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Democrat Follies, Autocrats on the Rise, and Rethinking My Own Follies

There has been some interesting reporting about the use of "Latinx" to describe people in the U.S. who trace their roots to Latin America and Spain. The term is fashionable in progressive circles as a gender-neutral, pan-ethnic label. NPR listeners will be familiar with it. Democrats are increasingly using it in efforts to reach out to Latino voters (Caputo, Rodriguez, Democrats fall flat).

A poll conducted by the Pew Research Center in December 2019 found that "only 23% of U.S. adults who self-identify as Hispanic or Latino have heard of the term Latinx, and just 3% say they use it to describe themselves." Moreover,

A majority (61%) say they prefer Hispanic to describe the Hispanic or Latino population in the U.S., and 29% say they prefer Latino. Meanwhile, just 4% say they prefer Latinx to describe the Hispanic or Latino population. (Noe-Bustamante, et al., About One-in-Four U.S. Hispanics)

Marc Caputo and Sabrina Rodriguez at Politico note other findings that are more problematic for Democrats: "40 percent said Latinx bothers or offends them to some degree and 30 percent said they would be less likely to support a politician or organization that uses the term."

The term is not fashionable with Ruben Gallego, Democratic congressman from Arizona. When asked how Democrats as a party can improve their work with the Latino community across the country, more than a few of whom have taken to voting Republican, Gallego responded, "First start by not using the term Latinx. Second we have to be in front of them year round not just election years. That is what we did in AZ."

He issued this tweet in response to the Politico article: “To be clear my office is not allowed to use 'Latinx' in official communications. When Latino politicos use the term it is largely to appease white rich progressives who think that is the term we use. It is a vicious circle of confirmation bias."

Gallego is First Vice Chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, Vice Chair and Tribal Liaison of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, and Vice Chair of the LGBT Equality Caucus. Hard to dismiss him as just another damn centrist.

There is a generational divide. The term is more popular with younger, college educated Latinos. Language changes. "Latinx" may one day become the generally accepted designation. For the present Democrats are impaling themselves on the pike of sophomoric progressivism. Again. This only benefits Republicans.

Anne Applebaum is one of my favorite writers at The Atlantic (also a contributor to The New York Review of Books, to which I have been a subscriber since my twenties). Applebaum has a sobering article featured as cover story in the December issue of the magazine. The title says it all: The Autocrats Are Winning (this is the headline in the print edition; online version is "The Bad Guys Are Winning." To further befuddle your oft humbled scribe, the URL slug for the online version is "the-autocrats-are-winning" while "Autocracy's Winning" shows up on the Firefox tab for that page. Wonder why they do that. Ah, but I digress.)

One can remain wary of international adventurism and still agree with Applebaum when she writes that the Biden agenda of “defending against authoritarianism, fighting corruption, and promoting respect for human rights" will require asking hard questions and making big decisions.

The threat comes from at home as well as from abroad.

[t]he centrality of democracy to American foreign policy has been declining for many years—at about the same pace, perhaps not coincidentally, as the decline of respect for democracy in America itself. The Trump presidency was a four-year display of contempt not just for the American political process, but for America’s historic democratic allies, whom he singled out for abuse.

Applebaum lays out ways in which autocratic regimes support one another. Dissidents in Belarus, Venezuela, Hong Kong, Burma, Cuba, and Iran "are in fact fighting multiple autocrats in multiple countries":

they are fighting against people who control state companies and can make investment decisions worth billions of dollars for purely political reasons. They are fighting against people who can buy sophisticated surveillance technology from China or bots from St. Petersburg. Above all, they are fighting against people who have inured themselves to the feelings and opinions of their countrymen, as well as the feelings and opinions of everybody else. Because Autocracy Inc. grants its members not only money and security, but also something less tangible and yet just as important: impunity.

Her concluding paragraph articulates the context for those hard questions and big decisions.

Incorrectly identifying the promotion of democracy around the world with "forever wars," they fail to understand the brutality of the zero-sum competition now unfolding in front of us. Nature abhors a vacuum, and so does geopolitics. If America removes the promotion of democracy from its foreign policy, if America ceases to interest itself in the fate of other democracies and democratic movements, then autocracies will quickly take our place as sources of influence, funding, and ideas. If Americans, together with our allies, fail to fight the habits and practices of autocracy abroad, we will encounter them at home; indeed, they are already here. If Americans don’t help to hold murderous regimes to account, those regimes will retain their sense of impunity. They will continue to steal, blackmail, torture, and intimidate, inside their countries—and inside ours.

Applebaum has taken heat for her support of the invasion of Iraq, whose shadow hangs over her analysis. The question remains, as my old French teacher Marie Laure put it, so whatcha gon' do? I would like to know how she views the knee-jerk hardliner response to provocations, think of Sen. Tom Cotton: send in the Rangers, or the drones, missiles, bombs, etc. Think too of the American tradition dating back at least to the Cold War and probably before that of climbing into bed with any two-bit tyrant or scoundrel who claims to be the enemy of our enemy, or whose policies benefit American multinational companies. Applebaum's appeal to the centrality of democracy in American foreign policy is noble, but it neglects the influence of wealth and power, which too many times have used idealistic goals as cover to advance their own interests.

Nor does she get into the challenge of promoting democracy in countries and cultures that do not have democratic traditions that underlie the imperfectly realized democracies of Western Europe and the U.S. These traditions are under assault not just by authoritarians foreign and domestic but also by the usual suspects on the left, where key elements are rejected as Eurocentric, imperialist, White ideology.

For all that, this is a fine article that hits the mark on many points. Applebaum's warnings and call to action are well-taken. What gives me pause is the door they open to military adventurism and manipulation by powerful private actors. Much hangs on the answers we come up with for the hard questions and the substance of the big decisions. And to fortune.

I began to rethink an assertion I have echoed on occasion to the effect that critical race theory is an academic framework taught in law schools and graduate seminars but not in primary and secondary schools before I picked up the book Critical Race Theory: An Introduction by Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic. Delgado and Stefanic reinforced my reassessment that while the statement is true in some narrow, strict sense it is wrong in respects that matter, at best unwittingly misleading, at worst used disingenuously to deflect legitimate critique of critical race theory much as rhetoric about largely peaceful protests has been used to turn away from examination of property destruction and violence occurring in conjunction with those protests.

Critical race theory is as far as I know not taught as a subject on its own or as a topic in history, government, or civics courses in primary and secondary education. But the ideas and principles of critical race theory have made their way into the fields of education, diversity training, and mainstream journalism. Per Delgado and Stefancic,

Today, many scholars in the field of education consider themselves critical race theorists who use CRT's ideas to understand issues of school discipline and hierarchy, tracking, affirmative action, high-stakes testing, controversies over curriculum and history, bilingual and multicultural education, and alternative charter schools…

It would be naïve to think that propositions put forward by critical race theorists have not made their way into the classroom. I think it is a reasonable presumption that many teachers act in good faith to recognize and take into account challenges and issues dealt with by students whose backgrounds are different from their own by virtue of race, ethnicity, etc., without getting into contentious claims found in critical race theory. The same holds for teaching about the role of slavery and race in American history. At the same time, the present-day environment being what it is, there is more than fair likelihood that some teachers are parroting talking points derived from critical race theory, Ibram Kendi's antiracism doctrine, and the 1619 Project's narrative of American history that reasonable people and scholars in the respective fields find highly questionable, to say the least. More anon.

Memo from the Editorial Desk: Minor, nonsubstantive changes were made in the first paragraph of the section about critical race theory after this piece was published.


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