Sometimes sussing out political bad faith requires an oversized corkboard and a ball of yarn and three dozen brightly colored tacks. You run the risk of looking quite unhinged in proving someone is saying something they do not mean to score political points, even when the dots connect.
Other times the bad faith is laid out before you, undisguised, naked in its vulgarity. Sometimes bad faith is so blatant it hurts.
So it is with the American right’s coordinated assault and takeover of higher education. Far right think tanks, activists, and legislators have worked closely since the racial justice uprisings of 2020, as The New York Times recently reported, to suffocate any and all educational programs that might contribute to the reckoning that began with nationwide protests against the police murder of George Floyd in Minnesota.
It is no secret – especially after the detailed NYT reporting on the matter – that the backlash against so-called wokeism is organized, well funded, and fiercely determined to stop colleges and universities from teaching students that racism exists and is actually bad. The right’s war against Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) is an outgrowth of this effort to stop higher education from teaching students about the history of race relations in the United States. Those waging political and legislative war against DEI programs believe it should be a crime to not hire a white person for any given job, and will blame diversity programs for anything, including plane crashes.
Through a litany of wrenching racist and homophobic rhetoric used in correspondence between anti-woke activists and their funders, the Times uncovered a painfully clear moment of right-wing bad faith, though the Times did not label it was such because modern journalism was not designed to handle a political movement that refuses to deal in good faith.
Many involved in the project to dismantle higher education and turn it into a propaganda outlet for red-pilled politics have years of experience defending the most odious people in education. That included Dr. Amy Wax, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania who in 2023 said the US would be better off with less Asian immigration and once opined that black folks would always be envious of “western peoples’ outsized achievements and contributions,” sounding like those basement-dwelling incels with Roman statue avatars on Elon’s site who post AI-generated pictures of buxom blonde woman with fifteen kids, complete with a caption: This is what the left fears.
University of Pennsylvania students and professors, as you may imagine, took great issue with Wax’s wildly racist rantings. Trying to keep her job and fend off attacks from the woke, anti-racist mob, Wax asked a fellow professor at a right-wing institution called Hillsdale College to pen a letter in support of her academic freedom to say awful fucking things about people of color.
This professor, a Dr. Azerrad, consulted with a fellow right-wing educational figure named Dr. Yenor (lots of moving parts, I know). Yenor, steeped in the ways of bad faith, encouraged Azerrad to “aim” his statement of support for Wax “at a liberal audience — to defend Dr. Wax on the grounds that if she were fired, it would only embolden red-state lawmakers to fire controversial left-wing professors.”
“But don’t we want this to happen?” Dr. Azerrad asked via email, according to the Times. “Yes,” replied Dr. Yenor. “But your audience doesn’t want it to happen.”
It doesn’t get a whole lot clearer than that, does it? These far-right apparatchiks sought to appeal to the left’s sense of fairness and a potential fear of a slippery slope to protect one of their own while working behind the scenes to oust educators who would not fall in line with their ideological project to reshape American education into a machine for conservative politics.
You wouldn’t want Republicans to go after lefty professors, would you? Then leave Dr. Wax alone and let her talk like a 4chan message board to her young, impressionable students. It is a useful reminder that these people never really mean what they say, and any rhetorical argument used against the left should be dismissed, and, whenever possible, should not be engaged by those who foolishly believe they can defeat the far right in the Marketplace of Ideas, whatever that means.
But wait, the faith gets worse!
The popular talking point that conservative activists and lawmakers simply want to drain politics out of higher education is, of course, not true. It is a naked and pathetic appeal to centrist liberals who might concede that college students should not be indoctrinated on campus, which tends to happen when human beings learn stuff. In no universe does the American right desire a politics-free educational system.
Thomas Klingerstein, a longtime financier of far-right causes who has had his hand in almost every national effort to snuff out racial justice education, was brutally clear in a 2021 email correspondence about what he wanted at the end of his war against critical race theory: “In support of ridding schools of C.R.T., the right argues that we want nonpolitical education,” Mr. Klingenstein wrote. “No we don’t. We want our politics. All education is political.”
These people are not dumb. In fact, they are the opposite. Their projects are extremely savvy and designed to fool both media outlets and mainline liberals who cannot conceive of a politics ruled by bad faith. The New York Times in its reporting on the right's war against colleges again and again exposed a network of political actors who will deploy any amount of bad faith to get their way, to use the strong arm of government and well-funded propaganda campaigns to stop young folks from learning, and therefore becoming lifetime enemies of their sinister little project.
Follow Denny Carter on BlueSky at @cdcarter13.bsky.social and on Threads and X at @CDCarter13.