Doing our part
With John McWhorter
A couple of weeks ago I was talking to my friend John McWhorter about this year’s “insurrection” at the Capitol and the different kinds of threats posed by the radical left and the radical right.
In the course of that conversation, we stumbled upon an idea that we’re still thinking about.
The Glenn Show seems to be turning into a focal point for concerns about the spread of CRT, “anti-racism” and woke ideology broadly in the American society and institutions. Both of us are receiving a large amount of mail, and some of it seems to require action. People are sending us memoranda, documents, two-page letters describing their situation, telling us that their life is being destroyed, that they need a lawyer and want us to refer them to one.
We’re reading every one of these messages, but we can’t properly respond to most of them, let alone take meaningful action.
So I thought, maybe we need to develop a more systematic way of processing this information.
I said on the show—spontaneously—that we might want to consider hiring somebody to help us sort through the messages we are receiving. We’ve gotten quite a few responses to that. We’re still pondering whether that is the right next step though. It could be, for instance, that the systematizing can be crowdsourced if we find the right tool for it. Please forgive us for not responding to your offers of help right away.
What we did decide to do now is to set up a special email address, firstname.lastname@example.org, for these kinds of concerns.
Please do NOT use it if what you have is a general question, a suggestion for an interview, or a note of support.
Please DO use it to tell us about the ways the zeitgeist is manifesting itself at your place of employment; about the help you might need from us or other members of our community; about the ways you would want to see this initiative to evolve in; or about the contribution you would like to make yourself.
Please also let us know whether you’re comfortable with us sharing your message, or a specific part of it, with others.
It’ll be easier for us to sort through these missives if you help categorizing them:
If you’re looking for advice, put the word HELP in the subject of your email.
If you have information you want to share with us, use the word INFO.
If you have suggestions on how our community (dare I say movement?) can develop, use GROW.
If you want to offer volunteer work, use WORK.
If none of these match your concern, use no label or suggest your own.
America and the world are in a precarious place. It is hard to see our situation clearly, to provide a useful analysis of it, to figure out the right course of action, and to then take that course. John and I have been trying to contribute to each of these steps, focusing more on the analysis than on action.
Perhaps it is time we start broadening our contribution, and I think it starts with a more deliberate way of paying attention to your concerns. Once we have a better sense of what the members of our community are dealing with at the local level, we should be in a better position to think of ways we can help one another collectively.
Thank you. Below, please find the segment of our conversation, where this possibility was first brought up.
LOURY: You want to talk about what the insurrection of January 6, 2021 at the Capitol of the United States of America meant and what it didn't mean?
MCWHORTER: A lot of people are asking why we care so much about these things, why we are fighting against the excesses of wokeness so much, out of an idea that this seismic development in our intellectual, moral, and artistic culture is mere static compared to the threat to the Republic posed by, for example, the kinds of people who would invade the Capitol, the kinds of people who are making violent statements online and threatening to gather to “take their country back.” The idea is that that's more important than all of these things going on on the hard left.
I disagree. I think that at least we can say that these things are equally problematic.
And I find it interesting: would the French have a conversation where the idea would be that a conversation among the intelligentsia about a threat to intellectual, artistic and moral culture is trivial? In France, I don't think they would say, “Oh, who cares about that? What's more important is these violent things happening among these people over here.” There'd be no question.
To me, what's going on in our intellectual, artistic, and moral culture is us. I wonder if it's almost the American anti-intellectualism that has some people saying that all of that is just a tempest in a teapot, and what we really need to think about is some people who had some guns and Confederate flags who ran up the steps of the Capitol building. What do you think about that?
I'm not sure why we have to compare and choose. That's one thing I want to say. They're both bad. Why is it necessary for me to say one is worse or less than the other?
I think that, if I were into the comparison business, I wouldn't be comparing wokeness with right-wing militias and insurrectionists. I'd be comparing the rioters in the summer of 2020, in the post-George Floyd environment, with the insurrectionists.
Those are things that I see on a similar plane. I see the threat to civil order. I see violence. I see the potentiality of that spilling over into a much wider set of violent conflicts.
So that would be my concern. I wouldn't be so concerned about what's going on on a college campus, I'd be concerned about the security in person and property of people who live in cities that people decide that they're going to set aflame.
And I'd be asking the question, “Why are you focused on what happened on January 6th to an excessive extent—let's hunt them all down, let's find out who they were, let's make sure it doesn't happen again, let's harden the target, let's be ready—and given the experiences that we've had with urban civil disturbance on behalf of racial equities, at least initially motivated by that, you seem to be less concerned about that threat to civil order?” That's a point that I would want to try to push.
As far as the cancel culture stuff… I take your point.
If you really cared about our intellectual life, when you see people seizing podiums at universities, discrediting people because they've enunciated ideas that are unpleasant to you, teaching courses that you think are wrong-headed and you want to have them canceled, you're threatening the integrity of something that's really very precious—these institutions of higher education that we value, these cultural institutions. We would want to try to avoid having them denigrated like that.
And maybe it does say something about anti-intellectualism in the society as a whole that that kind of threat doesn't generate more resistance.
It makes me nervous. I did a Substack piece on this, and quite a few people were quite dismissive of the idea that there is a threat.
I put it as, “What institutions are the violent right taking over?” We have this extreme left contingent that is taking over, that is muzzling major institutions, making people pretend to believe things that they don't. And you see the dominos falling every day.
Now, a lot of people misinterpreted me as asking “What institutions have the right taken over?,” as if I don't know that there are conservative-led institutions. I meant the violent right.
So they do the things that they do. But the question is, are they taking over institutions in an equivalent way? Who is marching to their tune now who weren't around, say, June 2020?
And I guess you can make an argument that there is a sanctioning of people like that among certain Republican politicians. Maybe their sanction of those sorts of people is more prominent now, rings more loudly now, especially because of the whole Trump situation. I could go with that.
But I don't think that that is as resonant, or ultimately, I'm not sure it's as significant as our intellectual, moral, and artistic culture being turned upside down by people whose modus operandi is to shout people down and call them names, and therefore to make them pretend to believe what they believe.
And so yeah, I find the response to all of this very interesting. But I should say my question is not what institutions are conservative. I'm awake. Maybe not woke, but awake. I'm talking about hard left versus violent right. Who has more influence now? I think it's the hard left.
Well, what people are gonna say, I think, is they're going to point to Antifa, which is the boogeyman, that's the bugbear. That's what conservatives always point out.
And they're going to say, “Antifa is a bunch of anarchists, it's true. But if you compare them to the well-organized right-wing militias that are armed and that are ideologically focused and that are there and have been there, Antifa is nothing compared to the right wing.”
I don't know what the FBI files would show. But I wouldn't be at all surprised that security agencies spend much more time, of necessity, keeping track of and following right wing, potentially violent, neo-Nazi, white supremacist, racist, various gatherings than they do extreme leftists. Both are going to be on their screen. I don't know, we could try to find it out. But I would be not at all surprised to find out that the perception of the threat, the magnitude of the threat [posed by the right is bigger than that posed by the left.]
There was, for example, that federal building that got blown up in Oklahoma City, killing a large number of people. That kind of thing. These people are very well-armed. They are paramilitary. They are ubiquitous. You find them in every state. Again, this is not something I know a lot about, except just from reading the newspaper, you can get a sense of it.
So I think what January 6 revealed—and the chatter all around it, what led up to it, the energy that went into—what it revealed was how widely extensive is this world from which some of the right-wing violence might emerge.
Most of the people, of course, who came out to rally in support of Trump were not violent insurrectionists. They were people who came out to rally in favor of Trump. But in their midst and behind them, there's a lot of very troubling stuff that's going on.
But I agree with you about the influence of the woke crowd. We just got through giving an example: they want to teach our kids “anti-racist mathematics.” This kind of thinking is insinuating itself everywhere. That is problematic.
In every state.
Like I say, I don't have to choose to pay attention to one threat and not the other threat. I think we can manage to comprehend both at the same time.
I think, just possibly, our view is distorted by the fact that we now seem to have become kind of a clearing house for cases like this. I feel like we're Walter Winchell with gossip. Anything like this that happens, we're going to hear about it. I’m sure you're getting like six or seven things a day, and it's clear that something is afoot.
Yes, indeed. And I'm sorry to interrupt you, John. I just want to seize on this thought, which is: maybe we should be more systematic in how it is that we catalog and follow up on some of these concerns. And maybe we should use some of the support that those who are supporting the Glenn and John show have been generous enough to offer, to try to get some staff to help us manage.
I'm not kidding. I've got so many people sending me memoranda, sending me documents, writing two-page long letters describing their situation, telling me that their life is being destroyed, that they want a lawyer. I've got people writing me to ask if I can refer them to a lawyer so that they can protect their rights.
I can't handle it. I'm overwhelmed by it.
But as we become a kind of focal point for this concern, a systematic processing of this kind of thing—even just communicating back to people, I can't respond properly to all of these things…
So I don't know what you think about that idea, that we need to set up a little program, hire somebody 20 hours a week or whatever it is to help us process this stuff.
You know what… And folks, this is not staged. We have not talked about this until now.
Not at all.
This actually makes sense, because it's at the point where I do read it all—because I find it interesting, it's like we're in living history—but I can't answer every one of them at this point, especially the ones where they're really expecting us to really reach out and lend personal assistance (although I understand where it's coming from). But I keep every one of them.
And it's gotten to the point that I get up a half hour earlier so I can read through all of it, cause I can't get through it during the day, but I want to know what these people have to say.
And yeah: I'm a one man band, mostly, I like to do it all myself. But it's at the point where I have been now and then thinking, “I think I'm one of those people who needs an assistant.” And a lot of it would be that, somebody who would actually sort all of this stuff by the type of case that it is—whether it's an academic, whether it's K-12, whether it's college, whether it's a corporation—because it really now is a great deal of stuff.
Last summer I said, people are beginning to write me all the time about this problem in academia. And I have this one professional detractor who wrote, “Oh really? People are writing you all the time? I don't believe it.” And something about the tone of this one person ... This is an unusual person among people who don't like me, she's interesting. And I thought, “Dammit ... dammit! I'm going to prove it.” And that's when I started trumpeting this and keeping my file of all of these emails. I had no idea it would get as big as it has.
But yeah, something's afoot.
And I know that the riotous violent right is afoot, too. But I wonder, what institutions are they taking over? They do what they do, but who is marching to their tune other than them? I would be more worried about them if they were taking over in that way.
And maybe I'm missing something here. Maybe I'm missing something.
But Emmett Till was not killed by a hate group. Emmett Till was killed by some guys, and everybody in the community supported them, including their wives. It was just the way things were.
Now, people who have ideologies kind of like that—although not exactly the same—now they're a hate group. They have a website. They hide. They meet in places and only let out slowly exactly who they are. That means that we're in a different situation than we were in in 1955.
So I see the hate groups—okay, I know that they have proliferated lately, social media has a way of doing that to things. But I always think to myself, these people who are now “a hate group” used to be just “people.” And it wasn't all that long ago. It used to be that that's what white people, especially in the South, would at least countenance. That was a default kind of person. Now it's a fringe.
I've never quite gotten past that, although maybe I'm not paying enough attention to the fact that there were more of them, and what that might mean. I don't know.
No, I think you actually are making an interesting point.
The very fact that they have to constitute themselves as a group, that they have to organize into these collectives that secretly share their thoughts and their ideas and whatnot, suggests that they're marginal within the larger social framework.
When everybody was basically on the same page about racism, the racist did not need to segregate themselves off and have an identity and a secret sign and a chat room or whatever. They were simply there.
So things have changed so dramatically in that respect, without doubt.