It is not the best of times. Our country is so hopelessly and hatefully divided that we can’t even agree on enough facts to have a decent argument. Millions of people from all over the world are streaming across the border, it seems like half the country is marching in the streets in support of terrorists and the newest member of the U.S. Supreme Court is afraid to define what a woman is.
I had been thinking that 2023 would turn out to be worse than 2022, but as it draws to a close, I am feeling optimistic.
Looking back on the year through my newsletter and podcast — 9th & Congress—there are some clear signs that 2023 may prove to be a turning point that even the media can’t ignore. The world of irrational wokeness—critical race theory, gender identity and equity politics is beginning to crumble, and though it is far from over, there is a sense that we are at the beginning of the end.
Last month I wrote that the three Ivy League college presidents shocked America by their robotic failure to condemn the terrorist massacre of Jews on Oct. 7.
It was a stunning made-for-television moment that is serving as a wake-up call to every parent in America who is considering sending a child to college, because virtually all universities and college espouse the same Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) rubbish those college presidents spit out—even in Texas.
I reported that Texas A&M had its own “what could they possibly be thinking” moment when it hired a woke journalism professor to head up a new journalism school who stated, unequivocally, that some sides of a story should not be reported in the news:
“We can’t just give people a set of facts anymore. I think we know that and we have to tell our students that. This is not about getting two sides of a story or three sides of a story, if one side is illegitimate,” said Dr. Kathleen McElroy. “I think now you cannot cover education, you cannot cover criminal justice, you can’t cover all of these institutions without recognizing how all these institutions were built.”
Guess who gets to decide which side is “illegitimate?”
At the University of Texas, I spoke with Professor Daniel Bonevac who had testified before the Texas Senate Higher Education Committee that DEI programs function like the “campus thought police” over on the vaunted “40 acres.”
Before Harvard President Claudine Gay embarrassed the oldest university in America in front of the whole country, Harvard had already made big news in 2023 when the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) found that it had the worst record for free speech of any college in America. That’s why it was so laughable when Gay tried to pretend that “free speech” was the reason she didn’t condemn the protestors supporting Hamas. Laughably, Harvard had suddenly discovered free speech.
But the problem isn’t just at Harvard. We will learn in a couple days whether the University of Texas really has the No. 3 football team in the nation, but as I wrote last year, when it comes to free speech UT is rated number 236—almost as bad as Harvard, which is at the bottom of the list at 248. Again, according to FIRE, excluding and shouting down conservative speakers is totally acceptable to the majority of Longhorn students.
I spoke with Dr. Stanley Goldfarb, head of “Do No Harm,” which is fighting DEI in medical schools, who told me that some Texas medical schools are no longer looking at GPAs or requiring doctors to take MCAT tests before they are admitted apparently because the tests give an unfair advantage to the people who can pass the tests, regardless of their skin color or gender identity. Texans are not happy to learn this and changes will undoubtedly be made.
The biggest disappointment in 2023 was Texas’ failure to pass school choice, allowing parents to determine what school is best for their child. Just before the final legislative vote in October I wrote about what it has been like to watch this battle for over 20 years in Texas as teachers unions and their allies in the media fight parents and school choice. Though many of the legislators who led the fight against school choice are graduates of private schools and send their kids there, time and time again, they condemned poor and marginalized children to failing schools.
But one of the brightest spots in 2023 is the passage of one of the most important pieces of legislation in our modern history—Senate Bill 17, the anti-DEI bill by Senator Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, which outlaws DEI offices on Texas public university campuses. When a bunch Texas professors threatened to leave the state after SB 17 passed, we all knew they weren’t going anywhere. They haven’t.
Our challenge in 2024 will be to ensure that Texas colleges and universities actually follow the new laws against DEI. So far, not much of what we are seeing is promising. I spoke with Carol Swain, Ph.D., about her latest book, “The Adversity of Diversity,” earlier this month. As a former tenured professor at Princeton who also taught at Vanderbilt, Carol predicted that the DEI bureaucracy will not give up without a fight, which is certainly what we are seeing at Texas universities.
Notably, Carol is one of the people whose work was plagiarized by Harvard’s President Gay. She wrote about it in the WSJ recently noting that the words Gay lifted from her book, “Black Faces, Black Interests: The Representation of African Americans in Congress” would have been familiar to others at Harvard who likely ignored the fact that Gay copied her work without attribution.
Much of what is wrong in education is linked to DEI, including its tie to Hamas, as we saw after the attacks on Israel and campuses exploded in support of the terrorists. I certainly wasn’t the only one who blamed DEI programs for the protests.
My colleagues Erin Valdez and Chuck DeVore presented a panel discussion on the “Woke Hamas Alliance” showing the depth of this long and dangerous partnership. We were joined on the panel by Rabbi Dan Ain.
It wasn’t long after Oct. 7 before it was easy to see that Hamas was using its own people to fight a media war. Civilian casualties aren’t collateral damage for Hamas, they are a feature of their strategic plan. Now, almost 12 weeks later, they are obviously meeting with success as we see Biden waffling and many in the West flinching at the body count.
I talked to Rabbi Ain again earlier this month about how his community is coping with the escalating war in Israel. He told me it had been difficult for many Jewish people to imagine that anti-Semitism wouldn’t be broadly condemned in America. As a native New Yorker who chose Texas as a refuge for himself and his family several years ago, Rabbi Ain’s observations on the war and the protests here are extremely insightful.
Of course, DEI is not only about Critical Race Theory and terrorism. It is also about something called “Gender Theory,” a topic you can major in at a couple of Texas universities. The end of the year fundraising appeal from the Texas Tribune, one of the state’s largest media outlets, assures us that it will continue to report on Texas priority issues in 2024 including “transgender rights.”
Last year, I reported exactly what Equality Texas, the leading advocate for so-called LGBTQ+, views some of those rights to be:
- No restrictions on sex change surgery for children, which Equality Texas calls “lifesaving” and a “best [medical] practice.” No restrictions on cross-sex hormones and puberty blocking drugs.
- All health care providers should be forced to provide sex change surgery to children whether the providers believe in them or not.
- Insurance companies should be required to pay for sex change operations for children.
- There should be no restrictions on classroom instruction about sexual orientation and gender identity.
- There should be no restrictions on classroom instruction using nudity and descriptions of sex.
- Men should be allowed to play in women’s sports in Texas colleges and universities.
Equality Texas does not include a “right” to perform drag shows for children in public schools and libraries, although they insisted Texas legislature’s effort to restrict them was “life threatening.”
As a lifelong feminist, it continues to baffle me that there is no bigger outcry against drag shows, which are essentially a woman-focused version of blackface, which is universally condemned. In April I reported that the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture describes blackface this way:
“Minstrelsy, comedic performances of “blackness” by whites in exaggerated costumes and make-up, cannot be separated fully from the racial derision and stereotyping at its core. By distorting the features and culture of African Americans—including their looks, language, dance, deportment, and character—white Americans were able to codify whiteness across class and geopolitical lines as its antithesis.”
Change blackness to womanhood and you have a precise definition of drag shows —”comedic performances of women by men in exaggerated costumes and make-up…” As the Smithsonian notes, blackface “cannot be separated from racial derision and stereotyping at its core.” Similarly, drag shows are all about misogyny and utter contempt for women.
Texas passed a law to restrict drag shows in public libraries and in June I wrote that “Texas May Be Winning the War Against Woke.” As 2023 winds down, it looks like the rest of the country is also having second thoughts about the woke worldview too and not just businesses like Bud Light and Target which learned that it just isn’t worth it to push distorted gender identities. Just this week, big woke tech companies like Google and Meta revealed they are pulling back. Nationally, DEI job postings are down 44%. That’s one more reason to be optimistic about 2024.
Another is that Texans have faced tough times before. In our recent history, it is important to remember that Texas has not always flourished and our state leaders have not always been conservatives. Conservatives did not take control of the Legislature until 2003, just 20 years ago. That’s why I reached out to several people who were part of the effort to change Texas from blue to red, including nationally known pollster Mike Baselice, media guru David Weeks and communications expert Ray Sullivan to learn how Texas got it right over two decades ago. Their stories say a lot about who Texans are and what they believe.
Then, as now, Texans want small government, individual liberty and freedom and governing principles that allow businesses to prosper and make our state a force in the global market.
They also want to protect our history from the woke forces of DEI. The state of Texas is finally building a world-class history site at the Alamo after overcoming assaults from the “Forget the Alamo” crowd who want to deny that anything heroic happened there.
I talked with legendary Texan and historic preservationist J.P. Bryan who has been fighting that battle his entire life, making sure that left-wing historians don’t re-write our history to reflect their Marxist world view. Every Texan should be very grateful that J.P. hasn’t backed down from this fight. Next week I will host Judge Ken Wise, President of the Texas State Historical Association, on the podcast. It should be interesting, so listen in.
Sherry Sylvester is a Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Texas Public Policy Foundation and the former Senior Advisor to Texas Lt. Governor Dan Patrick. Subscribe to her 9th & Congress newsletter to be the first to receive columns like this.