March 2022: The month when racism became the GOP’s central message: Nationally and in New Jersey

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March was a month of war and monumental political development, both at home and abroad. Yet the fact that nationally and in New Jersey, racism has become the central message of the Republican Party, has gone almost undetected.

For decades, racism has been a subliminal message from the Republican Party at the national level, beginning with Richard Nixon’s “Southern Strategy.” The message was aimed at white grassroots voters, but still under the fraudulent guise of being a “state rights” message, rather than an overtly anti-African-American message.

The reason for the emergence of this racist GOP message is explained in the landmark book, How Democracies Die, by Harvard political science professors Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt. The passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, signed into law through the efforts of a Democratic President, Lyndon Johnson, signaled that the Democrats were the party of civil rights change, while the Republican Party was the constituency of the voters wishing to maintain the racial status quo. . This began America’s ideological political polarization, with African-American and white civil rights supporters flocking to the Democratic Party, while white, largely Southern, racist status quo supporters enlisted in the GOP. .

At the New Jersey level, racism was never part of the Republican Party’s message or platform until last year, when a New Jersey Republican State Committee task force released a proposed anti-African American voter suppression. As on the national level, GOP supporters and craftsmen of this platform claimed not to be racist, but instead claimed to be offering this agenda as a matter of “voter integrity.”

And in the state’s national and Republican racist outreach attempts, the effort was not the top priority of the party’s message efforts, but rather a side business. The top priority of GOP messaging remained in the realm of economic issues.

That all changed in March 2022. In two separate events, the Republican Party, nationally and in New Jersey, respectively flagged the explicit message of racism as its priority issue. In both situations, the Republican message was an ugly lie about Critical Race Theory (CRT). The defamatory Republican claim is that the CRT is a Democratic effort to instill in American children two anti-white beliefs: 1) one race or gender (Black) is inherently superior to another race or gender; and 2) an individual, because of their (white) race or gender, is inherently privileged, racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously. I call this false claim the great Republican lie about CRT.

The national event was the vitriolic racist attack launched by Republican US Senator from Texas Ted Cruz against Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson. The tone of Cruz’s attack was unmistakably racist and designed to appeal to fear and hatred against people of color among white Republican base voters. Cruz’s slander was a two-pronged libel, incorporating the above false CRT definition and claiming that 1) the Georgetown Day School, where Jackson sits on the board and his two daughters attend, has the CRT as part of its program; and 2) it contains books to hand out to its students that cause African-American children to hate their white classmates.

The state event was the posting of a Facebook ad by the New Jersey Senate Majority Republican, the Senate Republican campaign organization, accusing the Murphy administration of attempting to indoctrinate New Jersey school children with the evils of critical race theory. The ad had the introductory words: “Do you know what your children are taught in schools? New Jersey parents deserve to know if their children are indoctrinated. Next was a photo of the NJ Advance headline on March 1, 2021 regarding Governor Murphy signing into law A4454, said headline stating “NJ Schools Must Teach Unconscious Bias, Economic Inequality, Per New Law” . The ad goes on to say, “Sign our petition to tell Governor Murphy NO to the CRT.”

Now, the final statement in this Republican Senate majority announcement is a blatant lie. CRT is not taught in any public elementary or high school in the country, let alone in New Jersey. To put these two Republican racist campaigns into perspective, two different terms need to be defined: 1) diversity and inclusion; and 2) critical race theory.

The study of inclusion and diversity involves a general focus on the need for tolerance and understanding of all ethnic groups, races and gender preferences. On March 1, 2021, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy signed into law the aforementioned Act A4454, which required the study of inclusion and diversity in New Jersey public schools.

The new law specifically defined the standards for diversity and inclusion studies as follows:

1) Value and promote diversity, including economic diversity, equity, inclusion,
tolerance and belonging in relation to gender and sexual orientation, race and ethnicity, disabilities and religious tolerance;

(2) Examine the impact that unconscious biases and economic disparities have both at the individual level and on society as a whole; and

(3) Encourage safe, welcoming, and inclusive environments for all students, regardless of race or ethnicity, sexual and gender identity, mental and physical disabilities, and religious beliefs.

The words “inclusion and diversity” were the watchwords of the administration of former Governor Tom Kean, whose “politics of inclusion” were a source of pride for New Jerseyans of all colors, creeds , beliefs and political affiliations. Unfortunately, Tom Kean, Jr., in keeping with his habit of cowering at Trumpism, voted against A4454.

Now, none of these new New Jersey public school mandates involve CRT in any way, shape or form. I have written two articles on the CRT, the first providing a precise definition of the CRT and describing how Republican opposition to it became the new racial McCarthyism, the second explaining how the vilification of the CRT became part central to the GOP’s culture wars. in New Jersey.

CRT is more accurately defined by educators as the theory that racism is not just the product of bigoted individuals, but rather is systemic in the institutions of the nation, which function to maintain white dominance in the society. Because of its complexity, critical race theory is not taught at the K-12 level in public schools in our nation. In fact, it is more often part of the law school curriculum. There is no doubt, however, that CRT is a most valuable academic discipline needed to understand the impact and lasting effects of American racism.

Unfortunately, however, the GOP got some success with the Big GOP Lie on CRT. The growing acceptance of the Big Republican Lie on CRT was demonstrated most clearly by Glenn Youngkin’s gubernatorial victory in Virginia last November.

In New Jersey’s last gubernatorial election due to his passionate political endorsement of Donald Trump after shunning him in 2017, Jack Ciattarelli, while not a racist himself, was not in able to secure a double-digit percentage of the African-American vote. I don’t expect New Jersey’s Republican share of the African-American vote to increase over the next decade. As a result, we should expect greater GOP efforts in the Garden State to increase white GOP turnout and, unfortunately, in this regard, much greater use of Big GOP Lie on CRT.

Alan J. Steinberg served as regional administrator for EPA Region 2 during the administration of former President George W. Bush and executive director of the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission.

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