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The Weeds: the quiet comeback of school segregation

In the August 2 episode of The Weeds, Sarah Kliff and Ezra Klein are joined by Vox’s Alvin Chang to discuss school segregation, recent staff shake-ups in the Trump administration, and a white paper on marijuana taxation.

Alvin, who recently wrote a cartoon-explainer on modern-day school segregation, points out that the landmark desegregation Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education had an unintended effect: Through ruling school segregation by race legally unconstitutional, the case triggered white communities to cluster together in the suburbs, away from black communities. This clustering created struggling city schools populated largely by lower-class students of color, and suburban schools populated by wealthy white students. Schools had resegregated.

The Weeds team also explores the other ways humans draw lines around themselves to achieve certain goals, like gerrymandering districts based on political motivations — and how those lines are very different from school secession lines.

“With gerrymandering you're kind of taking away power from others,” says Alvin. “Whereas with school secessions it seems like it's more about hoarding opportunity for yourself.”

You can listen to the episode here, or subscribe to the show on iTunes here.

Here’s Ezra talking about the challenges that Trump faces in staffing his administration, now that he’s made it clear he’s willing to turn on even his most loyal supporters.

EZRA: If you want to look at it a different way, let's say you are a corrupt, complicated, administration — regime, let's say you're a corrupt regime. One of the problems you have is figuring out how to get people in who are truly going to be loyal to you versus people who might not be loyal to you. And that's a problem because when people come and apply for jobs, they want power, they want the connections that will bring them money, so they might lie to you. This is a problem that regimes face all over, particularly authoritarian regimes. One thing you can do, is you can create a situation in which it is clear that only the truly — not just the truly loyal, but those without any other options, will thrive.

What's amazing is the way Trump has treated Sessions and Priebus. You have there two of his most important loyalists. Priebus really, really, really made the RNC — at a time when people wanted it to tilt against Trump — an ally of Trump's. He used the RNC to build the campaign operation Trump had never bothered to build. On the night Trump won the election, in his victory speech he talked about how important Priebus was, that he's a "total superstar,” and he actually asked Priebus to come up and say a couple words, which is speaking to how much he was into him. Same thing, victory night speech, Sessions was the first major politician to endorse Trump, Trump called him up, he singled him out for special praise, said that “he was the first one to endorse me.”

Then, subsequently, Trump has turned on both. I mean, he let Priebus be humiliated by [Anthony] Scaramucci, but for months now he's been talking to people publicly, privately about his disappointment with his chief of staff. With Sessions, he denied Sessions was ever even loyal to him in the first place. He said like, "Oh, I just had big rallies in Alabama so Sessions jumped on board." He had rallies a lot of places that were big, and Republican senators did not jump on board.

So one thing this is doing, I think, you're already hearing that internal to the administration, people like Rex Tillerson are beginning to think about leaving. Because this is just not good, you don't want to be part of this goat rodeo. If that's the case, if you begin to have an attrition of people who are independent enough to fear that they are going to come in under Trump's bad side — because, my God, if Priebus and Sessions do then nobody is safe — then the people who come next, all of a sudden you are not going to have solid governors and captains of industry coming in to this administration.

The only people you'll have are people like Scaramucci who have no other opportunity to get political power, no other opportunity to satisfy this kind of ambition, and one way to make sure you have people around you who truly will be loyal, who will do things that are possibly unethical, who will say anything you want them to say, no matter how dumb or wrong it is, is to only pick people who exist based on your patronage. To have people who if you are not behind them, there is nothing for them anymore.

One way of looking at this — and I'm not saying it's done with this level of forethought — is as much as this means he's not going to get the best people anymore, if he ever could, it does mean that he will get the most loyal. And he will get the people who are willing to sacrifice the most of themselves and take on the most risk to be near him, because nobody else will apply. And all of a sudden, that's a very effective filtering mechanism for people who will help protect you from investigation or lie for you publicly. Now the country shouldn't want that but I think that's where we're going.

Show notes:

  • The Washington Post article on school desegregation and the Supreme Court
  • Alvin's piece on school desegregation and gerrymandering
  • His article on living in poor neighborhoods
  • His article on white America self-segregating
  • And Alvin’s piece on Obamacare repeal splitting neighborhoods