The CRT backlash and progressives' big lie about the culture war

Today Andrew Sullivan posted this compressed guide to MSM disinformation on Critical Race Theory. In a matter of a few weeks we’ve gone from the claim that CRT isn’t being taught in schools to the admission by the NEA that everything must henceforth be taught through the lens of CRT.

Just two weeks ago, Joy Reid was on television quoting Ibram Kendi’s claim that he was definitely not a critical race theorist. Reid also claimed in the same segment that Identity Politics was something distinct from CRT. But Kendi himself had told an interviewer two weeks earlier, “intersectional theory, which is one of the critical components of critical race theory, is foundational to to to being Antiracist.” In other words, if you want to partake in Kendi’s anti-racism, you can’t do that without intersectionality which is a “critical component” of CRT. But, hey, let’s all keep pretending this has nothing to do with CRT and critics are just confused.

It seems Kendi has since realized the best defense is a good offense. He now has a new response to critics of CRT: Compare them to the Klan.

The idea that criticism of CRT is just the right’s latest culture war tactic is by now conventional wisdom in the media:

  • The Hill: “How critical race theory became today’s defining culture-war issue”
  • Washington Post: “How and why Loudoun County became the face of the nation’s culture wars” (“Conservative activists and pundits across the United States have weaponized the theory…”)
  • Boston Review – “The War on Critical Race Theory”
  • Salon: “The right’s attack on ‘critical race theory’: Another battle in the Orwellian war against democracy”
  • MSNBC: “GOP’s ‘critical race theory’ astroturfing is the new tea party”
  • Florida Phoenix: “Gov. DeSantis has found a new culture-war enemy: ‘critical race theory’”
  • NY Times: “Disputing Racism’s Reach, Republicans Rattle American Schools” (Subhead: “In a culture-war brawl that has spilled into the country’s educational system, Republicans at the local, state and national levels are trying to block curriculums that emphasize systemic racism.”)

I could go on for a while but all of this fits in nicely with the left’s general theory of the culture war which is that the right is always on the attack. I think I first heard this argument in the media circa 1992 but it’s certainly getting a lot of use this summer. And that idea fits with another favorite claim by the left, i.e. that the right has become extremely polarized over the past decade or two.

The problem with this is that, at most, it’s half the story. What the left and the media casually describe as the right’s latest salvo in the culture war are often defense actions against progressive campaigns marching their way through the institutions.

As Damon Linker argued in a piece for The Week published yesterday, the myth of asymmetric polarization, which supposedly explains the right’s culture war fixation, doesn’t hold up to much scrutiny either. In fact, if you go through the issues one by one, it’s the left that has become more polarized on many issues at the center of the culture war:

As a series of charts recently compiled by center-left political commentator Kevin Drum show, progressives have been aggressors, moving left further and faster than conservatives have moved right, on numerous issues wrapped with the country’s cultural conflicts over the past two decades. If this is true, or even partly so, it complicates in an illuminating way the story of a unilaterally belligerent right and virtuously defensive left.

Drum’s collection of charts can be viewed here. He looks at polarization on immigration, abortion, same-sex marriage, guns taxes and religion. What he finds is that Democrats have moved more toward the far-left much more than Republicans have move toward the far-right. So, for instance, on abortion, support among Republicans for the view that abortion should never be legal under any circumstances has gone up about 2 percent since 2000. Meanwhile, Democrats’ support for the opposite position (abortion should be legal in all circumstances) has gone up 20 percent over the same time. This is asymmetrical polarization but it’s primarily happening on the left. Here’s Damon Linker’s summary of some of Drum’s other findings:

On immigration: Republican views have bounced around a lot since 2000, but the overall trajectory has been a shift of about five points in the more conservative (restrictionist) direction. Over that same period, Democrats have shifted about 35 points to the left, in favor of fewer restrictions…

On same-sex marriage: Democrats have moved 50 points in the leftward direction since 1997, while Republicans have also moved left, though only by 39 points.

On guns: The GOP has become roughly 10 points more conservative (in favor of gun rights) over the past two decades, whereas Democrats have become about 20 points more liberal (in favor of gun restrictions).

You can see this shift visualized in a graphic that was published by Pew Research in 2017. Actually it’s a series of graphics:

There’s clearly movement on both sides but by 2017 the median Democrat is clearly farther from the center than the median Republican. The left’s big lie about where the culture war is coming (GOP polarization) is the opposite of reality. As Kevin Drum, who is himself a progressive, pointed out, this shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone:

It is not conservatives who have turned American politics into a culture war battle. It is liberals. And this shouldn’t come as a surprise: Almost by definition, liberals are the ones pushing for change while conservatives are merely responding to whatever liberals do. More specifically, progressives have been bragging publicly about pushing the Democratic Party leftward since at least 2004—and they’ve succeeded.

Drum then quoted self-described socialist “data geek” David Shor who described how that polarization is playing out within the Democratic party:

Over the last four years, white liberals have become a larger and larger share of the Democratic Party….And since white voters are sorting on ideology more than nonwhite voters, we’ve ended up in a situation where white liberals are more left wing than Black and Hispanic Democrats on pretty much every issue: taxes, health care, policing, and even on racial issues or various measures of “racial resentment.” So as white liberals increasingly define the party’s image and messaging, that’s going to turn off nonwhite conservative Democrats and push them against us.

And that is the real genesis of the ongoing CRT cultural battle. The rise of Black Lives Matter has led to people like Robin DiAngelo launching a new genre of self-help books (and home struggle sessions) for liberal white women. And particularly in the wake of George Floyd’s death activists and fans of the new genre are pushing it into boardrooms and classrooms around the country. It’s in response to that push that parents who object have recently started speaking up to administrator or at school board meetings about instances here the new dogma seems to be going too far.

In short, the left is pushing Marxist-tinged identity politics into public schools and the right is, dare I say it, acting as the resistance. Of course it’s true that some of that resistance is being organized by activists on the right but that doesn’t change the fact that the right is basically playing defense here, just as they often are in the culture war.