opinion | Right-wing thought police attack

Americans like to think of their nation as a beacon of freedom. And for all the ways in which we have failed to live up to our self-image, the broad grievances that arose out of the original sin of slavery—not only free elections, but also freedom of speech and thought—have long been a staple of the American idea.

But freedom is now under attack on more fronts than many people realize. Everyone knows the big lie, the refusal of a large majority of Republicans to accept the legitimacy of a losing election. But there are many other areas in which freedom is not only under assault, but is regressed.

Let’s talk, in particular, about the attack on education, especially but not only in Florida, which has become one of the leading companies in America Democratic Corrosion Laboratories.

Republicans have done great political enormity by denouncing the teaching of critical race theory. This strategy has worked even though most voters have no idea what this theory is and it is not actually taught in public schools. But the facts in this case don’t matter, because the CRT’s denunciations are essentially a cover for a much larger agenda: an effort to prevent schools from teaching anything that makes right-wingers uncomfortable.

I use that last word with caution: There is a bill introduced in the Florida Senate that declares that “no individual should be made to feel discomfort, guilt, distress, or any other form of psychological distress because of his or her race.” That is, the criterion for what can be taught is not “Is this true? Is it supported by scholarly consensus?” but rather, “Does it make certain target groups uncomfortable?”

Anyone inclined to put a harmless interpretation on this ruling – perhaps it is just a matter of not identifying collective guilt? – He must read the text of the invoice. Among other things, she cites the two main examples of things that should not happen in schools “Holocaust denial or belittlement, and critical race theory teaching” – because it points out that “racism is ingrained in American society” (Bill Defining Theory) is The same He denies that Hitler killed six million Jews.

But what is really surprising is the idea that schools should be prohibited from teaching anything that causes “discomfort” between students and their parents. If you imagine that the effects of applying this principle will be limited to teaching about race relations, you are quite naive.

For one thing, racism is far from the only disturbing topic in American history. I’m sure some students will find the story of how we came to invade Iraq – or how we got involved in Vietnam – to make them uncomfortable. Ban those topics from the curriculum!

Then there is science education. Most high schools teach the theory of evolution, but prominent Republican politicians either evade or actively deny the scientific consensus, likely reflecting the GOP base’s unease with the concept. Once the Florida standard is firmly established, how long will evolution teaching continue?

By the way, geology has the same problem. I’ve been on nature tours where the guides refuse to talk about the origins of the rock formations, saying they’ve had problems with some devout guests.

Oh, and given the growing importance of the emergence of anti-vaccination as a sign of conservative loyalty, how long before basic epidemiology—perhaps even germ theory—gets the critical race theory treatment?

Then there is economics, which these days is widely taught at the high school level. (Full disclosure: Many high schools use a modified version of the principles text I co-authored.) Given the long history of politically motivated attempts to prevent Keynesian economics from being taught, what do you think the Florida Standard would do for teaching in my home field?

The point is that the smear campaign against critical race theory is certainly the beginning of an attempt to subjugate education in general by the right-wing thought police, which would have disastrous effects far beyond the specific subject matter of racism.

Who will enforce the rules? State-sponsored guards! Last month, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis proposed a “wake-stop law” that would enable parents to sue school districts they claim are teaching critical race theory — and collect attorney’s fees, a bonus-style setup under the new Texas anti-abortion law. Even the prospect of such lawsuits would have a chilling effect on teaching.

Did I mention that DeSantis also wants to create a special police force to investigate election fraud? Like the attacks on critical race theory, this is clearly an attempt to use a made-up issue – voter fraud largely does not exist – as an excuse to intimidate.

Well, I’m sure some people will say I do a lot of these issues. But ask yourself: Was there any point, say, about the past five years when warnings about right-wing extremism were proven to be exaggerated, and those who dismiss those warnings as “alarming” were right?