It’s right in the Declaration of Independence that everyone is created equal. So why is an entire political party so scared of talking critically about race in this country? This week on Sea Change Radio, the second half of our discussion with John Stoehr of The Editorial Board centered around the latest Republican boogeyman, critical race theory. We look at the media’s role in creating something out of nothing, compare critical race theory to the debate over gun control, and examine how the hullabaloo about CRT is connected to the so-called “Big Lie” and why both pose a threat to our democracy. Then, we hear an excerpt from Editorial Board contributor Magdi Semrau on how Black voices are largely left out of public education debates in this country.
Narrator 0:01 This is Sea Change Radio covering the shift to sustainability. I’m Alex Wise.
John Stoehr 0:22 The whole expansion of guns everywhere the loosening of gun laws and stuff is a reaction to democracy, putting guns in the hands of people who will not be punished by the law but will be protected by the law, even as they commit crimes that would otherwise be crimes in order to maintain those hierarchies of power. If you can’t turn to democracy to get what you want, then you turn to your gun.
Narrator 0:49 It’s right in the Declaration of Independence that everyone is created equal. So why is an entire political party so scared of talking critically about race in this country? This week on Sea Change Radio, the second half of our discussion with John Stoehr of The Editorial Board centered around the latest Republican boogeyman, critical race theory. We look at the media’s role in creating something out of nothing, compare critical race theory to the debate over gun control, and examine how the hullabaloo about CRT is connected to the so-called “Big Lie” and why both pose a threat to our democracy. Then, we hear an excerpt from Editorial Board contributor Magdi Semrau on how Black voices are largely left out of public education debates in this country.
Alex Wise 1:47 This is Alex Wise on Sea Change Radio, and I’m speaking to the founder and editor of the editorial board, John Stoehr. So John, we were talking about the role of the press and you hit upon Fox News. But let’s turn to more mainstream news outlets if we can like the New York Times, how are they playing along with this critical race theory malarkey?
John Stoehr 2:10 The thing about the press corps is, first of all the big media companies are is really about six companies that own all the big, profitable media companies, as opposed to 50 years ago when there was 50, and more. And so when they speak with one voice, that’s a really big, loud voice. And the other thing that I’ve come to, sadly, realizes that fascism or being friendly to fascism is really profitable. I mean, the Fox News model is Case in point, it’s the most profitable cable news channel. And for there’s one reason for that, it’s because it foments anger, it taps into bigotries and prejudices that people already believe to be true. It smears the intentions of the of minority voices, etc. And even the New York Times is really catching on to this.
Alex Wise 3:03 But they do it in a coy kind of both-sides-ism way.
John Stoehr 3:06 Absolutely. It’s never ever. I mean, Fox News is actually pretty coy, but much less. Yeah, it sounds overt side, but the lucrative media properties, they also don’t want reform, they don’t want Democrats changing things, because the way things are right now is really good. You know, it’s really profitable. And at the same time, the Democrats in power, so the press corps has an incentive to elevate the part the voices from the party out of power. And so you put those in economic incentive plus this kind of like this notion of balance, put those two things together with the fact that the right wing media apparatus is global and scale put that all together. And the Democrats are basically like, can’t even get a word in edgewise. You barely even hear unless the President is talking. Nobody really knows what the Democrats are talking about, because they’re just so they’re shouted down. The volume is turned up so high on the on the on the right, it was hard to get a word in edgewise, even when the President is a Democrat. And that’s, that’s really bad for democracy. I’m saying because I’d like to be more hopeful for your listeners sake. But it’s hard to have hope when all the incentives point in the wrong in the opposite direction of democracy. You know, you think people who are tasked with informing the citizenry would be preferential to the truth, but they’re often not. They’re more interested in playing kind of word games, creating these political fictions that are good for ratings are good for subscriptions, but really don’t exist in this country.
Alex Wise 4:50 And I think one of the reasons these wedge issues are popular with the Republicans is that they can have their right wing media and right Wing talking points pretty much in lockstep, while the other side is discussing the nuances of it and is more divided about it. That’s any kind of calculus that a Republican political strategist makes nowadays, takes that reality into account is that the Democrats might have more people on their side, but they’re not in lockstep.
John Stoehr 5:23 Yeah, there’s like herding cats. I mean, liberals always disagree. And liberals value dissent. You know, they take they take disagreement in into account when they’re making decisions. Republicans never valued dissent, they crushed dissent.
Alex Wise 5:40 And that’s kind of what is at the core of this is like you’re dissenting from the very basis of what our country is, if you go against something like American not being the shining beacon on the hill.
John Stoehr 5:53 That’s right, right, you’re offering an alternative point of view. And that’s not an alternative. That’s not an alternative that’s tolerable. Right. In fact, it’s so bad that you seek to replace it with your own lies and propaganda. The Republicans are very good at telling us who they are, by way of their accusations. When they accuse teachers of trying to brainwash their students, what they’re telling us is that we are trying to brainwash students. And we want students to believe what we believe about this country, because what we believe is good for maintaining the hierarchies of power. In this country in which white men stand on top and rule with impunity. The whole idea of equality is very dangerous to the Republicans, because you would have to have everyone being accountable to the law. And that’s just not tolerable, right? You know, a white man should be able to shoot somebody just because he wants to, but a black man can’t do that. He’ll be convicted and sentenced. By the way, that’s what all those Stand Your Ground laws are about, you know, giving legal cover to white men to use violence when they feel it’s necessary, while punishing non white people, you know, the Supreme Court decision brown where it says separate but equal is not doesn’t exist, you can’t have a two tiered system of justice, a two tiered society. Well, the Conservatives always want that. The law protects me. But it punishes you. Right. That’s how a hierarchy of power is maintained. That’s why That’s why the Republican spots so hard to put three justices on the Supreme Court during Trump’s term is in order to enshrine that two tiered system of justice.
Alex Wise 7:46 So what can Democrats do to overcome this new social wedge issue is if you were a fewer strategist for a candidate in the South? How would you try to tackle this new beast?
John Stoehr 8:03 I have no idea! Ugh, I would be a very odd very bad strategist. You think about democracies, it’s not I don’t mean to characterize it like, like it’s a monolithic thing. It’s actually this messy, and multi dimensional, we’ll probably have less democracy on a national level and more democracy, ironically, at the state and local level, especially, like here in Connecticut, I’m in New Haven right now. And Connecticut lawmakers here, they’re going to use those federal dollars that are a consequence of the pandemic, and do the things that they’ve always wanted to do in the name of the common good. In states that don’t believe in the common good, like Texas, who knows, they probably won’t use that money. Or they’ll, you know, steal it or something. I don’t know. But they won’t they, they won’t be in the interest of the common good, because the common good is a dangerous concept to those who run states like Texas, Texas might be a bad example, most the same Mississippi or Alabama or something like that. Texas has a lot of big cities in it. So it’s kind of the exception. But going back to strategies, I think Democrats just have to speak their truth and speak their values and just be Democrats, small d Democrats.
Alex Wise 9:20 …And talking about Big E education,
John Stoehr 9:22 Big E education…
Alex Wise 9:24 And how Republicans have just fought tooth and nail to gut public education for decades.
John Stoehr 9:30 Yeah, I mean, Republicans want people to be consumers. Democrats want people to be citizens. There’s a huge difference between those two things. Republicans want people to go into debt to buy things. Because when they when people are in debt, and they’re buying things that they are more controllable. Republicans want people to be citizens who are free and can do what they want without being bogged down by You know, predatory lenders and, you know, check cashing scams and things like that, you know, the Democrats really are the party of freedom. But it’s never characterized that way. Because freedom is usually seen in terms of power, like what I can do to you. Right? That’s usually considered free, like I am free to do whatever I want to you with impunity with no consequences.
Alex Wise 10:29 ….which is kind of the antithesis of freedom.
John Stoehr 10:33 The antithesis of freedom, exactly. The Democrats are more into this, it doesn’t get enough play, that they’re more into Democratic responsibility. They’re more into like what we owe each other, as citizens, as individuals, what communities owe each other. That’s a much more nuanced and idealistic way of viewing a democracy. And something that can really get lost in the haze in the noise. Noise that it’s turned up to 11. On the Republican side, and the Democrats going back to strategy, I think they need to be small d Democrats. And they need to be small are Republicans meaning putting their values their sense of morality at the forefront of whatever campaign they’re doing? It’s far too easy to meet race baiting with, you know, some non partisan preference over, you know, gas mileage or some technical thing, right. I wish the Democrats would be full on anti racist, just taking it head on, and speaking their truths head on and making sure everyone knows where they stand. I think Black Democrats, they are the models to emulate. I think white Democrats are trying to thread this needle between you know, reasonable people and the racists, right, they’re always trying to figure out who you know, strike that balance, like gun control, gun control, you know, it’s just like, it’s so silly. It’s like, you know, there’s nothing noble about carrying a gun, you know, that doesn’t end it doesn’t make you a smarter person or a tougher person or a safer person or a safer person it just creates a climate of risk and danger and everybody who studies these things knows that but you know, you had these Democrats who are like well you know, I believe in hunting and you know, personal safety and things like that. It’s like come on just like go I would like to see them go all the way like Beto O’Rourke did last year where he was like you know, let’s just start taking people’s guns I’d love that I think that would be great
Alex Wise 13:59 This is Alex Wise on Sea Change Radio, and I’m speaking to the founder and editor of the editorial board, John Stoehr. So talking about what controversial positions a progressive politician may or may not take. I think that just being definitive on what you believe, sways voters, even if they disagree with you. They at least don’t think you’re trying to pull one over them.
John Stoehr 14:26 Yeah, right. Right. Mostly and why wouldn’t you be suspicious of a politician? Right. You know, but when somebody is speaking truthfully to you, you tend to know it. Right? If especially like, I like the way Beto did it where he’s like speaking from the heart and people are just really understood. You know, like, even if I hate him, I know he’s, he’s telling me who he is. Right and that that goes a long way.
Alex Wise 14:48 And his community suffered with that El Paso shooting so he spoke with more passion then than usual and that was I think respected.
John Stoehr 14:58 Yeah, absolutely. I mean, his that case is a case in point of what Democrats should do. You know, that massacre happened because Trump was maligning cities for weeks prior to that point. And cities have played a key role in the, in the fascist ideology. You know, because cities are, where are diseased, there was a race mingling people of different races, having sex, you know, that kind of thing. And that’s a perversion of their preferred way of the word world being right. And so what do you do with a perversion? You kill it? Right? And that’s when that that shooter went to El Paso and started shooting people up that my preferred response to that would be Democrats saying, Look, we’re taking the guns away from the fascists, right? We can’t have these fascists walking around with guns, they’re going to kill people, you know, and the government has a duty to protect the citizenry. Right? That’s the way I would see it were to way too focused on guns equaling safety. And the Democrats? Well, again, they don’t speak with one voice. So I wish in some cases, they would just push more for for gun control, even to the extent that they malign the intentions of gun owners, you know, just there’s nothing noble about owning a gun, just say it, just like that.
Alex Wise 16:22 Yes, and one of the problems with the Democrats not having this one voice is also in the Monday morning quarterback analysis of an election loss or victory, they never have the same takeaways. So you know, Biden won, because he didn’t go too far to the left or you or you could say Biden won because he stuck to progressive values. If you’re going to try to build upon the Biden victory against Trump, you could have completely different targets for your next campaign, if you’re a different candidate trying to build on that, because the interpretation is there’s so many different needles to thread.
John Stoehr 16:58 Absolutely. You’ve noticed something perhaps, and some of your listeners have to that even though Biden and the Democrats are getting all this advice about, you know, moderating themselves, accommodating Republicans being more bipartisan, etc. Biden’s not doing that. He’s not bothering, you know, the only people he’s negotiating with or other Democrats. Right. And what that what does this difference tell you? It tells you that the the political assumptions of 20 years ago or even 40 years ago, they’re just not applying right now. Right?
Alex Wise 17:32 Well, with one glaring example, and that’s so far, we haven’t seen garland or anybody from Biden’s administration explicitly going after Trump.
John Stoehr 17:42 Well, yes, that I’m talking about more of normal politics. I mean, ethics, it’s an extraordinary thing to go after a former president…
Alex Wise 17:51 It kind of goes back to 1975 1976, where we kind of just let Nixon go, because you’re not supposed to be mean to your predecessor.
John Stoehr 18:01 And that will probably be the case this time too, unfortunately. But Biden is not doing like a he’s not pulling a Bill Clinton where he’s like sabotaging other Democrats in order to prove to Republicans that he’s not all bad, right. Biden’s not going to do that he’s not going to undermine the people who put him in office. You know, he’s not going to do a Sister Souljah moment, you know. And I think what this says is that they’re we’re going through a political transition period. I don’t know what the future is. And I’m not going to try to tell us what the future is. But I think what we’re going through right now is kind of this what I call like a regime change. From the 30s. To the 60s, you had the Democrats kind of prevailing or pretty much, you know, the FDR and the New Deal, Great Society, etc. And then from the 70s, from the 80s, through the 2010s. It was really like Reagan, right? Reagan is the where everybody is operating under the shadow of Reagan…
Alex Wise 18:59 St. Ronald Reagan. He is part of that kind of religious fervor of the beginnings of modern Republicanism in so many ways, right? Like, you can’t like Even Democrats kind of fall into that trap. And they’ll say, you know, I believe Republicans, I don’t think they’re bad people. They’re not the party of Trump. They’re the party of Ronald Reagan stuff. And I roll my eyes because I thought Ronald Reagan was a pretty terrible person.
John Stoehr 19:22 Yeah, he was. Although he could govern. We’re really since the since I would say, Barack Obama’s election. The paradigm started to shift. I think at that point, democracy showed the Republicans that they were in trouble, that democracy was going to ruin things for them if they let it keep going. And so that really, pretty much from that point onward, the Republican Republican started going to war with democracy itself. That’s when you saw you know, the Tea Party, or specifically like armed protests, you know, people Paul showing up with guns, the loosening of gun laws, the increase in shooting massacres. From that point onward. I still think those shooting massacres are a reflection of the larger political tensions going on. Even if it’s really just some crazy guy shooting people up, it’s still a reflection, I think of the larger politics. And we’re going into this new period where the Democrats are just, you know, not giving the Republicans the benefit of the doubt anymore, and they’re instead talking to each other. And whereas the Republicans are just a party of sabotage now.
Alex Wise 21:40 This is Alex Wise on Sea Change Radio and I’m speaking to the founder and editor of the editorial board, John Stoehr, just thinking of the debate within the progressive wing of the Democratic Party and just Democrats writ large over the last few months, it’s been a lot of Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema and the filibuster, Democrats aren’t even thinking too much about Mitch McConnell and what his cabal is trying to concoct, because we just we know their game already.
John Stoehr 22:10 Yeah. Right. Why would you negotiate with hostage takers? I mean, that’s, that’s the mentality.
Alex Wise 22:16 And we also just know what they’ve already kind of drawn their lines in the sand. There’s no more. Right. There’s no wiggle room there. So somebody like Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema. If they’re still going to be in the Democratic Party, are they going to come along with the Democratic Party’s platforms and policies or not? And that’s kind of been an ongoing debate for the first year of the Biden administration.
John Stoehr 22:39 Yeah, I actually find that spectrum. The you know, from Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez all the way to Joe Manchin. I find that spectrum. You know, even though mansion is kind of annoying and infuriating. He’s still a part of the spectrum of legitimate politics. I would even include Mitt Romney in that spectrum, given that he voted to convict the former president. Yes, I agree. Right. You know, even though you hate Mitt Romney, at least he’s a loyal American.
Alex Wise 23:09 Right. That’s why I feared him more in the 2012 election against Obama. I overestimated him because I think I overestimated Republican voters. I thought that Romney was at least a bright guy and you know presentable and but he’s not the natural charmer.
John Stoehr 23:26 That’s right. So that spectrum of the way I put it with the Democrats is that even though mansion is maddening, whatever the Democrats come up with, you know, in terms of their their infrastructure bill, any any sort of legislation will probably be the best that a democracy can do as it’s being sabotaged by the other party. I mean, how well can you and I perform when somebody is trying to cut our knees out from under us? You can’t run a race when somebody is trying to you know, stop on your feet. So even if mansions infuriating, you have to think, well, you know, he’s just being infuriating in his own mansion, he kind of way, whereas well, even so that’s probably the best we can do. Given that what the Republicans are willing to do.
Alex Wise 24:13 And to connect this to our earlier discussion, I I like how you in your piece on critical race theory, connect the dots to the big lie and the activities we’re seeing right now, in terms of real threats to our democracy.
John Stoehr 24:30 I think listeners need to remember that democracy will continue to go on, you know, people will still vote they will still organize those still petition the government for redress of grievances, etc, etc. But there will be some people who won’t be able to do that as well. And on a national level, democracy is sliding back. And we need to be aware of that. At the same time, we have an issue of a Republican Party that as taking the side of political violence as a response to democratic action, small d democratic action, the whole expansion of guns everywhere, the loosening of gun laws and stuff is a reaction to democracy, putting guns in the hands of people who will not be punished by the law that will be protected by the law, even as they commit crimes that would otherwise be crimes in order to maintain those hierarchies of power. If you can’t turn to democracy to get what you want, then you turn to your gun. So there’s multi layers going on here, you’re going to have democracy continuing on, I’m still going to vote for that my mayor, my alderman, my governor, my represent state representative, you know, my senator, etc. But there will be another layer going on at the same time, that is trying to shrink democracy, and disenfranchise those who would most benefit from the expansion of democracy. And I think that’s the unfortunate truth. That’s what we’re facing right now, especially with the Supreme Court that is going to change law, such that democratic action will not be possible for some people to give you, for instance, the mayor turning the open, carry into a right. If that happens, then you’re going to see some people protesting police violence, and then another group of people who are armed to the teeth, counter protesting those people and that will be a situation in which violence will happen. It will be violence as a response to to democracy and free speech.
Alex Wise 26:42 And before we go, I wanted to just read a few lines from Magdi Semrau, who wrote a piece for the editorial board and titled, in the controversy over race and public education. Journalists can’t cover the story properly by amplifying white voices only. The fact that black people are so invisible from our public framing of the education debate shows just how intellectually impoverished the conversation is. They exist as objects of discussion in the imagination of white Americans, subject to debate, not people to listen to. This rendering of black Americans as invisible is perhaps an argument for teaching more about racism in society, not less. The GOP is waging a race war, we shouldn’t expect them to care about black kids. We should however, demand that the rest of us place black children within the scope of our conversation about education. Well, when you speak of Democrats as citizens and Republicans as consumers, not to sway our listeners, but if you’re going to be consumers this Christmas, and not just a citizen, you should consider subscribing to John’s Editorial Board. John Stoehr, thank you so much for being my guest on Sea Change Radio.
John Stoehr 28:00 You’re very welcome. Thank you.
Narrator 28:16 You’ve been listening to Sea Change Radio. Our intro music is by Sanford Lewis and our outro music is by Alex Wise. Additional music by Chris Joss, JB Lenoir and Elvis Presley. Check out our website at Sea Change Radio.com to stream or download the show or subscribe to our podcast. Visit our archives there to hear from Bill McKibben, Van Jones, Paul Hawken and many others and tune into Sea Change Radio next week, as we continue making connections for sustainability. For Sea Change Radio, I’m Alex Wise.