In the wake of Democrats’ November election debacle, they are looking for who or what to blame. The initial targets are critical race theory, “wokeness,” and congressional progressives known as “the Squad,” in particular Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. If Democrats accept the narrative that swing voters rejected “extremism,” they are doomed to lose big in 2022 and 2024.
Leading Republicans have not shied away from extremism. In fact, they have embraced it. When Arizona Rep. Paul Gosar tweeted animated videos showing him killing Ocasio-Cortez and attacking President Biden with a sword, Republicans in Congress overwhelmingly voted against censuring him. They blame Biden for the recent spike in Covid-19 cases, while they actively campaign against mandatory vaccination and masking.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is promoting right-wing “replacement theories” that were behind the 2017 neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville, Va. On Fox News, Gingrich accused leftists of trying to drown out “classic Americans” and replace them with people who know nothing of the country’s history and traditions because they want to “get rid of the rest of us.” Fox’s Tucker Carlson repeated Gingrich’s claims, accusing Democrats of trying to “change the racial mix of the country” so they can “reduce the political power of people whose ancestors lived here.”
Meanwhile, the Republican rank-and-file have disrupted local school board meetings, denouncing school curricula, library books and efforts to combat the pandemic. The New York Times reported a “disturbing spike in threats against school board officials” and “hundreds of intimidating messages to election officials in at least a dozen states.”
The Democrats lost this year, however, because of their failure to articulate a clear agenda that would have provided an alternative narrative to GOP talking points; internal bickering that undermined legislative initiatives and made them appear incompetent; and deep-seated white racism that allowed the argument that critical race theory is invading our schools to take hold.
In Kenosha, Wis., a largely white jury acquitted a 17-year-old white man who brought an assault rifle to a Black Lives Matter rally and killed two of the protesters because he thought he was defending himself from attack by his unarmed victims. That decision had nothing to do with critical race theory or leftwing “wokeness” and everything to do with white fear of Blacks. It was celebrated by white vigilante groups as justification for their behavior, and Kyle Rittenhouse was proclaimed a Second Amendment hero by conservative politicians and right-wing news outlets.
On CNN, the recently fired Chris Cuomo interviewed comedian and commentator Bill Maher about a supposed leftwing peril threatening the U.S., feeding him a series of softball questions. After acknowledging that “I’m not in schools” and “I have no interaction with children,” Maher said he had heard from people across the country that “kids are sometimes separated into groups, oppressor and oppressed” and are being taught that “racism is the essence of America.” He derided this practice as “just silly; it’s just virtue-signaling,” and accused people advocating for curriculum revision of being “afraid to acknowledge progress,” a psychological disorder he labeled “progressophobia.”
I kept waiting for Cuomo to ask Maher for an example — any example — to support his claims, but Cuomo never did, and Maher never felt compelled to offer any evidence. On his HBO show, Maher promotes a group of contrarians who want to start their own college, where they will be free to present offensive ideas and dismiss objections without having to provide supporting evidence or answer to anyone. Cuomo never asked Maher about that, either.
The more serious problems for Democrats and progressives worldwide are new surges of the coronavirus that have led to closings, supply-chain disruptions and inflation spikes, as well as counterattacks on climate-change initiatives.
In Europe, protests against newly imposed Covid-19 restrictions turned into riots in Austria, Belgium and the Netherlands, and in Germany they boosted the right-wing vote. This has nothing to do with teaching critical race theory in American schools and everything to do with international right-wing fear-mongering and mobilization.
The other real problem is denial of the impending climate catastrophe, and efforts to block restrictions on the production and use of fossil fuels. Global leaders sang Kumbaya after the Glasgow Climate Change Conference and then went home, where they will implement inadequate or phantom measures. Wealthy GOP and fossil-fuel industry donors in the U.S. are pouring money into the re-election campaign accounts of nominally Democratic senators Joe Manchin, of West Virginia, and Kyrsten Sinema, of Arizona, to influence them to stand firm against clean-energy initiatives. Again, this has nothing to do with “wokeness” or the fictional claim that children are being indoctrinated into critical race theory in American schools.
Dr. Alan Singer is a professor of teaching, learning and technology and the director of social studies education programs at Hofstra University. He is a former New York City high school social studies teacher and editor of Social Science Docket, a joint publication of the New York and New Jersey Councils for the Social Studies. Follow him on Twitter, @AlanJSinger1.