The heaving hysteria over critical race theory, showing up now in state legislatures and school board meetings across the country, can be disturbing to witness, particularly when you know it’s a bunch of ginned-up nonsense aimed at scaring white people into voting for Republicans.
But right when you think the loud liars might hornswoggle half the country, a sensible, serious person steps in and pulls the curtain back on the Wizards of Dumb. That happened last month when Army Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, testified before the House Armed Services Committee and demonstrated what happens when an intellectually inept force meets an immovable object.
Several Republican lawmakers busted out their new talking point—that critical race theory is bad and scary and it’s destroying America and our military—and waved it around at Milley and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, hoping, I assume, the military leaders would hop on the bandwagon.
Milley did no such thing. In fact, he took aim at the topic and shot it to pieces.
After Republican lawmakers complained that ideas relating to critical race theory and “white rage” were being taught at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, Milley said this, which I’ll quote extensively because every word is worth your time:
“I do think it’s important, actually, for those of us in uniform to be open-minded and to be widely read. And the United States Military Academy is a university, and it is important that we train and we understand. And I want to understand white rage. I’m white, and I want to understand it. What is it that caused thousands of people to assault this building and try to overturn the Constitution of the United States of America. What caused that? I want to find that out.
“I want to maintain an open mind here and I do want to analyze it. It’s important that we understand that, because our soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and guardians, they come from the American people. So, it’s important that the leaders now and in the future do understand it.
“I’ve read Mao Zedong. I’ve read Karl Marx. I’ve read Lenin. That doesn’t make me a communist. So what is wrong with understanding, having some situational understanding of the country, which we are here to defend?
“And I personally find it offensive that we are accusing the United States military, our general officers, our commissioned and noncommissioned officers, of being ‘woke’ or something else because we’re studying some theory that is out there that was started in Harvard Law School years ago.
“It proposed that there were laws in the United States, antebellum laws, prior to the Civil War, that led to a power differential with African Americans that were three-fifths of a human being when this country was formed. And then we had a Civil War and an Emancipation Proclamation to change it. And then we brought it up to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, it took another hundred years to change that. So look, I do want to know. ... It matters to our military, and the discipline and cohesion of this military.”
To quote a sound often made by the military: Boom!
In the wake of the murder of George Floyd last summer, there have been much-needed conversations on how children are taught about race and racism in America. But those conversations and any changes to curricula have little if anything to do with the broad, complex ideas behind critical race theory, and they have nothing to do with, as the loud ones like to cry, teaching white children to feel guilty.
It’s all a bunch of hysterical nonsense, and the ease with which Milley eloquently unloaded on the whole thing revealed the right’s new cause to be a paper tiger atop a hill of lies.
Such public displays of debunking are becoming commonplace.
Claims of fraud and finagling in the 2020 presidential election are met by facts and legal rulings that support nothing of the sort. On Wednesday, the Republican-led Michigan Senate Oversight Committee—allow me to stress “Republican-led”—released a report that “found no evidence of widespread or systemic fraud in Michigan’s prosecution of the 2020 election.”
The report read: “Our clear finding is that citizens should be confident the results represent the true results of the ballots cast by the people of Michigan. The Committee strongly recommends citizens use a critical eye and ear toward those who have pushed demonstrably false theories for their own personal gain.”
Recommendations like that, coupled with the strong words of smart, serious people like Milley, might just save us from ourselves.
Rex Huppke is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune.