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Home/Rod Dreher/Esteemed Comrade Biden!

Esteemed Comrade Biden!

Leonid Brezhnev (Source)

A reader who grew up in communist Czechoslovakia said the letter from the National School Board Association to President Biden, asking for the feds to move in to protect school boards from angry parents, reminds him of this August 1968 letter that the Communist leadership of his native country sent to Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev, fraternally requesting an invasion to protect them from the Czech people:

Esteemed Leonid Ilich,

Conscious of the full responsibility for our decision, we appeal to you with the following statement.

The basically correct post-January democratic process, the correction of mistakes and shortcomings from the past, as well as the overall political management of society, have gradually eluded the control of the Party’s Central Committee. The press, radio, and television, which are effectively in the hands of right-wing forces, have influenced popular opinion to such an extent that elements hostile to the Party have begun to take part in the political life of our country, without any opposition from the public. These elements are fomenting a wave of nationalism and chauvinism, and are provoking an anti-Communist and anti-Soviet psychosis.

Our collective — the Party leadership — has made a number of mistakes. We have not properly defended or put into effect the Marxist-Leninist norms of party work and above all the principles of democratic centralism. The Party leadership is no longer able to defend itself successfully against attacks on socialism, and it is unable to organize either ideological or political resistance against the right-wing forces. The very existence of socialism in our country is under threat.

At present, all political instruments and the instruments of state power are paralyzed to a considerable degree. The right-wing forces have created conditions suitable for a counterrevolutionary coup.

In such trying circumstances we are appealing to you, Soviet Communists, the leading representatives of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, with a request for you to lend support and assistance with all the means at your disposal. Only with your assistance can the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic be extricated from the imminent danger of counterrevolution.

We realize that for both the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and the Soviet government, this ultimate step to preserve socialism in the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic will not be easy. Therefore, we will struggle with all our power and all our means. But if our strength and capabilities are depleted or fail to bring positive results, then our statement should be regarded as an urgent request and plea for your intervention and all-round assistance.

In connection with the complex and dangerous course of the situation in our country, we request that you treat our statement with the utmost secrecy, and for that reason we are writing to you, personally, in Russian.

Alois Indra

Drahomir Kolder

Antonin Kapek

Oldrich Svestka

Vasil Bilak

You may be wondering, along with me, why school boards need to involve the federal government in local law enforcement matters. Why can’t local police deal with genuinely unruly parents (as opposed to parents who are simply angry)? It makes no sense. Right?

Well, it makes sense if you realize that letters like the one the Department of Justice issued yesterday, in response to the NSBA request, serve as a way of making policy de facto without any democratic accountability. Here’s that letter:

Here’s how this works. Back in 2016, the Obama administration, via a joint statement from the Justice Department and the Department of Education, issued a “Dear Colleague” letter instructing public schools that it interprets Title IX to shield transgender students. This was not a change in the law, but a change in enforcing bureaucratic policy. A school could have sued to stop this, but in so doing they would have gone up against the immensity of the US Government. What do you think most schools are going to do in that case? Capitulate, because most institutions don’t have the financial resources to fight the Justice Department.

The Trump administration rescinded that Dear Colleague letter, but it remains a good example of how the Left in power uses the bureaucracy to get around democracy and enforce its preferred policies. Who wants to have to go to court against the world’s largest law firm, the US Department of Justice?

This new letter from Merrick Garland is the same kind of thing. We have had a rash of contentious school board meetings around the country, usually having to do with Covid policy, Critical Race Theory, gender ideology, or some combination of these things. Some of those meetings have gotten out of hand. Is this a national crisis requiring federal intervention? Of course not — but federal intervention is a powerful move intended to shut down all opposition. As we know, January 6 was the Reichstag fire the Left needed to justify a sweeping campaign against right-wing dissent. You had better be careful about what you say and to whom you say it; you don’t want to end up on the government’s radar as a potential “domestic terrorist.” The school board association’s letter to Biden said that these parental protests “could be” covered by laws against “domestic terrorism” and “hate crimes.”

The letter also says, of CRT: “This propaganda continues despite the fact that critical race theory is not taught in public schools and remains a complex law school and graduate school subject well beyond the scope of a K-12 class.” This is an outrageous lie, as Christopher Rufo and others have extensively documented (see here)! That is a tell, and what it tells you is that the NSBA is not operating above board here — that it is requesting a federal invasion, so to speak, of school board meetings to intimidate dissenters into silence.

It’s the Law of Merited Impossibility at work: “Critical race theory is not being taught in our schools, and we want the FBI to destroy parents who stand against it.”

I want you to understand my clearly here. I am NOT defending those who get violent and abusive at school board meetings. I’m saying that these people can be handled with ordinary local law enforcement measures. What the NSBA is doing is providing a pretext for the feds to suppress parental dissent on CRT, on masks, and on gender ideology. What the NSBA is doing is providing a pretext to bring the massive anti-terrorism apparatus of the US Government down on angry parents.

And there are still people who believe that I am being alarmist when I talk about the rise of soft totalitarianism in America.It is here, and it is going to get much worse. Are you preparing? If not, why not?

Here’s something that works in tandem with the DOJ strategy: the redefinition of language by judges and legal elites in ways that circumvent the plain meaning of the law. Law professor Richard Epstein, writing in 2016 in the Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy, explained how this “linguistic relativism” works. 

Epstein says that everybody believes in the “rule of law,” but people don’t often think about how changing the meaning of language can undermine the rule of law. He writes:

Both the narrow and broad conceptions of the rule of law presuppose that the tools of ordinary language are powerful enough to allow judges and scholars to formulate legal rules that make implementing the rule of law possible. Unfortunately, many scholars despair that the tools of textual analysis are not strong enough to meet the persistent challenges of the linguistic skeptic. Today, many people, both on the bench and in the academy, share this all too fashionable view of ordinary language. This undermines the rule of law, fanning the general populist unease that now infects much of our public discourse. At a theoretical level, it is common for linguistic skeptics to scoff at language as the fundamental unit of law. For example, Mark Tushnet, in his caustic review of my book Design for Liberty: Private Property, Public Administration, and the Rule of Law, celebrates the proposition that terms like “property” and “nuisance” “have no determinate content, which means that the judges must actually be relying on something else to resolve the dispute,” without ever letting us know what that “something else” is. This type of relativism easily extends to other terms, most notably “liberty” and “coercion,” which have similarly been attacked as otiose, most famously by Robert L. Hale. In his highly influential essay, Coercion and Distribution in a Supposedly Non-Coercive State,  he finds that any refusal to deal should be regarded as coercive both in competitive and monopoly markets.

In the introduction to his paper, Epstein recounts how a modernist interpretation of language (to mean whatever power-holders want it to mean) affected the legal problems of Jack Phillips, the Colorado baker who declined to make cakes for same-sex weddings. Epstein says that the idea that words and terms don’t always mean what they seem to mean — “legal relativism” — gives immense power to those figures — judges, mostly — whose responsibility it is to interpret meaning. Epstein writes:

So why then the legal relativism—that is, some notion that there are no independent grounds for preferring one outcome to another—which surfaces in different ways in different contexts? The simplest explanation is the best. Let a judge assume that there are fixed meanings to controversial terms, and the scope of judicial discretion in interpreting statutes or constitutional texts is necessarily limited. For progressive law professors like Felix Frankfurter, those linguistic straitjackets would reduce the opportunity to transform constitutional doctrine in ways that displaced the classical liberal conception with the progressive and New Deal views he so emphatically championed. This palpable change in the judicial approach fueled much of Frankfurter’s jurisprudence of the period.

In other words, if plain language gets in the way of the judicial advancement of progressive goals, then plain language has to go. If a judge (or an attorney general) can render a dispute over policy neutral by engaging in semantics, then he can more easily achieve the outcome he wants. This is what the Obama DOJ did with its “Dear Colleague” letter about transgenders and Title IX. It decided by bureaucratic fiat that sex is mutable, so every time Civil Rights law says “women,” it also means “men who identify as women.” See how this works?

In one section of his paper, Epstein talks about how progressives have used an expansive reading of the “commerce clause” to achieve policy goals through court rulings. Look what the NSBA letter says:

NSBA believes immediate assistance is required to protect our students, school board members, and educators who are susceptible to acts of violence affecting interstate commerce because of threats to their districts, families, and personal safety.

“Affecting interstate commerce”? Bull. This is a flimsy pretext for inviting federal involvement in an area where the feds have no place. It is perfectly justifiable for school boards to expect law enforcement authorities to protect them from threats of violence. That is not what the NSBA’s request is. It is a request for the federal government to suppress dissent. Again, note well that the NSBA explicitly denies that Critical Race Theory is being taught in public schools. We know that is a lie, but the NSBA presents it as evidence that school boards are being attacked by irrational liars.

In fact, it’s not hard to imagine the NSBA letter redrafted using the form of the Czech hardliners in their appeal to Brezhnev:

School leaders are no longer able to defend themselves successfully against attacks on public health and social justice, and it is unable to organize either ideological or political resistance against the right-wing forces. The very existence of health, safety, and justice in American schools is under threat.

At present, all political instruments and the instruments of educational power are paralyzed to a considerable degree. The right-wing forces have created conditions suitable for a counterrevolutionary coup.

In such trying circumstances we are appealing to you, President Biden, with a request for you to lend support and assistance with all the means at your disposal. Only with your assistance can America’s public schools be extricated from the imminent danger of counterrevolution.

Last night, I posted about this, and included evidence that local media massaged the facts about conflict at a Virginia school board meeting to make it look like angry white right-wing protesters were the sole instigators of the drama. In fact, the black head of the county Democratic Party was caught on video yelling and cursing at the whites (“F–k you!”, etc) — but this didn’t make it into media reports. You see what they’re doing, right? Manufacturing consent for repression.

We have seen how on transgender matters, school authorities conspire to keep parents from finding out about their child’s gender dysphoria without the child’s consent. In the short NSFW video below, an angry Fairfax County (Virginia) parent is reading aloud from books in her kid’s school library, in which boys talk explicitly about sex with older men — and a school board member asks her to stop reading from these books available to children in a local school library, because there are children present! This is how absurd it has become.

From Live Not By Lies, this passage about how the corruption of language allows totalitarianism to thrive:

It is difficult for people raised in the free world to grasp the breadth and the depth of lying required simply to exist under communism. All the lies, and lies about lies, that formed the communist order were built on the basis of this foundational lie: the communist state is the sole source of truth. Orwell expressed this truth in Nineteen Eighty-Four: “The Party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command.”

Under the dictatorship of Big Brother, the Party understands that by changing language—Newspeak is the Party’s word for the jargon it imposes on society—it controls the categories in which people think. “Freedom” is slavery, “truth” is falsehood, and so forth. Doublethink—“holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them”—is how people learn to submit their minds to the Party’s ideology. If the Party says 2 + 2 = 5, then 2 + 2 = 5. The goal is to convince the person that all truth exists within the mind, and the rightly ordered mind believes whatever the Party says is true.

Orwell writes:

It was as though some huge force were pressing down upon you—something that penetrated inside your skull, battering against your brain, frightening you out of your beliefs, persuading you, almost, to deny the evidence of your senses. In the end the Party would announce that two and two made five, and you would have to believe it. It was inevitable that they should make that claim sooner or later: the logic of their position demanded it. Not merely the validity of experience but the very existence of external reality was tacitly denied by their philosophy. The heresy of heresies was common sense.

In our time, we do not have an all-powerful state forcing this on us. Under soft totalitarianism, the media, academia, corporate America, and other institutions are practicing Newspeak and compelling the rest of us to engage in doublethink every day. Men have periods. The woman standing in front of you is to be called “he.” Diversity and inclusion means excluding those who object to ideological uniformity. Equity means treating persons unequally, regardless of their skills and achievements, to achieve an ideologically correct result.

To update an Orwell line to our own situation: “The Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion told you to
reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command.”

If the Biden Department of Justice, the National School Board Association, the media, and others manage to convince Americans that parents angry over how they and their children are being treated in public schools are “domestic terrorists,” then we will have advanced a long way down the road to totalitarianism.

Under an absurd pretext, the NSBA has summoned Leviathan to crush dissent, and Leviathan has responded in the affirmative. This is the fight in front of us now.

UPDATE:

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. A veteran of three decades of magazine and newspaper journalism, he has also written three New York Times bestsellers—Live Not By Lies, The Benedict Option, and The Little Way of Ruthie Lemingas well as Crunchy Cons and How Dante Can Save Your Life. Dreher lives in Baton Rouge, La.

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