Op-Ed: The madness of our political system


MARTY ROCHESTER , Special For The Jewish Light

In previous columns, I have characterized our current political culture as insane. In November, I used the word “insanity” several times when being interviewed on Charlie Brennan’s show on KMOX radio. Why do I think such language is appropriate and accurate?

I think both sides of the political spectrum have contributed to insanity. The right can be criticized for Trumpism. In print and elsewhere, I have called Trump odious and reckless.

However, I think the left is especially blameworthy. In any event, it is the left, not the right, that dominates our major national institutions, including the government, media, academia and corporate boardrooms.

Allow me to elaborate.

I was invited on the Brennan show to discuss a recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education entitled “It’s Time to Cancel the Word ‘Rigor.’ ” Written by professors Jordynn Jack and Viji Sathy of the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, the article argued that “rigor” should be banned because it tended to promote “exclusionary and preferential practices.” I noted that to me, rigor connotes diligence, care, precision and excellence and, if it privileges those values, then I am for rigor. I am guessing most people share my view and consider it craziness to think otherwise.  

I went on to say that the attack on rigor is nothing new, that I had documented in my “Class Warfare” book 20 years ago the dumbing down of education and collapse of standards, driven mainly by liberal “equity and diversity” pressures, and that this trend has only worsened over decades.

I added that it was not only rigor but also merit that had become a four-letter word. I cited a Wall Street Journal op-ed of Oct. 30, “The Views that Made Me Persona Non Grata at MIT,” written by Professor Dorian Abbot of the University of Chicago. According to him, his invited lecture at MIT “was canceled because I have openly advocated . . . views that are unpopular on university campuses. Here are those views. I believe every human being should be treated as an individual worthy of dignity and respect. . . . That means evaluating people for positions based on their individual qualities, not on membership in favored or disfavored groups. . . . I believe that admissions and faculty hiring at universities are best focused on academic merit, with the goal of producing intellectual excellence.” He added, “It also means allowing them to present their ideas and perspectives freely, even when we disagree with them.”

Again, would most people not agree that to attack Abbot based on his above-stated views is insane? Yet that is where we are at today, both inside and outside academia, thanks to a well-intentioned but misplaced obsession with diversity. Diversity is wonderful, but it should not trump all other values.

I am not exaggerating how the left has completely warped our sense of values in a way that is harming our mainstream institutions. Recall that only a few months ago, the National Museum of African-American History and Culture of the Smithsonian Institution, one of the leading museums in the country, had a website on “Whiteness” in which it listed “self-reliance,” “hard work” and “rational thought” as values that reflected “white dominant culture,” therefore presumably to be rejected. 

Brennan’s co-host, Amy Marxkors, mentioned on air that she was offended by this because it was insulting to Blacks and sounded like it was written by David Duke. She was rightly appalled, as most people were, leading to the museum being forced eventually to remove the website. But it was insane that leftist elites, grounded in critical race theory, would be allowed to so tarnish the reputation of an important new museum.

I was further reminded of the insanity of our political culture when I attended a talk in mid-November by Douglas Murray, the British author of “The Madness of Crowds: Gender, Race and Identity,” a critique of diversity-based identity politics. Murray is a leading conservative critic of American politics whom the left likes to paint as “far right” even though he is openly gay and atheist and no more right wing than the aforementioned professor Abbot.

Murray called the Left’s tendency to refer to colorblindness as “racist” an “absolutely deadly” viewpoint. I call it insane. So, too, the reluctance of Democratic leaders, as during the 2016 presidential primary debates, to say that not only Black lives matter but “all lives matter.”

Murray said that “public perceptions” of all kinds of things are “wildly out of kilter with reality.” For example, he focused on police shootings of African Americans. Murray cited a Skeptic Research Center poll in which participants “were asked how many unarmed black men were killed by police in 2019. Overall, nearly half of surveyed liberals . . . estimated roughly between 1,000 and 10,000” (New York Post, Feb. 27). A Washington Post database of fatal police shootings found only nine unarmed Blacks fatally shot in 2019.

If the recent elections in Virginia and elsewhere around the country where Republicans succeeded in many gubernatorial, school board and other contests are any indicator of public dissatisfaction with the left, perhaps we are seeing pushback against the insanity I am describing.

In trying to explain the November outcomes, even well-known Democrats such as James Carville have called for an end to the kind of “stupid wokeness” manifested by “defund the police lunacy and taking Abraham Lincoln’s name off of schools” (“PBS NewsHour,” November 3).

The ultimate in “stupid wokeness” came from Democratic congresswoman and “Squad” member Rashida Tlaib of Michigan who called for supporting the proposed Breathe Act, which would empty all federal prisons; this was just a couple of days after a career criminal who had repeatedly been released from jail killed six people and injured dozens more by speeding through a parade in Waukesha, Wis.

I wish to reiterate that both sides are part of the problem, so we can take heart also from growing pushback against Donald Trump within his own party (e.g., on Nov. 18, the head of the Republican National Committee acknowledged that Joe Biden had won the presidency, effectively putting “the Big Lie” to rest).

Maybe it is a sign of the times that someone as obnoxious and lacking in civility as Bill Maher comes off as the voice of reason, as he did when he was interviewed by Chris Cuomo on CNN on Nov. 17 and ended up excoriating both political parties for their inability to provide reasoned moderate leadership.

It was a refreshing, sensible take on what is wrong with our politics. I encourage you to watch the interview if you can. The question remains whether we can restore sanity.