We need to talk about how and why the Republican Party isn't conservative anymore in the way the Republican Party has long-defined the term. The race for governor in Virginia is illustrative.
Republican candidate Glenn Youngkin gets nary a peep out of crowds when talking about traditional Republican things like tax cuts and deregulation. But audiences roar when he talks about the scourge of "Critical Race Theory" in public schools. This scourge does not exist.
No one, and I mean no one, teaches K-12 students anything at all about Critical Race Theory, because Critical Race Theory, without quotes, is something college students engage, if they choose to. What public school teachers do do is teach kids the history of slavery, the history of racism and, in some cases, how systemic anti-Black racism in America was the precondition for a white police officer murdering a Black man.
All the jabbering about "Critical Race Theory" is part of a white-power backlash against political gains made by Black reformers in the wake of George Floyd's death, itself coming after years of effort to bring more attention to the barbarous, and unequal, treatment of Black Americans by law enforcement. The former president's Big Lie about the 2020 election being stolen from him has merged with a larger, background narrative about "God's country" being stolen from "real Americans." To fight against "Critical Race Theory" is now a fight to save "America."
So when Glenn Youngkin rails against "Critical Race Theory" he is not railing against Critical Race Theory, without quotes, because Critical Race Theory does not exist in K-12 schools. What he is really railing against is teaching kids things they ought to be taught for the purpose of flattening the old whites-on-top orders of power that were the precondition for a white police officer murdering a Black man. What he's railing against is the successful challenge of the racist status quo.
Republican candidates used to push back against liberals and their reforms by talking about traditional Republican things like tax cuts and deregulation. Starving the government of resources needed to "provide for the common Defence and general Welfare" hurts white people, to be sure. But as the GOP knows well, it hurts non-white people more. Anyway, many white people feel free when non-white people aren't, even if those white people suffer. When invested in the whites-on-top orders of power, there's more than one way to feel rich. Voting to hurt yourself is voting in your "economic self-interest."
Republican voters used to hear "tax cuts" and understand it meant putting Black people (and women and Jews and gay people) back in their place. That does not fly anymore. Neither does mere race-baiting in order to win political power. Republican voters increasingly demand candidates talk about how they are going to use the power of the state to maintain the racist status quo, even if those efforts collide with the interests of private property and private enterprise. For decades, the GOP was the anti-government party. It is now, increasingly, statist.
This is why demagogues like Tucker Carlson admire Hungary, a country so gripped by authoritarian forces it exiled a world-class university. This is why members of Congress like North Carolina's Madison Cawthorn demand the wall between church and state come down. This is why "think tanks" like the Claremont Institute formalize informal relations between the Republican Party and sheriffs for the purpose of legally enforcing the party line. This is why Texas deputized snitches to outlaw abortion. This is why GOP governors penalize private firms for mandating vaccines. This is why Glenn Youngkin said that on the day one he's going to ban "Critical Race Theory."
Again, Critical Race Theory, without quotes, does not exist in K-12 schools. But let's suppose it did. What Youngkin would then be proposing, while denying he's proposing it, is the establishment of government thought police. Allowable curricula are Republican curricula. Allowable speech is Republican speech. Allowable thoughts are Republican thoughts. Everything else is subject to prosecution.
Yeah, sure. The stated rationale for banning "Critical Race Theory" is fighting those malevolent forces of "cultural Marxism" threatening to take America away from the "real Americans," or some such thing. This is a lie, and as such, it should illustrate to the rest of us how easy it would be for a statist party to slowly expand its boundaries until there's no daylight between civil society, the government and the GOP. First, lie. Second, expand. Lie, then expand. Lie, expand. Given enough time and effort, everything is the State and the State is everything.
Granted, there's always been something a statist about the Republican Party. On the one hand are lickspittle of the military-industrial complex. To them, spending is bad unless it's for war. On the other hand are the Christianists who long to outlaw abortion, condoms and "sexual anarchy," as one put it. They were on the margins 40 years ago. They are the center now. Conservatives who privilege individual liberty — conservatives who privilege private property — will these days find warmer relations in the Democratic Party. Today's Republicans are telling us what "conservative" means to them.
Let's believe them.