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The Woke, No-Trust Society

Robin DiAngelo, author of 'White Fragility' (NBC News)

A reader writes:

I read your piece on the Donald McNeil incident, and was reminded strongly of an accusation I got hit with in 2018.
I had judged and coached high school policy debate in [major city], as a volunteer, for about 5 years. A few years previously, I had won the league’s “adjudicator of the year” award. I was also known to be one of only 2-3 coaches or judges in the entire league who was politically on the right.
In fall 2018, I got a phone call from the league director saying that he had received some serious complaints about me concerning two rounds I had judged the previous year. The first accusation was that I had told black students that racism wasn’t so bad and compared their life to slavery; the second was that in an elimination round, I had said that illegal immigrants weren’t human.
The first accusation had a hint of truth, but like the accusation against McNeil that he mentioned the “white man’s burden,” it was primarily an indication of the students’ ignorance. In the round, where one team had been arguing that America was irredeemably racist (policy debaters adopted radical CRT long before Coates and Kendi stepped on stage), one of the students said, “things have never been as bad for black people in America as they are today!” After the round–and I think I actually gave that team the win–I pointed out that this was obviously false and hyperbolic. Clearly, these kids were much better off even in Chicago’s worst inner-city schools than they would have been as slaves in Georgia two centuries ago. I also explained that absurd hyperbole was a common problem in debate, and shared my own high school story where I had said something similarly silly and got called out on it by the judge.
The second accusation was complete nonsense; I support generally open borders, never would have said anything like that, and since it supposedly happened in an elimination round, there would have been a room full of witnesses.
Fortunately, the league director knew me well, dropped the issue, and only suggested that in the future I not personalize the criticism from the first case.
A few months later, we adopted a newborn son and I got a new, more time-consuming job, so I stopped volunteering. But this year, the topic was criminal law, and since I am a lawyer, I thought about going back and helping. Until the summer riots began, that is. Because in late 2020-2021, an accusation like that wouldn’t have remained confined to a sane investigation, and would have the potential to wreck my career. I’m not going to take that risk for free. Too bad for the kids, who are going to have a tough time teaching themselves legal policy issues, but that’s the result the institution of high school debate has achieved.
Our schools teach teenagers that they have the right to be safe from any challenging thought, they should go to the authorities with any complaint, and that they should not respect any wisdom that comes from experience or age. The nation has raised a generation of totalitarians by ceding the universities, then the education schools, and then the public schools, to the totalitarian left. If you have a career you value, don’t volunteer to teach or coach teenagers.
Wokeness is shredding the social fabric, because now people don’t know who can be trusted. Don McNeil went to Peru as a favor to a friend. He was making the princely sum of $300 a day to be an expert for a group of prep school kids. And they destroyed his career.
I wouldn’t do anything like that, or like what this reader mentioned. I would be hesitant to take any kind of leadership role in any public organization, for fear of this kind of thing. I’m watching the wokeness situation in the US military, because my middle son wants to go into the military, and I would like to support him, but I do not want him in a situation in which he will has to affirm things that are not true as a condition of his service.
In Donald McNeil’s case, the truth or falsity of the allegations did not matter to his persecutors — nor did they matter to the Times. If the accusation is a sin against wokeness, you’re in trouble. You can be ruined for life, despite being innocent.
When I was in Hungary, one of my sources for my book told me that they’ve gotten thirty years past the fall of Communism, but the people still haven’t recovered from the deep wound of having to view everyone around you with fear and suspicion, as a requirement of self-protection. That’s what Communism meant for the Soviet bloc. Wokeness is getting us to the same place.

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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