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The Modern GOP Is a ‘Radicalized, Weaponized Death Cult’ — So Why Are Dems Losing the War of Words?



On this episode of democracy-ish, writer and political commentator Wajahat Ali joins Danielle for another deep dive into GOP racist dog-whistle politics, the motivations of white voters and how the media is complicit in the whole mess.


  • As we look forward to 2022 — the year of the all-important midterm elections — we’re still reeling from the fallout of the Virginia gubernatorial election, in which former governor and establishment Democrat Terry McAuliffe lost to political newcomer and “Trump-lite” Republican Glenn Youngkin.

  • Youngkin’s primary message in the race was supposedly about education, specifically parents’ right to influence curriculum in Commonwealth schools.

  • But as guest Wajahat Ali argues, “education anxiety” is coded language similar to how “busing” and “sharia law” were conservative euphemisms for the interests of white supremacy.

  • Why don’t Democrats call out these thinly veiled appeals to white voters and focus on voters of color? And how should Democrats message back?


Our guest this week, Wajahat (Waj) Ali, is a contributing op-ed writer for the Daily Beast, a former op-ed columnist for the New York Times and, as he calls himself in his official bio, a “recovering attorney.” His first book, “Go Back To Where You Came From: And, Other Helpful Recommendations on How to Become American,” is slated for release early next year.


Waj lives on the Virginia side of the Washington, D.C., metro area and had an up-close-and-personal citizen’s view of the recent gubernatorial race.


His latest piece for the Daily Beast, “You Damn Karens Are Killing America,” analyzes the not-so-shocking demographics of the election results: 57% of white women chose Republican Glenn Youngkin, who edged out Democrat Terry McAuliffe by nearly three points.


“Let me tell you what went down,” says Waj. “Terry McAuliffe, who was governor once before, waltzed in and thought this was his seat for the taking. His message was: I’m Terry McAuliffe. Vote for me. I’m a Democrat.


But Youngkin, a relative political newcomer, “came in with his fleece” and rallied the pearl-clutching PTA set with a thinly veiled appeal to white supremacy.


“His only message — a successful message — was ‘parents’ choice,’” Waj explains. “What does that mean? That parents should have a right to have their fingerprints on what teachers are teaching,” purportedly critical race theory, which is “teaching your children to hate white people.”


Waj is a dad to two kids, ages five and seven, who attend Virginia elementary schools. He can say with certainty that CRT is not part of their curriculum. He took his one and only CRT class as an elective, as a second year law student — because that’s just about the only place you’ll find it in a classroom: graduate-level academia.


“Critical Race Theory isn’t being taught in K-through-12 schools,” says Danielle. “White hysteria is.”


Episode Highlights –– Education Anxiety?!



‘Southern strategy’ redux

In 2016, the media told us economic anxiety motivated white folks to vote for Donald Trump. Now, it’s educational anxiety — “just concerned parents who are really worried,” says Danielle, who prompts Waj to “tell everybody about the piece you wrote that pissed everyone off.”


You may have already seen “You Damn Karens” flooding your timeline or your inbox. And it has definitely made an impact. Waj has received tons of “exquisite” hate mail in response.


“Youngkin used the old ‘Southern strategy,’ [a] racist dog whistle that has been used by Republicans since the ’50s and ’60s,” he explains. “Instead of ‘busing,’ instead of ‘welfare queen,’ instead of ‘sharia,’ instead of the ‘birther’ conspiracy, instead of the ‘caravan’ that’s invading, he went with CRT, which Christopher Rufo, a right wing activist, openly admitted was manufactured as a catch-all for the racial anxieties that will work with their base.”


That base includes a majority of white women, who became convinced that their children “are being taught to hate themselves,” Waj says.


Breaking the ‘coded’ language

Education — specifically parents’ right to influence the content taught in classrooms, hadn’t been a top issue among the electorate until Youngkin made it one. He staged “Parents Matter” rallies encouraging voters to “stand up to and reject Terry McAuliffe’s attempts to silence parents and stand between them and their children’s education,” according to a Youngkin spokesperson.


Youngkin also released an ad featuring conservative activist Laura Murphy, who has been fighting to prevent Toni Morrison’s 1987 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel “Beloved” from being taught in schools because it’s too “explicit.”


Waj notes that Republican strategist Lee Atwater admitted in 1980 that, in lieu of the n-word (which was by then already taboo in the media), it’s necessary to use “coded language” like “busing” to obscure racially motivated speech. But that’s apparently too explicit for those who sent Waj hate mail.


“They got mad at me for simply sharing the reality that since 1952, a majority of white women have voted for Republican presidents, that a majority of white women went for Trump in 2016, even more white women went for Trump in 2020, and 57% of white women went for Glenn Younkin, who has zero policy proposals except for banning CRT.”


Trump would be Lee Atwater’s ‘white dream’

Waj calls this bloc of white, conservative female voters the “handmaidens of white supremacy,” pointing out that they’re not dissimilar to their foremothers who fought against desegregation.


“They have made the calculation that white supremacy benefits them and their families,” he adds. “Just because of that, apparently you and I are racist, and people of color are racist, because we call it racism. Thank you for coming to my TED talk.”


“It’s the absurdity of it for me,” Danielle responds. “Donald Trump gave these people permission to say the quiet part out loud. Atwater told them in 1980 that we can’t say this word. But we can say all of these [coded] words, as if he was giving his own racist-ass TED talk. Then Donald Trump comes around.”


Trump would have been Atwater’s dream candidate, she says.


“His white dream candidate,” Waj quips.


“And then everybody takes off their hoods, they go get their khakis and they get their tiki torches from the party store. And then they start marching down the streets wanting to reclaim all of the things they think have been stolen from them.”


White voters real anxiety is ‘being replaced’

Danielle says that “our society and media at large lets white women off the hook,” while “we frame white male rage as anxiety.”


Calling the racist impulses of the white women who voted for Trump (and Youngkin, and most Republicans for years) educational anxiety gives them the benefit of the doubt — “as if they give a damn about what is actually happening in the public school system,” she adds.


“No one was out there marching about making sure that the public schools had new HVACs so air was circulating when we’re bringing kids back who were unvaccinated until recently … They’re not talking about expanding the curriculum so kids that graduate are globally competitive.”


But no one is calling out this “educational anxiety” as a falsehood, she says.


“Well, it’s because this country has always coddled white rage,” says Waj. “It has always rationalized it. It has always hidden it. It has always given it euphemisms like ‘economic anxiety.’”


In 2016, many writers and commentators of color balked at the idea of economic anxiety being to blame instead of the primary motivator behind white folks’ Trump votes, which is “identity, and racial and cultural anxiety,” he says, noting that when reputable studies were done, voters reported that they feared being replaced.


Black and Brown parents have anxiety too

But the economic anxiety argument, says Waj, was “like Mike Myers or Jason Voorhees” — a horror-movie trope that just wouldn’t die.


And then it finally did — “maybe six months ago,” he says. “But [it] got replaced real quick with educational anxiety … But you know who else also has anxiety in Virginia? Black and Brown parents. I have anxiety over books being banned. I have anxiety over teachers who yell Islamophobic slurs. I have anxiety over Black and Brown kids who feel unsafe going to school. I’m sure Black parents have anxiety about their sons and daughters being shot and killed by police officers. I’m sure Latino parents have anxiety also.”


Waj points out that there’s another pernicious, pervasive euphemism at work when the media talks about the “average American parent” or “suburban parent” and their political motivations.


Who do they interview? “White women,” he says.


Why does the media overlook voters of color?

Waj hasn’t seen any Black, Latinx or Asian parents interviewed about the Virginia election.


Other euphemisms for white voters or the candidates they favor, he adds, include “electable, mainstream, Heartland and Rust Belt.”


But there are plenty of voters of color in the Heartland and everywhere else.


“It’s 2021. We’re recording this in November, and I have yet to see an article commissioned by a major paper … reaching out to voters of color in the Rust Belt, going to their diners, drinking their coffee and asking them why they have so much anxiety and why 81 million people voted for Biden,” he says.


Danielle hasn’t seen one, either. She does consistently see articles about how “people of color are supposed to be empathetic to how quickly things are changing for white people … that it’s not their fault. They’re just worried.”


She worries that Youngkin set an example that will be irresistible to copycats.


“It’s already being used, and we’ll see it again in the midterm elections: this ‘parents’ choice’ [argument]. Now we’re not talking about charter schools. We’re talking about the choice to make sure children remain ignorant.”


‘When will they choke-hold us back?’

Danielle asks Waj when he thinks the mainstream media is going to change.


“When are we going to see the roundtable discussions with Black and Brown parents about how young they have had to teach their kids about racism, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, all of these things? Why aren’t they happening in the mainstream?”


To put it simply: “Two steps forward, one step back,” he replies.


Waj notes that after the murder of George Floyd, 15 to 22 million people participated in the largest series of protests in American history.


“It was inspiring, and it led to a moment of change,” he says. We did see some notable if incremental changes, particularly in the media and especially among women of color: new editors, columnists and even the first Black woman to anchor a primetime cable news show, Joy Reid.


But as a student of history, I was wondering, When will they choke-hold us back? And the answer to that question is: when we demand actual change.”


Anyone who has studied American political history from a BIPOC perspective “knew a backlash was coming,” Waj says.


The media ‘gatekeepers’ are overwhelmingly white

“I’ve had a very interesting career,” says Waj. He has worked in Hollywood and at think tanks, and as a writer, contributing editor and playwright.


“I’ve been very lucky to meet the wizards behind the curtain, the gatekeepers,” he says. “And the first thing I notice when I go to these meetings is not [just] that I’m the only Muslim. The first thing I always notice is, I am the darkest thing in this room. It’s me and the plant and the Middle Eastern rug.”


That isn’t to say they’re bad people, Waj says. He thinks they’re often well-intentioned. But their environment is one of just whiteness. There’s nobody who looks like Waj or Danielle, so there’s “no pushback, no perspective, no insight into these communities. And these are the folks who create the headlines, who create the news, who report the news … [they’re] missing out on America. They have a blind spot they refuse to acknowledge.”


Plus, those folks are “so fickle and weak that when we call them out, they get super defensive,” he points out.


Trump was a ‘white-lash’ against Obama<