The Big Lie about the Left in the U.S. is that the Left exists in some substantial and influential way in the country.
The Truth about the Left in the U.S. is that the Left does not exist in some substantial and influential way in the country. Period.
The little lies that feed into the Big Lie include that universities and professors, K-12 public schools, the mainstream media, and Hollywood are all powerful instruments of liberal propaganda.
These little lies have cousins in the annual shouting about the “war on Christmas” and hand wringing by Christians that they are somehow the oppressed peoples of the U.S.
These lies little and Big are a scale problem in that the U.S. is now and has always been a country whose center is well to the right, grounded as we are in capitalism more so than democracy.
The U.S. is a rightwing country that pays lip service to progressivism and democracy; we have a vibrant and powerful Right and an anemic, fawning Middle.
Wealth, corporatism, consumerism, and power are inseparable in the U.S.—pervading the entire culture including every aspect of government and popular culture.
The Left in the U.S. is a fabricated boogeyman, designed and perpetuated by the Right to keep the general public distracted. Written as dark satire, Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle now serves as a manual for understanding how power uses false enemies to maintain power and control.
Notably during the past 30-plus decades, conservative politics have dominated the country, creating for Republicans a huge problem in terms of bashing “big government.”
But dog-whistle politics grounded in race and racism benefitting the Right and Republicans have a long history.
In 1964, Martin Luther King Jr. confronted Barry Goldwater’s tactics foreshadowing Trump’s strategies and rise:
The Republican Party geared its appeal and program to racism, reaction, and extremism…On the urgent issue of civil rights, Senator Goldwater represents a philosophy that is morally indefensible and socially suicidal. While not himself a racist, Mr. Goldwater articulates a philosophy which gives aid and comfort to the racist. His candidacy and philosophy would serve as an umbrella under which extremists of all stripes would stand. In the light of these facts and because of my love for America, I have no alternative but to urge every Negro and white person of goodwill to vote against Mr. Goldwater and to withdraw support from any Republican candidate that does not publicly disassociate himself from Senator Goldwater and his philosophy.
Malcolm X held forth in more pointed fashion, but with the same focus:
“Well if Goldwater ever becomes president one thing his presence in the White House will do, it will make black people in America have to face up the facts probably for the first time in many many years,” Malcolm X said.
“This in itself is good in that Goldwater is a man who’s not capable of hiding his racist tendencies,” he added. “And at the same time he’s not even capable of pretending to Negroes that he’s their friend.”
The Civil Rights icon concluded that should Goldwater be elected, he would inspire black people to fully reckon with “whites who pose as liberals only for the purpose of getting the support of the Negro.”
“So in one sense Goldwater’s coming in will awaken the Negro and will probably awaken the entire world more so than the world has been awakened since Hitler,” he said.
Mentioned above, the annual panic over the “war on Christmas” is a distraction from the fact that Christmas serves consumerism, the Right, and not religion—keeping in mind that Jesus and his ideology rejected materialism and espoused moral and ethical codes in line with socialism and communism/Marxism.
What remains mostly unexamined is that all structures are essentially conservative—seeking to continue to exist. Power, then, is always resistant to change, what should be at the core of progressivism and leftwing ideology.
Marxism is about power and revolution (drastic change, and thus a grand threat to power), but suffers in the U.S. from the cartoonish mischaracterization from the Right that it is totalitarianism.
So as we drift toward the crowning of the greatest buffoon ever to sit at the throne of the U.S. as a consumerocracy posing as a democracy, Education Week has decided to launch into the hackneyed “academics are too liberal and higher education is unfair to conservatives” ploy.
At the center of this much-ado-about-nothing is Rick Hess playing his Bokonon and McCabe role:
I know, I know. To university-based education researchers, all this can seem innocuous, unobjectionable, and even inevitable. But this manner of thinking and talking reflects one shared worldview, to the exclusion of others. While education school scholars may almost uniformly regard a race-conscious focus on practice and policy as essential for addressing structural racism, a huge swath of the country sees instead a recipe for fostering grievance, animus, and division. What those in ed. schools see as laudable efforts to promote “equitable” school discipline or locker-room access strike millions of others as an ideological crusade to remake communities, excuse irresponsible behavior, and subject children to goofy social engineering. Many on the right experience university initiatives intended to promote “tolerance” and “diversity” as attempts to silence or delegitimize their views on immigration, criminal justice, morality, and social policy. For readers who find it hard to believe that a substantial chunk of the country sees things thusly, well, that’s kind of the issue.
Conversational and posing as a compassionate conservative, Hess sprinkles in scare quotes while completely misrepresenting everything about which he knows nothing.
This is all cartoon and theater.
The grand failure of claiming that the academy is all leftwing loonies is that is based almost entirely—see the EdWeek analysis—on noting that academics overwhelmingly identify as Democrats.
However, the Democratic Party is not in any way a substantial reflection of leftist ideology. At most, we can admit that Democrats tend to use progressive rhetoric (and this is a real characteristics of professors, scholars, and academics), but that Democratic policy remains centrist and right of center.
A powerful example of this fact is the Department of Education (DOE) and Secretary of Education (SOE) throughout George W. Bush’s and Barack Obama’s administrations.
For the past 16 years, education policy has been highly bureaucratic and grounded almost entirely in rightwing ideology—choice, competition, accountability, and high-stakes testing.
The only real difference between Bush’s SOE and Obama’s SOE has been rhetoric; yes, Duncan, for example, loved to chime in with civil rights lingo, but policy under Obama moved farther right than under Bush.
Now, let me end here by addressing the charge that college professors are a bunch of leftwing loonies.
I can do so because I am the sort of dangerous professor Hess wants everyone to believe runs our colleges and universities—poisoning the minds of young people across the U.S.
I can also add that I spent 18 years as a public school teacher before the past 15 years in higher education.
In both so-called liberal institutions—public education and higher education—as a real card-carrying Lefty, I have been in the minority, at best tolerated, but mostly ignored and even marginalized.
Public schools are extremely conservative, reflecting and perpetuating the communities they serve. In the South, my colleagues were almost all conservative in their world-views and religious practices.
My higher education experience has been somewhat different because the atmosphere has the veneer of progressivism (everyone know how to talk, what to say), but ultimately, we on the Left are powerless, unheard and often seen as a nuisance.
Colleges and universities are institutions built on and dependent on privilege and elitism. As I noted above, colleges and universities are not immune to the conservative nature of institutions; they seek ways to maintain, to conserve, to survive.
Colleges and universities are also not immune to business pressures, seeing students and their families as consumers.
Do professors push back on these tendencies and pressures? Sure.
But that dynamic remains mostly rhetorical.
The Truth is that colleges and universities are centrist organizations—not unlike the Democratic Party and their candidates, such as Obama and Hillary Clinton.
Some progressives in the U.S. play both sides to sniff at the power on the Right, and then the Right uses that rhetoric and those veneers to prove how the Left has taken over our colleges/universities, public schools, media, and Hollywood.
But that is a Big Lie about the Left in the U.S.
The Left does not exist in any substantial way, except as a boogeyman controlled by the Right in order to serve the interests of those in power.
“To be afraid is to behave as if the truth were not true,” Bayard Rustin warned.
Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle dramatizes this warning, and 50 years ago King and Malcolm X challenged us to see beyond the corrosive power of dog-whistle politics.
When the Right paints educational research as the product of corrupted leftwing scholars, you must look past the harmful foma and examine in whose interest it is that market-based education reform survives despite the evidence against it.
To paraphrase Gertrude from Hamlet, “The Right protests too much, methinks,” and we have much to fear from all these histrionics.