Governor Ron DeSantis opened a Florida Board of Education meeting on Thursday by voicing his opposition to critical race theory, painting it as an effort to teach America’s students that “the country is rotten and that our institutions are illegitimate.” Following his lead, the members of the board, having been appointed by DeSantis, unanimously agreed to ban the concept from Floridian classrooms.
Critical race theory (CRT) is the new cause du jour for the Republican Party, leading to public condemnations, endless segments on Fox News, and now a Donald Trump-focused think-tank flooding the country with how-to manuals on running for local schoolboards by whipping up baseless paranoia with the express purpose of banning any teaching. It is, to put it simply, an agreed upon strategy by the entire Right to seize control of education in order to further defend white supremacy. They are attempting to undermine any effort to understand actual, real history, and, by extension, any effort there is to change the course of history.
And it’s working. By opening up a new front for the culture wars, and by playing upon fears of ascending demographics, developing pluralism, and an ascendant class of people of color, women, and LGBTQ Americans, the Right is undermining actual education and information in order to re-install ignorance and reboot support for its flagging political project.
Make no mistake. This is not posturing. This is something much, much larger.
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Like so much of this modern neo-fascist movement, the rage against CRT has its roots in the fascist, white supremacist movements of the mid-20th century. Just as Tucker Carlson and the Right echoed the Nazis in perpetuating the conspiracy theory of a Replacement, the CRT panic of the moment is couched in Third Reich fears of so-called “Cultural Marxism.”
If that sounds familiar, it should. Pundits on Fox, when feeling a bit loose or perhaps not on their game, will say the phrase verbatim.
Cultural Marxism is the belief that a conspiracy exists beneath the surface of society by Jewish saboteurs and liberal traitors to perpetuate secret messages, through art, education, and culture, to slowly but surely erode faith in the state, depress the population, and eventually lay the foundation for the destruction of the country. The belief is that - and this should sound familiar - the media, the academics, the leftists, and a whole assortment of conscious and unconscious actors, are constantly making their country…not great. By design.
This is, of course, to the conspiracy believer, an everpresent, existential threat that requires any and all means of counteracting the plot before it’s too late. It legitimizes preemptive violence, takeovers of the levers of power, and widespread, cruel oppression. If fully realized, it allows a body like the Nazi Party of Germany to use any and all measures to neutralize the threat, quarantine the danger, and see to it that wholesome, patriotic culture replaces the rancid poison and reinvigorates faith and pride in the state.
There is no other way to describe this other than totalitarianism. In Nazi Germany, culture was strangled and relentlessly controlled, all of it tuned to the liking of Adolf Hitler and his cadre of subordinates, all of them hyper-focused on creating and continually reinforcing a weaponized culture that radicalized its citizens, priming them for war, genocide, and societal self-destruction.
This is far from the first time such a thing has happened, much less the first time in America. Political panics have proved incredibly useful for the Right in enforcing their worldviews on the culture and relying on both loud and silent pressures for the purposes of conformity.
Fascistic tactics were used, much like in Nazi Germany, against the specter of communism in both the First and Second Red Scares, wherein rumors of attempts by the newly-formed Soviet Union to spread revolution were used to lynch Black Americans, oppress LGBTQ citizens, hold down women, and purge all of them from seats in the government. We miss this in our framing of the Red Scare, which is often treated as a widespread mania, but it was an incredibly useful moment for the Right in dismantling Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal coalition and ushering in the conservative 1950’s and 1960’s.
Of course, the rise of education and the travesty of the Vietnam War, not to mention the incredible rise of the Civil Rights Movement, interrupted that consensus, creating a cultural schism. Before, because of the Red Scare and the everpresent fear of silent and loud pressures, people had been afraid to trouble the consensus and express controversial opinions, creating a deep culture of oppression under the veneer of freedom, liberty, and equality.
The Right is attempting to turn back the clock via the same measures and, based on efforts, ideology, and tactics, go even further. They cannot win elections anymore, so they’re attempting to destroy democracy as a system and reinstall a Jim Crow-like atmosphere. They cannot appeal to the culture, so they are looking to destroy culture as a whole. And, because information allows the citizen to understand their situation, appraise the past, present, and imagine a different future, they are attempting to snip any chance of that in the bud and create an alternate “patriotic” reality where America is perfect, pristine, and, as a result, fully dedicated, weaponized, and radicalized, to attack any notion otherwise, from within or without, creating a society that will war and rage and ultimately destroy itself.
Much like the Third Reich.