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E-Pluribus | February 1, 2022
How to tell when democracies are slipping, what do students think about critical race theory, and the extremely narrow criteria for a President Biden Supreme Court nominee.
A round up of the latest and best writing and musings on the rise of illiberalism in the public discourse:
Javier Corrales: Telltale Signs of Democratic Backsliding
The authoritarianism of a country like China is easy to spot, but when a democracy begins slipping, the cracks can be overlooked at first. At Persuasion, Amherst College professor Javier Corrales, author of a book on Venezuela’s transition to autocracy, spells out some of the red flags to be on the lookout for.
One challenge in the study of democratic backsliding is that, in the early stages, it is not easy for voters, or even analysts, to discern if backsliding is happening or is likely to succeed. Often, the reason for the confusion is that backsliding, like aging, occurs gradually and piecemeal, rather than abruptly or violently. Backsliding executives do not abolish all democratic institutions and freedoms at once. Instead, they eliminate or distort them one piece at a time, often covertly.
In addition, backsliding executives sometimes camouflage their assaults on institutions with people-pleasing measures. For instance, backsliders have been known to launch anti-corruption campaigns (Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines), to rail against plutocrats and elites (Viktor Orbán in Hungary), to give rights to non-dominant groups (Evo Morales in Bolivia), to subsidize losers from trade or trade wars (Donald Trump in the United States), to create new health clinics (Hugo Chávez in Venezuela), to increase social spending (Narendra Modi in India), to build new mosques (Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Turkey), or to promise to fight crime (Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil).
Illiberal executives often take these crowd-pleasing measures while simultaneously eroding checks and balances and launching attacks on the press, dissidents, and non-governmental organizations. Voters may focus less on backsliding because they welcome these other policies. The process of backsliding is thus often imbued with ambiguity, at least at first.
Read it all.
Robby Soave: Hispanic Students Were Forced To Learn Critical Race Theory. They Hated It.
A standard answer to criticisms of Critical Race Theory has been “It’s not even taught in schools!” California high school English language teacher Kali Fontanilla begs to differ. Robby Soave at Reason relates Fontanilla’s experiences with Hispanic students learning English as a second language where she found the course was about far more than simply teaching English.
Education officials who propose adding ethnic studies to various curriculums—and making it mandatory, as the Salinas school district did—typically intend for privileged white students to learn about other cultures. There's a certain irony in requiring members of an ethnic minority to study this, and an even greater irony in the fact that such students were struggling intensely with the course.
"My students are failing ethnic studies," says Fontanilla, who is of Jamaican ancestry. "I would say half of them are failing this ethnic studies class."
Critical race theory, or CRT, has become a flashpoint in the debate about what kids ought to be learning in public schools. Originally an obscure, left-wing body of thought that mostly appeared in graduate schools, critics charge it with influencing diversity workshops for major corporations, training seminars for teachers, and even K-12 curricula. Parental concerns about CRT became a major flashpoint in the 2020 Virginia gubernatorial race. After winning the race and taking office, Republican challenger Glenn Youngkin's first act was to ban CRT.
Many adherents of CRT deny that it's taught to primary education students, and the mainstream media have been quick to line up behind such claims. That's why Fontanilla's discovery was so significant.
"The teacher had the kids all learn about the four I's of oppression," says Fontanilla. The four I's were institutional, internalized, ideological, and interpersonal oppression. "And then there was a whole presentation on critical race theory and they actually had the students analyze the school through critical race theory."
Read the whole thing.
Heather Mac Donald: Judging Merit by Identity
All presidents who have the opportunity to nominate justices to the Supreme Court like to say they simply want the best person for the job, but in truth, all have a more limited set of criteria in mind. Due to his campaign promise to nominate a black woman to the highest court, Joe Biden has narrowed the field perhaps more than any president before him, and Heather Mac Donald at City Journal says that, as in previous presidencies, identity is still no substitute for merit.
The White House Counsel’s Office disclosed in February 2021 that it would not involve the ABA in preclearance. Republican presidents have also cut the ABA out of the confidential vetting process in recent years, on the ground that the association was biased against conservatives. That charge was plausible. The reason that the Biden administration gave for sidestepping the ABA, however, strained credulity: The ABA was insufficiently attuned to the need for “diversity” on the bench. Allowing the ABA to vet candidates was incompatible with the “diversification of the judiciary,” explained a member of the White House Counsel’s Office.
The idea that the ABA is indifferent to identity politics is laughable. Its leading members are obsessed with the racial and sex demographics of corporate law firms and law school faculties. This is the same ABA that gave its highest rating to Supreme Court nominee Sonia (“over 100,000 children . . . in serious condition, and many on ventilators” from Covid) Sotomayor. It is a measure of how far the Biden administration intended to stray from even a diversity-driven standard of competence that it saw the ABA as a roadblock.
An estimated 2 percent of the nation’s lawyers are black females. The introduction of any extraneous criterion for a job search lowers the average caliber of the potential applicant pool, by putting top contenders who do not possess the irrelevant trait out of reach. Contrary to the nostrums of diversity advocates, the role of a judge is not to “look like” this or that identity-based group; it is to apply the law as accurately and transparently as possible. President Ronald Reagan ignored that fact by limiting his 1981 Supreme Court selection to a female.
Biden’s race and gender restrictions are even more draconian, rendering 98 percent of all possible candidates beyond consideration because they lack “qualifications” that have nothing to do with judging.
Read it all here.
Michael Phillips is being let go by Collin College in Texas apparently over masks and monuments. Academic freedom isn’t freedom if it only applies in some cases, say Jeffrey Sachs, Peter Boghossian, and David French:
The Cato Institute’s Ilya Shapiro is finding support in the battle for his job at Georgetown Law School, and not just from fans (which is abundantly clear from their tweets):
And finally, as we pointed out in today’s Kowtow Chronicles, Jake Tapper and CNN are taking on the Communist Chinese Party just as the Beijing Olympics are set to begin, and encouraging sign in light of recent trends.