Politics

Judge Jackson won’t be derailed by tired old Republican attacks and lies about who loves America

In The Washington Post, Robin Givhan wrote in-depth about Jackson—addressing what she means to her supporters, as well as the vitriol spewed by her opponents. Givhan described “the stereotype that some have been trying to paint of her as a radical, as a soft-on-crime former public defender, as an unpatriotic other.” This last piece is especially pernicious—namely, the right is pushing the idea that the remarkable work Jackson has done thus far somehow represents hostility to America or its values.

Carlson spews hate

“Pernicious” may not be Tucker Carlson’s middle name (it’s actually “McNear Swanson”), but he is nonetheless a pernicious asshole. He has proven to be totally down with the whole idea of using patriotism and good old-fashioned—as in, Jim Crow-era—American principles to spread hate-filled lies about Judge Jackson.

Let’s start with what Carlson offered about the nomination itself, and the man who made it. That Biden fulfilled a campaign promise from 2020—to choose a Black woman for the Supreme Court—seems to have especially irked Fox’s favorite white nationalist:

Let’s say you really didn’t care about the country you lead. Let’s say you wanted to humiliate and degrade it and undermine its ancient institutions. What would you do? Well, you might take the single most important appointed position in the entire government and announce in public that you are filling that position on the basis of appearance. Not on the basis of skill or wisdom or fealty to the founding documents of the United States, but on the basis of the way the person looks.

So, it’s not a question of saying, “We found the most qualified person who happens to look this way.” What you’re saying is, “We found a person who looks this way, who, by the way, may be qualified.” That would send a very clear message that you don’t like the country you run, and you don’t care about the institutions that its ancestors built.

That’s not all. The host added that by selecting Jackson, Biden indicates that “he is absolutely happy to defile a system built by other people over hundreds of years; this is the best system in the history of the world, and he is happy to destroy it. Doesn’t care at all.” Notice Carlson’s word choices: Humiliate. Degrade. Undermine. Defile. Destroy. And don’t think his use of the word “ancestors” isn’t deliberate. Though Black Americans often use the word to speak of those who came before them, there’s no doubt that Carlson wants his audience to think of the white male Founders, so they can contrast them with Jackson, a Black woman.

In a nutshell, the nomination of Judge Jackson reflects a 100% rejection of everything America has been and is supposed to be—at least that’s according to Carlson. Of course, Ronald Reagan promised he’d nominate a woman to the Supreme Court, but I guess because he didn’t mention race, to Republicans, that makes it as peachy as apple pie? But I digress. The Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin properly characterized Carlson’s remarks in just six words.

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That wasn’t all. Based on Jackson’s supposed lack of deep experience serving on a federal court, Carlson called the nomination “insulting,” and spoke of her “lack” of a judicial record. Never mind that Reagan’s historic (white) woman nominee, Sandra Day O’Connor, had never served above the state court level before her Supreme Court nomination, or that Judge Jackson, prior to being nominated, served on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, generally considered the second-highest court in the land. Of course, Tucker and facts don’t have the best relationship. Even he admits it.

Carlson then argued that just pointing out that we have never nominated a Black woman to the Supreme Court means one is calling America a “rotten, crappy country.” Demonstrating his truly savant-like understanding of history, the host cited Thurgood Marshall’s elevation to the court and then O’Connor’s, before saying, “Whatever!” and essentially arguing that, in terms of breaking barriers and representation, one Black man plus one white woman equals … one great step for mankind?

I didn’t get it either.

Maybe instead of working so hard to earn a degree in history, I should have stumbled through college drunk like Tucker did. Or maybe Tucker might be interested to know that actual research demonstrates that Black women face more hostile questioning than other judicial nominees during Senate confirmation hearings. That would definitely change his mind, right?

RELATED: GOP attack on Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson with race-baiting could backfire

Turning back to Biden, Carlson called him a “moron who hates [America]” before moving on to disparage some of Judge Jackson’s rulings. Interesting, coming from a guy who Putin’s Russia just called an “essential” player on Team Moscow. Then he got real specific, and depicted in stark terms exactly what he thinks Jackson plans to do.

“Ketanji Brown Jackson isn’t much of a jurist. She’s not simply ignorant of the law, she is a political activist and the irony is that right now the Supreme Court is considering an important question, a central question, about affirmative action. They are about to decide whether Harvard and other elite institutions can make decisions based on racial quotas. Do you want to live in that country? Most people don’t, of all colors. They think that you should be elevated in America based on what you do, on the choices, not on how you were born, not on your DNA, because that’s Rwanda.”

That’s correct, white Americans. If Carlson is to be believed, this nominee to the Supreme Court will not just discriminate against you through affirmative action, she’s also going to turn your country into Rwanda. Rwanda. Not only is it an African country, it’s an African country where one ethnic group committed genocide against another. Welcome to Ketanji Brown Jackson’s America, brought to you by Fox News and Fucker Carlson.

Lies about patriotism and CRT

The right-wing lies about Democrats despising America we hear in reaction to Judge Jackson’s nomination were far from new. From last fall’s gubernatorial election in Virginia, to statehouses all across the country, CRT and The 1619 Project (along with its author, Nikole Hannah-Jones) have been at the center of Republicans’ attempts to race-bait and fearmonger—targeting what kids are learning in school.

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A recently published report documents these efforts in great depth. The Conflict Campaign: Exploring Local Experiences of the Campaign to Ban “Critical Race Theory” in Public K–12 Education in the U.S., 2020–2021 was written by Mica Pollock, education professor at UC San Diego, and John Rogers, education professor at UCLA.

The full 120-page report can be found here, and traces a series of events, starting with the publication in 2019 of The 1619 Project. The following year, during the 2020 presidential campaign, Fuck a L’Orange went hard after how schools talk about racism and our history, the report details.

Trump’s Fourth of July speech at Mount Rushmore declared that American children are taught “to hate their own country” in public schools.

In his August speech to the Republican National Convention, Trump pledged to “fully restore patriotic education.”

In an August news conference, Trump blamed education for protests over police brutality taking place across the country. “What we’re witnessing today is a result of left-wing indoctrination in our nation’s schools and universities. Many young Americans have been fed lies about America being a wicked nation plagued by racism.”

Fast forward to 2021, and we’ve got red state after red state banning CRT and The 1619 Project. The parallels between the attacks on Judge Jackson’s patriotism—of which Carlson’s rant is Exhibit A—and the anti-CRT campaign, is brilliantly summarized by the report’s authors.

A major tactic of the conflict campaign thus is to caricature an entire imagined project of K–12 “CRT” as educators working to “discriminate” against and “divide” students by race, teach them to “hate America” as well as “to hate their classmates and to hate themselves,” and “create a hatred” of U.S. “institutions” and “values,” as a “Marxist,” “woke” “Left,” or sometimes “Democrat” ploy to “destroy America.”

Real American patriotism

Let me say it again: The notion that critical race theory is unpatriotic is a lie. Here’s how one of the scholars behind this school of thought, Columbia Law School professor Kimberlé Crenshaw, explained how it looks at racism in America and the country overall:

Critical race theory just says, let’s pay attention to what has happened in this country and how what has happened in this country is continuing to create differential outcomes so we can become that country that we say we are. So critical race theory is not anti-patriotic,” Crenshaw said. “In fact, it is more patriotic than those who are opposed to it because we believe in the 13th and the 14th and the 15th Amendment. We believe in the promises of equality, and we know we can’t get there if we can’t confront and talk honestly about inequality.

The aforementioned Nikole Hannah-Jones has also written passionately about her American patriotism in strikingly similar terms.

Yet despite being violently denied the freedom and justice promised to all, Black Americans believed fervently in the American creed. Through centuries of Black resistance and protest, we have helped the country live up to its founding ideals. And not only for ourselves—Black rights struggles paved the way for every other rights struggle, including women’s and gay rights, immigrant and disability rights … Black Americans, as much as those men cast in alabaster in the nation’s capital, are this nation’s true ‘founding fathers’ … No people has a greater claim to that flag than us … It was by virtue of our bondage that we became the most American of all.

Ketanji Brown Jackson, in her remarks on the day she became a Supreme Court nominee, related her own concept of American patriotism. Her love of our country came through just as clearly.

After thanking God, she celebrated the simple privilege of being an American: “Among my many blessings—and indeed, the very first—is the fact that I was born in this great country. The United States of America is the greatest beacon of hope and democracy the world has ever known.”

Judge Jackson also acknowledged the discrimination—based on race as well as gender—that Americans like her have long faced. She cited Judge Constance Baker Motley, the first Black woman to serve on the federal bench, noting that they were born exactly 49 years apart from one another. Given that the Supreme Court came into being 233 years ago, Jackson was making clear just how long Black women had to wait for Motley’s achievement, let alone the one she is hopefully about to reach. She added, “Today, I proudly stand on Judge Motley’s shoulders, sharing not only her birthday but also her steadfast and courageous commitment to equal justice under law.”

In closing, Jackson expressed that if she is confirmed, “I can only hope that my life and career, my love of this country and the Constitution, and my commitment to upholding the rule of law and the sacred principles upon which this great nation was founded will inspire future generations of Americans.”

Additionally, during her confirmation hearings for the federal bench a year ago, the judge related that she had made a habit of going over to the National Archives and looking at the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. As she explained, she did so in order to “reflect on the momentousness of my duties and the fact that I’ve had an opportunity that my grandparents would not have been able to even fathom.” Jackson also praised the “beauty and the majesty of this country that someone who comes from a background like mine could find herself in this position.” During her opening statement to the Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday, she revisited similar themes—and spoke about her parents giving her an African name, Ketanji Onyika, which means “lovely one.”

It’s clear: Judge Jackson is unapologetically and rightfully proud of every part of her identity. As she should be.

Yet do these sentiments bear any resemblance whatsoever to the language about her and her nomination heard by Tucker Carlson’s devoted (and easily-duped) audience? Of course not.

To cite Jennifer Rubin again: “Jackson sounds a lot more in tune with American values than the Republicans who excuse a violent insurrection as ‘legitimate political discourse’ and shed tears when symbols of the traitorous Confederacy get removed.”

And on the third day of Jackson’s Senate confirmation hearings, which have only seen Republicans amplify their dog whistles, Sen. Cory Booker also spoke to Jackson’s identity.

”I want to tell you, when I look at you, this is why I get emotional. I’m sorry, you’re a person that is so much more than your race and gender. You’re a Christian, you’re a mom, you’re an intellect, you love books, but for me, I’m sorry, it’s hard for me not to look at you and see my mom, not to see my cousins—one of them who had to come here and sit behind you. She had to have your back. I see my ancestors and yours. Nobody’s going to steal the joy of that woman in the street or the calls I’m getting or the texts. Nobody’s going to steal that joy. You have earned this spot. You are worthy. You are a great American.”

Remember: Right-wingers tried this crap with Barack Obama, too

In addition to Republicans constantly using these kinds of attacks about patriotism over the past year-plus, they’ve also fueled tried and true hit pieces against other ground-breaking Black Americans. As I’ve documented elsewhere, the late, unlamented Rush Limbaugh spent the entire Obama presidency (and then some) pushing the lie that our first Black president actually hated America, as well as white Americans—and for Limbaugh, that was a distinction without a difference.

As awful as that sounds in the abstract, here’s one example that truly brings the vitriol to life. Rush’s listeners heard on July 10, 2010, that under Obamacare, “Black bureaucrats” would make sure white patients received worse health care than their Black counterparts. Unbelievably—or not, actually—The Man Who Lost An Election And Tried To Steal It gave that bile-spewer a Medal of Freedom. 

The wretched racist right-wing radio host also claimed Obama, as well as the Democratic Party he led, wanted to destroy the America that had been built up by generations of (white) patriots, and replace it with something radically different, a society that would favor Americans of color and discriminate against whites. This language of “white victimhood” is, and remains, completely false.

Obama has made clear, time and time (and time) again, his patriotism, love for America, and his empathy specifically for white Americans—as well as every other American. Only people with zero respect for the truth would suggest otherwise. But hey, if the white hood fits …

Joe Biden has also echoed many of Obama’s themes in how he talks about our country. Consider his words, for example, after the murder of George Floyd.

The history of this nation teaches us that it’s in some of our darkest moments of despair that we’ve made some of our greatest progress. The 13th and 14th and 15th Amendments followed the Civil War. … The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965 came in the tracks of Bull Connor’s vicious dogs. To paraphrase Reverend Barber—it’s in the mourning we find hope.

An accurate, honest, and politically effective narrative of our history

Looking toward the 2022 midterms and beyond, progressive political figures need to discuss America in these kinds of terms, making their love of country clear. First, it’s accurate as well as honest. Our history is full of both despair and progress. Secondly, this balanced yet ultimately hopeful narrative resonates with broad swathes of the American people and is necessary in order to win elections in enough places to give Democrats the opportunity to enact significant policy changes.

Democratic officials—and those who want to help them win elections—must push back against the bullshit being thrown at them by anti-CRT right-wingers, which is the same bullshit being flung at Judge Jackson on her road to becoming Justice Jackson. The truthful, inspiring way she speaks about American values and institutions, as well as proclaims her love for our country, does so in a highly effective way—by neutralizing the extreme and falsehood-laden rhetoric from Trumpists. Although she is not standing before voters, this historic nominee’s words still resonate powerfully with them. The more voters Democrats can reach, the more likely we are to see justices like Jackson appointed to the Supreme Court, and across the judiciary.

Ketanji Brown Jackson, along with Barack Obama, Sen. Booker, Vice President Kamala Harris, and Joe Biden, have made clear through their words as well as their actions that they love America. More broadly, they continue to reinforce the fact that the Democratic Party wants to take America forward, to help us fully realize our founding ideals.

Democrats want to make our country into a place where Americans of every background receive equal justice; a place that ensures race and other forms of identity can never be used to reduce opportunity, or to hold a person back from reaching their full potential. Likewise, Democrats understand that until we get to that place, America cannot reach its full potential either.
 

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Ian Reifowitz is the author of  The Tribalization of Politics: How Rush Limbaugh’s Race-Baiting Rhetoric on the Obama Presidency Paved the Way for Trump (Foreword by Markos Moulitsas)




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