I was recently having lunch with a friend, who was a senior hand in the Carter White House. We were noting that in those days if you had predicted there would be a TV network where much of the guest talent was former military, CIA and other spooky types, FBI, and assorted other national security players and the audience lapping it up would be mostly Democrats you’d be laughed at. You’d be ridiculed even more if you then added that when the Russians invaded a sovereign nation many Republicans and conservatives would advocate against supporting efforts to counter Russian military force.
Yet here we are. It’s hard to miss how as a feature of the partisan hardening in this country our politics are becoming predictably and sometimes comically reactionary. There are counterexamples, sure, Joe Biden on crime and policing for instance cuts against the activist grain of the Democratic Party. But in general there is a reaction – counter-reaction problem. How many people died because they wouldn’t follow “Democratic” public health advice? When Donald Trump would call for due process Twitter would light up with people who formerly were at least nominally on board with civil liberties shouting him down. (Reader, even toxic losers deserve due process, it’s basically the whole idea). The ongoing January 6th saga is a depressing, and dangerous, example. Not long ago the Twitter spectacle would have freaked out liberals.
Here in education, one place this reactionary trend shows up a lot is around “parents rights.” Like “Make America Great Again” it’s one of these slogans that it’s sort of politically suicidal to be against yet people do it anyway. (I’m not talking about “MAGA” and 1/6 and all that, but just the 2016 version with those four words and their plain meaning.) When confronted with “Make America Great Again” Democrats could have said, yes, we should do that and here’s our agenda for how. Instead, prominent voices started arguing America wasn’t really ever great, and ridiculing people who love their country. Or, worse, claiming those who believe in American greatness are racist or deplorable and openly or secretly hoping to resurrect a pre-civil rights America. Sure, those types exist, but, not surprisingly this sentiment didn’t sit well with a lot of people who don’t think like that and also love their country. It helped turn a consequential election and drive a brutal wedge in our politics and culture. It’s why “ultra” MAGA or whatever stupid nomenclature is now being road tested.