We have reached the Mad King stage of the Trump administration, where the president barks out an insane, unconstitutional command, and the White House lawyers scurry off to package it into something resembling a legal order.
…with our Country, the United States Military, Government Contractors, and Grantees. Americans should be taught to take PRIDE in our Great Country, and if you don’t, there’s nothing in it for you!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 22, 2020
Next he’ll be issuing proclamations that it must rain on election day, but only in blue states.
It all started with the New York Times’ 1619 Project, which posits that 1619, the year the first slave ship arrived on the continent, is the true “birth year” of America. The original piece by reporter Nikole-Hannah Jones, who won a Pulitzer Prize for her work, was developed into a school curriculum which treats the original sin of slavery and its echo in racist laws and policies after the Civil War as the defining characteristic of American identity.
There’s no indication that the 1619 Project’s curriculum has been widely adopted in schools, but in the wake of the protests against systemic racism in policing after George Floyd’s killing, prominent right-wing figures such as Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton and talkshow host Ben Shapiro have attempted to flip the script. It’s not police who kill Black Americans who are racist; actually it’s people who talk about racism who are the real racists. And they do it because they hate America.
“The self-proclaimed ‘anti-racist’ left — a left that sees all of human relations reduced to a rudimentary correlation of skin color and inequality, an analysis we used to call racist — has decided that the culture must be cleansed of all of those who will not be drafted into its woke army,” Shapiro wrote in his nationally syndicated column this July, conveniently casting himself and his fellow conservatives as the real victims, valiantly fending off attack by an army of woke liberals, even as police were unleashing clouds of teargas on unarmed protestors.
And then it was off to the … races. (Sorry.)
Trump mainlines six or seven hours a day of Fox and OANN programming assuring him that hordes of BLM protestors are storming the suburbs to indoctrinate American youth with anti-patriotic ideas about systemic racism; Trump shouts at rallies and sends out tweets warning that Cory Booker (!) will bring Section 8 housing to destroy the American dream; and then those rallies and tweets are reflected back to him the next day as Tucker, or Sean, or Jeanine, or Laura reassures him that, yes, Mister President, sir, Democrats are the real racists.
Trump Orders Purge of ‘Critical Race Theory‘ from Federal Agencies https://t.co/ygXcTXRHsQ via @BreitbartNews This is a sickness that cannot be allowed to continue. Please report any sightings so we can quickly extinguish!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 5, 2020
Which is how we ended up with Trump ordering an end to anti-bias training in federal agencies last week, and then expanding the order to all federal contractors today.
Well, kind of.
Here’s the actual text of the order:
The contractor shall not use any workplace training that inculcates in its employees any form of race or sex stereotyping or any form of race or sex scapegoating, including the concepts that (a) one race or sex is inherently superior to another race or sex; (b) an individual, by virtue of his or her race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously; (c) an individual should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment solely or partly because of his or her race or sex; (d) members of one race or sex cannot and should not attempt to treat others without respect to race or sex; (e) an individual’s moral character is necessarily determined by his or her race or sex; (f) an individual, by virtue of his or her race or sex, bears responsibility for actions committed in the past by other members of the same race or sex; (g) any individual should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress on account of his or her race or sex; or (h) meritocracy or traits such as a hard work ethic are racist or sexist, or were created by a particular race to oppress another race. The term “race or sex stereotyping” means ascribing character traits, values, moral and ethical codes, privileges, status, or beliefs to a race or sex, or to an individual because of his or her race or sex, and the term “race or sex scapegoating” means assigning fault, blame, or bias to a race or sex, or to members of a race or sex because of their race or sex.
Which shouldn’t be a problem, since pretty much no one’s saying that. Even the handful of examples dredged up in the verbiage of the order itself about supposedly racist trainings don’t stand up to scrutiny, much less indicate a widespread campaign to indoctrinate federal contractors and employees into a state of un-American wokeness.
For instance, the order refers to “Materials from Sandia National Laboratories, also a Federal entity, for non-minority males stated that an emphasis on ‘rationality over emotionality’ was a characteristic of ‘white male(s),’ and asked those present to ‘acknowledge’ their ‘privilege’ to each other.”
As Josh Hawley himself acknowledged when he first brought Sandia Labs to right-wing attention, the “rationality over emotionality” and other stereotypes of “white male(s)” were generated by the participants themselves in response to a prompt during an outside training.
The National Museum of African American History and Culture months ago removed a graphic from its website describing the nuclear family as an aspect of “white culture.” Nevertheless, these and a handful of other cases are cited as evidence that “many people are pushing a different vision of America that is grounded in hierarchies based on collective social and political identities rather than in the inherent and equal dignity of every person as an individual.”
In fact, the order goes all the way through the looking glass to accuse anti-racists of being on the side of the Confederates in the civil war.
This destructive ideology is grounded in misrepresentations of our country’s history and its role in the world. Although presented as new and revolutionary, they resurrect the discredited notions of the nineteenth century’s apologists for slavery who, like President Lincoln’s rival Stephen A. Douglas, maintained that our government “was made on the white basis” “by white men, for the benefit of white men.” Our Founding documents rejected these racialized views of America, which were soundly defeated on the blood-stained battlefields of the Civil War. Yet they are now being repackaged and sold as cutting-edge insights.
At bottom, this order does exactly nothing. It demands that federal contractors stop saying that white people are bad and bear collective responsibility for systemic racism — which they weren’t — and post a piece of paper saying as much. Whether this has a chilling effect, with federal contractors canceling all anti-bias trainings for fear of running afoul of this vaguely worded diatribe, remains to be seen. But once again, your federal tax dollars are being used to repackage the rants of a madman into something resembling law.
And now they’re promising to reform the entire American healthcare system by executive order “in the days ahead.”
Can’t hardly wait.
Elizabeth Dye lives in Baltimore where she writes about law and politics.