American Democracy's Dimming Light
Welcome back Dear readers! In the first of two pieces — Institutional Dystopia and Citizen Myopia Make for a Bad Mix — we make the case that America’s institutions should not be counted on to preserve Democracy. In the second - Critical Race Theory Just the Latest Bogeyman - we expose the right’s anti-CRT campaign as simply the most recent in its continuing disinformation program. Enjoy!
Institutional Dystopia and Citizen Myopia Make for a Bad Mix
You may find this hard to believe, but our national institutions have almost zero accountability. We are all simply assuming some level of function, performance and goodness that is not actually forthcoming from them. Our institutions’ work, output and impact are not being adequately or accurately measured; as a result they have become “self-licking ice cream cones” consuming precious resources, providing false hope, and failing us miserably.
So what? Without proof, we assure ourselves that our institutional framework is both robust and well-meaning - when in fact it is neither - and this misconception is why we don’t act more forcefully and frequently to protect American Democracy. There are twin bottom lines here: first, our institutions are not going to save us -- they can’t even save themselves; second, there is no harm in starting all over from a national institutional design perspective because the shit is already broken -- the risk is therefore actually greater to keep letting the string play out than it is to re-conceive the whole thing.
In the list of failed institutions I am including: Congress; the Supreme Court; the Departments of Justice, Homeland Security, State, Agriculture; Labor, Housing and Urban Development, Transportation, Education, and Veterans Affairs; Law Enforcement at all levels; the mainstream press; organized religion; both political parties; “big business;” and citizens as a whole.
Which didn’t make this list? Science, technology, the progressive press and progressive advocacy organizations, and the embarrassingly small group of concerned and engaged citizens. Which are teetering on the edge? The Presidency, the Intelligence Community, and the DoD.
Why do I assert that they’re failing? They are not serving their purposes, solving the problems for which they are funded, improving any metrics that matter, advocating for and/or protecting their constituents -- and they consistently consume ever more tax money while failing to deliver results. How do I know this? I retired as a Senior Executive from DHS following service in the Army, and had significant exposure to State, DOJ, and Congress --as well as all levels of Law Enforcement from the Attorney General to local sheriffs -- while in government. In addition, I’ve had successful careers as an executive and entrepreneur in the commercial sector. And I’m a recognized Subject Matter Expert in Organizational Performance Management. Currently I serve as Executive Editor of Revelatur -- a progressive publication leveraging continuous intelligence analyses. These experiences give me a unique vantage point.
Let’s walk through of few of the most problematic institutions and the proof points for my assertions.
First and most problematic is the SupremeCourt.
Here is how we captured the Court’s major shortcoming and potential for further damage in our most recent 2020 Elections Intelligence Estimate: “We assess that the Supreme Court is a wholly captured Conservative entity that issues just enough centrist-appearing rulings to maintain its façade of independence and the fiction of a tripartite Federal Government with an intact system of checks and balances.
The Court is perfectly positioned to continue thwarting the Democratic-Progressive agenda, as it has done for most of its existence. The Court has been consistently out of step with both liberal values and the American citizenry, causing great harm to women, minorities, immigrants and the powerless at the expense of the powerful, rich and well connected. It has not been a consistent arbiter of justice but rather a protector of power and steward of Conservatism as a political philosophy.
Here are just of few of the most egregious Supreme Court decisions to illustrate the point: (the following synopses are provided by Casey C. Sullivan, Esq., in his blog Findlaw.com, “13 Worst Supreme Court Decisions of All Time,” October 14, 2015):
Dred Scott v. Sanford: “Dred Scott held that African Americans, whether free men or slaves, could not be considered American citizens. The ruling undid the Missouri Compromise, barred laws that would free slaves, and all but guaranteed that there would be no political solution to slavery;“
Plessey v. Ferguson: “The Court's famous "separate but equal" ruling upheld state segregation laws. In doing so, the Court made sure that the gains of the post-Civil War reconstruction era were quickly replaced by decades of Jim Crow laws;”
Buck v. Bell: “In an 8-1 decision written by Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, the Court upheld the forced sterilization of those with intellectual disabilities "for the protection and health of the state." Justice Holmes ruled, "society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind" and ended the opinion by declaring "three generations of imbeciles are enough;"
Bush v. Gore: “You don't have to be a Democrat to question the wisdom of this Supreme Court case. In a partisan split, the Supreme Court's five Republican appointees halted the recount of contested ballots in Florida, handing the election to George W. Bush. Even Justice Sandra Day O'Connor has come to regret the ruling;”
Citizens United v. FEC: “Perhaps the most hated decision from the Roberts Court, Citizens United held that political donations are speech protected by the First Amendment, opening the floodgates to unlimited personal and corporate donations to "super PACs." Though widely unpopular, the ruling isn't going away anytime soon. It would take a constitutional amendment or a new Supreme Court makeup to reverse the decision.”
It is frequently argued by the Court’s defenders that its decisions are not political per se, that the Court simply “calls ‘em like it sees ’em” consistent with its role as umpire of the contest between the executive and legislative branches – using the Constitution as guidebook.
While I don’t believe that for a second -- and the fact that all but the last two of the above decisions have been overturned using the same guidebook used to make them initially should also give you pause -- let’s accept the Court’s defenders’ premise for purposes of this article. If they are indeed making the best decisions they can as a collective body based on the Constitution, then something is either drastically wrong with the Constitution, the design of the Court, the function of the Court, or some combination of these. All of these decisions have resulted in bad policy, needless harm to citizens, and untoward second and third order effects that could have been easily forecast. Why would we simply accept and “live with” these decisions as if we were powerless observers like the German citizens living near World War II concentration camps instead of the people who defeated the mightiest empire in the world and established the world’s first Constitutional Democracy? Judges who side with wrong over right do not deserve the title or our respect, much less obeisance.
Despite the Henry Clay/Daniel Webster bullshit, Congress was always a sub-optimal organization at best, and now is counter-productive to citizen needs and aspirations. It is a wholly captured entity to big and dark money. Its big claim to democratic fame – compromise--is not the great American genius distinguisher -- and it is not the job of Congress to compromise – it is its job to pass legislation and budgets as representatives of the American people. Political compromise in our system is a type of necessary evil – it has consistently retarded all forms of national progress except economic. The vicious cycle of big money, big propaganda and moral collapse of one of our two major parties has accelerated the dynamics that historically necessitated compromise and brought about gridlock. Here’s a very short list of the mismatches between what the American people are -- and want and don’t get -- because of Congress:
· Americans are now more likely to be socially liberal than conservative for the first time since Gallup started polling the question in 2001, the pollster reportedThursday, reflecting a broader trend of Americans becoming increasingly liberal on social issues over the past decade (More Americans Now Socially Liberal Than Conservative For First Time, Poll Finds, Alison Durkee, Forbes,June 24, 2021)
· Gilens & Page found that the number of Americans for or against any idea has no impact on the likelihood that Congress will make it law. “The preferences of the average American appear to have only a miniscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy.”
· Major findings on U.S. economic policies and conditions facing American voters:
o The results of this latest survey show that American voters want the government to play a strong role in securing basic living standards for all people. Specifically, the majority of voters back a range of proposals to increase the economic security of and opportunities for low-income families. This section presents some of the specific findings.
On the responsibility of government to meet basic human rights and provide support, strong majorities of voters across party lines view access to clean water, a quality public education, adequate food, and housing as basic human rights that should be secured by the federal government. The survey presented respondents with a series of items and asked them to rate them on a scale of 0 to 10, where 10 means that item represents a basic human right that should be guaranteed to everyone and 0 means that government should not be involved and that the provision of the item should be left completely to the free market.
At the top of the list, 85 percent of voters overall rated “access to clean water” in the 6 to 10 range, believing it to be a basic right that government should ensure in some capacity. Seventy-nine percent of voters overall similarly rated “a quality public education through high school” as a basic right, and more than 6 in 10 voters overall also included “access to adequate, nutritional food” and “access to safe, affordable housing” on the list of basic rights. Majorities across party lines view providing for these essential needs as a core function of government.
“Affordable, quality child care” falls further down the list, although with majority support overall for government taking a role in providing it (60 percent). Meanwhile, “broadband internet access” is seen as a basic human right by a majority of Democrats only (65 percent).
More than 7 in 10 voters across party lines support major infrastructure investments, guaranteed sick days for employees, paid family and medical leave, and increases to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) for low-income families. The study presented a list of proposed ideas for improving the economy and asked participants whether they supported or opposed each item. (see Table 1) The top tier of proposals, supported by more than 7 in 10 voters overall, includes the following items presented to respondents in the study:
· Create good jobs and make American businesses more competitive by investing $1 trillion in the nation’s infrastructure, including roads, bridges, railroads, broadband, and expanded production of clean energy. (Supported by 79 percent of voters in total, including 88 percent of Democrats, 77 percent of independents, and 72 percent of Republicans)
· Require all employers to provide workers with guaranteed paid time off if they are sick. (Supported by 74 percent of voters in total, including 84 percent of Democrats, 74 percent of independents, and 63 percent of Republicans)
· Increase the level of food assistance provided via SNAP—formerly known as food stamps—to ensure that those who need help keeping food on the table do not run out of benefits and adequate food before the month is over. (Supported by 72 percent of voters in total, including 86 percent of Democrats, 71 percent of independents, and 57 percent of Republicans)
· Create a national paid family and medical leave plan that would provide workers part of their wages when they need time off for the birth of a child or to care for a sick or elderly family member. (Supported by 71 percent of voters in total, including 86 percent of Democrats, 68 percent of independents, and 58 percent of Republicans) (Americans Want the Federal Government To Help People in Need, Center for American Progress, John Halpin, Karl Agne, and Nisha Jain March 10, 2021)
Congress’ other key role is oversight of the Executive branch, including most notably the President. It’s time to admit that this function has been broken since Nixon -- 50 years now, that Trump made it worse, and that Republicans intend to shatter it beyond repair. Any number of studies confirms that the Executive has been steadily amassing power at the expense of Congress -- and that there is no Constitutional brake on this cycle. In other words, it will continue to get worse unless/until we modify the Constitution.
Finally, Congress has an implied role of national and local leadership. Senators and Representatives are assumed to be leaders and are quick to position themselves thusly. However, they don’t lead, and as noted in the polling data, they don’t even “lag.” They control, leverage power, and obstruct. Because we invest expectations in them and have no logical or Constitutional alternative to turn to, we allow the obstruction yet keep hoping they’ll change. This is insanity.
Department of Justice - Really? An internal Agency memorandum from an executive rated by the guy the President appoints is binding on the nation? It trumps the Constitution, Congressional prerogatives, the will of the majority? Is worth losing Democracy over? Is even correct on the merits in the first place? An Agency now supporting Trump against an American citizen whom he raped, and fighting against the release of documents that belong to the American people (you are paying for people to obstruct your right to know and decide on the key issues impacting your freedom and the nation). There is no virtuous explanation for this shit, and the mainstream press’ recent attempts to explain Garland’s decisions (oh, he has such hard decisions to make, he is torn over competing interests, he so much wants to appear nonpartisan -- give me a break!) are further proof of their own uselessness. We’ve beaten up the mainstream press in so many of our articles that, other than this snarky comment, we’re giving them a pass in this one.
1At any rate, here are some facts and statistics to professionalize this screed:
· “Still reeling from a highly public clash that led to the firing of one of its most prominent prosecutors, the Justice Department again finds itself under a glaring spotlight as two of its employees told Congress Wednesday that the agency's leadership abused its power at the behest of President Donald Trump. Aaron Zelinsky, one of the attorneys who prosecuted Roger Stone, said the Justice Department gave the GOP operative "unprecedentedly favorable treatment" and pressured prosecutors to "cut Stone a break" by recommending a lenient sentence because he is an ally of the president, according to his prepared statement. He and the other prosecutors were told to go along, Zelinsky said, or they could be fired” ('What had happened was wrong': DOJ lawyers accuse agency leaders of abusing power in Roger Stone case, other probes,Kristine Phillips,USA Today, June 24, 2021) “One was caught red-handed engaged in nepotism. Another, a lawyer no less, admitted to shoplifting at a Marine barracks store. A third leaked sealed court information to the news media. And a fourth engaged in fraud by turning a government garage into a personal repair shop.
Four cases, all solved in the past month, with suspects who cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars and significant breaches of public trust.
But these weren’t your everyday perps. All were U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) employees who are supposed to catch other criminals while working for the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and U.S. attorneys’ offices. Instead, they broke the law or violated the rules. And all managed to escape prosecution, despite their proven transgress
Recent Justice Department disciplinary files tell an undeniable story.
Under the leadership of Inspector General (IG) Michael Horowitz, DOJ’s internal watchdog is doing an outstanding job of policing bad conduct inside America’s premier law enforcement agency.
And DOJ is doing a poor job of punishing its own.
In cases closed in the past month, more than a half-dozen FBI, DEA, U.S. attorney and U.S. marshal officials were allowed to retire, do volunteer work, or keep their jobs as they escaped criminal charges that everyday Americans probably would not.
In most instances, the decisions were made by federal prosecutors who work with the very figures impacted by or committing the bad conduct. In local law enforcement, that go-easy phenomenon is known as the “thin blue line.” (Feds gone wild: DOJ's stunning inability to prosecute its own bad actors, The Hill, John Solomon, 6/13/2019)
· White collar crime:
Costs us Dearly:
Blue collar crime is expensive, costing roughly $14 billion every year. This seems like a lot of money, and until it is put into perspective with the cost of white collar crime, it seems as though the main focus of policing efforts should go towards blue collar crimes. Unfortunately, white collar crime costs roughly 14 times the amount blue collar crime does, or about $200 billion each year.
Another view of the same point: “White collar crime is a serious issue in the United States of America, responsible for an estimated $250 billion to $1 trillion in economic damages each year. White collar crimes include: bank fraud, blackmail, bribery, counterfeiting, credit card fraud, embezzlement, extortion, forgery, insider trading, insurancefraud, investment schemes, securities fraud, tax evasion, advanced fee scams, service and repair scams, as well as Ponzi & pyramid schemes just to name a few. There are a number of factors to consider regarding crimes, both street and white collar level including: the total cost of the damages and ripple effects that will reach others, how likely the victims are to recover from the crime, and how likely the victims are to get justice for being wronged, when considering the acceptability that society has placed on white collar crimes versus street crimes. As seen in case studies, white collar criminals are far less likely to experience justice than street criminals, who are also more likely to be caught in their wrongdoing. Because white collar criminals have this additional safety barrier of anonymity, federal law enforcement must dig deeply into the records of suspected individuals in order to find any trace of white collar criminal activity. Whereas the affluent have access to pricey legal representation for defense against potential repercussions, street criminals cannot retain such legal representation, leaving them considerably more vulnerable in the legal system. Therefore, white collar criminals are seen and treated as more socially acceptable than street criminals in America. (Unpunished Criminals: The Social Acceptability of White Collar Crimes in America; Eastern Michigan University, Honors Thesis, Joseph P. Martinez).
Is Not Pursued:
Meanwhile, the US is the world’s leader in criminal incarceration. It holds over two million people in jails and prisons, which constitutes an increase of over 500 percent from 40 years ago. Street crimes are the reason for the vast majority of those incarcerations, despite the fact that the average annual cost of street crime, according to the FBI, is $15 billion per year—but nearly $1 trillion per year for white-collar crime. Many cases of financial crime go unreported and among those that are reported, very few go to trial. (Forensics
The U.S. Justice Department is prosecuting fewer white-collar criminals now than at any time since records back more than 30 years ago, a new report says. Federal prosecutions of white-collar criminals plunged in January to the lowest level on record, falling 25% from the levels reached just five years ago, says a study from Syracuse University Trac Reports 2020.
Is not even tracked: Neither the National Crime Reporting nor Victims Surveys even include a white-collar crime category!
OK, back to the screed: one could make a better argument that it should be named the Department of Injustice.
Law Enforcement– It does not enforce the laws much, or evenly; it does not establish justice or protect constituents; cops break laws themselves with impunity and are likely the most corrupt public officials in the country – and they kill Black, Brown and Mentally Challenged people with regularity. And the kicker? – They don’t even solve crimes! “In 2019, murder and manslaughter charges had the highest crime clearance rate in the United States, with 61.4 percent of all cases being cleared by arrest or so-called exceptional means. Motor vehicle theft cases had the lowest crime clearance rate, at 13.8 percent.” Clearance rates do not equal convictions – exonerations, failed prosecutions and cases closed administratively are within those numbers. 38% percent of murders are not even cleared, an easy target, must less resulting in a conviction – a truer standard of justice. And the clearance rate – despite forensics and the proliferation of right wing judges – just keeps dropping – down from over 90% in 1965!
Law Enforcement is the ultimate self-licking ice cream cone in the national ice cream store, is the worst of our institutions by an order of magnitude, and has the people fooled. They feed from the public trough with overtime, early retirement, generous pensions and massive benefits packages. It is so broken that it needs a total re-conception through participative democracy mechanisms – wherein each community can design the system of justice and policing it needs.
DHS– Stood up to organize domestic national security efforts in the wake of 9/11, growing pains, leadership incompetence and turf fights have constrained DHS’ effectiveness from jump. The Department got muscled out of the terrorism fight by a combination of the FBI and the Intelligence Community, the drug fight by DOJ/DEA, and the Cyber fight by NSA -- leaving it with the unsexy and uninspiring fights like counter human trafficking, and the highly politicized issues like white nationalism (not generally considered terrorism by the government in case you’re asking) and immigration.
Department of State– As late as the Ford Administration State was a powerful entity that held its own with the DoD. Secretary Henry Kissinger was a powerful national figure in his own right, in the proud tradition of Thomas Jefferson, John Marshall, James Madison, James Monroe, John Quincy Adams, Henry Clay, Martin Van Buren, Daniel Webster, James Buchanan, William Jennings Bryan, Henry Stimson, Cordell Hull, George Marshall, Dean Acheson, and Dean Rusk. These folks were titans who bestrode the earth. But by the time of the Obama Administration, as we saw with Hillary Clinton’s defenestration by the President himself, the Secretary and the Department had totally lost any policy making role and become executors at best. Trump almost killed the department off so little was left of its real power -- and of the power of Congress to fight back.
Organized Religion– like the press, we’ve beaten up Evangelical Christianity regularly in our newsletters. But the institutional rot affecting that community has also infected all organized religion in America -- just to a lesser and lagging degree. 65% of American Catholic voters voted for Trump – a staggering fact for a lapsed Catholic to swallow – having grown up reading Augustine, worshipping John Kennedy and Dorothy Day, and reveling in the stories about the struggle for equality of my Irish immigrant forebears. The sheer fact that anyone calling themselves a Christian would vote for Trump is itself all the indictment of organized religion in American you should need. That level of hypocrisy renders Christ’s life and message tragic.
Religion in America is bankrupt. This fact is not lost on everyday Americans – it’s just lost on the press. “Americans' membership in houses of worship continued to decline last year, dropping below 50% for the first time in Gallup's eight-decade trend. In 2020, 47% of Americans said they belonged to a church, synagogue or mosque, down from 50% in 2018 and 70% in 1999. The decline in church membership is primarily a function of the increasing number of Americans who express no religious preference. Over the past two decades, the percentage of Americans who do not identify with any religion has grown from 8% in 1998-2000 to 13% in 2008-2010 and 21% over the past three years.” (Gallup: U.S. Church Membership Falls Below Majority for First Time, BY JEFFREY M. JONES, Politics, March 29, 2021)
That should be a really big story. Instead, organized religion is just one more national institution subverted into the maw of neoliberalism. The only people worried about that information are the Trumpists. For the Trumpist masses this is just one more sign of America going to the dogs (by which they really mean Black and Brown people), and for the propagandists who fuel this particular fire. This is actually the demographic Democrats should be pursuing with vigor -- it’s growing and there is a natural alignment of values.
I don’t have a grand unifying theory as to causality of our failed institutions except for the complexity of the modern world and the cowardice of our citizens -- but the common problem is that there is no external accountability to any of them -- thus no one is actually measuring their health, contribution or ROI. We have ceased as a nation to expect anything but “the market” and technology to function -- everything else gets a pass. We are now content to live blissfully because we make money and can spend it rapidly on better and better toys -- this is the place we have advanced to after hundreds of generations of struggle and sacrifice.
Pretty heavy-handed treatment here, right? Maybe. There are many good people in all of these institutions. I believe that with the exception of local law enforcement the majority of employees in these institutions are good people working hard to get good outcomes for citizens. But that’s a totally separate analysis. Great institutions do require good, competent people, but history is filled with failed institutions chock full of good folks. Institutions can only thrive in environments of good governance and engaged citizenry -- and we have neither right now.
How we could transition from here to a better future state needs great thought, but lack of complete answers to those questions does not justify doing nothing now -- especially at least acknowledging the reality we so assiduously avoid: There ain’t no cavalry coming.
Critical Race Theory Just the Latest Bogeyman
According to Republicans, Critical Race Theory is destroying America. Everywhere you look, this nefarious liberal conspiracy is turning brother against brother, indoctrinating America’s youth to hate the Stars and Stripes and...attack police officers I guess? Have to admit, sometimes it’s hard to follow. It’s frightening though!
Luckily for us, the GOP has stepped forward to address the crisis, emboldened and battle hardened from having vanquished the insidious infiltration of Sharia Law and Cultural Marxism.
They’re hitting the airwaves, they’re fulminating and legislating, they’re inventing crises while ignoring or exacerbating actual emergencies. They’re Republicans, after all and above all. As the world burns quite literally around them, they’re successfully ginning up their MAGA base with the latest invented enemy. Gotta hand it to these fascists in khakis, they know a thing or two about message discipline. Fox News has mentioned “critical race theory” no fewer than 1300 times -- in just the last FOUR MONTHs. From Senator Tom Cotton to Governor DeSantis to Tucker Carlson to state Senators you’ve never heard of, critical race theory has hit critical mass.
Critical Race Theory! What is it, anyway? Why sir you’re the real racist for even asking that question, we don’t want white kids to be uncomfortable and America was always great will always be great and actually it’s bad for people to even hear about this stuff can’t you just show them a cartoon about how awesome George Washington was? Ask ten Republicans what it is, you’ll get ten different answers, though they’ll all almost certainly use the word ‘divisive’ somewhere in their word salad nonsense answer.
(As an aside, since our side DOES concern itself with things like reality and truth, here’s a handy definition from Stephen Sawchuk, writing in Education Weekly:
“Critical race theory is an academic concept that is more than 40 years old. The core idea is that racism is a social construct, and that it is not merely the product of individual bias or prejudice, but also something embedded in legal systems and policies. The basic tenets of critical race theory, or CRT, emerged out of a framework for legal analysis in the late 1970s and early 1980s created by legal scholars Derrick Bell, Kimberlé Crenshaw, and Richard Delgado, among others.)”
What Republicans actually mean: don’t talk about racism. Don’t talk about inequality. For the love of god (Mammon or whatever), don’t explain systemic injustice. Since white supremacy is the supreme organizing principle of the revanchist GOP, they’re not fucking around when it comes to stamping out any and all critical frameworks that might help one come to grips with why it is that everything is so profoundly fucked up around these parts.
On May 8, the Oklahoma State legislature passed SB 1775 in OK, which among other things bans K-12 schools from any educational material that teaches “an individual, by virtue of his or her race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously.”
Eager legislatures from Idaho, Iowa, Louisiana, Missouri, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, West Virginia are getting in on the action. And in June, Florida’s State Board of Education banned critical race theory, in a truly Orewellian application of language saying it would protect schoolchildren from learning anything that might ‘distort historical events.’ Ahh, poor Orwell, his name bandied about so often in situations where it doesn’t apply by people whose worldviews are directly antithetical to the one espoused in his works.
The guidelines considered by the Board of Education say teachers"may not define American history as something other than the creation of a new nation based largely on universal principles stated in the Declaration of Independence."
Since these ignorant GOP asshats are never ones to recognize and appreciate irony, allow yourself a brief second to relish the truly astronomical irony of passing laws ostensibly designed to prevent the distortion of historical events, whose very language contain...distortions of historical events.
Leftist organizer Saul Alinsky famously said “He who controls the language, controls the masses.”
Republicans don’t bother to learn what critical race theory is because it doesn’t matter to their ends (learning, generally, has never really been instrumental in anything they do). The details are inconsequential, it’s useful only as a mechanism for animating the lizard brain rage of the base. They want to control the language, and to a large extent, they are successful at propagating a right wing narrative framework not just through their own frothing mass of supporters, but into the supposedly ‘liberal’ or ‘neutral’ media landscape.
The right’s absurdity machine is chugging at full capacity, and we have seen just what the results look like - in the form of COVID denial’s truly catastrophic death toll, in the wreckage of an insurrection fueled by lies.
We’ve already seen our first spate of CRT-backlash inspired chaos, in the form of the Loudoun County, Virginia school board meeting on June 22nd. Protestors gathered outside of the scheduled meeting in Ashburn, bearing signs to ‘protect our kids’ from ‘critical racist theory.’ Over 200 people signed up for public comment. The anti-CRT crowd started shouting, talking over speakers. The board ended public comment. The crowd...reacted. Two people were arrested.
There will, of course, be more like this, and worse. The attack against CRT provides right wing elected officials with a pretext to pass legislation designed to limit the scope of free speech and prevent people from reaching a full understanding of the history of oppression, and the ways in which the very structure of the United States is bound up with law and culture that upholds white supremacy. CRT is the hook; controlling the masses is the ultimate goal.
Look no further than the passage in Florida of a law requiring university students, staff, and faculty to complete an ideological survey ostensibly to prevent the ‘suppression’ of ideas. The same day he signed this legislation, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis also signed laws designed to overhaul the K-12 education system as well, introducing additional curriculum designed to teach students about the ‘evils’ of communism and to offer “Portraits in Patriotism.”
We must forcefully refute the false narratives behind CRT, in every forum available, yet this will not be enough. The right consistently sets the terms of the debate, generating false controversy and putting the opposition on its heels, forced to respond within the confines of an argument whose contours have already been defined unfavorably.
If we’re to win, long term, we’ll need to identify and effectively neutralize the next round of lies. You can bet that the very concept of democracy will be the right’s next target. They’re big on the whole republic vs. democracy nonsense, and next they’ll argue that expanding the franchise to everyone has been a mistake, and our democracy should be MORE mediated, rather than more representative. The so-called crime wave. Money as free speech. Right to protest.
We have to take the fight to them. We have to define the terms of the debate. We have to force Republicans to defend themselves. They’ve got a lot they need to explain.
We need to ask why they support domestic terrorists and white nationalists, and why they opposed investigating the most serious attack on American democracy since the Civil War. Why they support power companies’ profits over the lives of Texans. Why they won’t tax billionaires like Jeff Bezos.
Time to take back the language.
The truth is on our side. The masses are on our side. The protest movements of last summer were the biggest in US history. Republicans and the right are so terrified of critical race theory because they know that the bullshit sanitized story of America doesn’t hold water. The Republican strategy relies on ignorance, it relies on division, it relies on stupidity and a complete divorce from the actual history of the United States. This is a country founded on genocide and slavery, whose occasional lurches towards equality and some small measure of justice were paid for in broken bones and death and blood and the collective sacrifice and solidarity of the millions of people who dared to dream of something better. That arc doesn’t bend on its own, and every inch of progress came with a steep price.
And once more, in the struggle to define the narratives that define us, we, the people, are being asked to step forward and do what has to be done to defend the truth from a group of people whose lies threaten our shared values. The ongoing rightwing dismantling of democracy and the social safety net and everything else that goes into a functioning society is impossible without the grievance machine, keeping thirty percent of the country convinced that the real problem is Black people, the real problem is immigrants, the real problem is anyone and everyone but the tiny coterie of elites sucking the planet dry.