Critical Race Theory and the politics of the 2022 Midterms

Walter C. Farrell, Jr., PhD, MHPS, Guest Columnist

Critical Race Theory (CRT) has become a touchstone of Republican efforts to disenfranchise the New American Majority – ethnic minority citizens (Asians, Latinx, Indigenous, and Black Americans). The GOP’s use of this theory has been relentless as the size and political participation of these groups have increased at unanticipated rates.

Depending on whom you believe, CRT is either an examination of the role of race in the shaping of America’s public policy or an attack on White people by pitting ethnic minorities against them. Conservative Republicans have seized upon and promoted the latter definition aggressively in educational and political forums.

They have created another “Big Lie,” alleging that Critical Race Theory is poisoning the education of the nation’s children. This has been a recurring theme among Republicans. At an appearance at the Faith and Freedom Coalition Conference in Duluth, Georgia, Sen. Ted Cruz stated that “Critical race theory is bigoted, it is a lie and it is every bit as racist as the Klansman in white sheets.”

The spread of the “Big Lie” is being successfully facilitated by Christopher Rufo, a conservative activist from Seattle, Washington, who claims that CRT grew more popular during the aftermath of the police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He says it poses a grave threat to America, amounting to “cult indoctrination” and that “… it is now being weaponized against the American people.”

Conservatives and Republicans throughout the country avidly embrace Rufo’s viewpoint, and he is being prominently featured on the entire right-wing media political platform. Confident that he can appeal to her more liberal audience, he has also asked Joy Reid, host of MSNBC’s The Reidout, one of the network’s more popular shows, to appear on her show.

Texas Republican Governor Greg Abbott said the abolishment of critical race theory is at the top of his state’s special agenda after he signed House Bill 3979 – which dictates what lessons on race can be taught. HB 3979 says teachers must present both sides of ideology when teaching about race-related current events.

Abbott also bans discussions of The New York Times’ 1619 Project, a widely praised, extensive journalism blueprint which began in 2019 and explores the origins and timeline of Black slavery in America. Abbott’s new K-12 Texas curriculum on teachings about race will begin on September 1, 2021, and will rigidly hold teachers accountable.

Republican Party strategists and elected officials are using the alleged teaching of Critical Race Theory (CRT) in K-12 education to excite and enrage their base. Although there is no evidence that CRT, as they define it, is being taught in K-12 public education, nearly two-dozen GOP-controlled state legislatures have banned its teaching in public schools.

In the wake of the 2020 Republican loss of the three branches of the federal government, the House, Senate, and office of President, they now use CRT to heighten xenophobia among their rank-and-file and conservative voters just as they pushed back against implementing the 1954 Brown decision which led to court-ordered school desegregation.

In those same states, legislatures have dramatically reduced funding for K-12 public education, seemingly to deprive school systems of adequate funding for the escalating increase of children of color, most of whom are low-income and poor. They now make up over 50 percent of America’s public school students.

Republicans have launched a multi-faceted assault on New American Majority parents and their children. For now, Democrats are ignoring this coordinated evisceration of two seminal American institutions – voting rights and public education – for people of color.

An ancillary tactic is to dismantle public education as we know it. President Biden, perhaps unwittingly, is aiding in this struggle by allowing nearly half a billion dollars for the federal Charter Schools Program, which funds for-profit charters rife with waste and fraud and formerly championed by Trump’s Education Secretary, Betsy DeVos, to remain in his budget.

Interestingly, Biden’s Education Secretary, Miguel Cardona, will deliver the keynote address at this year’s National Charter Schools Conference. Biden’s actions to date call into question his administration’s opposition to charter schools and the privatization of K-12 public education.

As they move toward the 2022 midterms, Democrats look to be asleep at the political wheel while Republicans remain politically focused. This became clearly apparent on June 22nd when all 50 Republican U.S. Senators voted against even allowing a debate on the Democrats’ For the People Act, a bill that would expand voter access and enfranchise millions of Americans.

Democratic leaders are being pushed by progressives to focus on their key issues – climate change, reparations for slavery, and expansive infrastructure build up. While these are all very important issues, they are unlikely to garner sufficient votes among an evenly split Senate where filibuster-proof Senate Republicans will not allow such legislation to move forward at this time.

With Democrats’ razor-thin majorities, in both Congressional chambers, shoring up their base and preparing for the forthcoming Republican onslaught of political ads savaging them over CRT and other progressive bills could serve Democrats better. They are in a heap of political trouble and appear to be insensitive to their serious political and electoral quandary.

The left-wing elements of the Democratic Party need to chill for a moment and weigh the electoral pitfalls they are facing.