The one ideological principle that unites us all
Many populist movements, one common thread
Welcome to a special Monday edition of Progressives Everywhere!
In case you missed it, chasing a breaking news story compelled me to hold Thursday evening’s edition until late Friday night. You should check it out — it might even inspire you and restore your faith in this country (at least temporarily):
In today’s newsletter, we’ll focus on the rising populist tide gripping the United States, its various political permutations, and what it means for upcoming elections.
But first, thank you to our latest crowdfunding donors: Lisa, Dennis, Harvey, Mavis, Barry, and Leslie!
If there is one positive thing we can take from the federal government’s utter inability to accomplish anything at all right now, it is the pure transparency of the corruption that fuels the legislative inertia. Campaign fundraising numbers laid out in the FEC reports of arrogant and obstinate politicians establish an irrefutably clear connection between corporate donations and the shameless abdication of promises and responsibilities.
Washington’s very public negotiations over how many promises to break and how little help to extend to most people is both entirely incongruent with the current political moment and a perfect example of how this moment arrived in the first place. The country is in the midst of several populist uprisings, from the record number of workers quitting their jobs and groundswell of major strikes and labor actions to the conspiracy-driven rejection of Covid vaccinations and uproar over critical race theory, which has become a Rorschach blot for paranoid racial and cultural resentments.
The worker movements are being cheered on by the progressive wing of the Democratic Party while the backlash against modern integrated society is fueled by cynical right-wing interests and Republican politicians. But the prism of political parties tends to obscure the motivations and ideologies that spark popular uprisings, which are far more complicated.
There is not an insignificant crossover between fed-up workers, vaccine holdouts, and outraged parents, both in terms of membership and underlying disaffection. The specifics are different and the contributing factors vary in legitimacy, but each movement is in a sense a reaction to people’s suspicions that they are being ripped off, fooled, or cast aside, their uprisings an attempt to take back control of their destinies.
What binds Americans of all political persuasions together is the simple desire to not be The Asshole in the room.
And no matter your political persuasion, there’s good reason to think you’re being screwed right now.
In covering the new strikes at John Deere and Kellogg’s, as well as this summer’s walkouts at Frito-Lay and Nabisco, every worker I spoke with told me some version of the same thing: They busted their asses throughout Covid so that their employers could make record profits, only to see their company’s executives take lavish bonuses and then offer workers a downright insulting contract that would only worsen their pay gap.
Here’s a piece I just produced on the John Deere strike, where 10,000 workers are striking after being offered a raise of about 11% over three years (coupled with major retirement concessions) after their CEO was handed a 160% pay raise.
These folks are the living embodiment of the political shift that I detailed in last Sunday’s edition of the newsletter. They live in Ottumwa, Iowa, a factory town that was on a downward economic trajectory for years before flipping from solidly blue to red in 2016.
“Ottumwa has a rich history as a labor town and up until the last few years was a Democratic labor town, but that’s kind of slipped,” one worker told us in a conversation that did not make it into the video report above. “Hopefully an event like this will help people re-examine their political positions. I’ve chatted with members of this local in recent years and a lot of them are Trump supporters. And I said to them, ‘Well, if you guys ever go out on strike, he’s not going to be here to help you.’”
In June, Iowa’s Republican governor, Kim Reynolds, signed a ban on schools teaching students about systemic racism in the United States.
Bigotry is obviously baked into the CRT madness, and no amount of economic disaffection can justify or excuse it. But race is only part of the campaign; the parents on the warpath at school board meetings and mass protests outside of state capitols, as horrid as they are, are also being seduced by astroturf groups that use terms such as “parents’ rights” and send out emails with coercive subject lines like “Don’t let teachers' unions bully you,” which was the challenge issued by an email I received yesterday from the group Parents Defending Education.
The email was sent via a Trump-aligned mailing list, indicative of an uproar that is a product of just that kind of astroturfing. The percentage of parents actually angry about any of this is limited to a small minority of households, but their unrelenting devotion to chaos in the name of their warped idea of liberty has created real drama in local school districts across the country.
Earlier this month, a small number irate parents in Katy, Texas forced the district to cancel an upcoming visit from a children’s book author who’d just won a Newberry Medal for his picture book about a Black kid and white kid who become friends. The online petition that forced the cancelation had 400 signatures in a school district with more than 11,000 students, but those 400 voices were loud and garnered a lot of media attention.
In the wealthy town of Eanes, Texas, a cadre of red-pilled parents are waging war against a diversity consultant from (gasp) New York City, who they say represents “antifa and BLM” and wants to “burn down communities.” In an incident this summer, a student in Eanes was assaulted for wearing a mask. Elsewhere in the state, parents overwhelmed a board meeting in Round Rock, leading to its early dismissal.
In the Cleveland suburb of Rocky River, Ohio a routine school tax was voted down for the first time this spring as parents organized resistance to its schools’ diversity curriculum. One parent got all frothed up at a school board meeting in May, declaring that he was there to voice his “opposition to the Marxist Critical Race Theory practices being forced into our school system.”
He was one of just a dozen deluded parents to attend the meeting, though Ohio has been a ground zero for these small gangs of wigged out parents. There is even an organization called Protect Ohio Children that operates a crude website targeting individual towns, districts, and even school administrators who say anything about race. Ohio’s statewide school board on Wednesday voted to rescind its anti-racism and equity resolution.
Growing national organizations such as Moms for Liberty have taken their members beyond the panic over critical race theory into rejecting almost everything being taught in schools; they have, in effect, brainwashed parents into thinking that their kids are being brainwashed.
It seems absurd from the outside, but all of these paranoias are easy, logical leaps for the objecting parents and other concerned rank and file conservatives, who have been conditioned into believing that they are under attack from all angles by years of Fox News broadcasts and Breitbart Facebook posts.
Draped in the same tired colonial era imagery as most other conservative groups promoted on Fox, the 1776 Project is inserting itself into more than 50 school board elections in a variety of states; with the help of dark right-wing money, the group has been amplifying slates of reactionary parents and ratcheting up the intensity and animus of what used to be friendly, low-stakes campaigns. Ironically, this has turned critical race theory — or the warped conservative perception of it — into a hot talking point in places with upcoming school board elections. Here are just a few of them:
Colorado Springs, CO: In this traditional evangelical stronghold, critical race theory is listed alongside other school board issues in such a mundane way that you’d think it had something to do with school lunches or pep rallies.
Camp Hill, PA: Local residents supporting sane candidates for school board are now receiving anonymous letters in the mail threatening them with policies that would actually be pretty cool and standard.
Mequon-Thiensville, WI: Parents are revolting over both mask policies and critical race theory, triggering a recall of school board officials. It should not surprise you to learn that a right-wing candidate on the recall slate is an avid QAnon supporter who equates Democrats to Nazis.
Click through this tweet if you want an idea of just how far this thing has spread:
These local elections traditionally have dismally low turnout, so without mobilization by rational community members, it won’t be hard for conservatives to flood the polls and win many of these races. It’s an unnerving prospect, because we are already seeing what can happen when these kooks have the power to advance their agenda.
Republicans in Texas this summer enacted a law that limits how much schools can teach kids about race and discrimination, leading to vast confusion amongst teachers and embarrassing headlines across the state. The censorship that is already happening in some Texas school libraries is profoundly scary.
Last week, when I had the day off for what my employer recognizes as Indigenous Peoples Day, I thought about the absurdly sanitized version of the Christopher Columbus story I was taught in school in the ‘90s and early 2000s and just how long it took for me to fully recognize just how misled I’d been by school curriculum. The prospect of the important progress we have made since then being so easily reversed is dismaying.
It’s worth pulling back and contextualizing the ceaseless attack on multiracial education. The anti-CRT bill was just one prong of the Texas GOP’s summer game plan, which weaponized three separate special sessions of the legislature to stoke the ongoing culture wars in the state. Republicans also made big deals out of their “election security” (read: voter suppression) law and ban on vaccine mandates, while ignoring the economic hardship being experienced by millions of Texans. On Sunday they passed a ban on trans kids playing school sports, tossing another grenade in the culture war that the GOP need to keep going in perpetuity.
Republicans in Virginia are trying to run the same playbook in the run-up to the state legislature and gubernatorial elections. Businessman Glenn Youngkin has been beating on the CRT drum since the summer, when parents in Loudon County lost their minds over the district’s plans to rectify “opportunity and achievement gaps, systemic oppression and implicit bias,” and it has become an even more central part of his campaign down the stretch.
Youngkin’s campaign surrogates are not warning of a socialist economic takeover, the danger posed by the child tax credit, or green energy jobs that could help avert the worst consequences of the climate crisis, but instead a manufactured controversy built on lies.
That brings us back to Ottumwa, where manufacturing jobs have disappeared at the same time as reactionary politics have taken root. Bernie Sanders sent pizza to the picket line in Ottumwa on Saturday, which was both excellent and unsurprising, but there shouldn’t be just one lawmaker providing moral and material support to these folks. As that one worker told his colleagues, Trump isn’t going to show up for them on the picket line, so Democrats should take advantage..
Democratic leaders, from local neighborhood council members up to the Senate and even President Biden, should be voicing their firm support and visiting those picket lines in Iowa, Michigan, Nebraska, Pennsylvania, and Illinois, the states where most John Deere and Kellogg’s workers are on strike. I’ve seen little of that thus far, and even the few that have visited have done little to publicize it. PA Sen. Bob Casey visited Kellogg’s workers in Lancaster, but I only know that because Lt. Gov and Senate candidate John Fetterman tweeted about it. They’d earn great local headlines and make a wave with a national show of solidarity, which sends a bigger message than any milquetoast press statement or Facebook ad could ever convey.
Democrats also have a chance to remake the social contract, rein in uncontrolled economic inequality, and radically improve the lives of hundreds of millions of Americans. In doing so, they would be able to reassure people that they were no longer patsies for the nation’s elite, that they are not the assholes in the room. It wouldn’t solve racism, but diffusing resentment is an important first step.
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