The Woke Meet Their Match: Parents

Glenn Youngkin's mix of populist policy and moderate style is a breakthrough.


The best news from Tuesday’s smattering of elections was what didn’t happen. Despite several pre-election bids to gin up skepticism about the integrity of the electoral system, the results, even in very close races, were broadly accepted as legit. Yes, the New Jersey result is super-close and the Republican Jack Ciattarelli may yet seek a recount, as would be his right. But here is his message: “I don’t want people falling victim to wild conspiracy theories or online rumors. While consideration is paid to any and all credible reports, please don’t believe everything you see or read online.”

This is a problem for Trump. He is obsessed with the invented “steal” of 2020, and has argued that every election in this country is rigged, even when he wins. It’s his core 2024 campaign theme (because he’s not psychologically well). Yet Republicans this week did remarkably well everywhere; turnout in Virginia was the highest for an off-year election ever; and today we are not in a constitutional crisis, or brimming with violence, because of a political leader’s malignant narcissism.

This, as my shrink used to say, is a gain.

Now observe how governor-elect Youngkin appeared on TV alongside the outgoing governor, Northam, and announced a “new friendship” between them, as he sought his predecessor’s advice in the future. I know it’s an incredibly low bar, and if the Dems had won, we might have returned to Bannonland, but still. A peaceful, sane transfer of power? At this point, I’ll take it. A GOP victory with Trump off-stage? Every one counts. You have to repair norms bit by bit.

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Part of what the American voters had wanted from Biden was congenial, bipartisan normalcy. But the left mugged him. Youngkin had a chance to fill that abandoned moderate space in our politics — and grasped it. Then, there’s just his affect: it’s almost the opposite of Trump’s. A financial money-maker in a vest, with a Brooks Brothers haircut, Youngkin seemed like an old school Republican, spoke in reasoned language, did not resort to vile insults, proposed massive spending on education; promised to end a grocery tax; and took the 2008 moderate Obama position on race and history.

Parts of the presser were cringe. Youngkin even hauled out the old “I married up” line. Parts were cowardly, but shrewd. He somehow managed neither to attack nor condone Trump. But overall, Youngkin managed to propose a conservatism that kept the rural whites motivated and brought back the moderate suburbs, especially parents. What he showed is that, as in 2020, Trumpism without Trump has a potent future — if the nasty nutcase who ironically helped bring it about can somehow be ushered off the stage. Which is, of course, a big if.

Now check out Youngkin’s messaging on education. “One of the first things we hammered on — was that the Thomas Jefferson School in Northern Virginia had lowered their academic standards,” Youngkin strategist Jeff Roe told Ryan Lizza. “It was then literally the first stop.” Later, at his last rally in Loudoun County, Youngkin put it this way regarding CRT:

We all know education starts with curriculum. We will teach all history, the good and the bad. America has fabulous chapters and it’s the greatest country in the world, but we also have some abhorrent chapters in our history, we must teach them. We can’t know where we are going if we don’t know where we came from.

But let me be clear: what we won’t do is teach our children to view everything through the lens of race, where we divide them into buckets; one group’s an oppressor and another group is the victim; and we pitch them against each other … We know it’s not right. We know in our hearts it’s wrong. We are all created equal and we’re trying so hard to live up to those immortal words of Martin Luther King Jr., who implored us to be better than we are; to judge one another based on the content of our character and not the color of our skin.

This approach, we are told, is an expression of the darkest strain of racism, a nasty “dog-whistle,” a reboot of the Atwater strategy. Or as the Atlantic’s Jemele Hill explained the results: “This country simply loves white supremacy.” Really? To me, Youngkin’s rhetoric sounds like … well, to be honest, Barack Obama, in its balance. (Maybe Ibram X Kendi is right that “the most threatening racist movement is not the alt-right’s unlikely drive for a White ethno-state, but the regular American’s drive for a ‘race-neutral’ one.”) Youngkin is therefore more politically dangerous than Trump, because he defuses all the reactivity of Trump and exposes the left’s weakness — which is that they have drifted far, far to the left, and lost the middle and the plot. Biden was the Dems’ opportunity to occupy the vacant center, and they blew it. Youngkin is now a model for the GOP’s version of the same.

Here’s how that Youngkin strategist put it to Lizza:

The Democrats are radicalizing, and they’re reacting to their base of their party and it is their base of the base. And because they live on Twitter and on the lightly watched cable news shows at night, they’re believing their own press releases and they’re putting themselves in their own bunker. And they will not be able to get out of it.

And if the culture war is fought explicitly on the terms laid out by the Kendi left and the Youngkin right, and the culture war is what determines political outcomes, then the GOP will always win. Most Americans, black and white, simply don’t share the critique of America as essentially a force for oppression, or want its constitution and laws and free enterprise “dismantled” in order to enforced racial “equity.” They understand the evil of racism, they know how shameful the past has been, but they’re still down with Youngkin’s Obama-‘08 impression over McAuliffe’s condescending denials and the left’s increasingly hysterical race extremism.

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Look at recent polling. A big survey from the Manhattan Institute of the 20 biggest metropolitan areas found that the public, 54-29, wants to remove CRT concepts such as “white privilege” or “systemic racism” from K-12 education. That includes black parents by a margin of 54-38. And that’s in big cities. A new Harris poll asked, “Do you think the schools should promote the idea that people are victims and oppressors based on their race or should they teach children to ignore race in all decisions to judge people by their character?” Americans favored the latter 63-37.

And when the Democrats and the mainstream media insist that CRT is not being taught in high schools, they’re being way too cute. Of course K-12 kids in Virginia’s public schools are not explicitly reading the collected works of Derrick Bell or Richard Delgado — no more than Catholic school kids in third grade are studying critiques of Aquinas. But they are being taught in a school system now thoroughly committed to the ideology and worldview of CRT, by teachers who have been marinated in it, and whose unions have championed it.

And in Virginia, this is very much the case. The state’s Department of Education embraced CRT in 2015, arguing for the need to “re-engineer attitudes and belief systems” in education. In 2019, the department sent out a memo that explicitly endorsed critical race and queer theory as essential tools for teaching high school. Check out the VA DOE’s “Road Map to Equity,” where it argues that “courageous conversation” on “social justice, systemic inequity, disparate student outcomes and racism in our school communities is our responsibility and professional obligation. Now is the time to double down on equity strategies.” (My itals.) Check out the Youtube site for Virginia’s virtual 2020 summit on equity in education, where Governor Northam endorsed “antiracist school communities,” using Kendi’s language.

Matt Taibbi found Virginia voters miffed by “the existence of a closed Facebook group — the ‘Anti-Racist Parents of Loudoun County’ — that contains six school board members and apparently compiled a list of parents deemed insufficiently supportive of ‘racial equity efforts.’” He found Indian and South Asian parents worried about the abolition of testing standards, as well they might be. And at school board meetings, in a fraught Covid era of kids-at-home, parents have been treated with, at best, condescension; and at worst, contempt. Remember how the National School Boards Association wanted the feds to designate some protests from these angry parents as “a form of domestic terrorism and hate crimes” — and then withdrew that request?

And during Covid, with nerves frayed by zoom-schooling, many parents have had their eyes opened about teachers’ unions. No surprise that one of the last campaigners for McAuliffe was Randi Weingarten, head of the American Federation of Teachers. At the AFT 2021 Conference, guess who was the keynote speaker? Ibram X Kendi! The other big teachers’ union, the National Education Association, has explicitly called for teaching children CRT, pledging to publicize “an already-created, in-depth study that critiques white supremacy, anti-Blackness, anti-Indigeneity, racism, patriarchy … capitalism … and other forms of power and oppression.” They back The 1619 Project as a teaching tool. So all the unions, the governor, the Virginia education department, the paper of record, and the federal government think CRT is obligatory for teaching children. But absolutely none of that ever, ever reaches into the classroom. Please.

Of course it does. To use a term the woke might understand, it is, in fact, structural. In Virginia, the goal is not to make obscure CRT texts mandatory in a course curriculum; it is to filter all education first and foremost through the CRT lens of race and identity; to “interrogate” mathematics, literature, philosophy, and science not as fields of study, but as suspect products of “white supremacy”; to remember “positionality” before you even speak; to grade and discipline so as to remove any group differences; to abolish standardized tests, because there are different group outcomes; to end gifted education, because it’s allegedly racist; to hire and fire on identity grounds; to teach children that sex is not binary and can be chosen; to open restrooms and locker rooms to both sexes; and, most of all, to keep parents at bay and in the dark about all of it.

What has happened this past week, I suspect, is that the woke revolution has finally met its match: educated parents. People can tolerate sitting through compulsory “social justice” seminars, struggle sessions, pronoun rituals, and the rest as adults, if they have to as a condition of employment. But when they see this ideology being foisted on their children as young as six, they draw a line.

And when the public authorities try to disguise this, when a governor says that parents should not decide what is taught in public schools, when the parents are scorned as “white supremacists” for wanting their children to be taught math that doesn’t take a position on racism, and when the media reflexively calls them liars, they are going to get mad enough to vote Republican again. I don’t blame them.

And when the public better understands the sheer scope of this mandatory top-down social justice revolution, and when the specter of Trump is at a greater distance, the center ground of American politics could become wide open for a sane GOP, energized by the backlash to this left over-reach, yet calm and moderate enough to keep the anxious, increasingly red-pilled suburbanites on board.

Impossible? Well, in one particular state, it just happened. Culturally moderate, economically populist, optimistic and focused on the broad center the Democrats have abandoned, this Youngkin version of Republicanism is a real moment. I hope it lasts. If it does, it’s electoral dynamite.

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(Note to readers: This is an excerpt of The Weekly Dish. If you’re already a subscriber, click here to read the full version. This week’s issue also includes: my debate with far-right firebrand Ann Coulter over diversity and immigration; a huge collection of dissents and assents regarding my stance on nuclear power as a way to green the GOP; a reply from pro-nuke environmentalist Michael Shellenberger; a Face of the Week reflecting the increasingly multi-racial GOP; four notable quotes for the week; ten of our recommended pieces by others on Substack; a musical millennial MHB, a sleepy autumn view from Virginia and a wintry one from Switzerland; and, of course, the results of the View From Your Window contest — with a new challenge, showing wind turbines. Subscribe for the full Dish experience!)

Here’s an unexpected view from a subscriber’s window:

This fella crawled through a window in my home and walked around. Before it could destroy anything, we luckily pulled in the driveway and scared him back out. But he spent the next hour trying to find a way back in.

This is the very cute albeit sad face of climate change and drought here in Colorado. No food up high has made the bears desperate to find it.


New On The Dishcast: Ann Coulter

She’s the author of 13 NYT bestselling books, including Adios, America. I know, I know. A lot of you are going to get mad at me for this one. If you’re a longtime Dishhead, you may even remember that we once had a Malkin Award every year, and this is how we described it:

The Malkin Award, named after blogger Michelle Malkin, is for shrill, hyperbolic, divisive and intemperate right-wing rhetoric. Ann Coulter is ineligible — to give others a chance.

I once described Coulter as a “drag queen posing as a fascist.” But, I’ll be honest, I’ve come to admire her the last couple of years for taking on Trump — for breaking his promises on immigration. Agree or disagree, that took a certain amount of courage, given her audience. I also met her, and found her much more intriguing than you’d expect from the public image. I’m not sure I grilled her hard enough in this podcast, but I did try to flush out some inconsistencies.

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For two clips of my conversation with Ann — on our differing views on diversity, and how she underestimated Trump’s intelligence — head over to our YouTube page. Listen to the whole episode here.

That link also takes you to a few dissents and assents over our popular episode with the Bobs — Woodward and Costa — on the Trump dangers past and future. There’s also a reader response to our “Email of the Week” from the anti-CRT Virginia mother, and a long dissent over animal testing, with bonus beagle pics. My replies are peppered throughout.

A reader writes:

I just finished your episode with Briahna Joy Gray on race and class in America, and I wanted to take a moment to thank you for bringing on guests you don't necessarily agree with. Too many podcasters use the platform to simply promote their ideas and bring on guests who don’t challenge them. Even though I could sense frustration and struggle on your side from time to time, I enjoyed the dialogue.

The dialogue continues this week on Briahna’s pod — teaser below. God I look tired.

Regarding last week’s episode with Steven Pinker, this reader really dug it:

Absolutely brilliant episode. This is why, though I am an old leftie and atheist, I often drop in on your discussions and articles.

Another reader:

Not to make light of this brilliant and enjoyable discussion but — whoa — Pinker’s hair and constant Moire patterns on his shirt were simply mesmerizing. And the juxtaposition of the Darwin poster with your Helltown hoodie was priceless.

You can watch the video of the full episode at this link if you’re a paid subscriber to the Dish, but here’s a short clip:


Dissent Of The Week: The Price Of Nuclear Power

A reader tries to cool me down:

I am a professor of mechanical engineering and the director of a Wind Energy Center, so let me get my biases front and center. I am also deeply committed to avoiding the worst impacts of climate change, and I am not opposed to nuclear power. It is indeed carbon free, it could be part of a carbon-free energy system, and I think closing plants is a mistake.

All that said, your article has some real flaws and seems to be full of confirmation bias. You tout the work of Michael Shellenberger. But it’s long been clear that he warps facts to fit his pro-nuclear agenda. Here is a critical review of Apocalypse Never in the LA Review of Books, and an assortment of further criticisms are here.

Also, this sentence of yours is incorrect: “Unlike renewables, which rely on natural gas when the sun isn’t shining and wind isn’t blowing, nuclear produces enough energy to end all fossil fuel usage for our electricity.” Nuclear plants have tremendous inertia, and they essentially run constantly at full power. So they cannot be ramped up and down. Because of the load changes from the electrical grid, by definition a grid with nuclear power will also need natural gas or large-scale storage to manage peaks.

There is another reason new nuclear is not built in the US — it’s five times more expensive than wind and solar energy. Onshore wind and large-scale photovoltaic (PV) installations in the US consistently produce power at $0.03/kWh. These sources are simply the cheapest electricity sources in the world, besides some specialized instances of hydro power (see Quebec). Recent solar projects in the Mideast came in at $0.01/kWh!

Energy transition is indeed very hard. But we also have all the tools available now to solve this problem. And there is a role for nuclear power. But you are far too bullish on it, frankly, and far too credulous in this case.

We reached out to Shellenberger on the question of cost. His reply begins:

It’s true that new nuclear plants are behind schedule and above costs, but this is typical for large construction projects, and has often been the case for nuclear plants, including many highly profitable ones operating today. Because nuclear plants are relatively inexpensive to run, the importance of cost overruns declines over time. This is particularly true as the lives of nuclear plants are extended from forty to eighty years …

Shellenberger’s response, and the debate more generally — which is fascinating in the details — continues on this subscribers-only page. It’s really helpful in thinking through this complex issue. Check it out. Shellenberger will have a lot more to say when he joins us on the Dishcast to discuss his book on climate change — buy it here. And keep the dissents coming: dish@andrewsullivan.com.


In The ‘Stacks

This is a section in the paid version of the Dish that spotlights about a dozen of our favorite pieces from other substackers every week. An example from this week:

  • Grace, a detrans woman, sees a lot of similarities between the online subcultures of trans boys and anorexic girls — for one, their “aestheticized self-hatred, beautiful suffering.”

If you have any recommendations for “In the ‘Stacks,” especially ones from emerging writers, please send: dish@andrewsullivan.com.


The View From Your Window Contest

Where do you think it’s located? Email your guess to contest@andrewsullivan.com. Please put the location — city and/or state first, then country — in the subject line. Proximity counts if no one gets the exact spot. Bonus points for fun facts and stories. The winner gets the choice of a VFYW book or two annual Dish subscriptions. If you are not a subscriber, please indicate that status in your entry and we will give you a three-month sub if we select your entry for the contest results (example here if you’re new to the contest). Happy sleuthing!

The results for the last week’s window are coming in a separate email to paid subscribers later today. One subscriber calls the contest “so addictive”:

You quoted a first-time sleuth who talked about the feeling he got when he knew he had found the right location. It’s a kind of joy that’s hard to describe, but I knew exactly what he was talking about. I want to encourage him to keep playing because that feeling never goes away, not even after the 80+ contests I’ve entered. When you spot that one photo, or satellite view, and you know you’ve found it, the thrill is palpable. I’ve startled my wife more than once with a shout and fist pump.

See you next Friday.

(Top photo of Youngkin by Win McNamee/Getty Images)