Are you terrified by “critical race theory.” Is America on the verge of “socialism.” Is “The Squad” ready to take over? Is everyone around you “woke” and hiding the truth about the “lab leak” origin of coronavirus?
If so, you’re likely lost in the echo chamber of conservative media, the hall of mirrors created by Fox News, Brietbart, San Diego’s One America News, Newsmax and the rest.
In an effort to keep their loyal readers and viewers seething with anger and resentment, these outlets have created semantic dog whistles that have little connection with traditional conservative philosophy, let alone reality.
Take socialism. This was a theory of political economics that called for public ownership of property — especially farms, mines and factories. It peaked a century ago before and after World War II. Both the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany were officially socialist, the former more so than the later. Even the United Kingdom embraced the idea, with the government nationalizing steel and auto companies after the war.
Socialism has been written off as a failure by most economists and politicians, even if Sen. Bernie Sanders still speaks wistfully of the idea. But nobody in the mainstream wants to make the United States a socialist country. And none of President Biden’s programs seek to have government take over private business. His big spending bills may be wasteful, but they aren’t socialism.
While socialism is a well-defined economic concept, critical race theory is an arcane, university-level academic framework for studying race in the United States. It arose in the 1970s in the aftermath of the civil rights movement as a way to understand continuing racial inequality.
It’s not something to teach, but a technique for analyzing and understanding. It’s not appropriate for middle- and high-school classrooms, and it’s not clear that any American schools are applying critical race theory or in danger of doing so.
Consider this headline on Monday from FoxNews.com that proves the point: “Loudoun parent on fight against critical race theory: School board ‘is playing word games.'” The article concerns a supposed battle in the Washington, DC, suburb of Loudoun County, VA, regarding teaching about race. The word game is actually being played by Fox in making an issue out of critical race theory.
In many ways, the outcry over critical race theory is similar to the one over the supposed use of fundamentalist Islamic Sharia law in America a decade ago. Sharia law wasn’t and can’t be used in America (the Constitution precludes any law based on a specific religion), but conservative media sought to scare just in case.
The Sharia law bugaboo is a segue to The Squad, four female members of the House of Representatives. The four young women represent youth, progressive politics and ethnic diversity. To Fox News’ predominantly older, white Americans the four may well be perceived as something of a threat to the old order. But four out of 525 members of Congress do not make a progressive takeover.
Then there’s the supposed leak of coronavirus from a lab in China. The specific question is whether the deadly virus was cultured and identified in a lab and then released in error. But the “lab leak” buzz phrase implies to most viewers that the Chinese created the virus.
Way back in March 2020, the scientists at renowned Scripps Research in La Jolla analyzed the virus’ DNA and concluded it evolved naturally. Maybe the Chinese did have samples in a lab, and maybe some leaked, but so what? This naturally evolved virus was already spreading in the environment.
All of these conservative media semantics are connected to the concept of “woke.” If you’re woke, then according to Fox News you support socialism and critical race theory, back The Squad, and don’t blame China for the virus. And if you’re not woke, the prospect of the country becoming so must be terrifying.
According to conservative media, even the U.S. military is becoming woke, with Fox News’ host Tucker Carlson taking the point in criticizing top generals for applying racial sensitivity in an armed force that is over 40% minority. “U.S. military has gone full woke,” he said in March. “The Pentagon is now the Yale faculty lounge with cruise missiles.”
But it’s all just buzzwords and phrases, devoid of meaning. America isn’t becoming socialist, critical race theory isn’t being taught in public schools, The Squad is colorful but not all powerful, a lab leak is irrelevant and everybody isn’t becoming woke — whatever that buzzword really means.
But if you’re inside the conservative media hall of mirrors, even your own reflection is scary.
Chris Jennewein is editor and publisher of Times of San Diego.