The Washington Post has a lengthy article about how Tuesday’s election has dashed the hopes of black activists. The article begins this way:
The summer of 2020 brought a renewed focus on addressing racism, with protesters filling the streets after the police killings of Black men; statues of Confederate leaders coming down from their prominent perches; and the leading Democratic presidential candidate promising systemic changes to right the wrongs of the past on his way to winning the White House.
But Tuesday’s election results underscored how much the political winds have shifted since the start of what many activists had hoped was a new national awakening to the stubborn legacy of America’s racist history.
Republican Glenn Youngkin won the governor’s race in Virginia, in part, by warning about anti-racism curriculums in schools that examine the ways policies and laws perpetuate systemic discrimination [Note: a misleading statement of the curriculums in question.]
A proposal to overhaul policing was defeated in Minneapolis — the liberal city that gave rise to the summer of protests after a police officer murdered George Floyd — as voters rejected the idea of replacing a traditional law enforcement presence with one that would take a “comprehensive public health approach” to public safety.
Are black activists surprised by these election results? If their critique of America as systemically and unrelentingly racist has any truth to it, the surprising thing isn’t that the activists’ agenda was rejected in Virginia and Minneapolis, it’s that “defund the police” and the teaching of dumbed-down Critical Race Theory took hold in the first place.
Actually, these two developments — defund the police and teaching CRT — are surprising under any view of America other than that it went insane. No sane society would entertain the possibility of abolishing or cutting way back on its police force and switching to “a comprehensive public health approach to public safety.” No sane nation would teach children that race is a central fact about them and their classmates or that an evil like racism is the central fact about its history.
Tuesday’s election suggests that the insanity was only temporary.
Barack Obama understood the perils of advancing a CRT-style critique of America. The Post quotes one of his key advisers, Ben Rhodes, who says that as president, Obama often tried to frame “progressive change as a validation of American history” rather than a repudiation of it.
I doubt that Obama genuinely believed that American history validated or was consistent with his agenda, racial or otherwise. His wife didn’t seem to believe this. But Barack was smart enough to pretend.
Drawing on Obama’s example, Rhodes says:
Democrats absolutely have to engage on these cultural issues by presenting the changes we represent and advocate as an extension of our better history and not simply a repudiation of our darker history. There are lots of people out there who are indeed racist and beyond reach. But there are lots of others who have voted Democrat and Republican who were open to the story of an America that is great enough to change.
Al Sharpton, race hustler extraordinaire, also wants the left to dial it down, according to the Post. He calls, vaguely, for pragmatism:
We’re going to have to engage more methodically and strategically in the process, because we could lose it all. We’ve got to really bring everybody together and understand that this is a wake-up call and those really committed to voting rights and police reform need to deal with it in a practical way.
But what does dialing it down or being practical mean in this context? And is a return to Obama’s kinder, gentler rhetoric truly a way out of the box Democrats have put themselves in?
I doubt it. This isn’t 2009 or even 2016. The woke can of worms has been opened. Sweet-sounding rhetoric won’t put the worms back. Democrats will have to speak specifically about each one of them.
Take CRT. The Obama/Rhodes line that America is great and that our history is consistent with the kind of change the left wants can’t be squared with the critique being peddled, not just to school children but to many employees of corporate America.
The Obama/Rhodes line entails a refusal to advocate this anti-American indoctrination. But Dems haven’t openly advocated it. Instead, they have denied that the indoctrination is occurring.
Are they going to keep denying this even after what happened in Virginia or will they face up to reality and agree to an about-face? The latter course is the “practical” one, but I don’t expect Democrats to embrace it.
The teaching of American history is only one part of the woke education agenda, which is only one part of the overall woke agenda. Each part of the agenda raises difficulties for the Obama/Rhodes approach.
Consider law enforcement. It’s not enough for Democrats to stop talking about defunding the police. Are they going to support hiring police officers on a scale necessary to bring police forces back to the manpower levels needed to deal with rising crime rates? Are they willing to give officers the latitude they need to be able, or even willing, to police high crime areas?
Probably not. But that means risking that violent crime will continue increasingly to plague our cities, while property crime spreads to our suburbs.
In the 1990s, Bill Clinton, Joe Biden, and the rest of the Democratic party were willing to get tough on crime — not just through more active policing, but also through tougher sentences. Will the contemporary Democratic party move meaningfully in this direction?
I don’t think so, not any time soon. And the same goes for a host of other areas where wokeness has made inroads with the left.
Resorting to high-minded rhetoric about America being great enough to change isn’t a solution to the problems woke Democrats confront. They will have to make tough policy choices on the issues associated with wokeness. I don’t believe they’re capable of making ones that most of the electorate will like.