A disparate group of billionaires, Republicans, televangelists and white supremacists has found common cause

The moral panic currently sweeping America about Critical Race Theory (CRT) has been covered ad nauseum by the press and commentators across the political spectrum. That’s what typically happens with moral panics (more on that in a moment).

What nobody is talking about, though, is the why of this particular issue at this particular time. As a result, we’re mistaking the tool for the goal.

Moral panics, when driven by politicians, are usually just tools. This CRT moral panic is a tool being used by a coalition of interests to achieve their own goals, none of which have anything to do with teaching or not-teaching the history of race in America.

Here’s how it works:

  • Imagine you’re part of a group of libertarian billionaires who don’t believe in public education and who see any such sort of taxpayer-funded effort to improve “the underclasses” as an absurd waste of the tax dollars you “worked so hard to earn” and the “gummint” now wants to take away from you “at the barrel of a gun.”
  • Imagine you’re a leader in the Republican Party who’s seeing the average age of the Fox audience — 70 — as a threat to your own political longevity because old white people don’t go into politics and you need 30- and 40-year-olds to learn their basic political skills locally (like on a school board) so you can groom and propel them up into state or federal politics.
  • Imagine you’re a multimillionaire white evangelical preacher who’s looking for an issue you can use to more tightly bind your congregation — your donors — to you by portraying yourself as a crusader who’s going to save their children from a horrible fate.
  • Imagine you’re a white supremacist militia leader who’s looking to expand his base by bringing in white middle-class adults and therefore you need an issue to get yourself into the headlines “taking on authorities” but that won’t also end with you going to jail.
  • Imagine you’re a Republican politician who’s looking at a serious challenge in the upcoming primary elections and you need an issue that’ll be both popular and energizing for your base voters, even if the larger population doesn’t much care, because base voters are all you care about in the upcoming primary.

These are the goal-oriented “crisis actors” who’ve brought us the moral panic around Critical Race Theory that has now morphed into a book-banning frenzy.

It has deep roots.

  • The movement to entirely privatize public education in America began in a big way after the 1954 Brown v Board Supreme Court decision that ended legal racial segregation in our public schools. Entire counties shut down their schools and a new industry of all-white “Christian academies” popped up all over the country.
  • Talk radio in the 1970s (I was in the business then) was often dominated by arguments against unionized public schools funded by property taxes, with the mantra of “I understand about paying taxes for police and fire, but I don’t have kids so why should I pay?” or “My kids are grown now, why should I pay?”
  • The Charter School industry evolved out of this with Reagan’s encouragement and in some parts of America now dominates the education scene. And a moral panic about CRT is made-to-order to take down what’s left of our taxpayer-funded unionized-teacher-run public schools.
  • This is now big business. In Washington, DC, for example, there are now as many charter schools making profits for their investors as there are public schools. The continuing existence of free public education represents a lost profit opportunity.

As billionaire former Education Secretary Betsy DeVos recently wrote for Fox “News,” it appears she believes the best solution is just to kill off unionized public education because it can never be reformed:

“Because wokeness is the left’s religion, ‘banning’ critical race theory or the 1619 Project won’t fix the problem. The liberal education establishment will simply rename, rebrand, or repackage these insidious ideas to get around so-called bans.”

These are the very simple and easily identified goals of the Republican movement to “ban Critical Race Theory.”

The tool they’re using is a new moral panic.

  • If you’re old enough to remember the 1980s, you can recall when Tipper Gore and James Baker’s wife Susan were worried that song lyrics were going to corrupt a generation of Americans (tell that to Ari Melber). Or the McMartin pre-school satanic ritual abuse hysteria, that ran for much of the decade.
  • In the 1990s, after a young British girl died of an ecstasy overdose, there was a moral panic around “Rave Culture,” and much of the multi-million-dollar advertising campaign that kicked it off was funded by alcohol companies that saw the upswing in drug use by young adults as a threat to their bottom lines.
  • Since then we’ve seen national panics that just happened to politically or financially (or both) benefit Republican politicians ranging from Islamophobia to Trump’s Birther claims against Obama to Southern border caravans to the “bathroom hysteria” directed against trans schoolchildren just a few years ago.

In this context, we can understand how a disparate group of billionaires, Republican politicians, televangelists, media outlets and white supremacist militias might find common cause around a new and exciting moral panic.

Thus, today’s Critical Race Theory hysteria.

Each group wins something substantial — particularly the billionaires and Republicans, as is usually the case — and the only losers are Black people and schoolkids. And, of course, objective real history, which is just a throwaway casualty to the people funding and promoting the hysteria.

Because “history” and schoolkids don’t vote, and Republicans have figured out how to make it very, very hard for Black voters to overcome everything from being purged off voting rolls to having to stand in line for hours to being given “provisional ballots” that are never counted.

By December of 2024 — and maybe December of this year — the elections will be over and the whole freak-out around reinventing American history will have gone away, the same way nobody today is seriously working to push “bathroom bills” in state legislatures.

But don’t worry: it’ll be replaced by a brand new Republican moral panic that targets another convenient and vulnerable group.

Will it be Hispanics (race)? Sikhs (religion)? Lesbians (gender/sexuality)?

You can bet that today’s version of Newt Gingrich/Frank Luntz is focus-grouping it right now.

Is America doomed?  Or is this just a huge opportunity for the progressive agenda?

Some Americans feel like we're living through a "last days" biblical Revelation kind of scenario.

There's a worldwide pandemic that is even killing our children; climate change has drowned the East Coast while the West Coast is on fire; emergency workers and firefighters are struggling with Covid; and a group of rightwing billionaires and religious freaks have seized control of one of our political parties and are hell-bent on pushing us back to the 19th century, crushing democracy and rolling back voting rights while taking ever-more control over women and minorities.

Many Americans are being crushed by this. People losing their homes to wildfire or floods; losing their jobs to an economy battered by recession, pandemic and environmental crisis; facing huge medical bills simply because they got sick in America. Others are caught in doom-scrolling loops, obsessing on all the bad news that fills our airwaves.

For some it's so overwhelming they simply give up or check out. They retreat altogether from reading the news and participating in politics, immersing themselves instead in alcohol, yoga or Netflix.

But, as the old cliché goes, times of great crisis are also truly moments of great opportunity, and, while some will give up and walk away from political activism, giving the billionaires, trolls and the GOP what they want, others realize the importance of doubling down now on our activism.

My SiriusXM colleague Joe Madison has taught me the difference between "movements" and "moments."

In 1872, Susan B Anthony voted in the presidential election; she was immediately arrested and convicted the following year for voting while female. It was a moment that seemed like a setback, but it was also a turning point that reinvigorated a movement.

When Reconstruction failed in 1876, it was a terrible moment for African-Americans, but it didn't stop the broad and growing movement to create a true multiracial, multiethnic democracy in this country. Examples from that time to today number in the thousands, and thankfully activists never gave up.

We have a Republican Party entirely captured by rightwing billionaires and polluting industries; members of the GOP are now calling for "bloodshed" as a way of solving political conflict. Some participated in an attempt to seize the US Capitol and assassinate the Vice President and Speaker of the House.

The so-far-successful effort to use vigilantes to intimidate low-income women in Texas is poised to spread across the United States through newly energized Republican-controlled legislatures. Five hardcore rightwingers on the Supreme Court have given it their stamp of approval.

Republicans, again with SCOTUS approval, have changed voting laws in 19 states now so they can rig elections to maintain their power in defiance of the majority of American voters.

This is a true moment of crisis on so many different levels, which is why it's not only critical that we seize this moment to throw ourselves into meaningful political activism, but also to take care of ourselves at deep emotional and spiritual levels.

Louise and I have been going in "awe walks" where we take a walk for a mile or two and go out of our way to look for things that strike us with "moments of awe."

Clouds, trees, a particularly extraordinary plant, a squirrel preparing for winter, a group of enthusiastic young people: life is such an extraordinary miracle and it's so easy to take for granted. We go out of our way to look for the awe-inspiring and miraculous every day, and then to be thankful for and appreciative of it.

We've been reaching out more to old friends, too, and reestablishing regular family Zoom meetings and other ways of maintaining human contact. There's some fascinating new research that shows that maintaining meaningful human connections through life extends both the quality and length of life more effectively than even a good diet!

However we do it, we need to keep ourselves well-charged, inspired and enthusiastic during this time of multiple and seemingly an ending crisis.

Throughout most of our 20s, Louise and I had a poster on our bedroom wall with a saying that has been attributed to many over the years but most often to Calvin Coolidge:

Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence.
Talent will not: nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent.
Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb.
Education will not: the world is full of educated derelicts.
Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.

As Bernie Sanders loves to say, and I echo every day on my show, "Despair is not an option." We must persist.

There is work to do, and, as a wonderful bonus, it gives life meaning and keeps us deeply connected with great allies!

Tag, you're it!

Thom Hartmann is a talk-show host and the author of The Hidden History of American Healthcare and more than 30 other books in print. He is a writing fellow at the Independent Media Institute and his writings are archived at hartmannreport.com.

This article was produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

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