America today is the closest it’s been in a decade to recovering from its collective bout of racial and sexual hysteria. Conservatives must seize this moment and advance a policy agenda that could help the country emerge from this troubling period.
George Mason University senior research fellow Paul Aligica, who draws lessons from how “the institutionalization of indoctrination” (the title of his last book) was carried out in Eastern Europe, believes that Americans have a window of opportunity to stop those who want to reprogram the young in order to implement an “ideocratic” state. But that window, he warns, is closing. We need to keep it open.
Two recent events suggest that the United States might be at a turning point. First is the public’s rejection of university students and their professors’ justifying, or even celebrating, the recent massacre in Israel. Parents have been outraged by the reactions of their children’s schools and used Facebook groups to organize in response, demanding, for example, that university presidents discipline or fire offending professors or administrators. Indeed, many parents now wonder whether those colleges’ professors can be trusted to teach their kids. Donors are pulling their money from colleges that refused to condemn Hamas unequivocally.
Old-fashioned liberals drew the line when UC Davis professor Jemma Decristo publicly threatened violence against “[Z]ionist” journalists. More said “enough” after Cornell University history professor Russel Rickford called Hamas’s carnage “exhilarating” and “energizing.”
Humorist Bill Maher had a rational response that more accurately reflected the national sentiment. “There are few if any positives to come out of what happened in Israel,” Maher said on his television show on October 20, “but one of them is opening America’s eyes to how higher education has become indoctrination into a stew of bad ideas, among them the simplistic notion that the world is a binary place where everyone is either an oppressor or oppressed.” Tragically, for some, it took a massacre of Jews in the Holy Land to spark such clarity.
A second event suggesting that America may be waking up to the excesses of wokeness was Ibram X. Kendi’s recent fall from grace. Kendi’s racialist worldview was inspired by a broader menu of Marxist concepts that have influenced American culture over the last 30 years. Less than four years ago, the Washington Post wrote that Kendi was “a leading voice among a new generation of American scholars who are reinvestigating—and redefining—racism.” His ideas, another celebratory profile said, were “bracing and challenging.” The New York Times, the New Yorker, and The Atlantic agreed. Former Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey gave Kendi a $10 million grant with “no strings attached.”
After Kendi laid off 19 staff members at his Boston University center, leaving a much-smaller staff of 15, however, critics accused him of not producing any real scholarship, of having blown through at least $43 million, and of presiding over a toxic work environment.
Perhaps it should not be surprising that a man who wanted to create a federal Department of Antiracism, a nonelected body of technocrats that would approve or deny all new state or federal policy, would have authoritarian tendencies. Kendi’s demand for unaccountable exercises of government power, coupled with his call for “future discrimination” to address past discrimination, should have made people think twice before backing him, but many critics kept silent, perhaps afraid of cancellation. Now, they’re speaking out: BU is investigating Kendi, and his colleagues are acknowledging earlier misgivings.
“As one of a number of left-wing commentators who have been critical of mainstream anti-racism—and who believe the movement is little more than self-help for White people that runs interference for corporations and wealthy universities—I’ve watched the Kendi crisis unfold with a touch of schadenfreude,” Tyler Austin Harper, a professor of environmental studies at Bates College, wrote in the Washington Post. David Decosimo, a BU colleague of Kendi’s, put it even more sharply in the Wall Street Journal: “The debacle that is Boston University’s Center for Antiracist Research is about far more than its founder, Ibram X. Kendi. It is about a university, caught up in cultural hysteria, subordinating itself to ideology.”
Refreshingly (if only by current standards), both Harper and Decosimo still have their jobs. The one who has been put “on leave” is Derron Borders, the DEI director at Cornell, who posted, after the Hamas massacre: “Remember against all odds Palestinians are fighting for life, dignity, and freedom—alongside others doing the same—against settle colonization, imperialism, capitalism, white supremacy, which the United States is the model.” Borders’s example is useful in that it may lead more people to question why he was chosen in the first place to police the political views of students and peers, which is what DEI officers do. His outburst may open people’s eyes to how DEI has been one of the main tools used to force-feed the “oppressed/oppressor” paradigm to students, with such effectiveness that it blinded many into defending mass killings and rape in Israel.
It’s a propitious time, then, to take steps to rid our institutions of the DEI ideology. The White House and the Senate are in Democratic hands, making it unlikely that an anti-DEI agenda will get federal traction. Courts, though, can halt the institutionalization of DEI, such as forbidding federally funded institutions from compelling students to affirm ideological claims. Such indoctrination runs afoul of the Constitution’s First Amendment protections against compelled speech.
Next year, of course, is a presidential election year, a prime opportunity to debate whether we want to continue on the current path of national and cultural self-destruction, or instead begin to free ourselves. If a new presidential administration takes office in 2025, it should formulate a clear plan for doing so, starting on January 20.
Meantime, much anti-DEI action can take place in state capitals. Most state 2024 legislative sessions start next January. Any state can confront the DEI problem, as Florida and Texas have already done in the realm of higher education. States should capitalize on the public’s anti-DEI mood to enact policies safeguarding freedom of expression—particularly the freedom to reject lies that some have been forced to affirm, such as the notion that we live in a systemically racist society or that men and women can change their sex. It should be illegal to demand that a person take a political loyalty oath as a condition of his graduation, employment, or promotion. This means supporting state efforts to make illegal any form of CRT, DEI, gender theory, or ESG that violates the Constitution. And until we have a new president who can do something about the mutilation of children in the name of “gender affirming care,” or protect girls from having to compete against boys in sports or having to change in locker rooms with males who pretend they’re female, states will have to take the lead here as well.
Policymakers also should start making the case against ethnic studies programs. As Evelyn Hu-DeHart, director of the Center for the Study of Race and Ethnicity in America at Brown University, put it, “Ethnic studies programs . . . challenge the prevailing academic power structure and the Eurocentric curricula of our colleges and universities. These insurgent programs had a subversive agenda from the outset.” Hu-DeHart helpfully makes clear what many people already suspected about such ideologically driven curricula. We should take steps accordingly to remove this content from our public schools.
And finally, it’s time to consider investigating BLM and likeminded organizations. They’re the ones who helped set the country on a path of collective mass hysteria when they were created in 2013, a process that greatly accelerated with the riots they encouraged and led in 2020. But BLM and its leaders have always been more about global revolution than about ameliorating the lives of black Americans, as they have made clear with their support for terrorism against Jews. Haul them into Congress and ask questions about their support for violent insurrection. Investigate whether the more than 127 million emails the main BLM organization says that it sent in 2020, which led to “1,213,992 actions,” had anything to do with the $1 billion–$2 billion in damage during the riots. Ask the leaders whether they want to bring down American society and implement a Marxist blueprint. It may be legal to do so peacefully; but put them on the record about what they believe and intend.
Recent events have demonstrated to the American public what wokeism, critical race theory, and the DEI agenda really mean. We may never have as promising an opportunity to push back against these ideas as we do now.
This piece originally appeared in City Journal