Ingenuity and Perseverance
Five Things You Need to Read Today
1. The Unspoken Formula
An overview of the Biden's administration's agenda notes "the unspoken Biden formula: Talk like a rosy bipartisan; act like a ruthless partisan." Maybe so—but on the other hand, Joe Biden isn't exactly famous for actually getting his way. Not as a senator and not as vice-president—and not, so far, as president.
The occasion for that overview is the winding down of President Biden's first 100 days in office. But what have he and his party achieved legislatively? They have authorized trillions of dollars in pork under the guise of COVID relief—but heedlessly spending enormous sums comes naturally to politicians. Other than that, the rest of their agenda is largely being obstructed by moderates in their own party, particularly Senator Joe Manchin, bless him. So they haven't passed the infrastructure bill or their election law overhaul, and they have also stalled out on other hobbyhorses of the far left like granting statehood to the District of Columbia, ending the filibuster, and packing the Supreme Court, none of which seems at all likely to happen.
Or take gun control. Biden has released a flurry of harassing new executive orders, but some of that may be counteracted by progress on gun rights in a still unpacked Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court is unlikely to take up my other favorite court case—a challenge to the law banning the sale of human organs for transplant. But it did agree to take up a challenge to New York's highly restrictive gun licensing law.
The Supreme Court accepted a bid by two gun owners and a New York subsidiary of the National Rifle Association to challenge the state's rejection of their applications for concealed-carry licenses for self-defense....
Nash and Koch contend that the state's limits on concealed carry are an infringement upon their Second Amendment liberty. The plaintiffs argued in their Cert Petition that the law on the books makes it "virtually impossible for the ordinary law-abiding citizen to obtain a license."
With a 6-3 conservative majority on the court, this suit is likely to prevail in some way, and there will also likely be a lot of ineffectual howling by the party that failed to win enough majorities over the past few decades to prevent this from happening. That's the other half of the formula of American politics. A new president can make all sorts of plans for what he would like to do, but what he can actually do is limited by factors that fell into place years or decades before he took office—and that's exactly the way the system is supposed to work.
This follows an Illinois ruling that overturned a licensing system there, as well. This shows the continuing power of the revival of a constitutional right—and how much we can still hope to preserve or reclaim even in the current anti-liberty climate.
2. The Rebellion
In the last edition, I document the beginning of a full-scale rebellion against woke orthodoxy.
Democratic political fixer James Carville is already blaming woke rhetoric for the Democrats' electoral underperformance—and also proclaiming the existence of an anti-woke "silent majority" within the Democratic Party.
Wokeness is a problem and everyone knows it. It's hard to talk to anybody today—and I talk to lots of people in the Democratic Party—who doesn't say this. But they don't want to say it out loud....
We won the White House against a world-historical buffoon. And we came within 42,000 votes of losing. We lost congressional seats. We didn't pick up state legislatures. So let's not have an argument about whether or not we're off-key in our messaging. We are. And we're off because there's too much jargon and there's too much esoterica and it turns people off.
But note that I was being very precise in describing him as a critic of woke rhetoric. As a hard-bitten pragmatist and political fixer, Carville is entirely focused on "messaging" and on language, rather than on the actual substance of the left's agenda.
You ever get the sense that people in faculty lounges in fancy colleges use a different language than ordinary people? They come up with a word like "LatinX" that no one else uses. Or they use a phrase like "communities of color." I don't know anyone who speaks like that. I don't know anyone who lives in a "community of color." I know lots of white and black and brown people and they all live in...neighborhoods.
There's nothing inherently wrong with these phrases. But this is not how people talk. This is not how voters talk. And doing it anyway is a signal that you're talking one language and the people you want to vote for you are speaking another language. This stuff is harmless in one sense, but in another sense it's not.
It's true that on the level of national politics, a lot of wokeness is purely symbolic and rhetorical—and Carville is pointing out the irony that if you're going to do something symbolic and rhetorical, it should at least be popular.
But it's at the local level where wokeness has its most direct impact, particularly in the schools. That's the epicenter of the rebellion I was talking about last week. Here's another example: a father at an expensive private school in Manhattan writing an open letter complaining that wokeness threatens to destroy the curriculum.
Our family recently made the decision not to reenroll our daughter at Brearley for the 2021-22 school year. She has been at Brearley for seven years, beginning in kindergarten. In short, we no longer believe that Brearley's administration and Board of Trustees have any of our children's best interests at heart. Moreover, we no longer have confidence that our daughter will receive the quality of education necessary to further her development into a critically thinking, responsible, enlightened, and civic minded adult. I write to you, as a fellow parent, to share our reasons for leaving the Brearley community but also to urge you to act before the damage to the school, to its community, and to your own child's education is irreparable.
It cannot be stated strongly enough that Brearley's obsession with race must stop. It should be abundantly clear to any thinking parent that Brearley has completely lost its way. The administration and the Board of Trustees have displayed a cowardly and appalling lack of leadership by appeasing an anti-intellectual, illiberal mob, and then allowing the school to be captured by that same mob....
I cannot tolerate a school that not only judges my daughter by the color of her skin, but encourages and instructs her to prejudge others by theirs. By viewing every element of education, every aspect of history, and every facet of society through the lens of skin color and race, we are desecrating the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and utterly violating the movement for which such civil rights leaders believed, fought, and died....
Over the past several months, I have personally spoken to many Brearley parents as well as parents of children at peer institutions. It is abundantly clear that the majority of parents believe that Brearley's antiracism policies are misguided, divisive, counterproductive and cancerous. Many believe, as I do, that these policies will ultimately destroy what was until recently, a wonderful educational institution. But as I am sure will come as no surprise to you, given the insidious cancel culture that has of late permeated our society, most parents are too fearful to speak up.
But speak up you must. There is strength in numbers and I assure you, the numbers are there.
There's that silent majority again.
There is a reason the rebellion against wokism will start here, because for those of us in the educated "meritocracy" there is nothing more important than our children's education and giving our kids as good a start in life as possible. Mess with that at your peril.
The Brearley parent's letter objects, in part, to "the gutting of the history, civics, and classical literature curriculums"—the attack on Beethoven and Shakespeare that I've been warning against. So I was surprised to find a spirited defense of the classics from...Cornel West? I remember him as a leftist firebrand from back in the day, but he is a more old-fashioned style of leftist, and he has co-written an impassioned critique of a plan to break up the Classics Department at the nation's leading historically black college.
Upon learning to read while enslaved, Frederick Douglass began his great journey of emancipation, as such journeys always begin, in the mind. Defying unjust laws, he read in secret, empowered by the wisdom of contemporaries and classics alike to think as a free man. Douglass risked mockery, abuse, beating and even death to study the likes of Socrates, Cato, and Cicero.
Long after Douglass's encounters with these ancient thinkers, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. would be similarly galvanized by his reading in the classics as a young seminarian—he mentions Socrates three times in his 1963 "Letter From Birmingham Jail."
Yet today, one of America's greatest black institutions, Howard University, is diminishing the light of wisdom and truth that inspired Douglass, King, and countless other freedom fighters. Amid a move for educational "prioritization," Howard University is dissolving its classics department....
Academia's continual campaign to disregard or neglect the classics is a sign of spiritual decay, moral decline, and a deep intellectual narrowness running amok in American culture....
Engaging with the classics and with our civilizational heritage is the means to finding our true voice. It is how we become our full selves, spiritually free and morally great.
One of the best and most unyielding black intellectuals, John McWhorter, inveighs against the implied condescension toward blacks, the soft bigotry of low expectations.
[A]s I develop a sense of how we might reverse this anti-intellectual tide of pious, self-congratulatory nonsense from depriving generations of children of true education, I have settled upon a sense that black people will have to play a major role in the pushback, and that this can only happen if we get honest about a certain obstacle to black America's doing so....
Why do so many of us accept this condescension as a compliment, almost enjoying being told we are too dumb to be truly educated, to be specific, or to be subject to genuine competition? Psychology has an answer to this question: a personal trait called the tendency for interpersonal victimhood, or an embrace of victimhood status....
However, our approach here cannot be to simply call out the syndrome and leave it there. Name-calling doesn't change people. Rather, we must focus on what a person, or a people, gain from letting go of the temptations of this victimhood mindset....
Black people, black parents, black students, must understand the nature of this victimhood mindset, the fact that we suffer from it disproportionately, and get out from under it.... We must get past the idea that for the descendants of African slaves and only us, studied defeatism is a strategy for success and contentment.
McWhorter is still puzzling out how to advance that message and rally a critical mass of black parents in support of it. But voices like his will be at the forefront of this rebellion, because it is they who can most effectively dispel the scarecrows of moral intimidation that shield woke orthodoxy.
3. National Socialism
When I rail against the left, as I must, I do it knowing that there is also a cottage industry on the right that consists of exploiting the reaction against wokeness for its own illiberal purposes.
(It sometimes also exaggerates the threat. See this fact check of a story making the rounds about how Virginia public schools were going to eliminate advanced math classes for the sake of racial "equity." This was based on a description from a county school board member in Northern Virginia, but it is now being vigorously denied by state officials. It is a little hard to tell from this fact check whether the story was bogus to begin with or whether it was a trial balloon that was shot down.)
So in response to the latest outrage of the day, we're going to get human chameleons like Marco Rubio donning their best "nationalist" protective camouflage, and using the illiberalism of the left as an excuse for the illiberalism of the right. In particular, Rubio is now promoting the idea that economic freedom must be subordinated to a "patriotism" that sound suspiciously like obedience to a conservative political agenda.
To help our corporations fulfill their patriotic role, the GOP especially enacted business-friendly policies. We kept tax rates low, slashed red tape where appropriate and limited the reach of labor unions. But somewhere along the line, corporations began prioritizing short-term financial windfalls and ruthless offshoring....
Then a culture shift followed.... Love of country, free speech, and traditional faith and other bedrock American ideals became unfashionable....
No policymaker would allow a company to dump toxic waste into a river upstream of a thriving town he is charged with governing. Yet corporate America eagerly dumps woke, toxic nonsense into our culture, and it's only gotten more destructive with time. These campaigns will be met with the same strength that any other polluter should expect.
Our nation needs a thriving private economy. And patriotic business leadership has historically underwritten the American Dream. But lawmakers who have been asleep at the wheel for too long, especially within my own party, need to wake up. America's laws should keep our nation's corporations firmly ordered to our national common good.
Rubio is hardly alone in taking this approach.
To borrow a common ironic formula: Republicans told me that if I didn't vote to re-elect Donald Trump, socialism would take over the country—and they were right! Except, of course, that it is the Republicans who are now embracing nationalist socialism, an economic system in which "America's laws keep our nation's corporations firmly ordered to our national common good."
4. The Silent Majority
If all of this has you depressed, I want you to recognize that much of what I have just covered is an internal debate among people who are highly politically engaged—which is a very different group from the general public. That's not to say that any of this is irrelevant to the general public. The uncontested absurdities of today are the accepted slogans of tomorrow, so the latest intellectual fads will eventually work their way out to everyone.
But it's important to recognize that the worst of these intellectual fads are generally unknown to the majority and thus do not have their support—and the people who claim to represent racial minorities or the working man (or regular folks out in the heartland) are usually doing so without the knowledge or authorization of those for whom they presume to speak.
So I'm going to recommend this piece as a bit of a corrective.
[T]he violence and hatred at the end of Jim Crow is best understood as the death spasm of that old way of thinking. The bigots who warned that desegregation would lead to the mixing of races and the end of their understanding of whiteness were quite right. The problem for them was that in the span of just a generation or two, folks just didn't seem to care. Gregory Williams was born to parents whose marriage would have been illegal in the Virginia of his youth. He didn't care, and neither did his white wife—his high school sweetheart from Muncie. Her parents disowned her for race mixing, but that didn't stop them from having four mixed-race children over a marriage spanning decades. But still today, bigots and the progressive proponents of race science hold fast to the idea of fixed, measurable race and ethnicity.
Demographer Richard Alba explores the phenomenon of mixing in his new book, The Great Demographic Illusion: Majority, Minority and the Expanding American Mainstream. Alba explains how the efforts to slice America into thinner and thinner demographic slices has missed the real story: Americans are intermarrying and producing multi-ethnic children at greater and greater rates. While the Census Bureau and professors of critical race theory are trying to salvage ideas about race from a century ago, Americans are going about their business. That means loving whomever they choose. One in five marriages are now between different racial groups. The children of mixed-race marriages take increasingly flexible views on their own racial identity....
White America is not getting 'replaced' and black and brown Americans are not being isolated under the strictures of a new Jim Crow. Instead, we are doing what we have always done: making ourselves new. And thank God for that.
Love, marriage, and child-rearing are the most sincere and personal decisions people make and the least susceptible to ideological posturing. So perhaps this is an indication of where the silent majority of Americans actually stands.
5. Ingenuity and Perseverance
The previous item gives us part of the bigger picture. Here's the other part: We live in an age of technological marvels.
Look just at the top science and technology news from the past week.
Oxford announced the first highly effective malaria vaccine, which will save many more lives over time than even the COVID vaccine.
Malaria is a parasitic disease transmitted through the bite of female Anopheles mosquitoes. It is both preventable and treatable, yet an estimated 435,000 people die of it each year, with the majority being children younger than five....
The African region was home to 94% of all malaria cases and deaths in 2019, according to the WHO. "Malaria is one of the leading causes of childhood mortality in Africa," said Charlemagne Ouédraogo, Burkina Faso's Minister of Health, said in the statement.
SpaceX launched a new manned mission to the International Space Station, showing how private companies are putting America back into the business of manned spaceflight.
NASA emphasizes that, in addition to giving the US a way to send astronauts to space, SpaceX offers the agency a cost-saving option. The agency expects to pay $55 million per astronaut to fly with Crew Dragon, as opposed to $86 million per astronaut to fly with the Russians. NASA last year estimated that having two private companies compete for contracts saved the agency $20 billion to $30 billion in development costs.
Yet NASA has also built up an impressive record of unmanned spaceflight, and in the last week they flew a helicopter on Mars—a small drone named Ingenuity packed away aboard the Perseverance rover.
Ingenuity and Perseverance—in those names, there is a lesson for our times and for our way forward.