In the 1980s, America thought Satanists were everywhere. They thought there were hidden lyrics in rock songs telling teenagers to kill themselves. They believed with all their hearts that there were rings of Satanists molesting children, and they even put innocent people on trial for these completely imagined crimes.
It was called “satanic panic” and there was no reality to it. I even ran into it myself as a kid in the 1980s when my late mother had very real worries and concerns that I was reading a sword and sorcery “Dungeons & Dragons” style book and she had heard through the grapevine that Satanists were using materials like that to recruit kids. She wasn’t alone. It was a thing.
Flash forward to 2021 and millions of Americans are now gripped with hysteria that their children are the target of an evil, insidious thing that is creeping into their schools and homes.
It’s called “critical race theory” and the truth behind the hysteria is that it is as fake as satanic panic, but potentially far more destructive to American life.
Conservatives Are Obsessed With Critical Race Theory
Critical race theory is having a moment. To listen to Republican politicians and conservative pundits and their affiliated media like Fox News, the New York Post, Newsmax, the Daily Caller and hundreds of others, you would think critical race theory is everywhere.
Republican governors with presidential aspirations like Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem mention repeatedly that they are fighting against critical race theory. Republicans in Congress are organizing letters against critical race theory and proposing legislation that would purportedly stop funding of education based on the obscure academic terminology.
Critical race theory is under the bed, its inside your kindergartner’s classroom, it’s sleeping with your spouse, it’s why your lunch doesn’t taste good and why you forgot your grandmother’s birthday. At least it is if you listen to the right.
As a result of this hysteria, which has been building for about two years now, critical race theory will definitely be a major rallying cry among conservative voters and Republicans will try to outdo each other in proving how against it they are.
What Is Critical Race Theory?
The real critical race theory is an intensely academic subject, usually bantered about at the college level in discussions about the long-term effects and causes of systemic racism. It is the kind of thing that is important and worthy of serious academic study, debate, and investigation.
What it isn’t is something that is being taught to grade school, middle school, or high school age children. Sixth grade teachers are not, frankly, being given critical race theory talking points to be included as their lesson plans.
It just isn’t happening. Unfortunately, as is so frequently the case in dealing with the conservative movement in America, real facts do not matter.
What Do Conservatives Think Critical Race Theory Is?
Conservatives are being told on a nearly hourly basis that “critical race theory” is coming for their children. Fueled largely by segment after segment on Fox News, they are being propagandized to that liberals cooked up a twisted vision of America, where all white people are told they are guilty of all racial crimes throughout American history, and that they must submit to the superiority of Blacks.
They are also being told that critical race theory is one tentacle in a wide-ranging Marxist plot to undermine the capitalist system. It’s a new riff on paranoid ranting on fluoridation and precious bodily fluids.
This is what they are being told. This is why they are panicking. They are being told that their traditional view of the world, which often involves a fairy tale version of racial harmony, or more honestly of “polite” white superiority, is being undermined by an amorphous blob of “the left.”
The made-up child abuse “rings” of the 1980s have been replaced in the collective conservative imagination with roving bands of antifa-loving leftists who are screaming and howling at their white children, telling them to feel guilty and ashamed of their whiteness and to bow down to blacks.
They are being told this over and over and over. The frequency of this story has now convinced millions of people that this is one of the biggest threats to their lives, on par with real things like the virus, climate change, and terrorism.
Why Conservatives Believe Fox’s Lies About Critical Race Theory
But if it isn’t real, why do conservatives believe it? We collectively experienced a similar phenomenon in 2020 when Donald Trump and other Republicans would speak about cities being on fire and burned down by antifa.
To this day, Republicans still speak about cities like Portland and Seattle as if anarchists had burned them to the ground and that they now only exist as Mad Max-style wastelands. Republican leaders like Kevin McCarthy and Mitch McConnell recently invoked these supposed mass casualty events as justification for their opposition to an investigation of the Capitol attack. To hear them tell it, the “other side” of the Trump fans storming the Capitol was purportedly pro-Biden antifa agents who laid waste to cities and ran occupied zones like the “Chaz.”
Conservatives believe in these sorts of myths because they have been primed for over six decades to believe any and everything about the left.
Today’s conservative movement has roots in the 1960s brand of conservatism, first expressed on the national stage with the disastrous campaign of Barry Goldwater in 1964. The movement eventually overtook the entire party and has been behind successful presidential campaigns like Reagan, both Bushes, and Trump as well as practically every Republican elected official in the country now.
The “paranoid style” of that movement’s mindset is inherently conspiratorial. They are regularly told by their leaders and media that wily liberals are crafting all manner of plots against them, designed to undermine their traditional way of life.
The critical race theory hysteria plugs into that framework perfectly. It uses a relatively obscure academic term to tell conservatives that Blacks, who they are always quite terrified of, are up to their “tricks” again, trying to take away what they believe they and their predecessors have earned.
They are told that this is an all-out assault, involving institutions they have been instructed to fear, like the “liberal” New York Times who published the 1619 Project to discuss more centrally the role and effect of racism. That the project was led by a Black woman, journalist Nikole Hannah Jones, ticks many of the check boxes for a right-wing boogeyman.
After all these years, Fox News and their cohorts need only to paint the very vague outlines of a conspiratorial plot to get conservative viewers to buy in to the point where they’re descending to their bunkers in fear of critical race theory.
Why Fox News Is Talking About Critical Race Theory
Fox News does this because it works, and campaigns like this are the point of Fox News. Conceived of by former Richard Nixon aide and serial abuser of women Roger Ailes, Fox News was designed to constantly engage conservative voters in a state of fear and anger so they reliably vote for Republicans at the ballot box.
Not every campaign like this from Fox News works. Before the 2018 midterm election, Fox went crazy with the idea of caravans of Latino immigrants rocketing from the south toward the U.S.-Mexico border. Viewers were essentially told that they had to keep this invading force at bay by keeping Congress in the hands of Republicans or else Democrats would – somehow – allow the caravans through and destroy America As We Know It.
After Democrats won the House and Nancy Pelosi became Speaker again, the caravan talk essentially disappeared. It was on to the next smear campaign, as if the last one had never happened.
Now it’s critical race theory, which is one of a series of ideas the network has thrown against the wall hoping for something to “stick” in the minds of its viewers as it fumbles for something to throw at President Joe Biden and Democrats. It’s tough, because Biden is popular and Fox has yet to truly latch on to a narrative about him that works (they struggled for eight years to really find one with President Obama too).
Right now, even if it doesn’t become their lead line of attack, the critical race theory hysteria campaign looks to be a significant part of the campaign, at the very least. It’s just another thing for Fox News to lie about (and why liberals, Democrats, progressives, and sane people shouldn’t go on the network).
What Can Be Done?
The bad news is that the conservative people who believe in this hysteria with all of their hearts are beyond help. It is too late to convince them that this is not real and that they and their families are under no threat.
I say this because I understand the progressive mindset does not want to accept this state of things. Liberals like to help, and they often believe if people just receive more information, it can disabuse them of their most harmful notions.
The mindset is that fact checks and debunking and “education” can set these people on the right path. It’s a goodhearted ideal and in the best world this would do the trick. The lure of someone suddenly “snapping out” of their delusion is strong.
But it is a pipe dream. You aren’t going to convince the people who believe China intentionally created a bioweapon to elect Biden, that Trump is fighting child abuse networks run by the Deep State, that Barack Obama was a Kenyan agent of socialism, that this is not true.
So as far as turning back the tide among the diehards, I would suggest people give up on that notion.
But all is not lost.
Progressively inclined people should be aware of this campaign, what it looks like, and who is behind it, educating other likeminded people of where it comes from and what the stakes are. They should share with each other stories exposing it, mocking it, and the like, so people who are engaged or who might not yet be engaged, see a looming threat.
This will motivate people to be politically active against this made-up panic, to reject local and statewide and national initiatives organized by the right to elevate this nonsense.
At the same time, we should elevate the very real threats and scandals on the right, that do not need made-up conspiracies behind them to strike fear into collective hearts. For instance, the conservative belief that the safety net must be cut, and vulnerable people be subject to harm as a result is a very real thing, it is happening, and has already hurt more people than critical race theory ever will.
Spread that message, share that idea, and be aware of the utter stupidity and demonization conservatives – via Fox News – are panicking Americans about.