Yesterday, David Ignatius had a piece in the Washington Post that uncovered the attempt of the Trump administration to reorder the Middle East along an axis anchored by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudia Arabia (more popularly known as MBS), Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, and Jared Kushner of the U.S.
To make the deal, the leaders involved apparently wanted to muscle Jordan out of its role as the custodian of Muslim and Christian holy sites in Jerusalem, a role carved out in the 1994 peace treaty between Israel and Jordan that was hammered out under President Bill Clinton. The new dealmakers apparently wanted to scuttle the U.S.-backed accords and replace them with economic deals that would reorder the region.
This story has huge implications for the Middle East, for American government, for religion, for culture, and so on, but something else jumps out to me here: this story is a great illustration of the principles behind Critical Race Theory, which is currently tearing up the Fox News Channel. Together, the attempt to bypass Jordan and the obsession with Critical Race Theory seem to make a larger statement about the current sea change in the U.S. as people increasingly reject the individualist ideology of the Reagan era.
When Kushner set out to construct a Middle East peace plan, he famously told Aaron David Miller, who had negotiated peace agreements with other administrations, that he didn’t want to know about how things had worked in the past. “He said flat out, don’t talk to me about history,” Miller told Chris McGreal of The Guardian, “He said, I told the Israelis and the Palestinians not to talk to me about history too.”
Kushner apparently thought he could create a brand new Middle East with a brand new set of alliances that would begin with changing long standing geopolitics in Jerusalem, the city three major world religions consider holy. It is eye-popping to imagine what would have happened if we had torn up decades of agreements and tried to graft onto a troubled area an entirely new way of interacting, based not on treaties but on the interests of this new axis. Apparently, the hope was that throwing enough money at the region would have made the change palatable. But most experts think that weakening Jordan, long a key U.S. ally in the region, and removing its oversight of the holy sites, would have ushered in violence.
The heart of the American contribution to the idea of reworking the Middle East along a new axis with contracts, rather than treaties, seems to have been that enough will and enough money can create new realities.
The idea that will and money could create success was at the heart of the Reagan Revolution. Its adherents championed the idea that any individual could prosper in America, so long as the government stayed out of his (it was almost always his) business.
Critical Race Theory challenges this individualist ideology. CRT emerged in the late 1970s in legal scholarship written by people who recognized that legal protections for individuals did not, in fact, level the playing field in America. They noted that racial biases are embedded in our legal system. From that, other scholars noted that racial, ethnic, gender, class, and other biases are embedded in the other systems that make up our society.
Historians began to cover this ground long ago. Oklahoma historian Angie Debo established such biases in the construction of American law in her book, And Still the Waters Run: The Betrayal of the Five Civilized Tribes back in 1940. Since then, historians have explored the biases in our housing policies, policing, medical care, and so on, and there are very few who would suggest that our systems are truly neutral.
So why is Critical Race Theory such a flashpoint in today’s political world? Perhaps in part because it rejects the Republican insistence that an individual can create a prosperous life by will alone. It says that, no matter how talented someone might be, or how eager and dedicated, they cannot always contend against the societal forces stacked against them. It argues for the important weight of systems, established through time, rather than the idea that anyone can create a new reality.
It acknowledges the importance of history.
This tired woman leaves the Middle East, Jared Kushner and Critical Race Theory to your able minds. I'll return to give the subjects more time tomorrow.
Before I say goodnight, here's a message for you.
I started reading Letters from an American at the beginning of January, 2021. The drumbeat of Heather’s Letters begins my mornings. Eventually, I joined the forum.
You have been my friends, teachers, dramatists, sources of amusement and arguments. Men and women from around the country, a few living in other places; a mixture of professions; different ages; retirees, married, single, widows and widowers are the beating heart of this forum.
Heather’s Letters inform me and you are my community. Without seeing each other’s faces or voices, we are close. Together, we share a pivotal point in America’s history.
I have a personal project to begin this month. With its start, I must end my time on the forum. The loss of your sensibilities will grow stronger, not fade away. I am grateful for Heather’s and your predictability during the early months of Joe Biden’s presidency. Subscriber friends, you have brought me an abundance of life and a 2nd sunrise each morning. Please accept this wide smile of appreciation to each and every one of you. Salud!
I find Dr. Peggy McIntosh's article "White People Facing Race: Uncovering the Myths that keep Racism in Place" very helpful in understanding how racism and white privilege are both denied and perpetuated. The five myths she discusses are: 1. "The Myth of Meritocracy is the myth that the individual is the only unit of society, and that whatever a person ends up with must be what he or she individually wanted, worked for, earned and deserved." 2. "The Myth of Manifest Destiny includes the idea that white people were intended by God to take the lands of indigenous people and others in order to possess the whole of what is now the continental United States." 3. "The Myth of White Racelessness is the notion that white people do not have race or racial experience. In this view we [whites] are just "normal." 4. "The Myth of Monoculture is that there is one American culture and that we all experience it more or less the same way." and finally 5. "The Myth o White Moral Elevation, also called internalized superiority." Here is the link to the entire article. https://nationalseedproject.org/images/documents/peggy/Peggy_McIntosh_White_People_Facing_Race.pdf What this tells me is that we won't address the biases in our systems - in the law, medical care, etc. -- until we face these myths and acknowledge their impact in distorting our society and culture. Here is Peggy's TEDtalk on How to recognize your white privilege — and use it to fight inequality. https://www.ted.com/talks/peggy_mcintosh_how_to_recognize_your_white_privilege_and_use_it_to_fight_inequality Whites as a whole do not recognize their white privilege.