The Trojan horse that ends our democracy

  • Steve Nelson

For the Valley News
Published: 11/5/2021 10:10:01 PM
Modified: 11/5/2021 10:10:11 PM

“A hypocrite,” Adlai Stevenson reportedly observed, “is the kind of politician who would cut down a redwood tree, then mount the stump and make a speech for conservation.”

The GOP is all atwitter over the narrow victory of Glenn Youngkin in the Virginia gubernatorial race. And “race” is precisely the word to use, as Youngkin’s victory was all about race. I’ll get to the hypocritical dimension momentarily.

Youngkin’s campaign centered on a constant, albeit muted, racist message. Everywhere he went he preached the doctrine of parental control over education. Parents should decide what their kids learn in school, shouldn’t they?

Well, no.

It takes little insight to recognize the explicit and implicit dangers of that proposition. Such dangers are absurdly apparent in the efforts to ban Toni Morrison’s profound novel Beloved because it made a white boy feel bad.

But Republicans like Youngkin will ride that pony into office.

Exit polls indicated the outsized influence “parental control over education” had on Youngkin’s election. But it’s really not about math or any other aspects of the curriculum. The main issues animating parental anger these days are diversity, inclusion, racism, critical race theory, The 1619 Project and other efforts to correct what has been heretofore a partly mythological, white, Eurocentric understanding of United States history

Youngkin blew this dog whistle throughout the campaign, and that more than accounts for his margin of victory. One needn’t be Nostradamus to predict that this will be the GOP campaign strategy in 2022 and 2024. And it may work, leading to GOP control of the House, Senate and White House.

It is plausible to fear that “parental control over education” will be the Trojan horse that ushers in the demise of our democratic republic. Our fragile democracy cannot survive another trip around the dance floor with Donald Trump and his seditious accomplices. If you have been paying attention, the “Big Lie” of a stolen election has planted toxic grassroots all over the country, placing elections under the control of local hacks who are performing illegitimate “audits” of the 2020 election and working to install mechanisms to reverse election results they don’t like.

It is terrifying to consider how close the seditionists came to a semi-peaceful coup on Jan. 6. I say “semi-peaceful” because the thugs who stormed the Capitol were just a sideshow. The real action was with congressional Republicans who were prepared to reject electoral votes from key states, throw the election to the House of Representatives, and bring back Trump. The Mike Pence gambit might have worked too, but Pence balked and the republic got a stay of execution.

If the dog whistle strategy works in 2022 and 2024, the current GOP congressional caucus will look saintly when compared to the QAnon, Proud Boy, gun-toting posse waiting in the wings. And if Trump runs and wins, he won’t make the mistake of choosing a running mate like Pence. He’ll make sure there is no one with a smidgeon of principle to get in his way.

The suckers for this “parental control” con game come in two flavors.

One comes from those who refuse to accept truth. They believe that the Civil War was a noble defense of the Southern homeland and culture — and only incidentally about slavery, which their fine and moral ancestors would have dealt with eventually. It didn’t take all that bloodshed, they insist. And anyway, as far as they know, their predecessors didn’t have slaves — and if they did, they treated them kindly and besides, as they see it, slaves had it pretty good and seemed happy enough. Look at all those images of them singing and dancing!

Those folks are beyond redemption.

The second group is more nuanced in its objections. They are the swing voters who gave us Youngkin, and may be the voters who give away democracy rather than have their children learn the truth about race. They may acknowledge most facts of history and they just love Martin Luther King Jr. Day. They may recite the I Have a Dream speech with their children at the dinner table, but they hate all this diversity and inclusion training that makes their children feel guilty for being white.

After all, what did their children do? And while they’re at it, what did they themselves do?

Finally, as to hypocrisy; Youngkin and his children went to private schools.

Youngkin’s alma mater, Norfolk Academy, has a “Diversity, Equity, and Justice Statement” featured on its website. The accompanying list of “Resources and Recommended Reading” references Morrison’s books The Bluest Eye, Song of Solomon and, of course, Beloved.

The website of his daughter’s alma mater, National Cathedral School, in Washington, D.C., includes a long report under the heading “Building an Anti-Racist Community” that details “how the school will continue vital work centered on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI).”

Two of his sons graduated from St. Albans School, which also highlights a major element of its mission as “Diversity, Equity & Inclusion.”

I recall something about geese and ganders.

As a longtime head of school, I know that the schools in Youngkin’s life experience are not clamoring for “parental control over education,” welcoming angry parents into board meetings to threaten them over diversity programming or telling the English teachers to ban Beloved.

Youngkin and his ilk know better, but they’ll gladly capitalize on racism to advance their own interests. And perhaps sacrifice our country in the process.

Steve Nelson is a Valley News columnist. He can be reached at

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