There was a time in America when the elimination of racism in our society, root and branch, was a bipartisan imperative and effort. And the New Jersey Republican Party, under the leadership of former Governor Tom Kean could take special pride in being a national leader among state Republican Parties in practicing the Politics of Inclusion, both in political campaigns and in governmental decisions and policymaking.
Even the most despised Republican president among pre-Trump Democrats, Richard Nixon maintained a strong civil rights record. Without reservation, Nixon supported the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 (public accommodations), 1965 (voting rights), and 1968 (housing). Nixon also implemented the Philadelphia Plan, a landmark effort to promote the awarding of federal contracts to African-American entrepreneurs.
The Nixon civil rights record, particularly on voting rights, stands out in stark contrast to the current Trump era Republican crusade to suppress the African-American vote. On race issues, as compared with Donald Trump, Richard Nixon qualified for sainthood. It should be noted that in the 1960 and 1972 presidential elections, Nixon’s strong civil rights record won him the endorsement of Jackie Robinson.
We are now, however, in the new era of identity politics, where political and governmental leaders decide their courses of action based upon the impact on their supportive ethnic and racial constituencies. In this new world, the national GOP and virtually all state Republican parties have written off the African-American community and have taken positions to maintain the allegiance of their legions of voters sympathetic to the notions of White Supremacy and White Privilege.
There are two battlefields on which the Republican Party is fighting its war against the African-American community: 1) voter suppression; and 2) the teaching of the doctrines of Critical Race Theory (CRT). The national avatar of the Republican Party in both anti-Black wars is no longer Donald Trump, but instead Republican Jim Crow in a suit and tie, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, the current frontrunner for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination. ( https://www.newsweek.com/ron-desantis-edges-out-trump-president-straw-poll-western-conservative-summit-1602375?amp=1)
Not since George Wallace, not even Donald Trump, has made a more blatantly racist appeal for the presidency than DeSantis. In fact, his Hollywood-style good looks and phony sophistication, cultivated by his Yale undergraduate and Harvard Law education, camouflaging his nefarious intentions make him a far more dangerous potential president than Trump.
In the words of The Godfather, DeSantis “made his bones” in the GOP anti-African-American wars by his success in enacting the most restrictive set of voting measures in the nation, with an undeniable anti-black impact. Among these provisions, inter alia, were stricter voter ID requirements for voting by mail, limits on who can pick up and return a voter’s ballot, a ban on private funding for elections, expanded partisan observation power during ballot tabulation, and additional restrictions for drop box use. He signed the bill in May during a guest appearance on Fox and Friends from which other media were barred.
The seductive polish of DeSantis qualifies him for consideration as the 21st Century version of Oswald Mosley, the leader of the British Fascists of the pre-Second World War years. Yet with his evil star quality, he has enormous appeal and fundraising potential in MAGALAND.
Given Republican gubernatorial nominee Jack Ciattarelli’s poor showing in the current polls, his tepid support in MAGALAND, as demonstrated in the primary, and his need both to arouse the Trumpist base and raise a daunting amount of money to qualify for the maximum match in the general election, he will be under pressure to invite DeSantis into New Jersey to campaign for him and help fundraise.
The result would be a disaster for Ciattarelli, who is not a racist. Yet the very appearance of DeSantis in New Jersey will pour gasoline on the fire of existing racial tensions in the state and ensure that Ciattarelli’s share of the African-American vote is limited to single digits.
The New Jersey Republican Party has shamefully and abjectly followed the national Republican trend in supporting suppression of the African-American vote. ( https://www.insidernj.com/under-new-politics-exclusion-new-jersey-republican-state-committee-suppres-black-vote/) The question is now whether New Jersey Republican gubernatorial candidate Jack Ciattarelli and the New Jersey Republican State Committee will pander to the national Republican trend, led by DeSantis, on the Critical Race Theory (CRT) issue as well.
The essence of CRT is that racism in America is SYSTEMIC; that is to say, it is not just an issue of individuals with racial prejudices. Rather, it is a matter of racism being embedded and woven into legal systems, negatively impacting people of color in their schools, medical care, the criminal justice system, and countless other parts of life, including the environment, as I have previously described.
Critical Race Theory is a most serious academic discipline. It involves in depth study and research as to how race and racism intersect with politics, culture and the law, leaving a foundation of systemic racism that does not go away, even with the diminishment of the actual number of racists in society.
The evidence of systemic racism in America is overwhelming. Education is at root a search for the truth, and any attempt to ban the study of critical race theory constitutes a flagrant violation of academic freedom and an unconscionable attempt to prevent our students, particularly at the undergraduate level, from discovering the truth.
A denial of the reality of systemic racism is the equivalent of Holocaust denial. And the ban of the study of CRT is tantamount to the burning of books that has taken place throughout history in totalitarian societies.
Contrary to false assertion, Critical Race Theory does not constitute an attempt to degrade America. In fact, the reverse is true.
CRT involves an acknowledgement that individual racism has declined in America; however, it has left behind a residue of systemic racism that continues to act as a cancer on the American body politic. And the goal of Critical Race Theory is to find cures for this disease. The DeSantis charge that “critical race theory would teach children ‘the country is rotten and that our institutions are illegitimate’ “is a vile and contemptible lie.
Nevertheless, in nearly half the states, Republican legislators have proposed bills that would even limit the teaching of such indisputable concepts as racial equity and White Privilege, some without mentioning CRT per se. Six bills banning CRT have been enacted, including in the states of Florida and Texas, among the most populous states in the nation.
Given the status of DeSantis, it is understandable that the Florida anti-CRT measures have received the most attention. And for the racists of America, the Florida governor did not disappoint. At the prompting of DeSantis, the Florida State Board of Education two weeks ago unanimously passed an amendment banning Critical Race Theory.
The amendment states topics must be “factual and objective,” and specifically prohibits “the teaching of Critical Race Theory, meaning the theory that racism is not merely the product of prejudice, but that racism is embedded in American society and its legal systems in order to uphold the supremacy of white persons.”
The amendment also bans material from the 1619 Project, a Pulitzer Prize-winning initiative by The New York Times that reframed American history around the date of August 1619, when the first slave ship arrived on America’s shores.
Support for the teaching of Critical Race Theory should be a bipartisan imperative. This DeSantis measure is a vile blot on the State of Florida and indeed upon America.
DeSantis has attempted to seek support from the Florida Jewish community by including in the measure a reaffirmation of the propriety of teaching the Holocaust in the public schools. My role in the enactment of the Holocaust Education mandate in New Jersey is a matter of public record, even outside New Jersey.
Accordingly, I fully expect to be excoriated by Jewish supporters of DeSantis, inside and outside Florida. My answer to them is simple. I will not give a license for any public official like DeSantis to engage in racist measures against the African-American community, regardless of what favorable treatment the official in question may have extended to the Jewish community.
All this begs the New Jersey question: What position will Jack Ciattarelli and the New Jersey Republican Party take on the issue of Critical Race Theory and the existence of systemic racism? This is an issue from which neither Ciattarelli nor the New Jersey Republican State Committee can run and hide.
There is one Republican from whom the reaction is totally predictable: Senator Mike Doherty, a Republican reactionary.
Doherty is an outright denier of systemic racism. He does not blame white America for the disparities Black and brown people face in health, education, housing and policing. Instead, he blames the disparities on the abandonment of African-American families by the fathers. In other words, the reaction of Doherty can be summarized in four words: Blame the black victim.
By contrast, the reaction of Jack Ciattarelli on the issues of Critical Race Study and Systemic Racism is totally unpredictable.
As l have said previously, Jack is a good and decent man who is not a racist. I honestly don’t know, however, what Ciattarelli will do regarding this issue. It depends what Ciattarelli will emerge during the next few weeks: the Ciattarelli of Primary Campaign 2017, who was a Profile in Courage in confronting the evils of Trumpism or the Jack Ciattarelli of Primary Campaign 2021, who in confronting Trump and Trumpism resembled Neville Chamberlain.
Whatever course Ciattarelli follows, his previous equivocation will contrast poorly with the record of Phil Murphy, who has been the nation’s leading social justice governor, as I have written previously:
There is another confusing factor in gauging the reaction of Ciattarelli to CRT and systemic racism. He claims that his favorite past governor was Tom Kean, the same Tom Kean of the Politics of Inclusion.
So we will soon learn which governor Jack Ciattarelli would follow on issues of racism and civil rights: Governor Tom Kean or Governor Ron DeSantis?
Alan J. Steinberg served as Regional Administrator of Region 2 EPA during the administration of former President George W. Bush and as Executive Director of the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission.