Critical Race Theory And Its Conservative Critics

Monica Schipper | Getty Images

In 1989, a youngish black law professor named Kimberle Crenshaw introduced two terms into academic discourse—“critical race theory” and “intersectionality.” Of the two terms, “critical race theory” became a significant school of legal thought and is taught mostly in law schools while “intersectionality” has had a monumental impact on sociology, anthropology, history, and any field that deals with women, masculinity, race, ethnicity, disabilities, immigrants, colonialism, and the like. Indeed, intersectionality may be the single most influential conceptual innovation of the last 40 years. Coining critical race theory made Crenshaw important but intersectionality made her a legend. To give a sports analogy, it’s as if Simone Biles was not only the greatest gymnast of all time but a highly ranked tennis pro as well.

What is Critical Race Theory? Let’s start with some basics. Critical Race Theory is a legal literature that was developed by a multiracial set of Black, Asian, Native American, Hispanic lawyers and sought mostly to rethink the working of race in American legal doctrine. In the civil rights court decisions of the 1970’s and 1980’s, the prevailing assumption was that individuals, private business, and government were “color-blind,” and that racial discrimination should be thought of as a deviation from that standard. Under the color-blind standard, Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was rightly found guilty for his murder of George Floyd, but he would have been considered in individual terms a “bad apple” motivated by overt racism rather than an example of a pattern. Traditional civil rights law would not have seen the Minneapolis Police Department as discriminatory or racist even though there were six previous complaints about Chauvin putting non-white men into chokeholds, an incident of Chauvin kneeling “on the back of a 14-year-old Black boy for 17 minutes” in 2017, and 18 complaints filed against Chauvin altogether. There would not have been any questions about the training of Minneapolis police officers, the rules governing police conduct, the ways in which rules were applied in encounters between white police and non-white populations, and the extent to which police violence against racial minorities was seen as a positive or normal thing by the white population. To the contrary, Critical Race Theorists believe that white supremacy is normalized in institutional hiring practices, training, salary scales, promotion decisions, and human relations practices and the term “systemic racism” became prominent during the aftermath of the George Floyd murder.

Critical Race Theory works like any critical methodology. It takes established points of view that are considered fair, just, or methodologically correct, and demonstrates that there are hierarchies, interests, or domination in the working of the system. Early Christianity was known for its deconstruction of the traditional Roman gods as myths, idols, or demons. Fifteen hundred years later, Karl Marx sought to show that far from involving a “rational distribution” of wealth as proponents claimed, the free exchange of the capitalist system resulted in class exploitation, crisis, and revolution. What Critical Race Theory uncovers is that white racial consciousness is an important element in an American legal system that’s officially dedicated to ideals of color-blind equality. From the Critical Race Theory perspective, Officer Chauvin would not have been a “bad apple” in an otherwise non-discriminatory police department so much as an example of the white racial antagonism among urban police, biased rules and procedures in the Minneapolis Police Department, and popular white support for harsh police treatment of minorities.  

In an early essay in the Critical Race Theory collection, Crenshaw identifies white race consciousness in this way:

My purpose here is to examine the deep-rooted problem of racist ideology—or white race consciousness—and to suggest how this form of consciousness legitimates prevailing injustices and constrains the development of new solutions that would benefit black Americans.

Critical Race Theory is also known for defining race as “socially constructed” rather than biological, relying on narrative story telling as an alternative to legal or social science analysis, and critical understanding of classic Supreme Court decisions like Brown v Board of Education as serving elite white liberal political interests as well as racial justice. One of the best articles in the Critical Race Theory literature is “Whiteness as Property” by UCLA law professor Cheryl Harris. Harris begins by discussing how her grandmother spent several years passing as “white” in order to hold a job at a high-end clothing outlet because such jobs were limited to whites. In this sense, whiteness was a form of property that made Harris’ grandmother eligible for certain kinds of employment or higher levels of income. I’m interested in that because my mother’s side of the family has gone through at least two rounds of mixed-race marriage, passing, and “re-whitening” after their arrival in 1640’s New Amsterdam.

“Whiteness as Property” is brilliant scholarship that is still vital 30 years later.

The same can’t be said for conservative critics of Critical Race Theory. The steep decline in conservative intellectual life doesn’t get much attention, but there’s been no monumentally important conservative work to match The 1619 Project or the long string of great books by Patricia Hill Collins, Catherine MacKinnon, Michel Foucault, the British historian E.P. Thompson, and others going back to WWII. Structural anthropology, feminism, the Frankfurt School, post-structuralism, post-modernism, black feminism, and the linguistic turn are all still influential, but conservatives made no effort to keep up, and in many ways, have lost contact with the mainstream of Western and Global intellectual life.

In this sense, it shouldn’t be a surprise that the white conservative campaign against Critical Race Theory has been so intellectually lazy and incompetent.

The primary white conservative critic of Critical Race Theory, Christofer Rufo, views Critical Race Theory as “little more than reformulated Marxism.” Likewise, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida says that  “Critical race theory is Marxist-inspired indoctrination.” However, Crenshaw and the critical race theorists have a critical analysis of whiteness and racial hierarchy—not capitalism and class hierarchy. They want reform, not revolution. They write about the legal system not the economic system. The Critical Race Theorists don’t have anything analogous to what Neo-Marxists concepts of hegemony or the culture industry either. In fact, Critical Race Theory is best understood as a successor to the civil rights movement of the 1950’s and 1960’s, is influenced mostly by Martin Luther King and the social movements influenced by civil rights thinking, especially black feminism, immigrant rights activism, LGBT rights campaigns, disability activism, and Native American politics. Given the crucial importance of civil rights for American politics and culture, Critical Race Theory is much better connected to the mainstream of American life than most forms of intellectual conservatism have been for decades.

Rufo claims that Critical Race Theorists don’t believe any progress has been made for black people, but Crenshaw and others given enormous credit to the Civil Rights movement for gaining rights and making progress for black Americans and cite that progress as part of their argument for rejecting Marxism. Their critique of civil rights law concerns the barriers that the Supreme Court has created to further progress on desegregation, racial discrimination, and police violence. By the way, Rufo read the same authors as I did but is neither skilled enough nor honest enough to acknowledge the distinction.

Other critics have expanded on Rufo to promote blatant lies about Critical Race Theory advocating many positions they clearly do not hold, i.e., —that “all whites are … inherently racist,” that white people are “should feel guilty because of their skin color,” that America is inherently evil,” etc. And Rufo is fine with this because his criticisms of Critical Race Theory were all about marketing: quoting “We have successfully frozen their brand—’critical race theory’—into the public conversation… as we put all of the various cultural insanities under that brand category.” And what has gone under the “Critical Race Theory Brand” and been removed from public school reading lists and libraries also includes the novels of Toni Morrison and white classics like “The Diary of Anne Frank” and “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Not being honest about Critical Race Theory in the first place, critics of Critical Race Theory are now putting all kinds of anti-race materials and really, any kind of mainstream non-conservative history, under the Critical Race Theory label and trying to ban them from public education.

Lindsey Graham on Abortion: Staying Relevant, Challenging McConnell

Sen. Lindsey Graham, Tsafrir Abayov/AP

Lindsey Graham (Trump R-SC) is the Rudy Giuliani of the Senate–someone who will do anything to stay relevant. When John McCain was riding high as “the maverick,” Graham basked in his role as McCain’s wingman and found his own stride especially in warmongering toward Iran. But McCain died from brain cancer in 2018 and wasn’t even in his grave yet when Graham began shifting alliances toward Trump and maneuvering for Ivanka to be invited to McCain’s funeral despite McCain’s antipathy for Trump himself. If anything, Graham had been more contemptuous of Trump than McCain himself, referring to Trump as a “kook,” “crazy” and “unfit for office” during the 2016 Republican primary campaign and famously warning that “If we nominate Trump we will get destroyed … and we will deserve it.” But Graham went on to be one of Trump’s most stalwart Republican allies in the Senate, was almost as dedicated to Trump himself, and went back to placating Trump almost as fast as Kevin McCarthy after the Jan. 6 Insurrection. As Graham told Mark Leibovitch, “This is to try to be relevant.” 

Today, Lindsey Graham introduced a proposal for a national ban on abortion after 15 weeks. As is the case with most conservative abortion discourse, Graham is flamboyantly dishonest to refer to abortions after 15 weeks as “late term abortion.” But after Trump’s 30,000 lies in four years, lying has become more the norm for white conservatives than ever. Then, the question is how does Graham’s proposing such a measure keep him “relevant.” A national ban on abortion is not going to pass in either the Senate or the House. Given the unpopularity of the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision overturning Roe v Wade, Graham’s proposal is more likely to hurt than help GOP candidates the Senate, House, and Governor’s offices. If the abortion ban seems likely to backfire, how does this increase Graham’s relevance both in the short and long term? Of course, there’s a short-term benefit for Graham in getting him in front of the cameras. But a publicity hound like Graham has hundreds of ways to get in front of a camera. Why propose such an obvious dud?

One idea is Graham’s doing this to identify himself with the anti-abortion fanatics in the GOP base. Perhaps Graham’s trying to set himself up for a presidential run if Trump backs out of a 2024 campaign. What I find most interesting though is that Graham is introducing a culture war theme at a time when Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell wants Republican candidates to focus on inflation. Here’s two tweets from McConnell that went out at about the same time as Graham’s press conference.

twitter

And this is the way Lindsey Graham is trying to stay relevant–by challenging Mitch McConnell’s leadership and not particularly caring if he harms Republican candidates or hurts GOP chances of retaking the Senate. He’s not alone either. Last February, Sen. Rick Scott of Florida, the chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee went off the reservation when he advocated what amounted to an end to social security, medicare, and medicaid. Like banning abortion, ending social security is a campaign loser for the GOP and Scott was rebuked by McConnell who was emphatic that ending social security was not part of HIS agenda and that he would not bring anti-social security bills to the floor if the Republicans become a Senate Majority once again.

“Let me tell you what will not be a part of our agenda: We will not have as part of our agenda a bill that raises taxes on half the American people and sunsets Social Security and Medicare after five years. That will not be part of the Republican Senate majority agenda,” McConnell said.

But Rick Scott has persevered in his challenge to McConnell on social security and he’s been followed in that course of action by MAGA minded GOP senators like Ron Johnson and Lindsey Graham. Rick Scott, et al., are not going to get rid of social security in the near future, but they can and are undermining the leadership of Mitch McConnell in the present. Mitch McConnell and his Senate Leadership Fund have been pursuing a strategy of nominating electable Republicans and focusing on attacking Biden rather than articulating a Senate Republican agenda. But the strategy has been falling apart most importantly because questionable Trump-endorsed GOP candidates like Blake Masters, the execrable J. D. Vance, and Mehmet Oz won Republican primaries but also because of ambitious GOP senators like Rick Scott who would rather go down to defeat than continue to follow Mitch McConnell’s leadership. McConnell has had an iron grip over the Senate GOP caucus since first becoming Senate Republican leader in 2007 and Senators like Rick Scott are willing to risk continuing as a Senate minority rather than follow McConnell’s strategies and continuing to embrace his leadership.

And this is what Lindsey Graham was doing today. By proposing a national ban on abortion, Graham was seeking to regain a sense of relevance by mounting his own version of a challenge to McConnell’s leadership. Although Graham still has some relevance as a Senate supporter of former president Trump and has been interviewed several times about his support for cutting or abandoning social security, he wanted to be “the guy” on at least issue and that issue is abortion. Unlike Mitch McConnell who lives or dies with the success of the Republican Party, Lindsey Graham is very willing for the Senate GOP to keep losing as long as he himself stays relevant.

The Fascist Response to Biden

Tucker Carlson gives the fascist response to Biden’s imputation of “semi-fascism” to MAGA extremists. No word yet on whether Carlson consulted Victor Orban or whether his remarks are being broadcast on Russian state television like so much of Carlson’s other commentary.

Biden on Attack

Capital-Star photo by Patrick Abdalla

There’s President Biden in all his elderly glory. One of the quickly forgotten facts of the 2020 election is that President Biden and the Democrats did very little public campaigning. Because of the pandemic ethics of preventing the dissemination of the Covid. Joe Biden and Democratic candidates for Senate, the House, U.S. Senate seats, and state governorships did not hold rallies on a regular basis, do all the various kinds of meet and greets, or engage in traditional door knocking campaigns. Sure, the Democratic message got through in television, radio, and social media but I don’t think Dems were able to break through the constant noise made by Trump and focus the conversation on their agenda rather than the latest Trump outrage.

And I believe it cost Biden a point or two in the overall outcome.

President Biden didn’t get out that much during the first 15 months of his presidency either. However, that’s changed as the president has been crowing about the passing of gun control legislation, the competitiveness act and the Inflation Reduction Act as well as student loan forgiveness. President Biden has also made a mark in his attacks on Republicans. Going beyond the “No Republican voted for this” mantra of the 2021 American Recovery Act and Infrastructure and Jobs Investment Act, President Biden has just this week denounced MAGA Republicans as “semi-fascist” and proclaimed during rallies in Maryland and Pennsylvania that Republicans can not be “pro-police” and “pro-Jan 6” at the same time.

Not only are the attacks true, they’re effective.

President Biden has struggled to get the media to focus on his message on issues like inflation but his calling MAGA Republicans “semi-fascists” at a Maryland gathering was widely covered by the mainstream media (by CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, CBS, ABC, New York Times) and widely discussed in social media forums. Even with all the focus on the FBI search of Mar-a-Lago, the war in Ukraine, and mid-term elections, “semi-fascist” was THE topic over the weekend. When I was teaching government at Morehead State in KY, I always stressed presidents were the “leading celebrity” in the United States among other things. Because of the super-charged Trump drama of the last seven years, President Biden has long had trouble commanding the bully pulpit, but this weekend he was the center of attention in a way that had not been the case since early 2021.

Republican office holders and the conservative media apparatus have been free to engage engage in non-stop attacks on the Biden administration and Democrats. However, Fox News personalities have been forced to defend Republican office-holders and voters against aspersions of fascism. Nikolas Lanum of Fox News tried to blunt the impact by relating President Biden’s semi-fascist remark to previous “monikers” directed at Republicans and conservatives by Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. For Molly Hemingway of the Federalist, was “more hateful than the worst thing that Donald Trump ever said.” Building on that theme, Sean Duffy argued on a Fox Business show that Biden’s remarks were worst than anything Trump said because they went after Republicans as a group rather than just condemning them as individuals. The point isn’t so much about the weakness of conservative responses but the fact that Biden’s comments on GOP semi-fascism obligated conservative media to defend MAGA Republicans at all.

Characterizing MAGA conservatives as semi-Fascists also paves the way for President Biden to adapt harsh rhetoric on GOP claims to support the police while also continuing to offer aid and comfort to the Jan. 6 Insurrectionists.

So let me say this to my MAGA Republican friends in Congress: Don’t tell me you support law enforcement if you won’t condemn what happened on the 6th. Don’t tell me. Can’t do it.  

I remember Trump once claiming that “Make America Great Again” is the greatest marketing campaign in history. What President Biden has accomplished with associating MAGA with “semi-fascism” is call into question the value of the brand.

That’s What Democrats Think

Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

I’m originally from the Upstate NY village of Waverly in the Southern Tier region along the Susquehanna and Chemung rivers. Waverly has always been a Republican town and has become a Trumpy kind of place as Republicans have become a Trumpy kind of party. A liberal Rockefeller Republican growing up during the 1960’s and 70’s, I didn’t start voting Democratic until 1980 when I was living in Chapel Hill, NC and in my third year of grad school at Carolina.

Forty years later, I’m estranged from my Republican siblings, have no Republican friends, and have blocked pretty much all my GOP facebook friends, including three cousins in Texas, an aunt in South Carolina, folks from Waverly, and favorite former students. Like other Democrats I’ve stopped debating Republicans about issues like abortion, taxes, government regulation, and police murders. And I think that’s an extremely important thing. Liberal v conservative debates were one of the few things that lib/left whites and white conservatives shared over the last couple of decades and now that’s gone. Like other white Democrats, I’ve lost so much respect for white conservatives that I don’t view myself as sharing a common culture with them and view them as despicable for their support of a pathological liar, con man, rapist, flaming bigot, and traitor like Trump. Like President Biden, I view the MAGA/Trump movement as “semi-fascist” and think they’re moving to full scale fascism in a hurry.

That’s why New York governor Kathy Hochul’s statement that conservative and MAGA Republicans should just leave New York made so much sense to me even if Republicans are outraged.

Gov. Kathy Hochul, D-N.Y., sparked intense outrage after lambasting New York Republican candidates during a speech last week, telling them to “get out of town” and “head to Florida” where they belong . . . We’re here to say that the era of Trump and Zeldin and Molinaro – just jump on a bus and head down to Florida where you belong. Get out of town,” she said.

It will be interesting to see what the mainstream media does with Hochul’s statement if anything. Mainstream media outlets rarely interview Democratic voters and are especially averse to interviewing Democratic voters on their opinions concerning Trump voters. IMHO, it’s because the media does not want to engage with the contempt in which everyday Democrats hold their Trump voting fellow citizens.

If the media did interview Democrats, they would find out that Hochul’s views are just what Democrats think.

All Those Flailing White Conservative Men

Salon/Getty Images

In Sunday’s Salon, there’s an interesting article by Kirk Swearingen on the “crisis of manhood” so heavily advertised by conservatives. “Problems” with boys and men have been identified by women authors since the 1990’s with Susan Faludi’s Stiffed and The War Against Boys by anti-feminist Christina Hoff Sommers as the most prominent examples coming to my attention. While teaching at Morehead State in Kentucky, I starting noticing in the late 1990’s that achievement stopped being “cool” among the male poli sci majors and gen ed students I was teaching, and that the prototypical “big man on campus” types who combined academic excellence, athletic ability, and leadership ambitions had gone extinct. No matter who was the top student, seven out of the top ten poli sci majors were women and so were the overwhelming majority of honors students.

Here’s where Swearingen gets out most of his views on the nature of the manliness crisis:

This bizarre-tent party of religious grifters, pussy grabbers, gun polishers, closeted men, angry incels, alleged rapists and take-girls-across-the-state-line Lotharios is evangelically intolerant of the personal business of others and determined to dictate whom you can love or marry, how you should come to terms with your gender identity and how much of your reproductive future you should control . . .Meanwhile, as Republicans rant about fantasy pedophiles and LGBTQ “groomers” and call others (and often each other) “cucks,” school children and ordinary citizens are being cut down by young men with legally purchased assault-style weapons. Survivors get “thoughts and prayers”; families are left to figure out how to carry on after the lights of their lives have forever been extinguished. Gun fetishes, closeted sexuality, talk of “pussy” and rape, sadistic name-calling and general hate-mongering, worship of power and that telling focus on “manliness”  anyone else feel like we’re back in a really bad high school locker room? 

Swearingen lists so many sexual and political items that he doesn’t bring them all under common headings. Of course, the “crisis” is not so much about “manliness” in general but “cis/het white, conservative masculinity” in particular. Lib/left white men, black men, Hispanic men, poor men, disabled men, and gay men aren’t interviewed for manliness articles, not referenced in manliness writing, and seem to be completely outside the crisis. As a lib/left white male of 68, you would think I’d have something to say about manliness. So would the whole broad world of other non-conservatives.

But evidently not.

It’s worth noting that the crisis of white heterosexual conservative men has two sides in relation to sexuality. White conservative men are outraged by transsexual men and women, see LGBT folks and most elementary school teachers as “groomers,” and are obsessed with fantasies about (lib/left) pedophiles. In other words, cis/het white conservative men are deeply disturbed by the reality of men and women having sexual yearnings different from their own. Swearingen also sees White conservative men as deeply uncomfortable with heterosexuality with many conservatives being incels, rapists, and various kids of pedophiles including “take girls across the state line Lotharios” which I assume is an oblique reference to Matt Gaetz.

Failing to feel at home in heterosexuality while being consumed with rage against any sexual life that isn’t heterosexual, white conservative men just seem to be out of sorts with existence in general.

At least existence outside the conservative movement.

Don’t Mess with the DOJ

Besides the basic info on my twitter profile, I let folks know my view that “Dems Need to Be More Aggressive.” I still think that the Biden administration and the DNC need to be more partisan in promoting their programs and fighting right-wing disinformation. For example, the Biden administration and DNC have been pushing the theme of “not a single Republican voted for” key Biden administration bills from the American Recovery Act in 2021 to the recent Inflation Reduction Act. But that’s very generic and consequently unsatisfactory. The Biden people need to name names of Republicans who vote against popular bills.

There was no lack of Biden administration aggression yesterday though.

Early yesterday evening, Trump filed a lawsuit seeking several things:

  1. A Special Master to review documents for executive privilege and attorney client privilege;
  2. A detailed inventory of items seized during the search.
  3. Return of any information taken from Trump’s property that went beyond the scope of the search warrant.

As with anything linked to Trump and the law, he’s advancing audacious legal claims in search of sympathetic right-wing judges while also trying to politicize his dispute with the Department of Justice and the FBI.

That’s what Trump did with the Mueller investigation and it worked for him.

What Trump and the Republicans are finding out though is that the Democrats have caught up with the politicizing game and both the Jan. 6 Committee and Department of Justice have been engaged in selective leaking of “shocking new evidence.”

And this time, the hammer came down quickly.

Trump filed his suit in the early evening and it was still pretty early in the evening that the New York Times published a report (with Maggie Haberman as lead author) that the FBI had discovered 300 classified documents among the materials that Trump had originally taken from the White House to Mar-a-Lago.

In total, the government has recovered more than 300 documents with classified markings from Mr. Trump since he left office, the people said: that first batch of documents returned in January, another set provided by Mr. Trump’s aides to the Justice Department in June and the material seized by the F.B.I. in the search this month.

Here’s Eric Swalwell (D-CA) learning about the New York Times report report while being interviewed on MSNBC.

The reporting of Haberman, et al, was based on information from “multiple people briefed on the matter.” I’m not sure whether the information on Trump holding classified documents was a leak or not and I’m not sure who would have been the informants if there was a leak.

And I’m not sure it matters either.

The main fact is that filed a publicity seeking law suit yesterday afternoon but his lawsuit was swamped a couple hours later by a major story about him stealing classified documents that was based on information from people connected to the investigation.

And there’s been no defense from Trump, his legal team, or Fox News.

The only noticeable thing I’ve seen today is Lindsey Graham bleating that “Trump is too old to go to jail.”

Don’t Mess with the DOJ!

The Scamming Ethic

Fox News, taken from thewrap.com

Last night, a twitter figure who goes by “Jon Bois” (and has 250,000+ followers) tweeted about how he and many of his friends had lied about have college degrees, fooled employers into hiring them, and now had good lives. I couldn’t tell whether “Jon_Bois” was male, female, trans, or non-binary and couldn’t discern the party politics involved in his tweet either. But I thought the tweet was significant as an embodiment of the “ethic of scamming” that’s emerging among white guys and has special appeal among younger white conservatives.

I should have screen shotted the “John Bois” tweet so I could copy it into this blog. But I forgot and the tweet was deleted by the time I started working on my blog again this morning. Yet another reason why I don’t have 250,000 followers. In another tweet, Jon Bois himself explains the deletion.

@jon_bois, i’m gonna delete a tweet i don’t feel good about. i suggested lying about having a degree on your resume. among other things, being a white guy, pulling something like that is firmly in “easy for me to say” territory. it was dumb of me. thanks to those of you who checked me on it

Still, I think that an ethic of white guy scamming is emerging as a thing in the United States and want to discuss. During my 1990-2020 teaching career at Morehead State in KY, I began to notice in the late 1990’s that college achievement was becoming more and more “uncool” among white males and that the archetype of a smart, athletic, leadership-oriented guy who both worked and partied hard was disappearing among my students. The male leadership types were replaced by women who were confident, hard-working, set the tone for student discussion in my classes, and got the best grades as result. The top ten government students were identified every year and it seemed that 7-8 out of the top ten were women every year beginning in the late 90’s. When I started teaching honors students, it was the same with about 8 out of 10 honors students being women.

My perception was that guys had been outpaced by ambitious women since high school, were no longer willing to compete, and had decided that the whole idea of excelling academically was bullshit. The problems of the Great Recession, soaring student loan debt, and the introduction of critical perspectives on male violence, white supremacy, and LGBT issues as well as right-wing politics have all since contributed to white male antagonism toward college education.

But the root has always been the revulsion at having to compete with women.

With Trump having been defeated and Joe Biden in the Oval Office, the antagonism toward college has started to morph into an ethic of white male scamming through life as an alternative to gaining the qualifications traditionally associated with a college education. Last December, at a meeting sponsored by his Turning Point USA organization, conservative activist Charlie Kirk downplayed the value of college in making connections helpful for a career: “As you age you realize you really only had one or two friends in co9llege–most of these people are not important.” Of course, this is a very mistaken. Government and corporate employers all over the country require college degrees and ramped up their requirements for educational attainment as a result of the Great Recession. But Kirk implicitly poses the counter-argument that conservative politics can serve as an alternative economy in which white men can thrive without college degrees. There’s some truth to this in the sense that conservative media stalwarts like Kirk himself, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Joe Rogan all failed to finish undergraduate degrees and went on to success in conservative media. But white men are a large demographic and there’s reason to question whether conservative politics is big enough to support conservative white men. That’s also a problem for other conservative alternatives such as welding, plumbing, and electrical work. All those fields have relatively high wages and shortages of applicants but there are far from being enough openings to absorb the masses of alienated white conservative men. What’s the average white guy to support himself if he doesn’t want college?

Ron Filipkowski, Dec. 16, 2021

Tucker Carson has the answer–FAKE IT. “like drop out of college . . .Get married . . . Have more children than you can afford. Take a job you’re not qualified for, Like Go Balls Out! You know just go Balls Out.” Where the underlying suggestion from Charlie Kirk was to work in the conservative grift, Carlson is about scamming as a way of life. As I listened to the interview, the implication was for men to drop out of college and then lie about their credentials when they were applying for jobs. Carlson makes it all seem like “shits and giggles” but the main way for men to rush into “achievement,” “responsibility,” and “commitment” without acquiring credentials is to fake the credentials. The idea of marrying young and quickly (“if you’re compatible with someone, and you can smell that, you can make it work.”) also has an air of faking it–as if compatibility can just be assumed rather than established through dating or (God forbid!) a relationship.

Not unlike Jordan Peterson, Carlson sees young men as having a problem with responsibility: “young people . . . , particularly boys, like run from responsibility.” and proposes dropping out of college, early marriage, and big families as a solution. But where Peterson’s solution is to start small (“make your bed”), Carlson wants young men to think big in the sense of going all out for 50’s heterosexual marriage. That’s even though he doesn’t expect young men to have had much if anything in terms of prior relationships or qualifications for the middle-class/professional jobs that would make it possible for men to support the families he wants them to have. That’s where scamming comes in. As difficult as heterosexuality is for young men, the ethic of scamming makes it possible to dream.

Terrell Owens, Karen, and Infinite Lying

While I was waiting out the last hours of my pre-colonoscopy fast on Friday, Twitter’s Chris Evans (not to be confused with the actor) posted a video of an incident between former NFL great Terrell Owens and a white woman who first harassed him and then called the police.

Much of the focus has been on the “white woman tears” from “Kate” that come out at 1:59 and continue to the end of that section of the video. The recent history of “Karen” incidents, the Emmet Till lynching in 1955, and the history of white racial violence testify to the destructiveness of “white woman tears” when deployed as an accusation against black men. And it hasn’t stopped either. In “White Fragility,” white author Robin DiAngelo devotes an entire chapter to the issue of “white woman tears” in her experience as a corporate diversity and anti-racism trainer. White woman tears has long been a leading weapon for everyday racist aggression.

But before “Kate” started crying, she unleashed a cascade of lies against Owens–accusing him first of “harassment (0:13), then driving in the middle of the road (O.22), and saying that he “almost hit me” (0:24). After “Kate” made a number of accusations against Owens (0:49) that would have required previous online research, she then lied and said “I don’t give a shit” (0.53) for which Owens called her out. And finally, “Kate” accused Owens of running a stop sign (1:09) that apparently wasn’t even there. In some ways, getting out such a long string of lies in such a short period of time was an impressive accomplishment and is a good indication of the power of “Kate’s” racism as a source of motivation.

Indeed “Kate” seemed eager to lie about all of the reference points of her encounter with Owens. In ordinary conversation about lying, we usually measure lies against “the truth” rather than discuss lying as a system itself, an element of other systems, and the potentials of lying in various contexts. In fact, “Kate” could have made up an infinite number of lies about the details of her encounter with Terrell Owens and the only thing limiting her capacity for lying were petty empirical details like the cop’s attention span, other obligations in her life, and the need to sleep. Of course, “Kate” could have expanded the universe of her lying by also making up new reference points such as Owens having an AR-15, being a member of the Black Panthers, or in league with the police. But “Kate” could have continued lying until the end of time about the reference points she had before her. In my opinion, the determination of white people like “Kate” to engage in infinite lying about black people is at least as much a part of the white supremacist history as “white women’s tears” and is part of the mechanism through which the white population enforced the slavery and segregation systems.

But infinite lying about race requires a great deal of support. It requires white kinship networks, public opinion, police apparatus, and judicial systems that are both willing to believe anything a white person says about a black person and are eager to act violently on those lies. For infinite lying to thrive, the word of a white person needs to have so much support within the system that it carries a credible threat of instant death. Such support existed through the whole history of the U.S. as a “White Patriarchal Republic” from the drafting of the Constitution in 1787 to 1954 and “Brown v Board” and “Kate” was counting on a version of that support when she precipitated her confrontation with Owens. Her underlying expectation was the same as Central Park “Karen” Amy Cooper, that unflinching support from white opinion and the police would put Terrell Owens in mortal danger and that she would be protected from any adverse consequences.  

But since Brown v Board, the situation has changed to the disadvantage of Karens like “Kate” and the advantage of black men like Terrell Owens. The nearly seven decades between Brown v Board and the incident between “Kate” and Terrel Owens saw the rise of “Multicultural, Liberal Democracy” into a heavily contested but still pre-eminent position in American society. The Supreme Court decisions like Miranda v Arizona, the Civil Rights movement, and campaigns for feminism, gay rights, and immigrant rights have evolved into popular culture, corporate culture, Democratic Party politics, and the operation of government at all levels. In this context, Kate’s exercise in infinite lying was done from a position of disadvantage. Much of the reason “Kate” resorted to “white woman tears” is that her lies were discounted and ignored by the police officer, her husband didn’t support her, and a neighbor intervened to contradict her. Far from “Kate” being able to appeal to the public, it was Terrell Owens and his camera that were primed for public appeal. Infinite lying also requires a caste system in which the target has little recourse and is usually cowed by the threat of violence. But that wasn’t the case for “Kate” either. In fact, Terrell Owens is a famous man from his Hall of Fame NFL playing days who has enough wealth to own two houses. It was the loquacious Owens who had the status and his word seemed to have at least as much credibility with the police officer as Kate’s. Indeed, the incident was more a threat to “Kate’s” status than it was to Owens.

The White Patriarchal Republic is far from dead but white Karen’s like “Kate” are like conspiracy theorists, the religious right, urban cops, and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis in operating much less as agents of the dominant social order and much more in terms of counter-revolution and dissent. As conservatives often admit, they are agents of the “world they have lost” and that world remained lost in the dispute between “Kate” and Terrel Owens.

Arresto Momentum

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

I’ve a long-time fan of the Harry Potter novels, started reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in 1999, and still think fondly of the books despite the offensiveness of J.K. Rowling’s transphobia. My oldest daughter was five when we both read The Sorcerer’s Stone and both my daughters grew up reading Harry Potter books, watching Harry Potter movies, and engaging in constant Harry Potter chat about Hogwarts, Gryffindor, brooms, wands, spells, and magical pets. And I grew up as a father while sharing Harry Potter materials with them, racing the oldest to see who could first finish The Order of the Phoenix, and watching the movies again and again as family ritual. I had a couple Harry Potter wands and would use them in my classes to explain the concept of labor in John Locke’s Second Treatise of Government. Harry Potter tapes still help keep me awake and focused on long drives from Eastern Kentucky to Upstate New York and Florida.

What was especially affecting about The Prisoner of Azkaban was the idea of Harry’s father as a patronus who could be called on to protect Harry from the “demontors” who attacked Harry on many occasions. Dementors were creatures nourished by sucking on the happiness of their human prey and they could suck out human souls by performing the “dementor’s kiss.” Harry was attacked several times by dementors in The Prisoner of Azkaban and gradually began to hear his mother screaming at Voldemort while he was preparing to attack her. To protect himself, Harry learned to conjure a large silvery image of a patronus which chased the dementors away. When Harry’s father James Potter was in school, he regularly changed into a large stag for adventures with his friends and Harry’s patronus was also a large stag, representing the protective, nurturing spirit of his father within him. Harry’s father was killed by Voldemort when Harry was one, but his spirit lived within Harry helping him fight off dementors the same way Dumbledore provided paternal guidance to Harry even after his own death.

When I first read The Prisoner of Azkaban, I was in Clarksville, TN preparing to deliver a history paper at Austin Peay State University. What was inspiring about the book was the pervasive “spirit of the father” that had been so long lacking in my own life. Having grown up in a family with such an abusive father that I changed my name in 1995, I had a yearning for a “real” father extending back to my childhood and appreciation for television shows like “Father Knows Best,” “Bachelor Father,” “My Three Sons,” “Bewitched,” and “Bonanza.” In all these shows, fictional fathers evinced a supportive interest in their children, sense of proportion in relation to their children’s issues, and ability to be helpful that seemed much more real than the spasmodic terrorism of my own father. Indeed, far from feeling my father as a guardian spirit, I had just emerged from a 20-year period of him torturing me in my dreams. What Prisoner of Azkaban brought out in me was a sense of for once having a fatherly figure as a guardian spirit and I was inspired by the feeling for several days if not several weeks.

But what’s sticking with me now is the annoying arresto momentum spell that wasn’t in the book but was used in the Prisoner of Azkaban movie as Dumbledore broke Harry’s fall from his broom after his second dementor attack. I’ve always viewed the movie’s arresto momentum spell as a dumb sacrilege on the book but now I feel like my own momentum has been arrested by my travel to my ancestral homeland in Upstate NY and yesterday’s colonoscopy procedure. The writing had been going well. I was writing two posts per week and have been developing a nice mix of daily political commentary and insights into the basic cultural mechanisms of American politics. I’ve also been making progress on my book manuscript. Much of my current work for Ch 10 on 1840’s blackface has been on the famous “Ol’ Dan Tucker” and I’ve been putting together my themes of white identification with black suffering, comic substance, the attribution of infinite phallicism to black male characters, the equally infinite potential for torturing black male characters, and the underlying dynamics of labor. I was up to 3000 words a week but now I’m starting over again.

Arresto Momentum indeed.