This is what living within a big historical event looks like
Do you really think it’s possible,” a visitor to my office last week asked, “that we might elect a self-professed socialist to our presidency before this year is out? How could that conceivably happen?”
Well, yes, I do think it could conceivably happen. Not likely, I add. But so many other unlikely things have happened in this topsy-turvy world in recent months that I’m reluctant to call anything impossible.
So I felt affirmed a couple of days later when the lead editorial in The Wall Street Journal said first that Bernie Sanders had become a favorite to win the Democratic nomination for president. The Journal editorialists aren’t quite so sure Sanders can win against Donald Trump in the general election.
What really got my attention, though, was the Journal’s main point, where its editors grappled boldly with my visitor’s second question: “How could that conceivably happen?”
So are we being called to believe some gigantic conspiracy is at work? Hardly.
All this is happening, the Journal editors argue, because our nation’s academy and media tilt so heavily toward the explicitly socialist agenda—a comprehensive welfare state—that Sanders has popularized. “They [the academy and media] created the political environment in which he [Sanders] could prosper.” The Journal writers point to four specific examples:
• America’s historic commitment to capitalism and the “free market” is rejected in both contexts.
• The rise of left-wing intolerance on campus.
• Seeing America as “irredeemably racist.”
• Espousing climate change as religion more than science.
So are we being called to believe some gigantic conspiracy is at work?
Hardly. This is a worldview so far-reaching, so unwieldy, with so many nuances, that no world leader could conceivably coordinate all its facets, over such relatively long time periods and geographic distances. The movement has operated—mostly in the open—longer than most of us have been around. When you dominate the landscape as it has, you don’t need to operate in the dark. Sometimes, when you’re that big, folks just think you’re part of the natural order of things.
Maybe that’s why the Journal’s typically insightful writers missed an important piece of the story. How can they point to what they think are the main lubricants that tend to make the socialist engine run so acceptably and still leave out the role of America’s public schools from kindergarten through 12th grade?
I’m not diminishing in the least the influence of the behaviors noted by the Journal. But when you total up the impact exerted on a young girl or boy over 180 days a year, for 13 years, you can almost ignore the need to gather, analyze, and evaluate the content of that instruction. Just think about the colleges and universities that shaped most of the educators in today’s schools, and you’ll understand why so many educators sound like socialists. Their students are profoundly shaped not just by the content of the classes, but maybe even more so by their day-by-day intergenerational contact. Students learn by that whole experience that yes, it’s the government’s duty to do this thing called “education.” Nobody needs to call it “socialism”; we learn that along the way while we watch it happening.
For the last several generations, at least 90 percent of all Americans have received their elementary and secondary schooling under such an arrangement. Some recent statistics suggest the 90 percent majority enrolled in regular public schools has dropped to 80 percent—with most of that drop occurring with the growth of charter schools. If so, it’s a happy development for the students and their families (a growing number coming from African American families).
But it’s still almost certainly a case of “too little, too late” in terms of finding a platform for teaching the truth about economic systems. So for the foreseeable future, 80 percent—and more—of all American children will continue to be quietly led to understand that it would be just fine if socialism replaced the principled capitalism that has served America so well.