Tuesday, February 13, 2024

The GOP threat to civil society

                                                    Photo by Richard Stovall on Unsplash

Democracy in the USA is not "naturally" withering, it is under attack. And the call(s) are coming from both inside the house and outside, domestic and foreign. One source of attack is the Republican Party. Threats can't be beaten if they aren't named. I strongly suggest both foundations, their associations, and their media stop "both-sidesing" this and call out the threats to the sector that are coming from their own.

First and foremost, Donald Trump's campaign has declared it will be "taxing, fining, and suing excessively large private university endowments" to fund its own propaganda-driven alternative university. Now, big private universities don't usually inspire a lot of sympathy, I get that. I'm an alum of them and they don't make me all warm and fuzzy. But be clear, none of this has anything to do with anti-semitism (which gets a quick shout-out in the document linked above). It's part of a sustained campaign against perceived liberal or left(ish) civil society. The presumed candidate of the Republican Party is promising/threatening to seize endowment assets from universities it doesn't like. I'll say it again, the GOP is running on a platform that involves taking funds away from nonprofits it doesn't like. If that doesn't make the philanthropy industry stand up and take notice (and, one might hope, action), I can't think of a bigger threat that the sector would be ignoring. And this from a candidate who's been repeatedly sued for the way he ran his nominal foundation

All nonprofits and foundations, their professional and lobbying associations, and the media dedicated to them should decry a platform such as proposed in Agenda47. And, what's that I hear? Yup, crickets.

Or worse, InsidePhilanthropy worked hard on this rundown of funding for democracy, (behind their paywall yell at them, not me). It's good reporting on a survey done by the Democracy Fund that focuses on giving to democracy efforts and causes related to it. But it counts funding on just one side of the equation. It counts funding by funders in the political center or on the left. It doesn't count the other side - there is no accounting of efforts to undermine democracy. The story mentions book bans, school board fights, and transgender bathroom hysteria as examples of undemocratic philanthropy. But it neither tallies the amount of philanthropic dollars spent on these issues nor names any of the funders. That's not helpful. Those are philanthropic dollars going to efforts that undermine democracy - and they're by no means all the way such money is being spent (Supreme Court favors, anyone? Social media trolls, disinformation, and campaigns such as that run by Christopher Rufo with help from Congresswoman Stefanik to oust female college presidents of color? The list is long)

Attacks on democracy are secretively well-funded even as they appear to be led by grassroots individuals. Counting the funding on the pro-side and not on the attack-side makes it seem as if the  attacks are just part of the process of democracy. And that may be true. But if its true its true in the sense that democracy will always have critics, and some of those will be doing their best to destroy democratic participation by those they don't like.

One of the two political parties in this country is running on a platform that includes seizing endowment assets. Yes, the campaign platform of the GOP is "vote for us and we'll put government in charge of higher education and destroy some of the nation's longest-lived independent institutions. For all the vitriol these universities attract, there's a helluva lot of rich people trying hard to get their kids admitted to them).You may not feel sorry for Harvard, but you'd be a fool for thinking this is just an attack on the Crimson. That's what the GOP wants you to think, but it's not (all) they want to do.

If foundations, philanthropy, and nonprofits don't stand up to defend civil society from Agenda47 before November, they'll deserve what happens, post-election.