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Reviews | Self-isolation of the American left

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Franklin Roosevelt, Lyndon Johnson, and Martin Luther King Jr. were among the great champions of progressive ideas in the 20th century. But they did not exist within an insular, self-validating community whose values ​​and assumptions were often at odds with those of the rest of society.

More and more, this cannot be said of modern progressivism.

Modern progressivism risks being dominated by a relatively small group of people who have attended the same colleges, live in the same neighborhoods, and find it difficult to see beyond their subculture’s perspective.

If you want a simple way to see the gap between this subculture and the rest of the country, check out Rotten Tomatoes. People who write critically about movies and shows often have different tastes from the audiences around them, especially when it comes to politics.

“Hillbilly Elegy” was a film in which the hero was widely known, in real life, to be a Republican. The audience liked the film. He has an 83% positive audience score on Rotten Tomatoes. Cultural writers often hated him. It has a positive review score of 25%. That’s a 58-point gap.

Dave Chappelle recently released a comedy special that has taken some comedic hits from almost everyone. The audience loved it. It has a 96% positive audience score on Rotten Tomatoes (although it’s true it’s unclear how many reviewers actually watched it). A small group of people found this a moral atrocity and the current critical score is 44% positive. That’s a 52-point gap.

A more significant example of the subculture gap recently occurred at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Seventy-three percent of American adults think race or ethnicity shouldn’t be a factor in college admission decisions, including 62 percent of black adults, according to a 2019 Pew poll. yet, Dorian Abbot, a geophysicist, was recently turned down from giving a lecture at MIT on climate science because he publicly defended this majority view. In other words, the views of the vast majority of Americans are not even expressible in some academic parts of the progressive subculture.

The recent school board wars have been a battle of subcultures.

American educators have gradually found ways to teach American history that honor the nation’s accomplishments and detail the horrors of slavery, Jim Crow, and systemic racism. For example, Georgia’s “Standards of Excellence” for social studies explicitly refers to the abolition of the black civil service during the Reconstruction era. Mississippi standards devote a section to civil rights.

On behalf of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, Jeremy Stern reviewed the 50 State History Standards in 2011 and then again in 2021. To his surprise, he found that the standards were getting higher and higher. honest. States were doing a better job of recording America’s sins and achievements. The states with the best civics and history standards were as likely to be red as they were blue: Alabama, California, Massachusetts, and Tennessee (DC got the same score).

In my experience, most teachers find ways to teach American history this way, and most parents support it – 78% of Americans support teaching high school students about slavery, survey finds Reuters / Ipsos from 2021.

But the progressive subculture has promoted ideas that go far beyond and often divide races into crude and essentialist categories.

Training for Loudoun County, Va., Public school administrators taught that “fostering independence and individual achievement” is a hallmark of “white individualism.”

A Williams College professor told The Times last week: “This idea of ​​intellectual debate and rigor as the pinnacle of intellectualism comes from a world dominated by white males.

If you want to stage a radical critique of individualism and intellectual rigor, be my guest, but things get problematic when you attribute the “good” side of this tension to a racial category and the “bad” side to. another racial category.

It is also increasingly common to pin a highly controversial ideological superstructure to the quest for racial justice. We are all now familiar with some of the ideas that make up this ideological superstructure: history is primarily the history of power struggles between oppressors and oppressed groups; the history of Western civilization involves a particularly brutal pattern of oppression; language is frequently a weapon in this oppression and sometimes needs to be regulated to ensure security; actions and statements that do not explicitly challenge systems of oppression are racist; the way to fight racism is to make white people aware of their own toxic whiteness, so that they can purge it.

Today, many parents find it difficult to know what is going on in their children’s classrooms. Is this a balanced account of history or the gospel according to Robin DiAngelo?

When they question how they feel, they come across a few common responses. They are told, as by the Democratic candidate for governor of Virginia, that parents should not tell schools what to teach. They are told they are racists. Or they are blithely assured that nothing drastic is happening – when in fact there could be.

Parents and lawmakers often respond with a lot of nonsense about critical race theory and sometimes legalizing their own forms of ideological censorship. But their basic intuition is not crazy: a subculture sometimes uses its cultural power to try to dominate its opinions, often through intimidation.

When people feel that those with the cultural power are imposing ideologies on their own families, you can expect the reaction to be swift and fierce.

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