Tag: american history
What Republicans Get Wrong About Democrats -- And Vice Versa

What Republicans Get Wrong About Democrats -- And Vice Versa

Paging through the latest survey research from More in Common, I came upon a phrase that deserves to be carved in stone: "conflict entrepreneurs." You know them. They are the arsonists who incessantly inflame every disagreement in order to boost their own "brands." They rile us up and deceive us about the danger of "the other side."

A conversation I had a few weeks ago could have been pulled from the pages of this report. Just before the midterms, I was chatting with someone who was hoping for a GOP sweep to "teach the Democrats a lesson." What lesson, I asked? She explained that she loves America and resents that all the Democrats want to teach kids to despise this country.

That is precisely the impression that many Republicans have about Democrats, according to "History Wars," the new report from More in Common. What distinguishes this from run-of-the-mill surveys is that More in Common asks not just what various groups think, but what they think the other side thinks.

It turns out that while 87 percent of Democrats think "George Washington and Abraham Lincoln should be admired for their roles in American history," Republicans on average believe that only 42 percent of Democrats would say that. And while 83 percent of Democrats agree that "In learning about American history, students should not be made to feel personally responsible for the actions of earlier generations," Republicans suppose that only 43 percent would assent to that. Ninety-two percent of Democrats say, "All students should learn about how the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution advanced freedom and equality." Republicans figured only 45 percent of Democrats would agree.

Similarly, while 93 percent of Republicans believe that "Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks should be taught as examples of Americans who fought for equality," Democrats guess that only 38 percent of Republicans would agree. Democrats estimate that only 32 percent of Republicans would assent that "It's important that every American student learn about slavery, Jim Crow, and segregation," whereas the actual percentage of Republicans who agree is 83. A huge majority (91 percent) of Republicans agree that "Throughout our history, Americans have made incredible achievements and ugly errors." That is close to the 95 percent of Democrats who say the same.

But the steady diet of falsehoods, exaggerations, and "nut-picking" served up by the conflict entrepreneurs has led us to believe that we are two nations, unbridgeable. Seventy-five percent of Republicans say Democrats are "brainwashed," and 75 percent of Democrats say that about Republicans. Among Democrats, 78 percent describe Republicans as "hateful," and 73 percent of Republicans return the compliment. The numbers are worse among the extremes, the 14 percent of the population who fall into either the "progressive activists" or "devoted conservatives" camp.

If large majorities of both parties agree that we should teach the history of the United States, warts and all, what are the history wars about? Is it all just a big misunderstanding?

Yes, to a point, and More in Common does a tremendous service by highlighting these mutual misunderstandings, which they call the "perception gap." But it's also a matter of knowing how to navigate our disagreements, because we still have them. Yes, there is broad agreement about what should be taught, but there is wide divergence on trust in the educational system. Fifty-five percent of Democrats, but only 27 percent of Republicans, say that "Most public schools in America are doing their best to teach American history accurately, without an agenda or bias." And Democrats are more likely than Republicans to believe that discrimination against minorities continues to this day.

It's impossible even to begin to talk with those you disagree with if you lack basic good faith. If you believe that the other side is irredeemable, there is nothing to discuss. But, just to cite one example about myself, if I were to approach a curriculum conference saying, "I want kids to learn about the systematic oppression of African Americans, Native Americans, Asians, and others," Democrats might be more open to hearing me say, "But I also believe that there are no perfect nations and that, all in all, we're doing pretty well at confronting our past and striving toward a better tomorrow," or, "While I believe that our history of oppressing Black people and others has contributed to disparities of all kinds between the races today, I don't think every differential is evidence of continuing racism."

And I think Democrats who come to the table saying, "I agree that America is a great nation; that patriotism is justified and that each person should be treated as an individual rather than as a representative of his or her group," others will be ready to listen when they add that "We can't escape history. White supremacy is down but not out, and we can never relax our vigilance."

This report gives hope that those conversations are possible.

Mona Charen is policy editor of The Bulwark and host of the "Beg to Differ" podcast. Her most recent book is Sex Matters: How Modern Feminism Lost Touch with Science, Love, and Common Sense. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.

Reprinted with permission from Creators.

Most Parents Happy With Their Kids’ Schools

Poll: Most Parents Are Happy With Their Kids’ Schools, Despite GOP Culture War

Republicans are flogging a culture war focused on public schools, but it doesn’t seem to be landing with the parents of actual schoolchildren. A new NPR/Ipsos poll of parents of school-aged children finds people generally happy with their kids’ schools and teachers, and not foaming at the mouth over race and LGBTQ issues.

Education rated as the third-highest concern of parents in the poll, but 88 percent of respondents agreed with the statement, “my child's teacher(s) have done the best they could, given the circumstances around the pandemic,” and 82 percent agreed that “my child's school has handled the pandemic well.” Republicans have largely moved on from trying to whip up rage about how schools have handled the pandemic, though, focusing more on demonizing marginalized groups and arguing that parents should be allowed to micromanage the curriculum. (Right-wing white parents, anyway.) But that’s not getting a lot of traction, either.

Three out of four of the parents polled agreed that “my child's school does a good job keeping me informed about the curriculum, including potentially controversial topics.” Small minorities said the ways their children’s schools taught about the issues being pushed by Republicans actually conflicted with their own family’s values: 18 percent for gender and sexuality, 19 percent for race and racism, and 14 percent for U.S. history.

And those numbers, small as they are, don’t mean that 19 percent of people think their kid’s school is too liberal on race and racism or 14 percent on U.S. history—the people who said the schools’ teachings clashed with their family’s values were as likely to be Democrats as Republicans. A Native American parent in Texas, for instance, told NPR, “It's more of a water-down effect ... [the teachers] kind of whitewash the way that history is taught to their kids.” That parent wants his kid taught more about the French and Indian Wars, the Spanish-American War, and about slavery during the Revolutionary War, NPR reports. By contrast, a white parent in Wisconsin who thinks the schools are too liberal on these issues cited her son being asked to identify his pronouns and a teacher making “snarky comments about white privilege.” Equally valid and serious concerns about the quality of education, amiright?

If you listen to Christopher Rufo, one of the right wing’s major gurus on waging culture wars in the schools, critical race theory is a “two to one issue,” a surefire winner for Republicans. Go figure, though: The main poll he cites was conducted by the right-wing Manhattan Institute. But what about Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s victory in November after he campaigned against critical race theory? Well, recent data has suggested that Youngkin’s advantage came from senior citizens, not from the parents of school-aged children, and it’s not the first data undermining the narrative that enraged parents turned the election to Youngkin.

Demonizing LGBT people and foaming at the mouth that teaching about racism or the contributions of Black and brown people oppresses white kids by making them feel “humiliated” might energize the Republican base, but it’s not a majority message. Banning books because they have LGBT characters or depict slavery as the brutal system of kidnapping, torture, and rape that it was is not a majority message.

Republicans are attacking teachers. They’re attacking vulnerable kids. They’re trying to micromanage what all kids can learn according to their very specific values, to the active exclusion of all others. These things matter—they are actively harming people—and they’re also not the political winners Republicans are confidently portraying them to be. The media needs to internalize these things in shaping its coverage, rather than allowing the Republican operatives regularly billed as “concerned parents” in their Fox News appearances to define what the parents of schoolchildren look like or think. And equally, Democrats need to fight back, vigorously and boldly, because Republicans really are overstepping on this.

Printed with permission from DailyKos.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott

Texas Governor’s ‘Patriotic Education’ Law Puts Propaganda Over History

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

When former President Donald Trump, in September 2020, called for mandatory "patriotic education" for students in the United States, Democrat Susan Rice — former national security adviser under President Barack Obama — was appalled and told CNN's Erin Burnett, "I thought I was listening to Mao Tse Tung running Communist China." Republicans, however, haven't abandoned Trump's "patriotic education" idea, and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott recently signed into law a bill that calls for "patriotic education" in the Lone Star State.

When Abbott signed into law Texas House Bill 2497, a.k.a. the 1836 Project, he declared, "The 1836 Project promotes patriotic education about Texas and ensures that the generations to come understand Texas values." But critics of HB 2497, according to Corpus Christi Caller-Times reporter Kailey E. Hunt, are arguing that "patriotic education" hasn't been clearly defined and fear that it will promote a narrow, rigid definition of patriotism.

Armando Alonzo, an associate history professor at Texas A&M College Station, told the Caller-Times, "What is patriotic education? They haven't really defined it. Does it mean we only select the high points and good points in Texas history? Well, what happens (then) to the other events in Texas history — where historical actors committed offenses and atrocities against ... (the) Native American people and.... the Mexican-American people?"

Shane Gleason, an assistant political science professor at Texas A&M, Corpus Christi, told the Caller-Times, "The values chosen were to promote a particular version of Texas history. And indeed the name — the '1836 Project' — is very reminiscent of the '1776 Project' instituted by former President Trump to promote, again — patriotic citizenship, patriotic values, patriotic education. It's an easy way to grab some political points."

Another bill that Abbott recently signed into law was Texas House Bill 3979, which bans the teaching of the New York Times' 1619 Project in public schools. Between HB 3979, HB 2497, and Texas Republicans railing incessantly against Critical Race Theory, one is seeing a pattern of Republicans in that state downplaying the United States' history of racism or trying to pretend that it doesn't exist.

Brian Franklin, associate director for the Southern Methodist University Center for Presidential History, told the Caller-Times why he believes that HB 3979 is even worse than HB 2497.

Franklin explained, "I think there's a reason there was a little bit more pomp and circumstance about signing the 1836 Project than there was for [HB] 3979…. [HB 3979] actually puts some very specific restrictions on what and how teachers can teach in the classroom in the State of Texas. And that's not something that you want to publicize as a politician — that you're going to be limiting what teachers can say and do in the classroom."

Weekend Reader: ‘The Religion Of Democracy: Seven Liberals And The American Moral Tradition’

Weekend Reader: ‘The Religion Of Democracy: Seven Liberals And The American Moral Tradition’

The word “liberal” has acquired several valences in American politics, derogative and complimentary. While it used to evoke the social achievement of the New Deal and the power of government to improve lives, it has also become a dirty word in many circles. Pols and pundits wield “liberal” as a weapon to accuse the left — somewhat incongruously — of supporting anarchy and totalitarianism. And also godlessness.

Somehow the word ‘godless’ got hitched to the word ‘liberal,'” Amy Kittelstrom writes in the introduction to her new book,The Religion of Democracy: Seven Liberals and the American Moral Tradition, which strives to unpack the knotty history of the word’s relationship to American cultural, intellectual, and political life. Kittelstrom applies nuance, insight, and deft prose to tell the stories of seven men and women — philosophers, writers, and reverends among them — to chart the trajectory of American liberalism.

Taken together, the lives of these seven Americans trace a continuity between what Kittelstrom calls “the classical liberalism, the political commitment of a society to replace coercion with consent” and “modern liberalism, the moral commitment of a society to the collective needs of all its members, regardless of their differences,” the task of which is never finished.

You can purchase the book here.

Two subtle ironies surround the history of this religion of democracy. The first is that the liberal Christians who set its wheels in motion acquired a reputation for softening their religion into mere morality, as though to focus on ethics were to focus on something other than real religion. From the liberal point of view, virtue is the fruit by which true faith is known. This charge is a by‑product of the myth of orthodox Protestant Christianity, made especially potent by what happened during the middle period of the American Reformation. When Romantic ideas about universal inner divinity arose amid an exploding literary canon that was globally inclusive for the first time, Christianity’s claims to exclusive truth started to look like hubris to some liberals. How could an open-minded moral agent be so sure a Hindu did not know God? Transcendentalists and others then left the Christian fold without really rejecting Christ. To the surprise of many faithful devotees of the American Reformation, liberal Christians started battling their own intellectual and cultural progeny, post-Christian religious liberals who discovered the divine not only in the Christian Bible but far beyond it. This post-Christian turn marked the end of the American Reformation and the beginning of the religion of democracy in which no tradition could boast unique revelation but all individuals bore unique inner divinity.

The second irony around this history is that the chief sin of which these post-Christian religious liberals were accused was of discarding ethics altogether by indulging in a moral relativism that verged on nihilism. The charge is delivered with moral indignation if not outrage, as though giving credence to other points of view were not itself a moral commitment with venerable Christian roots. Tolerance looked like apathy to critics and piety to liberals.

Just as there is more than a grain of truth in the myth of orthodox Protestant Christianity in America, there is more than a grain of truth in these criticisms of liberal morality, despite their logical incompatibility, but nuance matters. At least it did to liberals. When Calvinists said that humans were utterly and innately sinful, liberals rejoined that humans were instead subject to sinfulness, prone to sin, the very thing religion is supposed to mitigate. This then highlights another film across this history: the one trend in the history of American religion to resist the myth of orthodox Protestant Christianity is the history of liberal religion, which includes post-Christian, metaphysical, spiritual-but-not-religious, and other nonevangelical forms of religion in the genuine and robust history of religion in the United States—and then goes on to treat liberal religion as though it did away with sin, and as though liberal religion had nothing to do with politics. This interpretation is understandable. Liberals had pushed back hard against the grim Calvinist insistence on the utter determinism of human sinfulness. Then the liberals of the nineteenth century were succeeded by some extremely optimistic and often politically irrelevant religious liberals in the therapeutic atmosphere of the twentieth century. “You are a child of the Universe,” said one famous credo, reassuring an affluent public that “no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.” No problem of evil there. In the nineteenth century, however, religious liberals both Christian and post-Christian emphasized the positive in order to pull behavior out of its heavy habitual path toward the negative for reasons never unconnected to the public sphere. And they did this by focusing Christian practice—and then post-Christian religious practice— on mental development, the training of the human mind.

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The ideal of mental development is not as elitist as it may it sound. Indeed it is not elitist at all, although its liberal version originated among elite Bostonians. Their development of a culture of lived virtue based on the principle of moral agency provided a major feeder for the modern notion of a universal human equality compatible with human diversity, the pluralism essential to modern liberalism. That knot of refined diners among whom the father of Ralph Waldo Emerson practiced temperance did not know they were paving the way for an egalitarian doctrine of universal human value, but as soon as they declared that the most important thing about a man was the way he used his mind, they opened the theoretical door for men and women of all classes and colors to pursue their most complete mental development as the most important aspect of their religious path, and therefore the most important contribution they could make to the good of society. By any demographic measure, whether race, class, gender, ethnicity, religious affiliation, or public sexual orientation, the early intellectual fellowships of the Boston liberals were strikingly homogeneous. But from the perspective of the liberals themselves—blind as they were, at the time, to the impact of socioeconomics on status and access—their fellowships were beautifully diverse because liberals varied so much in opinion, taste, and experience, and they bounced these differences off one another so productively.

The goal of mental independence, in which the moral agent resists the way of the herd and speaks freely with candor and humility, encouraged every individual to find and develop her or his own inner voice of the divine to join the human chorus for the sake of the common good. Liberals valued individuality, not individualism, and the reason they came out against slavery and for women’s rights was because slavery and patriarchy prohibited self- culture. Later liberals found that unregulated capitalism did too. Meanwhile, their reading lists quickly grew to include continental Europeans and more—taking in Muslim, Persian, Hindu, Buddhist, and Confucian texts—while their correspondents and travel ranged beyond Western Europe around the globe. As their canon expanded over the nineteenth century, the small elite of Boston liberals steadily extended their circles outward from the Northeast across the American West to include women, Jews, immigrants, workers, Native Americans, and former slaves and their descendants in a vast network of liberal intellectual culture lived through educational institutions, sermons and addresses, books and periodicals, friendships, fellowships, associations, and reform movements.

It took about a hundred years, but by practicing an ethic of inclusivity and integrity, liberals developed some of the most diverse communities of discourse by any measure ever found in human history up to that point. They also helped make possible both the more diverse fellowships that followed them—the United Nations, for example— and the more specialized, such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. The diversity of the liberal fellowships did not correspond in representative percentages to the demographic diversity of American society by the turn of the twentieth century, nor indeed to the diversity of human society.

Long after they had theoretically breached the barriers of prejudice and discrimination, most liberal fellowships remained disproportionately Anglo-Protestant and middle class. Such fellowships reflected the long leadership of the liberal movement and the accumulation of liberal privilege, while also including delegates from America’s many internal constituencies. The liberal fellowships produced a religion of democracy that fed into both American civil religion and international human rights.

From The Religion of Democracy: Seven Liberals and the American Moral Tradition by Amy Kittelstrom, published on April 21, 2015 by Penguin Press, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright © Amy Kittelstrom, 2015.

If you enjoyed this excerpt, purchase the full book here.

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