America and China are engaged in an epic struggle and the wholesale embrace of critical race theory by American universities, media and corporate leaders plays into Beijing’s hand.
All require President Joe Biden’s effort to build a Western alliance, but China can boast its autocratic capitalism delivers social order, stronger economic growth and prosperity. And it can exploit the narrative that America is deviled by structural racism, as a powerful defense against U.S. moralizing about Beijing’s human rights abuses.
The COVID vaccines demonstrated the American system can deliver quickly in a crisis but lacking a wolf at the door, getting things done in our democracy often takes years instead of months as in China. Americans bicker in the courts and Congress and on social media and cable networks.
Spirited debate is how democracies find pragmatic solutions, but obstructionism is too often resolved by spending too much to obtain too little—consider the high cost of building a subway station in New York.
Granted, the American Revolution was not primarily fought to elevate Enlightenment ideals to practical application, but neither was it to institutionalize slavery.
George Washington led his colonial army in the French and Indian War (1753-1763) anticipating great wealth through western expansion. That conflict was part of a global contest between Britain and France that left Britain victorious but its government deeply in debt. London needed to limit the financial burden of colonial defense through taxes (Sugar Act, 1764) and halting western expansion (Proclamation of 1763).
Visions of wealth
Americans felt violated and stifled. Polemics about liberty, inspired by the European Enlightenment, may have cultivated the imagination of intellectuals like Thomas Jefferson and idealists like Patrick Henry, but visions of wealth in the Ohio motivated George Washington.
From the rubble came a debt to liberal ideals and by practical necessity the Bill of Rights and ordinary citizens’ claim on government to serve their freedom and prosperity not that of a hereditary aristocracy.
The Revolution created the national myth of freedom and equality—that America increasingly accomplishes. In the words of Hoover Institute fellow Ayaan Hirsi Ali—a black raised in Africa and the Middle East and who came here via the Netherlands— “America is the best place on the planet to be black, female, gay, trans…”
Ignoring all this, the 1619 Project provides a false scaffolding for the CRT.
CRT implies that all social ills should be analyzed through the prism of race, and implies all black disappointments have a white racist origin. No amount of affirmative action or other government remedy can resolve systemic racism. It requires not just American governance and business be reformed but that racial analysis be a constant chorus to all national discussions and that all social policies be engineered to redress discrimination.
Encouragement is needed in classroom
Anyone who has labored in the classroom knows adolescents have many distractions. We will always have great men and women who found their calling as children—Clarence Thomas and Greta Thunberg—but systematic encouragement is more generally required to accomplish the most desired characteristics of tolerance, self-reliance and accountability.
The victimization cult CRT begets robs black youth of the necessity to become fully formed adults. It can alienate black youth, creating a deep disaffection and sense of “not belonging” in a society that does indeed value their contributions large and small.
It cultivates an entitlements culture that serves to encourage the worst racial prejudices of the 18th and 19th centuries and most insidious outcomes of the 20th Century.
Consider the white accountant whose son is denied admission to an elite Boston high school to satisfy racial goals. Will he hire a black contractor to paint his house?
Too many of our resources are devoted to implicit racial quotas that the Biden Administration now seeks to embed in all aspects of public policy—from support for farmers and small businesses to appointments to the National Academy of Sciences.
Worse, the American Federation of Teachers and National Association of Education have gone woke. And CRT is under attack by state legislators who realize left unchecked its venom will create a disaffected generation and a nation without a mission.
We can’t claim the high moral ground in competition with China and lead a Western alliance obsessed by false demons.
Peter Morici is an economist and emeritus business professor at the University of Maryland, and a national columnist.