Ever since Donald Trump suggested a week ago that the proper way to curb school shootings in America was to let teachers pack heat, the country has been locked in a surreal debate about the merits of trying to turn our educators into ersatz SWAT team members. On the federal level, thankfully, the idea does not seem to be going anywhere (keep your fingers crossed). But in Florida, where lawmakers are trying to muster a response to the tragic killings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, it is getting some traction. Bills that would train teachers to carry weapons have been approved by state Senate and House committees. Here’s how the Tampa Bay Times sums up the $67 million plan to make Kindergarten Cop a reality:
The goal: 10 marshals (teachers trained to carry a gun) in every school, which would equate to 37,000 statewide. The state would cover the costs of background checks, drug testing, psychological exams and 132 hours of training. The bill does provide a one-time $500 stipend for those who volunteer to have a gun.
For now, it seems unlikely that this proposal will become law, since Florida Gov. Rick Scott has rejected the idea of giving teachers guns (he wants more law enforcement in schools instead). But I think the fact that it’s even a live option reflects something important about how our president is influencing Republican policy thinking.
For the most part, Donald Trump does not care deeply about public policy. He likes the idea of cutting taxes and regulations. He’s instinctively nativist. Sometimes he’ll latch onto something specific, like his 20 percent tax rate or (sigh) the wall. But he does not have the patience, attention span, or interest necessary to learn the details of most proposals, in part because he does not like to read.
But while he may be the most aggressively ignorant chief executive in our country’s history, our president nonetheless plays a crucial role in shaping the GOP’s approach to policy making. Trump’s mere presence in the Oval Office is a permission slip for conservatives to pursue the nuttiest possible approach to pretty much any issue, whether it’s recklessly pillaging the health insurance market to make room for tax cuts, or trying answer gun violence by transforming Mrs. Jensen from class 3B into Annie Oakley. I call this the Why-the-Fuck-Not Effect.
People who put their heart and soul into the of public policy are often cautious by nature. They like to think through details and worry about unintended consequences. They at least try to convince themselves and others that their intricate, five-part plans will make a positive difference in people’s lives. Paul Ryan may have always wanted to turn the welfare state into pulp. But he at least spent years cosplaying as a humble wonk, cranking out white papers and slide decks to justify himself.
Trump does not have any caution. He does not give a fig about consequences or what polite Washington thinks. He cares about feeding his base and and notching big, beautiful wins. If he hears an idea on Fox News that tingles the base-feeding/win-notching receptors of his cerebellum, he’ll enthusiastically tweet it. Because why the fuck not? It’s provocative. It gets the people going.
This has given Republicans permission to embrace their id as never before. Because, again, why the fuck not? The party has long been more afraid of its base than general election voters. Trump has demonstrated that said base wants nothing more than a Golden Corral buffet full of white reactionary lunacy. And once the president has proposed something, the rules of American media require at least some outlets to treat it as a serious subject for discussion. It enters the realm of possibility. Trump doesn’t just shift the Overton window. He bulldozes right over it, and turns the shattered fragments into a chintzy chandelier.
This has played out vividly in health care and tax reform. When Sens. Tom Cotton and Pat Toomey suggested killing of Obamacare’s individual mandate to fund tax cuts, the idea seemed a little outre. The GOP had already failed to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. Simply smashing one of its main pillars without a replacement didn’t sound like an especially popular move politically. But then Trump got behind it and the idea gained traction until it was finally included in the final bill. Because why the fuck not?
We’ve also obviously seen this with immigration. Trump’s wall used to be a punchline. Now it’s treated as a more or less inevitable part of any compromise that would give Dreamers a path to citizenship. The mainstream GOP used to insist it favored legal immigration, but wanted to stop the flow of undocumented workers. No longer, now that Trump has joined Cotton’s crusade to limit the number of people entering the country legally (Cotton is a recurring theme here). More Republicans than ever feel comfortable with pure immigration restrictionism, because why the fuck not?
And then there’s guns. Now, to be clear, I do not think that Florida Republicans are talking about giving math teachers marksmanship lessons solely thanks to Trump’s influence. The National Rifle Association has argued for years that putting a glock in every classroom is the solution to school shootings. There are already at least eight states where K-12 educators are permitted to carry on campus, and several more have introduced legislation making it easier. At least one county in Florida has already given it a try. Frankly, it’s a shock that more of the state’s school aren’t already doubling as armories, given that Florida is usually on the cutting edge of whacko gun laws.
But has Trump given this concept a massive signal boost? Absolutely. Has he given Republicans who might have worried about supporting the idea cover to embrace it? Sure. This is Trump’s magic. He’s the most important public policy thinker in the country, precisely because he doesn’t bother thinking about public policy at all. In his GOP, nothing makes sense, and everything is permitted. Because why the fuck not?
One more thing
If you think Slate’s work matters, become a Slate Plus member. You’ll get exclusive members-only content and a suite of great benefits—and you’ll help secure Slate’s future.Join Slate Plus