Based on the reactions of most people I know and reactions on social media, people were very disappointed by the debate. Perhaps I had my cynicism properly tuned, because the debate was just about what I expected. I saw a weak and ill-equipped Joe Biden trying his best to stay focused on what he needed to say, and Trump launching ineffective attacks against an opponent that should be easily swept aside (can we please be honest and say there is a distinct difference in apparent mental acuity between the two men? Biden was a talented debater in the past, but has clearly experienced mental decline). There was one particular question asked by Chris Wallace about Trump’s recent executive order banning critical race theory (CRT) inspired racial sensitivity trainings in the government organizations. I thought it was a really great opportunity to inform a lot of people about a very important topic they might be currently unaware of, but he blew it. Here is his answer:
“I ended it because it’s racist. I ended it because a lot of people were complaining that they were asked to do things that were absolutely insane, that it was a radical revolution that was taking place in our military, in our schools, all over the place. We were paying people hundreds of thousands of dollars to teach very bad ideas and frankly, very sick ideas. And really, they were teaching people to hate our country, and I’m not going to allow that to happen.”
Very Trumpian. He portrays himself as in charge without giving the listener enough details to form their own opinion. I would wager that Trump, like many in America, was only tangentially aware of CRT until the proposal for an executive order landed on his desk. I will try to describe it in one sentence: If you are a decent person who is concerned about their impact on others and does not believe that any race is entitled to preferred treatment over another, you may recognize CRT as the part of racial sensitivity trainings that makes you uncomfortable. It is the part where you are told that America was built on racist values, by racist men, and thus is imbued with systemic racism. It is the part where white employees are told that they are inherently racist.
Perhaps right now you are feeling like you are wading into conspiracy theory waters, and I wouldn’t blame you for feeling that way. A secret field of scholarship that is trying to erode the national fabric through corporate racial sensitivity trainings sounds quite made up. Only, this field of scholarship is hardly secret. It was built by academics who very much believe the concept and see it as the way forward. They have no desire to hide. I can point you to it. And it is seeping into America’s culture in many ways besides corporate racial sensitivity trainings. Just look at how favorably Time frames CRT in this article also talking about this part of the debate:
“Critical race theory offers a way of seeing the world that helps people recognize the effects of historical racism in modern American life.”
Wow, that is a rosy description. If CRT did that, I would be all for it. In the same article they quote Richard Delgado, the author of Critical Race Theory, in his definition of the concept, but they conveniently leave out the second half of the definition (shown below):
“The critical race theory movement is a collection of activists and scholars engaged in studying and transforming the relationship among race, racism, and power. The movement considers many of the same issues that conventional civil rights and ethnic studies discourses take up but places them in a broader perspective that includes economics, history, setting, group and self-interest, and emotions and the unconscious. Unlike traditional civil rights discourse, which stresses incrementalism and step-by-step progress, critical race theory questions the very foundations of the liberal order, including equality theory, legal reasoning, Enlightenment rationalism, and neutral principles of constitutional law.”
Did you catch that? Let me repeat it.
“Unlike traditional civil rights discourse, which stresses incrementalism and step-by-step progress…”
If you guessed that those who subscribe to CRT are no big fans of MLK Jr or Mahatma Gandhi, you would be correct. If that makes you nervous, then you and I are on the same page. Our American system was built purposefully slow. The idea was that even if a majority faction took hold of power, the minority factions could slow the pace of change and ensure that the country was not transformed overnight to suit the needs of some over the needs of all. CRT seeks to “question the very foundations of liberal order” in order to erode that very system in the interest of removing all those roadblocks.
I hope I at least did a bit better than Trump did. CRT is much too deep of a topic for me to explain in one short essay, and you should only trust me to pique your interest and point you in the right direction. I will recommend Peter Boghossian, James Lindsay, and Helen Pluckrose’s (BLP) website New Discourses as an amazing resource for an examination of CRT, but be warned: it is a vast collection of readings. If podcasts/videos are more your speed, search any member of BLP on Youtube. They have plenty of content available. I also recommend James Lindsay’s recent podcast with Joe Rogan. If you want to have a good time and laugh, check out an earlier Joe Rogan podcast with both Boghossian and Lindsay. They talk all about the hoax papers they submitted to academic journals to see if they would get accepted. Spoiler: they did, and one won an award.
P.S. If you believe that CRT is the way forward, that is great. It is important for our republic to have open discourse and questioning of the system should be encouraged. In the same way IT systems hire hackers to expose security flaws, America needs people to find the flaws in its governing system. However, you should probably read up, because there are a lot of people who will not accept CRT lying down, myself included. I look forward to meeting you on the battlefield of ideas where we will work together to find truth and the way forward.
P.P.S. If you read the previous postscript and are interested in reading up on CRT I do not actually have much in the way of video/podcast recommendations. I know that Ibram X. Kendi is a leading mind in the field and has published a book How to Be an Antiracist, and that might be a good place to start. The New Discourses website I mentioned earlier also provides a Beginner’s Curriculum on Critical Race Theory and that seems like a great place to start.
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