A historian looks at Critical Race Theory

President Bill Clinton said, “There is nothing wrong with America that cannot be cured by what is right with America.”

Critical Race Theory (CRT) focuses on things wrong with America, both real and imagined, but seeks no cure in things right with America. Instead of a cure, CRT aims to tear down America and to replace it with a new and different America.

Rejecting CRT does not include ignoring all that has been wrong in the history of the United States. The nations that lived here more than five hundred years ago were harmed and cheated by European settlers and by the U.S. government. The slave trade brought millions of Africans, against their will, into the western hemisphere, treating them as property rather than as human beings. Immigrants have frequently been viewed with suspicion and forced to struggle to earn a place in the United States—including Irish and Italian and Polish and Russian immigrants as well as Jewish and Chinese and Hispanic immigrants. Civil rights were reluctantly granted to American citizens in the second half of the twentieth century, often against the will and the efforts of politicians and others in power, whether Republicans or Democrats or third-party citizens. All these facts cannot be ignored; they are part of our history. But these ills can be cured with what is right with America. What is right with America needs to be taught as clearly as all that is wrong with America.

CRT ignores the efforts of mainstream Americans to work decently with tribal peoples and to treat them properly. CRT ignores the efforts of mainstream Americans to end slavery and to provide equal opportunity to former slaves and to their children and grandchildren. CRT ignores the work of mainstream Americans to welcome immigrants, to embrace them into our common culture, and also to preserve and celebrate the contributions of every culture to the greatness of the United States of America. CRT pretends that mainstream America has always resisted civil rights for its minority citizens, that mainstream America did not outvote the leaders who opposed civil rights, replacing them democratically with leaders willing to support and enforce civil rights.

CRT suggests that racism and discrimination is systemic in the United States. Inasmuch as all people fall short of the glory of God and sin, selfish pride and hatred can be called systemic. But the United States has done more than most countries in the world to overcome selfish pride and hatred and to protect and defend the rights of all people. CRT suggests that some people are born into privilege and others are born into poverty and weakness, as if nothing can be done or is done to share privilege with the unfortunate. But the United States has done more than most countries in the world to relieve poverty, to feed the hungry and shelter the homeless, to provide healing for the sick, to educate all citizens, and to open job opportunities and leadership opportunities to those who were born among minority groups or who came legally to this country from other parts of the world.

CRT acts as though wealth and power are limited, as if the only way to help the poor is to take more money from the rich, as if they only way for minorities to gain power is for them to take power away from the majority. America has never functioned that way. Capitalists know that labor adds value to the world. A raw diamond is shaped by a jeweler. The finished product is smaller, but it is more valuable because of the knowledge and effort of the jeweler. In the same way, value increases through businesses and corporations that hire and train workers, providing goods and services to citizens and abroad, improving the world for all people—not merely for the few rich business leaders and investors. Punishing the leaders and investors for their success does not help the poor; punishing those with wealth for their success encourages them not to succeed, not to provide jobs and training and goods and services that enrich the lives of many. So also, American government provides opportunity for all citizens. The very fact that some members of Congress are permitted to speak about their scorn for America, for capitalism, and for our current system of government reveals that America flourishes with freedom and that America provides opportunity for all people.

CRT has existed for years in academic circles, where it belongs. College students and history professors need to be acquainted with CRT as they need to be acquainted with the ideas of Hitler, Stalin, Mao, and other twentieth-century leaders whose bankrupt theories about history and economics have already been discredited by history. CRT can be a useful tool in the toolbox of any historian, but it must not be the only tool in the toolbox, nor the most-used tool or the first tool used. Some awareness of CRT might be helpful to junior and senior high history teachers as they prepare their lessons. But CRT is not an effective or useful tool for elementary students or high school students. Its procedures are faulty, and its findings are inadequate. Banning CRT from all institutes of learning would be inappropriate, unnecessary, and unAmerican. But asking school boards to ban CRT from elementary and high school classrooms is appropriate and American. Students need to know what is right with America so that, as they are also shown what is wrong with America, they can learn about the cure along with the ailment.

On this, reasonable people should be able to agree. J.

Ethics, government, and the economy

Should a human government follow the ethical principles described by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount? The answer, in a word, is, no.

Jesus calls his followers to love their enemies, to turn the other cheek and to go the extra mile, to forgive those who sin against them and do good to those who persecute them. But the government is established by God to protect its citizens, to punish those who do wrong, to uphold the law. Instead of forgiving the sinner, the government must punish the wrongdoer, “eye for eye and tooth for tooth,” rendering justice on behalf of all its people.

During the Baroque Era (or Enlightenment), European philosophers described human rights and said that governments exist to protect those rights. John Locke wrote about rights to life, liberty, and property. (Thomas Jefferson, writing the Declaration of Independence, would fudge the third right to “pursuit of happiness.”) Governments protect the rights of their citizens—they take life only from enemies who attack the country or from the worst of criminals who threaten the lives of others. Governments protect the liberty of their citizens, only depriving criminals of freedom, and then only for a term that fits the crime. Governments protect the property of their citizens. They may claim some property as fines for misdemeanors, other property as fees for services, other property as taxes, and still other property to provide services such as roads. In general, though, governments take no more than they must take from their citizens. When they become overbearing, when they stop respecting the rights of their citizens, the citizens are entitled to change their government, to find new leaders who will respect and protect their rights.

Philosophers spoke of a social contract between citizens and their government. Citizens agree among themselves what they want the government to do, and they use their property and their energy to help the government accomplish these goals. If citizens want public schools, they agree to pay taxes to support those schools, and they agree to send their children to those schools. For protection from foreign enemies and domestic criminals, citizens are willing to limit some of their own freedoms and property. For other services from the government, some citizens are willing to accept further limits. Among any group of citizens, a range of opinions will be found: some want the government to do more, and they are willing to pay more for those government services; others want to cede less to the government, and in return they are happy to receive fewer government services.

To some Americans (including Franklin Roosevelt and Bill Clinton), some problems are so big that only the government can address them. To other Americans (including Ronald Reagan), the government is the biggest problem and life improves when government is reduced and limited. Pure capitalism demands that the government not involve itself in the economy—capitalists say laissez-faire, leave it alone. Even Adam Smith in Wealth of Nations acknowledged that some government regulation is necessary for the good of all citizens. Under socialism, the government controls more aspects of its citizens’ lives; in return, it demands more property and restricts more freedom of those citizens. In a free market economy, the government regulates what must be regulated but leaves more freedom and more property in the hands of its citizens.

The question remains: which economic system is better for all the citizens of a nation: socialism, or a free market economy? J.

Can Trump be defeated?

CNN wants to be known as the child who observes that the emperor has no clothes. Instead, CNN is increasingly acting as the boy who called wolf. Every week we receive shrill warnings about the end of the Trump administration. Investigations will reveal terrible things that happened in the White House over the last two years, or that happened during the presidential campaign in 2016. Those who have left the administration have secrets to share, and those secrets will topple Trump’s government. Congress will Impeach him and convict him, or else he will resign before that happens. President Trump has no future.

So many Democrats believe this that those in Congress are prepared to open new investigations. They are eager to question every former Trump advisor and assistant. Meanwhile, dozens of Democrats are opening campaigns to run for President. Each of them is convinced that he or she is the one who can defeat Donald Trump in a one-on-one election. They are prepared to battle each other for that privilege. They are convinced that, by November 2020, the country will be so tired of Donald Trump that they will accept any replacement.

“Those who do not know history are doomed to repeat it.” Richard Nixon was very unpopular in the early months of 1971. Many people, even in the White House, assumed that Nixon would be a one-term President. This, of course, was before he visited China and the Soviet Union. More important, it was before George McGovern was nominated by the Democrats. Nixon won the electoral college votes of forty-nine states in one of the most one-sided elections in American history.

Ronald Reagan was unpopular in the early months of 1983. The country was still struggling from inflation and unemployment. Many blamed Reagan’s economic policies for the nation’s woes. But by the summer of 1984, the economy was strong again. This time the Democrats nominated the bland former Vice-President Walter Mondale, and Reagan repeated Nixon’s accomplishment of winning forty-nine states.

Bill Clinton was unpopular in the early months of 1995. The Republicans had just taken control of both houses of Congress. Clinton’s efforts to change the national health care system had been defeated. The White House appeared to be ready for a Republican to move in. But once again, a strong national economy and an uninspiring opponent gave the incumbent President a second term in the White House.

Democrats thought that the narrow election of George W. Bush would make it easy to defeat him four years later. They failed. Republicans thought they could make Barack Obama look like Jimmy Carter and limit him to a single term. They also failed. In the 1970s, due to the turmoil following the Vietnam War and Watergate, voters resisted the reelections of Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter. But Carter was largely overturned by the popular appeal of Ronald Reagan. The elder George Bush was held to a single term in spite of his popularity in early 1991. That popularity was due to victory in the Persian Gulf conflict, but by the end of 1992, the struggling postwar economy and the centrist policies of Bill Clinton denied President Bush his second term.

If, in the next fifteen months, the Democrats are able to identify a candidate with the personal charm and middle-of-the-road politics of Bill Clinton, they might remove Donald Trump from the White House. But if the voters in the Democratic primaries favor a left-wing candidate, they will lose the general election. If they choose the candidate who promises the most from government, the candidate who offers to tax the rich in order to take care of everyone else, Donald Trump will repeat Richard Nixon’s comeback of 1972. President Trump has positioned himself well to maintain his base. He can say that he has tried harder than any recent President (indeed, than any recent politician) to keep all his campaign promises. When he failed to deliver, it was not his fault. So long as Trump can point to a strong economy, to improved trade agreements with other countries, and to similar successes, he will have the support of enough voters to keep his job.

Congressional investigations and shrill news stories about suspected corruption will not overturn this presidency. Americans are already bored by these stories. We are ready to move on. So long as opposition to the President keeps playing the same tune, fewer and fewer American citizens will join them on the dance floor. History says so. And some people have forgotten to study their history. J.