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Monday, March 27, 2023

Don't Look Now, But the Far Right May Be Trying to Steal the Future

Bold political thievery gets you only so far

STEVEN DAY for Common Dreams

By Ed Hall
If you're a well-informed Republican leader, you know you have a problem. The extreme right-wing, which is really the only right-wing that exists these days, is losing the future. 

Baby boomers may still love them, but millennials and Generation Zers largely reject their agenda. Year by year, as more boomers disappear, Gen Zers, the age group Republicans do by far the worst with, are not only coming of age, but also voting in greater numbers than many expected. 

Meanwhile, while the data is somewhat mixed, recent evidence suggests millennials may actually be growing even less conservative as they age.

So, what's a political party facing this reality supposed to do? They could try making themselves more attractive to young voters. But for that to be successful they would have to be willing to alter their positions on the social and cultural issues that have made them a pariah to the young. And that is something their base, voters they can't afford to lose, will never allow.

Talk of a more moderate GOP is a pipe dream. The hate-based politics the party embraced in supporting Donald Trump (and embraced well before that in their racist southern strategy) has become a trap. The GOP is now inexorably affixed to a policy agenda that is anathema to young voters.

But before we are foolhardy enough to count the GOP out, we need to remember the secret sauce that fuels its successes—the money: billions of dollars tossed their way, spare change from America's increasingly wealthy plutocratic class.

By far the most important thing this lucre has provided right-wing politics is a series of decades-long crusades designed to fundamentally change the nation's courts and educational system, destroy unions, end, or drastically curtail, government programs such as Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, and drastically reduce the share of the tax burden assessed to the wealthy. Taken together, these interlocking crusades have already changed America in profound and troubling ways.

All of these projects share one important characteristic—a commitment to playing the long game. This isn't about winning one election, though there is money enough to fight those battles as well. No, this is nothing less than a decades-long effort by American plutocrats to change this nation in fundamental ways.

Probably the best known of these long-term-conservative projects has been the effort to remake the nation's judiciary, spearheaded by The Federalist Society. The extent of the far-right's victory in this decades-old project was demonstrated, in devastating fashion, when the Court announced the Dobbs decision, overruling Roe v. Wade.

We are discussing here, however, a different crusade—but one with the potential to be every bit as impactful.

As we have seen, the right is losing the future politically. They are also extremely unlikely to modify their positions enough to win over young voters. They are not, however, without remedy. They may not be able to win the future, but that doesn't mean they won't try to steal it. 

Audacious political thievery is, after all, one of the GOP's modern-calling cards. Year after year, they've been stealing elections through vote suppression and extreme gerrymandering.

In 2020, they came within a whisker of successfully stealing the presidency through a multi-headed conspiracy of fake electors, efforts to suppress the vote count, false accusations of election fraud, a violent insurrection and, most remarkably, through the act of 147 Republican members of Congress in voting to overturn the will of the American people in a presidential election.

But how do you steal the future? If you're playing the long game, and you don't like the voters the future is likely to produce, you can try growing different ones. What follows includes speculation. But it's informed speculation that makes sense based upon established fact. 

Think about how you would proceed if you had almost limitless resources and wanted to change the political vision of future voters. You would want to gain control of the institutions that will influence their worldview. And if we set aside parents and friends, the biggest such influence is their schools.

And, sure enough, a right-wing effort to seize control of education in America is underway. Step one is the destruction of the public school system. Destroying public education advances a number of right-wing goals, including damaging public unions and decreasing the role of government.

But it will also redirect students to private academies, many of which are operated by conservative-religious organizations and for-profit corporations, most of which will be happy to push conservative views. And these institutions can be expected to explode in size and number as more public money becomes available to private schools.

When viewed from this perspective, actions of the political right that were previously bewildering start to make sense. 

The list is long—advocating public funding of private schools while starving the public school system, supporting private charter schools, book banning in schools, shoveling massive amounts of cash to right wing-candidates in local school board races, overstating deficiencies in public education, disruption of school board meetings, politically motivated criticism of individual public school teachers, a fake dispute over Critical Race Theory, increased corporatization of public schools and universities, and complaints over teaching history on topics “likely to disturb children,” such as slavery.

The pattern is inescapable. Public funding of private schools, including charter schools, doesn't just pump money into right-wing-educational academies. It also takes funding away from public schools, thereby degrading their quality. 

Ginning up fake controversies about CRT and teaching children about slavery, in addition to becoming GOP talking points, play into the picture they are trying to paint of public schools as scary places where liberals are trying to brainwash their children.

Similarly, the constant disparagement of the quality of public education works to reduce its public support, while the growing trend of corporatizing public schools bolsters the goal of limiting teaching to vocational skills, while undercutting the traditional role of the public school in providing future governing generations with the knowledge they need to grow into informed citizens of a democracy. 

Right-wing billionaires dump big money into school board races in order to elect people that favor privatizing public schools, and on and on.

Public education is under attack, and we have a good idea why.

If we lose this battle and comprehensive public education is allowed to wither and die, America is unlikely to ever see it here again.

It's time to start defending the public school system as though the future depends on it, because it does.

STEVEN DAY  practices law in Wichita, Kansas and is the author of The Patriot's Grill, a novel about a future America in which democracy no longer exists but might still return.