The Virginia Governor’s Race Will Be the Latest Verdict in the Culture Wars – The New Yorker

the-virginia-governor’s-race-will-be-the-latest-verdict-in-the-culture-wars-–-the-new-yorker

Were you aware that someone could be secretly watching you or your child with your webcam right now? Is it worth taking such a risk? camDown can help stop them!
Ever since the Unite the Right rally, in 2017, Virginia’s politics have been in flux. Is the state, like Charlottesville, a place under threat from reactionaries, or is it, also like Charlottesville, a place that has fought them back? This past week, two developments have pointed toward some resolution: a civil trial against the rally’s organizers began, and the city of Charlottesville released six proposals to take ownership of the Confederate monuments that drew the extremists in the first place. The Statuary Park at Gettysburg proposed displaying the monuments alongside other Civil War statues, though it didn’t want the bases (too expensive) and suggested that the city help it apply for a grant to cover the transportation costs. A man named Frederick Gierisch, from Utopia, Texas, sent a handwritten letter volunteering to display them on his ranch, noting (according to an excellent report from Erin O’Hare of Charlottesville Tomorrow) that “I don’t believe the left will be happy until all history is destroyed which is a shame because it is our history whether good or bad.” The lone local proposal came from Charlottesville’s Jefferson School African American Heritage Center, which proposed to melt down the statues into bronze ingots, hold the ingots in reserve for six months of community engagement, and then allow artists to create a new work to be gifted back to the city. There was something politically ingenious about the proposal, which synthesizes the radical call to destroy the statues and more moderate discomfort with the idea. “We’re not forgetting history, we’re saying that these monuments were an inadequate statement about our values,” a prominent local activist and University of Virginia professor named Jalane Schmidt, who helped conceive the plan, told Charlottesville Tomorrow.A third event, coming next week, will more immediately define Virginia: the election of the state’s governor, after an increasingly tight race between the former Democratic governor Terry McAuliffe and a first-time Republican candidate, Glenn Youngkin. The previous gubernatorial election, in 2017, featured Corey Stewart, a cartoonish right-winger who lives in a restored plantation and campaigned on the preservation of Confederate heritage; Ed Gillespie, the former chair of the Republican National Committee; and Ralph Northam, a subdued pediatric neurologist who ran as a moderate Democrat and won, only to be immediately undermined, when conservatives found that Northam had included on his page in his medical-school yearbook a photo of two men, one in blackface and the other in K.K.K. robes. (Northam apologized for appearing in the photo, without specifying which of the two men was him.) This year, the characters are insiders: McAuliffe came to prominence as a backslapping old Bill Clinton fund-raiser and confidant. Youngkin is a former co-C.E.O. of the Carlyle Group, the Washington private-equity firm, who initially appeared to be a pre-Trump type of candidate. The better-known McAuliffe was initially favored (Joe Biden won Virginia last fall by nearly ten per cent), but throughout the past month the polls tightened: several showed Youngkin within the margin of error, or tied, and one (from Fox News) had the Republican leading by eight percentage points. The outcome seems to hinge less on the candidates than on the depth of a conservative backlash to progressive cultural politics.That fight has been centered in Loudoun County, the far suburbs of D.C., where Democratic officials have come under sustained pressure from a former Trump Administration official named Ian Prior, who leads a local political-action committee called Fight for Schools. Prior has challenged the school-division leadership over two recent culture-war touchstones: the teaching of critical race theory and the provisions made for transgender students in public schools, eventually championing a very murky allegation of sexual assault on school grounds. Prior himself has become a regular on Fox News, which has often featured stories about these events. And, in the final phase of the gubernatorial campaign, Youngkin took up the cause, calling for the resignation of several school-board officials in Loudoun County and arguing that activists have seized control of Virginia’s schools. The tactic worked: Youngkin drew even in the polls, and Axios reported that McAuliffe’s campaign was “bordering on panic.” The Washington Post reported that the National Republican Senatorial Committee intended to emphasize education issues like these in 2022. Former Vice-President Mike Pence scheduled a last-minute rally in the Virginia suburbs of D.C. to address “educational freedom.” (That phrase carried an ironic twist: Republicans like Pence who had long used the terminology of “freedom” to argue that local decisions should not be challenged at the state or federal level were now arguing exactly the opposite.) Ian Serotkin, a member of the Loudoun County school board who was supported by the local Democratic Party, told me ruefully, “I think it’s the second coming of the Tea Party.”The political-organizing campaign conducted in Loudoun County by Prior and the other conservative activists has been skillful. According to Serotkin, it began last spring, amid general conservative fears about the teaching of critical race theory in schools, when members of the public began to ask the school board whether anything like this was happening in Loudoun County. Several members of the school board, Serotkin among them, belonged to a Facebook group called Anti-Racist Parents of Loudoun County (the sort of identification that became much more common after Charlottesville). After conservative activists discovered that some members of that group had been making a list of the names of people asking questions about C.R.T., they launched recall campaigns against the school-board members who belonged to it. (One member resigned; the other four, including Serotkin, face recall petitions.) Loudoun County school-board meetings grew louder and more contentious, especially as the board considered a measure that would allow transgender students access to activities and facilities that match their gender identity. At a meeting in June, a fight broke out; police arrested two conservative activists and broke up the meeting, declaring it an unlawful assembly.Prior, who had served as deputy director of public affairs in the Trump Justice Department, was good on TV and good with a sound bite. In the spring, he told Fox News that he’d been targeted by a “chardonnay Antifa” for pushing the case against critical race theory, and then that an “army of moms” was leading the conservative campaign in Loudoun County. In August, he claimed on the network that more than a thousand Loudoun County students had transferred to private schools since 2020 because of the school board’s progressive agenda. (The decline has been more general than he suggested; public-school enrollment dropped by three per cent nationally in 2020, a change that was generally attributed to the pandemic, not politics.) At a press conference this fall, Prior argued that conservatives were being belittled in the county, in a way that might have invited sympathy from Fox News viewers. “We’ve been met with silence, mockery, claims of engaging in dog-whistle politics, and attacked as racists, bigots, facists—pretty much anything that ends with ‘-ist.’ ” In August, as Prior’s campaign was mounting, a forty-eight-year-old man named Scott Smith, who had been arrested at the June school-board meeting, claimed that his daughter had been raped in a girls’ bathroom at Stone Bridge High School by a boy wearing a skirt. (The boy was eventually found guilty of sexual assault by a juvenile-court judge.) Some of the politically relevant facts of the case remain unclear—whether the trans-access policy, which had not yet been adopted, had anything to do with the attack, or what the assailant’s gender identity is—but it served a particular purpose, emphasizing that there was an acute danger in liberal leadership of public schools.Youngkin had spoken about Loudoun County before, but after the Stone Bridge story broke he really jumped in, calling for the resignation of the county schools’ superintendent and the entire school board. Meanwhile, the Youngkin campaign was airing an ad in which a Fairfax County mother named Laura Murphy, positioned before a fireplace, recalls her son showing her his reading assignment “with some of the most explicit material I could imagine.” Murphy said that she showed the assignment to conservative lawmakers, who passed a bill asking schools to alert parents when potentially offensive material was being assigned in class. There was an ironic note here, in that conservatives were blaming McAuliffe for denying them a trigger warning. There was also a telling one, when it turned out the text to which Murphy objected was Toni Morrison’s “Beloved.”“There was a burning intensity the last four years for people to vote,” McAuliffe told the Washington Post, a little more than a week before the election, lamenting the challenge he faced in turning out Democrats. “It was Trump, Trump, Trump. People lived with it constantly. It infuriated and disgusted so many people. It’s not there in the same intensity.”The change in the White House has presented a challenge for Youngkin as well: he needs the support both of a conservative base that adores Trump and moderate voters who abhor him. Youngkin navigated the problem by avoiding the topic of the former President or, when it couldn’t be avoided, dodging it, at one point declining to say whether he would have voted to certify the results of the 2020 election—and then, the following day, saying that he would have. In October, a Richmond-area radio host staged a rally in support of Youngkin’s candidacy, at which attendees pledged allegiance to a flag that was said to have been carried at the Capitol during the January 6th insurrection. Youngkin, distancing himself, claimed that the rally was “weird and wrong.” The education issue gave a board-room Republican Youngkin a talking point with Trump-like appeal, without Trump himself. In its own way, it was as ingenious a political solution as the Charlottesville ingots.Ten days before the election, Barack Obama arrived in Richmond, where he addressed a crowd of about two thousand at Virginia Commonwealth University. “There’s a mood out there,” the former President said, meaning among conservatives. “We see it. There’s a politics of meanness and division and conflict, of tribalism and cynicism.” He went on to depict Youngkin as if it were the Obama-Romney campaign all over again: “You can’t run ads telling me you’re a regular old hoops-playing, dishwashing, fleece-wearing guy, but quietly cultivate support from those who seek to tear down our democracy. Either he actually believes in the same conspiracy theories that resulted in a mob, or he doesn’t believe it, but he’s willing to go along with it—to say or do anything to get elected.”But politics have changed since 2012. Elections are more ideological now, and candidates are less in control. Virginia’s politics lately have not only been shaped by figures like McAuliffe and Youngkin but by Ian Prior and Jalane Schmidt. Obama was right to see opportunism and deceit in the Republican campaign to spook moderate voters about supposed radicalism in suburban schools. But it’s also the case that progressives are proposing some things that are genuinely new: to change the way that gender, race, and history are understood and taught. The monuments finally came down—the question now is what happens next.New Yorker FavoritesWhy the last snow on Earth may be red.When Toni Morrison was a young girl, her father taught her an important lesson about work.The fantastical, earnest world of haunted dolls on eBay.Can neuroscience help us rewrite our darkest memories?The anti-natalist philosopher David Benatar argues that it would be better if no one had children ever again.What rampant materialism looks like, and what it costs.Sign up for our daily newsletter to receive the best stories from The New Yorker.
Now let's stop for a moment and consider that camDown has a modern UI, that is secure and has the improved features that you need and your family would agree.