Trumpism Without Trump

Still, a man hears what he wants to hear
And disregards the rest

–Simon and Garfunkel, The Boxer, 1965

Republican Glenn Youngkin’s successful campaign for governor of Virginia was partly a show about instilling fear, all based on racist and discriminatory fiction.

If anything, it was an empty right-wing culture war meme and a lie about exposing schoolchildren to make-believe horrors of history if they learn about racism and slavery and possibly encountering a kid of a different gender when going to a restroom. It’s right out of racist Donald Trump’s playbook.

There are stalls in restrooms.

What we don’t want to do, the manufactured conservative line goes, is to make white children feel bad about themselves if they learn that “critical race theory” deals with systemic racism embedded in the laws and policies of America. The theory is no more than a 40-year-old academic graduate or law school-level exercise that first emerged among legal scholars. It is not taught in secondary schools.

At least eight GOP-led states have passed laws preventing critical race theory from being taught in the public schools. Laws for the empty-headed.

The theory has become an advantageous Republican campaign scare tactic to stir parents’ fears about what their children are learning in schools. It has been amplified by right-wing propaganda outfits like Fox News and surely is a debate on social media.

As the headline of New York Times columnist Charles M. Blow put it in an analysis of the Virginia election, “White Racial Anxiety Strikes Again.”

“. . . It’s no wonder Youngkin’s critical race theory lie worked,” he wrote. “The parasite of white racial anxiety needed a new host, a fresher one.  . . .  Youngkin delivered fear with a smile.”

Since the focus on kids and school worked for Youngkin, 54, it’s sure to be a Republican campaign template for the 2022 midterm elections and possibly even beyond to 2024, when Trump may stage a third coming. He was smart to keep his distance from Trump, who exhausted the country with his seeming hourly concoctions of chaos.

Of course, the Republican’s victory over former Governor Terry McAuliffe –- and other GOP wins nationwide, some of them surprising — didn’t happen only because he zeroed in on the ridiculous culture wars that focus on state and federal mandates for the wearing of masks and accepting vaccine mandates as violations of freedom. As if we were China.

The congressional Democrats have been arguing so much among themselves over President Joe Biden’s trillions in spending on his enormous two-part legislative package that they haven‘t been paying enough attention to statewide races and what most voters want. They need to wake up. The 2022 election is only a year away. They very well could lose control of Congress, leaving Biden at the mercy of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

This was a bad year to hold an election. Fury and disillusionment are rampant throughout the country because of the unpredictable pandemic, shortages of everything from computer chips to new and used cars and workers, rising gas prices, inflation at 5.4 percent, canceled and late flights, delays in receiving unemployment benefits, congressional gridlock, disappointment with Biden, even expected delayed Christmas presents. It seems as if nothing is working in America anymore.

Want an example?

Such is the anger that the Federal Aviation Administration reported 5,033 incidents of disorderly behavior among airline passengers so far this year, including 3,642 involving wearing masks, according to The Washington Post. The FAA launched enforcement against 227 people, of whom 37 were referred to the FBI for criminal action. This is beyond normal.

Youngkin, a political novice and a private equity executive at the Carlyle Group, focused on education, a topic of concern to parents that has spread nationwide to include tumultuous school board meetings, while McAuliffe aimed his campaign at pairing the Republican with being a Trump clone.

“Let’s get real – Glenn Youngkin isn’t exactly being shy about his loyalty to Donald Trump,” he said in an online ad. “In fact, I started calling him Trump in khakis.”

Bad move. You can’t campaign against Trump when Trump isn’t there.

Youngkin successfully managed to distance himself from the former president – even though Trump endorsed him – including his statement during the primary that Biden’s victory was “certifiably fair,” a dart thrown against Trump’s claim that he won the election.

McAuliffe screwed himself over the issue of what books kids should read in school.

“I’m not going to let parents come into schools and actually take books out and make their own decision,” McAuliffe said during a debate. “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach.” Lots of parents care about what their kids are learning in school, from sex-ed to racism.

The problem for the Democrats, including Biden’s sinking approval ratings, is that they’ve shifted too far to the left in this time of intense political polarization to appeal to many Americans, who prefer centrism. James Carville, a Democratic strategist who worked for President Bill Clinton, sounded exasperated when he perhaps put it best about his party’s election losses nationwide:

“What went wrong is this stupid wokeness,” he told the PBS NewsHour. “Don’t just look at Virginia and New Jersey. Look at Minneapolis, even look at Seattle, Wash. I mean, this defund the police lunacy, this take Abraham Lincoln’s name off of schools.”

At least Biden finally got the first part of his legacy legislation, the Senate-passed $1 trillion infrastructure/jobs package, through the House Friday with the help of 13 Republicans — even if it was too late to help more Democrats win the election. Six liberals of “The Squad” voted against it.

The vote was 228-206. Interestingly, if the Republicans had voted against the biggest repair bill in a decade earmarked at building or fixing roads, bridges, tunnels, airports, ports and expanding high-speed internet connections, the Democrats would have lost, 215-219. Those 13 Republican districts desperately must need these enhancements, the hell with party ideology. Wild!

“I can’t believe the Republicans just gave the Democrats their socialism bill,” tweeted Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., a Trump sycophant.

And that ain’t fiction.


Richard C. Gross, who covered war and peace in the Middle East and was foreign editor of United Press International, served as the opinion page editor of The Baltimore Sun.