December 9, 2021 | Reading Time: 13 minutes

America’s future: less democracy nationally, more democracy locally, plus violence and blood

My interview with Sea Change Radio's Alex Wise.

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In the past, I have sent audio files of my interviews with Alex Wise at Sea Change Radio. This time is a little different. Alex has a new program that creates transcripts. With Alex’s permission, I’m able to send one to EB subscribers. I gotta say, though, it’s very weird seeing the way I talk in print. Humbling. 

The following is edited version of the transcript of our talk about the role of quote-unquote critical race theory in Republican politics. From there, we touch on all kinds of topics, including the conventional meaning of freedom, democratic responsibility and gun violence. 

At the end of the audio version, right before his sign-off, you’ll hear Alex read a passage from Magdi Semrau’s EB piece on how Black voices have been erased from the debate over “critical race theory.”

Click here to listen.

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: There 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. So when they speak with one voice, that’s a really big, loud voice. And the other thing that I’ve come to, sadly, realize is that fascism or being friendly to fascism is really profitable. 

The Fox News model is case in point. It’s the most profitable cable news channel. And there’s one reason for that. 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.

AW 3:03: But they do it in a coy kind of both-sides-ism way.

JS 3:06: Absolutely. I mean, Fox News is actually pretty coy. 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. 

At the same time, the Democrats are in power, so the press corps has an incentive to elevate voices from the party out of power. Put those two things together with the fact that the right-wing media apparatus is global in scale – put that all together and the Democrats basically can’t get a word in edgewise. You barely hear them unless the president is talking. Nobody knows what the Democrats are talking about, because they’re shouted down. 

That’s really bad for democracy. 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 opposite direction of democracy. You would think people who are tasked with informing the citizenry would be preferential to the truth, but they’re often not. 

AW 4:50: And I think one of the reasons these wedge issues [like “critical race theory”] 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 the kind of calculus a Republican political strategist makes nowadays, taking that reality into account, that the Democrats might have more people on their side, but they’re not in lockstep.

JS 5:23: Yeah, there are like herding cats. I mean, liberals always disagree. Liberals value dissent. They take disagreement in into account when making decisions. Republicans never valued dissent. They crushed dissent.

AW 5:40: That’s kind of what is at the core of [teaching students about the history of racism in the United States]. It’s like you’re dissenting from the very basis of what our country is, if you go against something like America not being the shining beacon on the hill.

JS 5:53: That’s right. You’re offering an alternative point of view and that’s not an alternative that’s tolerable. 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. 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. 

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 opposite direction of democracy. You would think people who are tasked with informing the citizenry would be preferential to the truth, but they’re often not.

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” doesn’t exist – you can’t have a two-tiered system of justice, a two-tiered society? Well, the conservatives want that. 

The law protects me. But it punishes you. That’s how a hierarchy of power is maintained. That’s why the Republicans worked so hard to put three justices on the Supreme Court during Trump’s term, in order to enshrine that two-tiered system of justice.

AW 7:46: So what can Democrats do to overcome this new social wedge issue? If you were a political strategist for a candidate in the South, how would you try to tackle this new beast?

JS 8:03: I have no idea! Ugh, I would be a very bad strategist. 

The thing about democracies, I don’t mean to characterize it like it’s a monolithic thing, [but] they’re actually messy and multi dimensional. We’ll probably have less democracy on a national level and more democracy, ironically, at the state and local level, like here in Connecticut. 

I’m in New Haven right now. 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 it 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. 

Going back to strategies, I think Democrats just have to speak their truth and speak their values and just be democrats, small d democrats.

AW 9:20: And talking about Big E education … 

JS 9:22: Big E education …

AW 9:24: And how Republicans have just fought tooth and nail to gut public education for decades.

JS 9:30: 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 people are in debt, and they’re buying things, they are more controllable. 

Democrats want people to be citizens who are free and can do what they want without being bogged down by predatory lenders and check cashing scams and things like that. 

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. That’s usually considered free. I am free to do whatever I want to you with impunity with no consequences.

AW 10:29  … which is kind of the antithesis of freedom.

JS 10:33: The antithesis of freedom, exactly. The Democrats are more into, it doesn’t get enough play, but they’re more into democratic responsibility. They’re more into 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’s turned up to 11 on the Republican side. 

The Democrats, I think they need to be small-d democrats and they need to be small-r republicans, meaning putting their values, their sense of morality, at the forefront of whatever they’re doing. 

It’s far too easy to meet race-baiting with some nonpartisan preference over gas mileage or some technical thing. 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 the reasonable people and the racists. They’re always trying to strike that balance.

AW 12:02: … like gun control. 

JS 12:03: There’s nothing noble about carrying a gun. It doesn’t make you a smarter person or a tougher person or a safer person. It just creates a climate of risk and danger. Everybody who studies these things knows that. 

But Democrats are like, “Well, you know, I believe in hunting and you know, personal safety and things like that.” Come on. I would like to see them go all the way, like Beto O’Rourke did last year when he was like, “let’s just start taking people’s guns.” I’d love that I think that would be great.

AW 13:59: 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.

JS 14:26: Why wouldn’t you be suspicious of a politician? When somebody is speaking truthfully to you, you tend to know it. I like the way Beto did it where he’s spoke from the heart and people just understood. Even if I hate him, I know he’s telling me who he is. That goes a long way.

AW 14:48: His community suffered with that El Paso shooting so he spoke with more passion than usual and that was, I think, respected.

JS 14:58: That’s a case in point of what Democrats should do. That massacre happened because Donald Trump was maligning cities for weeks prior to that point. Cities have played a key role in fascist ideology, because cities are diseased, there’s race mingling, there’s people of different races having sex, that kind of thing. And that’s a perversion of their preferred way of the world being. And so what do you do with a perversion? You kill it, right? And that’s when that shooter went to El Paso and started shooting people up. 

That’s my preferred response. It would be Democrats saying, “Look, we’re taking the guns away from the fascists. We can’t have these fascists walking around with guns. They’re going to kill people and the government has a duty to protect the citizenry.” 

We’re 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 gun control, even to the extent that they malign the intentions of gun owners. There’s nothing noble about owning a gun. Just say it, just like that.

AW 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 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.

JS 16:58: You’ve noticed something, perhaps, and some of your listeners have too, that even though Biden and the Democrats are getting all this advice about moderating themselves, accommodating Republicans being more bipartisan, etc. – Biden’s not doing that. 

He’s not bothering. The only people he’s negotiating with are other Democrats. What does this difference tell you? It tells you the political assumptions of 20 years ago or even 40 years ago, they’re just not applying right now.

AW 17:32: Well, with one glaring example, and that’s so far we haven’t seen [Merrick] Garland or anybody from Biden’s administration explicitly going after Trump.

JS 17:42: I’m talking about more of normal politics. It’s an extraordinary thing to go after a former president …

AW 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.

JS 18:01: That will probably be the case this time too, unfortunately. But Biden is not pulling a Bill Clinton, where he’s sabotaging other Democrats in order to prove to Republicans that he’s not all bad. Biden’s not going to do that. He’s not going to undermine the people who put him in office. He’s not going to do a Sister Souljah moment.

I think what this says is that 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 what I call a regime change. From the 30s through the 60s, you had the Democrats prevailing or pretty much — FDR and the New Deal and the Great Society, etc. And then from the 80s through the 2010s, it was really [Ronald] Reagan, right? 

AW 18:59: St. Ronald of Reagan. He is part of that kind of religious fervor of the beginnings of modern Republicanism in so many ways, right? 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.

JS 19:22: Yeah, he was, although he could govern. 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 pretty much from that point onward, the Republicans started going to war with democracy itself. 

It’s far too easy to meet race-baiting with some nonpartisan preference over gas mileage or some technical thing. 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. 

That’s when you saw the Tea Party, or specifically armed protests, you know, people 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. 

So we’re going into this new period where the Democrats are not giving the Republicans the benefit of the doubt anymore, and they’re instead talking to each other. Whereas the Republicans are just a party of sabotage now.

AW 21:40: 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.

JS 22:10: Why would you negotiate with hostage takers? I mean, that’s the mentality.

AW 22:16: And we also just know what they’ve already kind of drawn their lines in the sand. 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.

JS 22:39: I actually find that spectrum, from Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez all the way to Joe Manchin, I find that spectrum – even though Manchin 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. Even though you hate Mitt Romney, at least he’s a loyal American.

AW 23:09: 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.

JS 23:26: The way I put it, with the Democrats, is that even though Manchin is maddening, whatever the Democrats come up with, in terms of their their infrastructure bill, 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 stop on your feet. 

So even if Manchin’s infuriating, you have to think, well, he’s just being infuriating in his own Manchin-y way, and even so, that’s probably the best we can do given what the Republicans are willing to do.

AW 24:13: And to connect this to our earlier discussion, 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.

JS 24:30: I think listeners need to remember that democracy will continue to go on. People will still vote. They will still organize, 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. On a national level, democracy is sliding back. We need to be aware of that. 

At the same time, we have a Republican Party that’s 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, 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. 

So there’s multi-layers going on here, you’re going to have democracy continuing on. I’m still going to vote for my mayor, my alderman, my governor, my state representative, 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. 

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 a for instance, turning 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.

AW 26:42: Before we go, I wanted to just read a few lines from Magdi Semrau, who wrote a piece for the Editorial Board entitled, “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.

John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.

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