I want to consider the Wednesday podcast, with Charlie talking with Mona Charen (Nov. 3, 2021).
In their opening discussion, centered on issues of education as it was a voter/wedge issue in the Tuesday Virginia elections, Charlie Sykes and Mona Charen pointed to a real wedge issue that came out in newly governor elect Glen Youngkin was education. In particular, the ways that attempts to push hard to make things more equitable over equal in the education environment is having the unintentional consequence of creating fear and consternation among parents. It is also an issue that Youngkin targeted while his opponent Terry McAuliffe was flippant really did nothing to sway the concerns of parent voters in the state. Now, I am not against the need for greater equity, diversity, etc. in terms of education, but you have to meet people where they are, talk to them, persuade them, and win them over. Just because you believe in something does, I repeat, DOES NOT, make it self-evident. To believe it is self-evident is to in many ways, one that Democrats are good at, to lose.
It was fascinating to me how Charlie and Mona pointed out that it appeared many progressive ideas (I am one of those people who has progressive ideas, though I realize that much more needs to be done to argue for those positions than it is at current) are being implemented in a manner that though with good intentions are having terrible outcomes. The ideas of equity and diversity, needed yes, are taking on an outsized role in continuing a trend that is pulling down, dumbing down the education environment in a way, particularly in public schools, which is actually hurting our kids.
As an educator myself, I am not a fan of massive testing, there is way way too much of it. That being said, I do not think we can go without the need for standards, ways to evaluate them, and recognize that outside forces/entities/etc. are going to be looking for them. We have to prepare are kids to succeed in the world, all of them, and to do so there is a need to find the balance that will allow us to move forward. Generally, we believe in a meritocratic approach to education. Now, this should be open to all and we should want to promote all students to engage with and find their skills to move up in the world.
It is not a simple problem with simple answers, it is complex one that needs more rigorous, open, and nuanced discussion. This is something harder and harder to do these days than ever unfortunately.
The problem, in short, as I see it is that our approach is wrong, we are coming at the issue from the wrong direction. Of course, this can be discussed on this and should be but not here. The problem of course is we are addressing symptoms rather than causes. The cause of the problem is not the schools alone but the environment and inequity outside of it. If we only address the curriculum and the schools, we are not doing enough to really fight the problem without doing damage to one or another set of students as a consequence. We need to address and find ways to tackle more of those outside problems by helping students come to a better environment with a better support system for them. By doing things like this (more filled out with detail from the input of professionals and parents alike) we can really truly help students rise up WITHOUT limiting others along the way.
Charlie and Mona, working off Youngkin’s victory speech saw this. What I have offered here is a potential idea for how it could move forward because this was something that played a prominent role in the outcomes of the VA governor’s race and should be examined more because it is also a national issue too.
The conversation continued and moved along with the idea of how progressives messaged (democrats in general are really bad at it) and it was fair criticism. Yes, both Charlie and Mona come from a more right leaning view, more conservative view, but that outside lens is how you get past information and perception bubbles. It is GOOD thing.
Both acknowledged that progressives want what is good for the majority in this country, they are not acting from a bad place or one of bad faith, but they are not recognizing a real danger that exists in the right now. The threat comes from elements formerly of the far-right politically who have come to control the majority of one of the two major political parties in this country: the Republicans or GOP. The rhetoric and actions controlling much of the GOP today is pushing against democracy, actively engaging in behavior that could destroy democracy and do it with applause. The obsession, one shared in part of the far left too, are obsessed around purity tests and dogmatic obsessions that are not all tethered to reality. In particular, for the GOP, it is becoming all but an article of faith to declare that the 2020 presidential election was stolen and that Donald Trump, who lost, was somehow done away with through theft. It is not true and there is no evidence to support it but many national GOP leaders and members either conform and accept it, preach it even, or they evade the question, or they are bullied by threats to them and their families into retiring. This is not how we should want our country to be.
Charlie and Mona suggested that the progressive message is not reaching the maximum number of people it needs to keep our country as a democratic republic because they fail to make a real case for persuading people. Instead, they seem to rely on a view of the world that they want to exist and ignore the reality of what is going on right now for people in America. Don’t tell people all the awesome things you are going to do, tell them how those things will help them, lift them up, they need to get better at messaging the good otherwise the conversation media is waiting to just simply label is socialism. True, no, but its effective when you have everyone pulling the oars in the same direction chanting it out.
The real right now is about preserving voting and fighting the illiberal threats to democracy. Both left and right are guilty of illiberalism but the right is actively engaging in efforts to white wash Jan. 6 and the events there, to try and “memory hole” their illiberalism. Under the guise of preserving “voter integrity” GOP controlled state legislators are passing laws to suppress voting rights and undermine democracy through partisan gerrymandering (both parties guilty) and other methods that only further polarize this country to our detriment.
To reach the maximum audience, and as a rhetorician I agree and recognize it, progressives and democrats together need to engage in persuasion because there are reachable, persuadable, swing voters out there despite what pundits will say about it. Elections are won on the margins and progressives and democrats need to trim things down, make the ideas more accessible to people to understand and appeal to them. GOP is keeping voters through fear and gut feelings and Democrats are losing voters through self-evident assumptions and thinking everyday people care about policies: it is exactly this strategy that helped doom Clinton in 2016. They need to appeal to not only college educated but non-college educated people in America, to minorities and whites alike. They need to engage in better messaging to reach people and NOT write them off. The situation is dire and serious and should be handled better.
And when it comes to addressing those people out there in the country, people who voted for Obama and then Trump and who did so because they wanted someone to “do something” for them for once, Democrats needs to realize that racism is a problem in some cases, but like anything, it is NOT always the only reason. In fact, the majority of it is not really about racism but FEAR. Fear is a powerful motivator. Racism can be and is often a byproduct of fear but many in the media pundit class, who aim for overly simplistic ideas and concepts, assume it’s just racism instead of actually looking at the nuances, reasons, and causes that are actually at work.
As they say: Elections have consequences. Those consequences need to mean that one looks more closely at their assumptions, look at the results, and find out where you can do better. It should NOT be chalked up to imaginary slogans of “it was stolen” or “we didn’t turn out enough of ‘our’ people” but instead it should be the realization that we did not address our audience where they were. It should be a call to self-examine, and to do better.
Charlie and Mona’s conversation particularly made me think about how one should handle when the opposition lies or exaggerates, and this was again in the discussion of the VA governor’s race where the Republican won. It is NOT enough to say they lied (think about Trump here too), but it needs to be an opportunity for the opponent to build something instead. Rather than be like my Congressional representative Joe Wilson (R-SC) did during one of former-President Barak Obama’s State-of-the-Union speeches and shout out: “You lie!”, we need to address the truth that the lie plays off or obfuscates (because it is playing on the emotions of the audience whether really connected to reality or not those who believe “feel” it is true).
One should be able to address it, puncture it succinctly, and then redirect the audience to a more positive future that is on the offer in counter (go read Mark Antony’s funereal speech in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar). People, acting in fear or not, deep down want a more positive future. Fear is a tool to scare people and have the one stoking it be able to say to them: “I will protect you” or “I will fix it for you” or “Only I can fix it.” They do this to manipulate the audience and to win the people over without presenting any real vision for a better future. It is an empty promise. The only way to stop fear or fight fear is to confront it.
This means, for the Democrats, the realization that Trump is no longer president and stop relying on his presence to be a turnout driving tool. When he is not on the ballet, to rely on him as a bogeyman for turnout is a terrible idea. Now, Trumpism is still a threat. It needs to be fought because what it has to offer is NOT what America wants to be deep down. It may be what America was but we do not need to live in the past. But if the Democratic Party cannot get their act together and work harder, having to do the work of two parties because much of the Republican party is either for Trumpism, indifferent of it, or afraid of it, then the power will be given to people who would rather stick their head in the ground if not actively cheerlead ideas and conceptions that will undermine America forever.
The simple message for the Democratic Party: do better, show that you can govern competently, fairly, and ethically for ALL the American people because they are watching and if you don’t show them that you can do it, they will turn against democracy and those who support and believe in it.
To do this on a basic level, Democrats need to realize that they can walk and chew gum at the same time. They need, as the one major political party trying govern and preserve democracy (as of right now) on a national level, to talk about the kitchen table issues that affect people every day as Charlie and Mona noted like gas prices, grocery bills, children’s education, etc.. This is not to say they cannot continue to address the major issues facing this nation too, like the January 6th insurrection and continued cover-up/lying about it, voting rights and access to democracy, police reform, etc..
Finally, Charlie and Mona, noting how they wondered if the cruelty of our world was a sign of them being old or not, discussing Mona’s misfortune of her basement flooding with sewage and how people on Twitter being generally supportive but with some being absolutely terrible (that’s social media for you). It is a reminder that this world needs more human decency and we need to show it, to show empathy for our fellow man and woman and just fellow Americans in general.
Human decency and how we treat each other is in desperate need of improvement in our nation because in our current landscapes it has gotten particularly worse over the last five or six years in particular. The ability to treat our fellow human beings as human beings is horrendous and honestly social media brings out the worst in all of us I think. We should work against this. It starts with each of us.
BA in History from Northwestern State, MA in English from Northwestern State, and PhD in Rhetoric from Texas Woman's University. Big into comic books and visual rhetoric. Assistant Professor of English at Claflin University, Orangeburg, SC.
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