Trump and critical race theory: What is really going on?

In case you missed it, Donald Trump discovered critical race theory over the weekend. Here is Friday’s memo from Russell Vought, the director of the president’s Office of Management and Budget:

September 4, 2020

M-20-34

MEMORANDUM FOR THE HEADS OF EXECUTIVE DEPARTMENTS AND AGENCIES

FROM: Russell Vought
Director

SUBJECT: Training in the Federal Government

It has come to the President’s attention that Executive Branch agencies have spent millions of taxpayer dollars to date “training” government workers to believe divisive, antiAmerican propaganda.

For example, according to press reports, employees across the Executive Branch have been required to attend trainings where they are told that “virtually all White people contribute to racism” or where they are required to say that they “benefit from racism.” According to press reports, in some cases these training have further claimed that there is racism embedded in the belief that America is the land of opportunity or the belief that the most qualified person should receive a job.

These types of “trainings” not only run counter to the fundamental beliefs for which our Nation has stood since its inception, but they also engender division and resentment within the Federal workforce. We can be proud that as an employer, the Federal government has employees of all races, ethnicities, and religions. We can be proud that Americans from all over
the country seek to join our workforce and dedicate themselves to public service. We can be proud of our continued efforts to welcome all individuals who seek to serve their fellow Americans as Federal employees. However, we cannot accept our employees receiving training
that seeks to undercut our core values as Americans and drive division within our workforce.

The President has directed me to ensure that Federal agencies cease and desist from using taxpayer dollars to fund these divisive, un-American propaganda training sessions. Accordingly, to that end, the Office of Management and Budget will shortly issue more detailed guidance on implementing the President’s directive. In the meantime, all agencies are directed to begin to identify all contracts or other agency spending related to any training on “critical race theory,” “white privilege,” or any other training or propaganda effort that teaches or suggests either (1) that the United States is an inherently racist or evil country or (2) that any race or ethnicity is inherently racist or evil. In addition, all agencies should begin to identify all available avenues within the law to cancel any such contracts and/or to divert Federal dollars away from these unAmerican propaganda training sessions.

The President, and his Administration, are fully committed to the fair and equal treatment of all individuals in the United States. The President has a proven track record of standing for those whose voice has long been ignored and who have failed to benefit from all our country has to offer, and he intends to continue to support all Americans, regardless of race, religion, or creed. The divisive, false, and demeaning propaganda of the critical race theory movement is contrary to all we stand for as Americans and should have no place in the Federal government.

Trump has been tweeting about this:

And here are a few of Trump’s retweets this weekend:

So what is happening here?

What is critical race theory? You can learn all about it here.

Critical race theorists believe that racism is a systemic problem in the United States. In other words, racism is more than just individual acts of prejudice executed by a “few bad apples,” but a system of injustice woven deeply into American culture.

I have read several stories on Trump’s attempt to ban critical race theory and it is still not clear to me exactly which federal training programs Trump is talking about here or how critical race theory is being taught in these programs. I think it is fair to say that Trump knows absolutely nothing about critical race theory apart from the fact that his political base is against it.

And what should we make of the fact that a memo from the Office of the President condemning a federal government training program cites “press reports” as its primary evidence? Trump’s seems to have learned about critical race theory from this segment of the Tucker Carlson Show on Fox News:

Chris Rufo, the guy who appears in this video, works for the Discovery Institute, a conservative Christian think tank. You can read his other writings here. You can learn more about others connected to the Discovery Institute here.

So what should we make of critical race theory? Like all academic theories, we should engage it thoughtfully. Critical race theory is one way of helping us come to grips with the fact that some groups in society oppress other groups. In the United States, there has been a long history of White people oppressing Black people. As a result, White people have had advantages–privileges even–that Black people and other people of color have not.

It is hard to study American history and not see this oppression. It is also difficult to study American history and not see continuity between the past and present. The legacies of slavery, segregation, Jim Crow, lynching, and white supremacy are still with us just like the founding fathers’ ideas of liberty and freedom and individual rights are still with us.

This past week I was teaching the students in my U.S. history survey course about seventeenth-century Virginia. This colonial society passed laws that made Black men and women slaves in an attempt to quell disgruntled poor whites who had shown a propensity for political rebellion. The codification of race-based slavery in Virginia law resulted in the social, economic, and political advance of the former white indentured servant population in Virginia.

Were there individual acts of racism in colonial Virginia? Of course. But what the Virginia government did was systemic–its leaders embedded racism in the culture of the settlement. While this is an early example of systemic racism, we can point to many other examples in American history where White people were able to achieve something called the “American Dream” on the backs of slavery and other oppressed and marginalized people.

I have a hunch that Rufo is a Christian. And I have no doubt that Trump’s decision to root out critical race theory will win him points with his evangelical base. So what should a Christian think about critical race theory?

Christians should expect injustice and oppression in this world. The world is fallen. We learn this from reading Genesis 3. Sin pervades this world and manifests itself in both individual transgression and cultural systems. We place our hope in Jesus Christ, a suffering savior whose death for our sins initiated a new kingdom–the Kingdom of God– that will one day reach its fulfillment in a new heavens and a new earth. God redeems our individual lives and will one day redeem His creation, which Romans 8 tells us is “groaning” with “labor pains” as it awaits redemption. Until Jesus returns, citizens of God’s Kingdom are called to live justice-filled lives. And those who care about justice will privilege standing with the poor and oppressed.

So if theologians like James Cone, critical race theorists, or American historians can help me better understand oppression, the ways I have benefited from such oppression (even if I don’t commit overt acts of racism), and teach me how to have greater solidarity with my black brothers and sisters, why wouldn’t I want to learn more about it?

As a Christian, I prefer to see the world through the eyes of my faith. In other words, I want my “theory” to be the teachings of the scriptures and the Christian tradition. This may mean that I embrace parts of critical race theory and reject other parts. This might also mean that I reject the way critical race theory is applied, especially when it leads to violence. But Christian’s shouldn’t be afraid of it.

If we want to use jargon that is common in today’s political climate, I think it is fair to say that Trump is “canceling” critical race theory. Trump and his followers want open discourse, debate, and the free exchange of ideas, but only with those ideas that they find agreeable. Critical race theory appears to have become a new kind of McCarthyism. How else should we interpret Trump’s call to “please report any sightings.”

Finally, let’s acknowledge what is really going on here.

First, Trump is trying to distract us from the fact that he called American soldiers “losers” and “suckers.”

Second, Trump is trying to scare Americans, especially his white evangelical base, into voting for him in November.

Third, by attacking a theory he knows nothing about, Trump continues to engage in the subtle (but premeditated) racism that has defined his entire presidency. We saw it in Charlottesville. We saw it in Kenosha. We saw it following the Floyd murder. And we see it whenever he talks about the suburbs.

Fourth, this whole incident shows us, once again, that we have an incompetent president who watches Fox News and then impulsively tweets policy proposals based on what he has seen.

A “progressive evangelical thinker” responds to the Eric Metaxas punch

Apparently, I am now a “progressive evangelical thinker.” Perhaps this may restore my reputation among some in the academic profession. 🙂

Here is Samuel Smith at The Christian Post:

While some on social media, including at least one progressive evangelical thinker, have been critical of Metaxas in the wake of the video, evangelical author Rod Dreher appears to defend Metaxas in a blog post published by The American Conservative. 

Read the entire piece here. For our coverage of the Metaxas punch, click here, here, and here.

Metaxas made an appearance on Tucker Carlson last night and joined the Fox News host in some standard court evangelical fearmongering:

I doubt Carlson or Metaxas watched the entire mass. Here it is:

The “Massive Backtracking” at Fox News

Fox News

Here is former Clinton press secretary Joe Lockhart:

Paul Farhi’s and Sarah Ellison’s piece at The Washington Post reminds us that:

  • Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham of Fox News said the news media was stirring “mass hysteria” and were “panic pushers.”
  • Hannity said downplayed the power of this pandemic.
  • Ingraham called the Democrats “the pandemic party.”
  • Ingraham told the elderly to quarantine, but suggested everyone else should go about their daily activities and “don’t take a cruise maybe.”
  • Fox Business News host Trish Regan said the media was using the coronavirus to “impeach Donald Trump.”
  • Only Tucker Carlson has taken the coronavirus seriously.
  • “Judge” Jeannine Pirro said that the idea that the coronavirus is more deadly than the flu “doesn’t reflect reality.”
  • Jerry Falwell Jr., the president of Liberty University, went on Fox and said that the coronavirus was sent to the United States by Kim Jong Un and the Chinese.
  • On Sunday, Devin Nunes went on Fox and told everyone who was healthy to go out to dinner.  Then he made an absolutely disingenuous effort to clean things up.

Now Hannity is referring to the coronavirus as a “crisis” and extolling Trump’s leadership.  Ingraham is calling this a “dangerous health crisis.” Fox took Regan’s program off the air. Trump said he disagreed with Nunes’s “go out to dinner” line.

Fox News has stopped downplaying this crisis.  I am glad to see this.  But we will probably never know the extent of the damage it did. There are so many senior citizens and elderly Americans who watch this network and take what they hear as gospel. I also wonder how much Fox News had to do with so many churches keeping their doors open on Sunday.

What Impeachment Talk is Doing to Fox News

Trump and Hannity

Writing for Vanity Fair, Gabriel Sherman describes the current climate at Fox News as “bedlam” and “madness.”  Even Sean Hannity thinks the whistleblower’s revelations are “really bad” for Trump.

Here is a taste:

Trump’s final bulwark is liable to be his first one: Fox News. Fox controls the flow of information—what facts are, whether allegations are to be believed—to huge swaths of his base. And Republican senators, who will ultimately decide whether the president remains in office, are in turn exquisitely sensitive to the opinions of Trump’s base. But even before the whistle-blower’s revelations, Fox was having something of a Trump identity crisis, and that bulwark has been wavering. In recent weeks, Trump has bashed Fox News on Twitter, taking particular issue lately with its polling, which, like other reputable polls, has shown the president under significant water. Meanwhile, Trump’s biggest booster seems to be having doubts of his own. This morning, Sean Hannity told friends the whistle-blower’s allegations are “really bad,” a person briefed on Hannity’s conversations told me. (Hannity did not respond to a request for comment). And according to four sources, Fox Corp CEO Lachlan Murdoch is already thinking about how to position the network for a post-Trump future. A person close to Lachlan told me that Fox News has been the highest rated cable network for seventeen years, and “the success has never depended on any one administration.” (A Fox Corp spokesperson declined to comment.)

Read the entire piece here.

Hey Eric Metaxas, Please Stop Using Ethnic Slurs About Italians So Cavalierly

Watch this Salem Radio love-fest between Eric Metaxas and Sebastian Gorka:

Most readers of the blog know Metaxas.  He is a court evangelical, author, and host of the Eric Metaxas Show on Salem.  Gorka’s brief and controversial stint as a Trump adviser landed him a radio show on the Christian network.

In this exchange, Metaxas and Gorka are discussing CNN anchor Chris Cuomo’s recent profanity-laced outburst toward a man who was harassing him on a family vacation.  The CNN celebrity took offense to this man calling him “Fredo,” a reference to the weak Corleone brother in The Godfather.

Cuomo claimed that “Fredo” is an ethnic slur against Italians.  I am half-Italian and grew-up around a lot of Italian family members, but I have never heard the name of the late John Cazanale‘s character in The Godfather used as a slur–ethnic or otherwise. So on this point, Metaxas and Gorka are probably correct.

But Metaxas does not stop there.  He says, “you would think that someone had called him [Cuomo] a ‘no-good guinea, wop;’ and even that’s funny in this day and age.”

I am sure Metaxas will think I am a snowflake for saying this, but calling an Italian-American a “guinea” or a “wop” is NOT funny–not even in “this day and age.”  For many Italian-Americans, especially those of a certain generation, these terms still open-up old wounds.  Perhaps Metaxas should study some Italian-American history. 

Let me be clear.  We Italian-Americans now enjoy white privilege. Today, the words “guinea” or “wop” do not have the sting that they once had.  Things have changed over time for Italian-Americans.  I would thus never equate the discrimination Italian-Americans have faced with the the plight of African-Americans in our history.  (Although I know many Italian-American political conservatives who would make this kind of moral equivalence argument).

But many of us have also sat at the feet of elders who told us stories about the prejudicial treatment they once faced.  Some of these stories are not pretty.  A few of these elders are still alive.  Some of their wounds have not completely healed.

Italians No

It is also worth noting that Metaxas appears to defend Tucker Carlson’s recent “white supremacy is a hoax” line.

At one point in the conversation Metaxas says, “In America, we have the freedom to say stupid things.” Yup.

Fox News Pundit Tucker Carlson Says White Supremacy is a Hoax

FBI Director Christopher Wray does not seem to agree:

Conservative columnist Jonah Goldberg tweeted:

CNN completely debunked the claims Carlson made to his 3 million viewers.

I also don’t know what happened to Victor Davis Hanson.  Back in the day I read his book The Land Was Everything: Letters from an American Farmer and I really learned a lot from it.  Now he goes on shows like Tucker Carlson and claims that people get their DNA tested by Ancestry.Com so that they can find some native American or African blood they can use to their political and career advantage.  He seems to deny that white supremacy had something to do with the El Paso shootings and other shootings.  He implies that immigrants should assimilate to white culture through marriage.  He goes on Fox News and spews Trump talking points.  And Tucker Carlson says that his comments are “deep.”

ADDENDUM:  By the way, according to the Cato Institute, the number of undocumented immigrants who commit crimes can also fit into a college football stadium.  I am guessing that Carlson takes these people as a serious threat to the United States.

Laura Ingraham’s Controversial Remarks are Rooted in a Long History of Fear

In case you missed it, here is CNN’s Brian Stelter’s report on Ingraham’s recent comments about “massive demographic changes.”

Ingraham is correct about the demographic changes facing America today.  This is not the first time we have seen such changes.  It is also not the first time that Americans have responded to such changes with fear-mongering.  This time around the fear-mongers have a cable television channel.

A few more points:

  1. Ingraham says “the America that we know and love doesn’t exist anymore.”  She says this in the context of immigration and demographic change.   And then she says that her statement is not about race or ethnicity.  Seriously?  Then how does Ingraham define the America “that we know and love?”
  2. Tucker Carlson says “no society has ever changed this much, this fast.”  This sounds like something a white Southerner might say during the late 1860s and 1870s, the period of Reconstruction when freed slaves were trying to integrate into southern society.
  3. In her response, Ingraham condemns white supremacists.  But her comments about immigration and “demographic change” seems to be little more than a defense of a white America that she believes is being threatened by people of color.  How is this any different than David Duke and others?
  4. How does Tucker Carlson know that we are undergoing “more change than human beings are designed to digest?”
  5. Ingraham says that “the rule of law, meaning secure borders” is what “binds our country together.”  On one level, Ingraham is correct here.  Immigration restriction and securing the borders once bound America together as a white Protestant nation.  White Protestants did not want Chinese men and women coming into the country, so they “bound our [white Protestant] country together” by passing the Chinese Exclusion Act.  White Protestants did not want more Italians and other southern Europeans coming into the country, so they passed the Johnson-Reed Act (1924) to restrict them from coming.  So yes, Ingraham is correct when she says “the rule of law” and “secure borders” have bound our country together.  It was racist then.  It is racist now.  On another level, Ingraham probably needs a history lesson.  For most of the 19th-century, the United States did have something equivalent to open borders.  So there has been a significant chunk of American history when secure borders did not bind America together.
  6. I will let someone else tackle this, but “merit-based immigration” seems like a racist dog-whistle.  This reminds me of when Trump said that we need more Norwegian immigrants and less immigrants from “shithole” countries.

Often-times fear is propagated by Christians who claim to embrace a religious faith that teaches them that “perfect love casts out fear.”  This faith calls us to respond to demographic change with love, not fear.

By the way, I wrote a book about how fear of such “demographic change” led evangelicals into the arms of Donald Trump.

Believe Me 3d