.”

It is difficult to categorize whether the reform is stealth authoritarianism or just blatant reversal of past precedent. The new legislation poses a great threat to women, some of Trump’s most vocal critics. It aligns with Varo’s ideals that stealth authoritarians, “create systematic advantages for themselves and raise the costs to the opposition of dethroning them.” While this new legislation falls under Varo’s claims of authoritarianism, it leans more towards an undisguised push of Trump’s agenda. Title IX reformations do not “entrench the status quo” nor “insulate the incumbents from meaningful democratic challenges.” Opponents of DeVos have the opportunity to vocalize their criticisms and persuade their representatives to take action against her and the new Title IX reforms.

The Title IX reformations may not be overt use of stealth authoritarian tactics, but do have problematic repercussions. They reinforce rule-of-law rhetoric and create obstacles for Trump’s most vocal opponents. Through overturning the status quo, the Trump administration can’t hide or deflect attention from this potentially anti-democratic legislature.

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