Criminal Justice

Republicans Urged To 'Lean Into' Critical Race Theory Culture War

Plus: UFOs, young people and socialism, and more...

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Critical race theory sells. "Lean into the culture war," Rep. Jim Banks (R–Ind.) is urging fellow members of a House conservative caucus. If you thought U.S. political discourse couldn't get any dumber…buckle up!

In a memo sent to the Republican Study Committee on Thursday, Banks told his colleagues that "we are in a culture war. On one side, Republicans are working to renew American patriotism and rebuild our country. On the other, Democrats have embraced and given [sic] platform to a radical element who want to tear America down."

That's pretty standard rhetoric for GOP culture warriors. The new twist is that this time, it's not communism or feminism or gay rights that have induced this hyperbole but a relatively obscure (until recently) legal/academic framework known as "critical race theory" (CRT). Its ideas have somehow escaped from academia and other wonkish circles to become a focal point of a very disingenuous, very stupid, and yet very mainstream culture war.

Yes, some concepts in CRT can be illiberal and out there. But Republicans have begun grafting the label onto any discussions or ideas about race that they don't like, while painting support for CRT's most outlandish concepts as if it's new Democratic dogma.

"The Democrat Party has wholly embraced Critical Race Theory and all its conclusions," writes Banks in his memo, adding that these Democrats think U.S. institutions are so racist they "need to be destroyed from the ground up."

It's the same fantasy-world claptrap that saw Republicans fearmongering during the 2020 election about how perpetual crime warrior Joe Biden and ex-cop Kamala Harris were going to defund the police. Meanwhile, in the real world, most Democrats in power are ho-hum centrists with very standard ideas about race and racism. And most people in the real world have no idea what CRT is really about.

The fact that it's so obscure is, in fact, what makes it a perfect canvas for conservative culture warriors to confirm their base's worst fears about The Radical Left. (Talking about CRT "is how we are going to win" House seats, said Steve Bannon recently).

So, Mexicans and antifa are out; critical race theorists—by which many Republicans mean basically anyone who mentions "privilege" or says racism is still a significant problem in America—are in.

But conservatives aren't the only ones being coy about CRT. A lot of folks on the left—and purportedly neutral media—aren't always honest about it, either.

Take this Politico piece about the Banks memo. "Critical race theory refers to the concept that racism has been systematically ingrained in American society and institutions," the publication says. "It's sparked a Republican revolt over the ideology's presence in schools, arguing that it teaches children to believe that the country is racist."

Politico and many others defending CRT these days give the impression that believing in CRT simply means a belief that systemic racism was or is real, when there's much more to it than that.

It's a perfect example of a phenomenon that leftist writer Freddie deBoer delved into last week in his newsletter:

CRT is now a completely floating signifier thanks to the motivated reasoning of those who defend it. Conventional center-left liberals feel compelled to defend CRT because conservatives attack it, but some aspects of that academic field are sufficiently extreme to make advocacy for them unpalatable, so the definition of CRT simply morphs to fit their boundaries for legitimate opinion. For many or most of the people defending critical race theory today, the tradition is just a vague assertion of the prevalence of racism, dressed up in a little academic jargon - because this conception is far more convenient for them than grappling with what CRT actually is….It has become a cultural and professional imperative that good liberals embrace CRT, so they have embraced it.

But as [Matthew] Yglesias points out here, a big part of CRT involves a skepticism towards, or an out-and-out rejection of, some elementary aspects of liberal society. This is part of a broader academic left tendency; certainly when I was in academia in the humanities a half-decade ago it was considered terribly embarrassing to believe in individual rights and the Enlightenment etc. But a lot of ordinary everyday progressives still embrace that tradition. Rather than let their social need to defend CRT conflict with that attachment, they simply invent an imaginary CRT in their heads so there's no conflict. And this is the Selfish Fallacy.

Here's the now-deleted Matthew Yglesias point that deBoer refers to:

The saddest part about the whole CRT culture war is what it emerges and distracts from. It seems to stem from and overwhelm the massive movement against police brutality and racist law enforcement that was rising and looked, for a brief moment, like it might have the ability to help enable some serious and legitimate reforms.

"What was it that you marched for, when you took the streets last year?" deBoer asks in another recent post about CRT. "Was it so that an obscure set of theories from legal education could be clumsily grafted on to school curricula in order to be implemented by overworked, sometimes hostile teachers and taught to bored and apathetic students no more engaged than they are with algebra?"

It was not, of course. People asked for an end to no-knock raids and an end to qualified immunity. Reforming of police practices. Less police funding. Bail reform. Acknowledgment that it's not just individual bigots and thugs on the police force driving story after story of abuse, but overcriminalization and bad laws. Abolishing mandatory minimums and sentencing disparities. Better treatment of people in prisons and jails. And more…

Instead, we get real criminal justice reform bills stalling and President Joe Biden funneling pandemic relief funds to police salaries, while the left and right double down on going to war over something no one can really define.

Culture war is easier, and more viscerally satisfying to political audiences, than tough and incremental changes. And school curriculum drives more voters than helping the incarcerated. So police can still kill people with impunity, people arrested but not convicted can still spend months in jail because they can't afford to pay for their freedom, and no-knock raids continue apace in most places as the press blows up local school curriculum battles and corporate diversity trainings into national crises and politicians vociferously stake out opinions on whether a seventh-grade teacher at Podunk District Schools can utter the words white privilege.


FREE MINDS

UFOs get a second look from the U.S. government: 

The U.S. intelligence community, in conjunction with the Pentagon, is due in the coming days to submit a report to Congress on the subject. The Pentagon in recent years has released or confirmed the authenticity of video from naval aviators showing enigmatic aircraft exhibiting speed and maneuverability exceeding known aviation technologies.

In the lead-up to its forthcoming report, Defense Department officials have made clear they take the issue seriously while sidestepping questions about any potential extraterrestrial origins. The report marks a turning point for the U.S. military after decades of deflecting, debunking and discrediting observations of unidentified flying objects and "flying saucers."


FREE MARKETS

More misleading coverage about capitalism and socialism. Without fail, media coverage of surveys on capitalism, socialism, and young people over-hype youth love for socialism these days. Case in point today: an Axios study headlined "America's Continued Move Toward Socialism." The story opens by noting that "just half of younger Americans now hold a positive view of capitalism — and socialism's appeal in the U.S. continues to grow."

The story reports on a new Axios/Momentive poll. But the poll itself finds views of capitalism still majority positive, with 57 percent of all respondents saying they view capitalism positively and just 36 percent viewing it negatively. Positive views of capitalism are slightly down from 2019 (when it stood at 61 percent), but negative views are steady at 36 percent.

Meanwhile, "overall, perceptions of socialism are still underwater nationally, with 41% of Americans saying they have a positive view and 52% saying they have a negative view," notes the poll page. This 41 percent positive is up slightly among all age groups, from 39 percent in 2019. But among young people, positive views of socialism have actually declined in the past two years.

Just 51 percent of those under 35 now say they have a positive view of socialism, down from 55 percent in 2019.

Perhaps the most interesting finding is about young Republicans, who do seem to have gotten significantly more socialistic in their thinking. For instance, the number of Republicans ages 18–34 who said the government should try to reduce income inequality has risen from 40 percent to 56 percent. And while 75 percent of Republicans overall still view capitalism positively, the number is lower—66 percent—among the youngest cohort, where it has decreased from 81 percent in the 2019 poll.


QUICK HITS

• The federal ban on evictions, which was set to expire at the end of this month, has now been expanded through the end of July.

• Afghanistan update: "Roughly 650 U.S. troops are expected to remain in Afghanistan to provide security for diplomats after the main American military force completes its withdrawal, which is set to be largely done in the next two weeks," the Associated Press reports.

• Derek Chauvin, the cop who killed George Floyd, is scheduled for sentencing today.