Moral panics tend not to be grassroots phenomena. For example, people like Professional Bastard Dinesh D’souza were behind the two big moral panics of the 1990s, PC Out of Control and hysteria over “frivolous lawsuits.”
These moral panics are also about much more than what they seem to be on the surface, and much worse once you dig into them. Along with being based on shaky premises, they are never really about “protecting people” or improving anyone’s ethics or morals, they are often a cover for much more nefarious operations.
Enter Professional Bastard for a New Era Christopher Rufo. Rufo is a new breed of right-wing activists who are using new versions of moral panics, such as critical race theory (CRT), to destroy public education. In fact, he is the person probably most responsible for the rise of that particular nonsense moral panic, and much of his writing is based on some questionable “facts.”
His War on Woke has taken some odd detours, but he has mostly been laser-focused on education. The protests and the racist, violent rhetoric spewed by the protestors have all been driven by his “reporting.”
He has been sadly effective. Any counter to his right-wing nonsense has been effectively shouted down, and way too many in the media have helped him carry his water. Despite, again, much of it being sloppy and disingenuous work.
What makes someone like Rufo so dangerous is his reach. If you think he is just a random voice in the discourse that is no big deal, think again. His work has helped to elect Virginia’s governor, and he has helped write some of the anti-education bills that have been signed by governors recently.
So, after his CRT success, Rufo is now focusing on destroying public education entirely. He is hyper-focusing on the made-up crisis of sexual abuse in schools as a way to achieve this (remember, moral panics are always about something more). This includes labeling anyone teaching kids that gay or trans people exist as a “groomer.” Such talk is highly dangerous and puts teachers, LGBTQ folks, and anyone inside a school at high risk of attack given the people who love Rufo also love guns and violent rhetoric.
And he is quite open about using lies and dishonesty as his main weapon. A bit hard to read, but this is him last March talking about his strategy, which clearly consists of just being disingenuous.
And just last week, he told a supportive audience that they need to more or less follow Steve Bannon’s “flood the zone with shit” strategy:
Last week, Rufo told a friendly audience, “in order to achieve universal school choice, it’s necessary to create an atmosphere of universal public school distrust.”
This week, true to form, he’s launching a vile smear campaign against teachers.
This is incredibly dangerous. pic.twitter.com/EAmmE1QqdS
— Leah Greenberg (@Leahgreenb) April 12, 2022
What’s worse, I think he is well aware of where we are at as a society. You can show people all the facts in the world, but we’re at a point now where people believe an impatient sigh, an eye roll, an “oh I don’t think that’s true at all,” their anger, etc. all have magical powers to make reality into their own making.
This is because the One True American Religion is bullshit. It is absolutely sacred, the Most Holy of Holies, All Must Praise All Must Praise. The attack on “Critical Race Theory” is a prime example, you can see it in the reactions to someone suggesting that the US ever did anything resembling genocide or that slavery was always awful. The often-unhinged reactions are similar to deeply religious people reacting to heresy.
Another example of Sacred Bullshit is how so many Americans believe that the perv stranger in a panel van snatching children is common when all evidence points to it being exceedingly rare and almost all child abductions are something else, like a family member snatching a child. This hysteria gave us QAnon and now “Dems and teachers are groomers” is spreading into mainstream political think because that false belief primed our society for it.
Rufo is taking full advantage of this and is driving an attack on public schools that would cause great harm to our nation. We need our public schools and anyone who is a decent person knows that education is vital to a strong society. His attacks can’t be ignored in favor of “talking about kitchen table issues” like some Democrats seem to think, or written off as silly.
It is flat-out dangerous.
The last word goes to the Rolling Stones.