Washington • Betsy DeVos gives every indication that she is, to borrow President Donald Trump’s phrase, a “low-IQ individual.” Her interview with Lesley Stahl of CBS’ “60 Minutes,” broadcast Sunday night, is being mocked as the most disastrous televised tête-à-tête since Palin met Couric.
But this unabashed ignorance is DeVos’ hidden genius — and precisely why she is a perfect choice to be Trump’s secretary of education.
Whenever DeVos speaks, it feels as though the sum total of human knowledge is somehow diminished. During her confirmation hearing last year, she was utterly defeated by complex subjects such as “teachers” and “students” but was certain that schools need guns to repel attacks by “potential grizzlies.”
After a (too-quiet) first year on the job, DeVos is back, letting her foolish flag fly. Interviews with her broadcast Sunday night and Monday morning by CBS and NBC show that she’s performing below grade level in all subjects — and her deviation below the mean is anything but standard.
Have the public schools in her home state of Michigan improved?
“I don’t know.”
Is the number of sexual assaults equivalent to the number of false accusations?
“I don’t know. I don’t know.”
Why is she known as the most hated Cabinet secretary?
“I’m not so sure exactly.”
Has she visited bad schools?
“I have not. I have not. I have not intentionally visited schools that are underperforming.”
Stahl offered a suggestion: “Maybe you should.”
“Maybe I should, yes,” agreed DeVos, who also expressed her reluctance “to talk about all schools in general, because schools are made up of individual students.”
Yes, and brains are made up of individual brain cells, many of which self-destruct upon hearing DeVos speak. Listen to her for five minutes and you will no longer be able to complete the New York Times crossword puzzle. After 10 minutes of DeVos, the human brain loses the ability to perform simple arithmetic. After 15 minutes, those in the presence of DeVos report forgetting the answers to their security questions, including first pet and first car.
All this proves that it is sheer (if perhaps unintentional) genius to have DeVos, who married into the Amway fortune, in her role in the Trump administration. If this is the caliber of the top education official in the land, it hardly speaks well for getting an education. People could quite reasonably conclude that education isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, and they wouldn’t go to all the trouble of attending school.
As it happens, this is exactly what Trump needs to secure the future of his political movement. For Trump, the fewer people who get an education, the better off he will be. Exit polls showed a huge education gap in the 2016 election. College graduates favored Hillary Clinton by 9 percentage points, while those without college degrees favored Trump by 8 points. That 17-point gap was “by far the widest” dating to 1980, according to the Pew Research Center.
The danger for Trump is more Americans are going to college. The National Center for Education Statistics, part of DeVos’ Education Department, predicts enrollment of full-time students in degree-granting postsecondary institutions, up 38 percent between 2000 and 2014, will climb an additional 15 percent by 2025.
Thankfully, DeVos is doing all she can to combat this noxious scourge of people going to school. DeVos, who once said traditional public education is a “dead end,” is proving by example as the nation’s top educator that education generally is a dead end.
Early on, she said she was “confused” at her confirmation hearing about federal disability laws, and she didn’t seem to know the difference between “growth” and “proficiency.” After her full year of on-the-job learning, though, DeVos’ appearance Sunday on “60 Minutes” showed no diminution in her ineptitude.
There she was again on NBC’s “Today” show Monday, armed with two things to say — “everything is on the table,” and things are “best decided by local communities and by states” — and she recited these rote phrases to Savannah Guthrie no fewer than six times during the brief interview, regardless of relevance to the question.
How does such a high-level official maintain such a low level of learning? Well, consider that DeVos, whose brother Erik Prince founded the Blackwater mercenary outfit, jettisoned the Education Department’s usual security in favor of round-the-clock protection by U.S. marshals for $6.5 million a year.
Apparently, this security team has been able to create an impermeable zone of ignorance around DeVos. It’s downright brilliant.
Follow Dana Milbank on Twitter, @Milbank.