This article first appeared in Liberal America.
In fewer than 100 days in office, President Donald Trump has managed to get himself a personal FBI investigation, a tepid-at-best relationship with allies Germany and Australia, not one but two federal court blockages of his Muslim travel ban, members of Congress questioning his sanity, and the epic fail of the attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
While he was at it, he also managed to eliminate internet privacy, revive like Frankenstein’s monster two of the most unsound infrastructure projects in recent memory–the Keystone XL and Dakota Access Pipelines–and potentially launched another unauthorized war in the Middle East.
But while Congress and the mainstream media are tying themselves into pretzels chasing Trump’s interminable follies, it might be reassuring to know one member still has his eye on the prize.
One of the issues that made the presidential candidacy of Senator Bernie Sanders’s (I-Vt) so appealing last year was his call for free college tuition to public colleges and universities. Many argued that “liberal fantasy” was dead the day Trump won the White House. Those who assume that haven’t learned a thing about Sanders, who last week unveiled new legislation to make good on his promise.
The Democrats’ College for All plan would make public colleges and universities tuition-free to students with family incomes up to $125,000, make community colleges completely tuition free, slash student loan interest rates in half, and triple funding for the Federal Work-Study program.
Last Monday, Sanders told a group of supporters at the Dirksen Senate office building:
“Our job is not just to resist all of Trump’s dumb proposals. Our job is to bring forward a progressive agenda.”
Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), as well Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), Rick Nolan (D-Minn.), and Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) joined Sanders. Senator Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) has come out in support of the bill, which National Nurses United and the United States Student Association have praised.
Breana Ross, president of the United States Student Association, said:
“We believe that education is a right and not a commodity.”
At a time when the phrase “create jobs” has become somewhat of a cliched Republican mantra, Sanders insists national competitiveness rests in our ability to achieve higher education.
“Our economy will not survive in the future unless we have the best-educated work force in the world. Our job, if we are smart, is to do everything possible to make it easier for people to pay for their education — not harder.”
The American Association of State Colleges and Universities said in a statement that state disinvestment in higher education has transferred tuition costs to families and students, who then have no choice but to take out loans to attend even low-cost public colleges. The statement went on to say:
“[Sanders’s proposal is] one of the most effective mechanisms to incentivize states to partner with the federal government and to make higher education available to all students, regardless of families’ limited financial means.”
Sanders’ confidence has begun to spread to other states as well.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo (D), announced in January tuition-free higher education for families that earn up to $125,000. Then Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo (D), proposed two tuition-free years at community colleges or public universities in her state. Under her proposal, students would have the the choice of two years of free community college or a tuition waiver for their last two years at four-year institutions.
It’s easy to take what’s going on in the Trump administration as evidence that America’s best years are behind it, that “dreamers” like Bernie Sanders are only there to prevent us from losing hope before the bottom inevitably falls out. But with the Democrats putting tuition-free college and a new Medicare-for-all proposal back on the table, perhaps we are witnessing a progressive turning point in American history we could only realize with someone like Trump threatening our personal freedoms, civil liberties, and expectations for a more egalitarian nation.
Maybe this is the moment we start joining the rest of the industrialized world.