Sunday, May 14, 2023

My Mother's Day Reflection: Pondering Historian Nancy MacLean's Analysis of Democracy & the 88th (2023) session of the Texas State Legislature


Angela Valenzuela, Ph.D.

On this day of Mother's Day of 2023, I ponder Nancy MacLean and the 88th session of the Texas State Legislature that will soon come to a close. I reflect on big items on which I have remained relatively current, including voter-suppression, cultural wars, high-stakes testing and accountability, city preemption politics, school privatization through vouchers and education savings accounts (ESAs), as well as anti-diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) bills.

Accordingly, I urge all to view this extraordinary lecture by Duke University, award-winning history of politics  Professor Nancy MacLean. Her talk is titled, "Scholar-to-Scholar Talk: Nancy MacLean, "The Pre-History and Likely Sequels—of the Insurrection at the U.S. Capitol," March 2, 2022. [Youtube]

And what a captivating storyteller she is! 

MacLean provides a gripping, conceptually keen analysis of the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the the U.S. Capitol to help lay out a framework of concentric circles of support and validation of the Trump agenda that is not just intentional but also engineered and historic, putting democracy at risk. 

Expressed differently, according to studies of democracy globally such as studied by the Institute for Democracy in Stockholm, Sweden, our country is slipping if these factors are present: 

Individuals' right to vote through voter suppression policies and practices are curtailed. The following agendas are at play: disinformation campaigns that exploit the ignorance of the casual observer; a rigging of the judiciary or a highjacking of the legislative process; fierce privatization agendas such as with roads, prisons and schools that, as she says, "engorge corporate partners"; an undermining of established norms of governance; and a weaponizing of tensions over race, sexuality (transgender battles), and religion (anti-Islamism) to intentionally divide and fragment the polity. Sound familiar?

We're in fact ranked next to Hungary as a fledgling democracy. MacLean comments that these contrived dynamics put voters in a "constant state of fear, anger and agitation."

Listening to this and having read her prophetic book, Democracy in Chains (2018), I can easily see the power plays of the 88th Texas Legislature through this lens. She cogently explains how this represents a well-orchestrated, decades-long, agenda by a highly extremist radical right to seize power.

She rests this agenda at the feet of the Koch Donor Network that she says consists of close to 700 donors "determined to make the world to their liking." 

Within this network are ostensibly autonomous organizations like the Cato Institute, the Heritage Foundation, the American Legislative Exchange Council, the Federalist Society and others. Big oil is also a large part of this group which helps keep the horrible lie that climate change isn't real alive.

What they collectively seek is unfettered capitalism free of regulations that converts existence to a market where the best education—or other services one can get—is the best one can buy. Say no to vouchers and ESAs!

For this to prevail, consent must get engineered. Here is where citizens' very consciousness comes into play. Hence, we witness the attack on the schools to keep teachers feeling vulnerable and weakened. Book bans and other attacks on curriculum are part of the playbook, as well as a weakening of faculty governance at the higher education level such as through a limiting or ending tenure, DEI, and "woke curriculum" that faculty teach.

A message to all professors: Our silence does not protect us!

For Ethnic Studies advocates in K-12, we've not even been able to get House Bill 45 out of committee for a hearing this legislative session! At least during the last 2021 legislative session, the exact same bill came out of both houses and landed just shy of the governor's desk, but Republicans decided to debate CRT instead of Ethnic Studies. None of this is coincidental, but rather contrived. And what is so unfortunate is how black, brown, and white youth could benefit equally from a curriculum that sheds light on intergroup histories, tensions, and solidarity throughout history. This curriculum is, in fact, a helpful antidote to the white nationalist ideologies that find fertile ground in the legislated ignorance that itself has a long history as I myself have documented in my own work (Valenzuela, 2021). 

It should therefore come as no surprise that some Latinos and other people of color, succumb to such ideologies when they've been deprived of curriculum and pedagogy that speaks to theirs', as well as others' experiences. Someday, by the way, Ethnic Studies will just get called "a good education,."

I am reminded of Herman and Chomsky's (2010) notion of a manufacturing of consent—through whitewashed books and curriculum that are designed to keep our youth in the dark regarding the actual truths of history. Doing so is less easy these days compared to earlier times when folks didn't have access to the Internet. And not just that, but there has been an evolution of consciousness itself—to which so much of the intrigue surrounding Gen Z attests (Twenge, 2023)

Still, right-wing trolls and websites spread all manner of disinformation that, as MacLean expresses, is referred to by some  as the "Outrage Industry." This works to make people feel scared and defensive—especially of the "other"—like they are under siege.

Might we not even link a general sense of malaise to this that manifests in so many ways, including domestic abuse and gun violence—both of which are empirically linked?

If you're in Texas right now, this has been quite the session, so incredibly hostile to our transgender youth, drag queens, immigrants, gun safety advocates, women that seek abortions, and minorities—atop existing campaigns that seek to limit the vote, ban books, curriculum, along with eliminating tenure, diversity, equity, and inclusion offices and initiatives at the higher education level.  

These agendas do not come from the people. Most families are worried about the economy, want greater security and gun safety laws. They are concerned about the grid, desirous of great public schools, concerned about debilitating student debt, and greater access and funding support for their children's pursuit of higher education. 

Simultaneously, and not trivially, we are also all observing the shift to a multiracial/multiethnic democracy. Instead of leading on these changes, including a furthering of diversity, equity, and inclusion offices and initiatives, those in power are seizing not just power, but a white chauvinist, culturally supremacist vision of society where wealth and power are concentrated in the hands of the few.

My, how that is so NOT a winning strategy in a state that is only becoming more, not less, diverse!

It was clear that there were "a thousand fires" that we had to put out this legislative session. We were correct in understanding that the purpose was in part ideological, but also designed to fragment or weaken us as an advocacy community. What MacLean allows us to consider is that fragmentation and polarization under the auspices of the so-called "culture wars," is part of a much larger scheme that attaches to oligarchy where a small group of people hold most of the power.

We should all find it disturbing, as a manifestation of white supremacy, Alabama Congressman Tommy Tuberville's recent statements that white nationalists are as entitled to the military as anybody else when an ethical and moral stance would have been to state instead that they should all be removed. The clear danger in this as MacLean outlines, is the development of factions within the military that could lead to a divided military about which U.S. generals have already openly expressed concerns. I encourage all to see this video on Extremism in the Military.

Solutions? We definitely need to get dark money out of politics. This requires a lot of grassroots mobilizing in order to protect election integrity. To promote democratic processes and democracy itself, we need leaders that are prepared to do the hard work of challenging the well-heeled ecosystem of a right-wing outrage industry, and bringing down the tone and frenetic noise of (un)civil discourse and highly partisan politics, while they're at it.

Let's ourselves remember, as Ghandi once said, that we ourselves need to be the change that we want to see in the world. We shouldn't ourselves be polarizing. Admittedly, when the house is on fire, it's hard to not be a bit upset about that. Yet, if we see this as part of an anti-democratic strategy to concentrate wealth and power in the hands of the few, it becomes important to manifest the opposite of what extremists want to see. After all, chaos, disorder, and division among the masses serve their agenda as MacLean well explains.

I spoke yesterday evening with my soon-to-be 11-year-old grandson and 4-year old granddaughter about guns and violence, news of which they cannot possibly be immune, even as small children. Without a doubt, they not only hear things, but they have their own opinions.

I shared that as opposed to speaking from our fear or anger, how we need to speak from our hearts so that we can be peaceful and still in the storm that surrounds us. The heart reminds us of love, care and compassion, I said. Yes, the storm is all around us and we may sometimes feel small and scared. Maybe what we all have to do, I told them, is to be the calm vessel in the ocean. We cannot control the ocean, but we ourselves be calm. And then our vessel connects with other vessels that also want to be calm. And we do this with our parents, families and communities and we build a new and better world in this way.

My granddaughter was stoked by the conversation and wanted to know more about the heart. She shared that she drew a picture for me, her grandma, to let me know how much she loves me—as well as another for her mother. I told her that the heart is love, caring, kindness, and compassion and that I couldn't be happier and looked forward to getting her drawing. Yep, being a grandma is awesome.

I really do think that most people are good and that we want to live in peace—not just with each other, but also with our Earth mother. I also think, and science has shown, that we are super-collaborators as a species. I see this all the time in the university classroom. Hence, despite the challenges there is much reason to be hopeful.

However we all walk away from this legislative session, we're all entitled to our emotions, but let's not at all succumb to cynicism or despair. If you do, you empower those in power that hold ill will toward you and your community and want to elicit this from you and me as a sign of achieving their aims.

Pathetic, but true and that's what MacLean underscores in her talk.

Those of us who advocated this session on behalf of our children, youth, and  communities—and we were many—enjoyed a sense of solidarity-building, love, and commitment to a more just, caring and inclusive world where all enjoy and deserve a sense of dignity and belonging. 

I am excited about this world that we are building from the ashes of legislative animus. At all cost, we must hold onto that vision. It is abundantly clear to me that we possess all the resources, talent, and wherewithal to prevail such that the solution remains the same: Organize, organize, organize.

I am so proud of our young people. From where I stand, there was a palpable growth in our grassroots organizations and a fresh, post-pandemic energy of a new generation of young, driven activists and leaders. In contrast to Republicans' false, even weird, narrative of DEI initiatives creating divisions, ours is a positive, hopeful—yes, diverse, equitable, and inclusive—vision for the future.

Ours is not at all about division—but rather a coming together as a rich tapestry of intersectional, intergenerational, multi-ethnic, socioeconomic, and racial diversity, enunciating democratic principles like fairness, openness, transparency, due process, academic freedom, as well as the value and hard work of diversity, equity and inclusion. 

It is in this very circumstance and context that we organized just such a group that calls itself Black Brown Dialogues on Policy. We call on Black and Brown unity and coalition building for the expressed purpose of addressing policy concerns and possibilities that we hold in common—and there are many. We use the terms "Black" and "Brown" in order to not lose half of our group by using labels (like "Latinx" or "African American" vs. "Black," etc.) that get in the way of the kinds of things that we need to work on together as similarly-situated communities with histories of coalition building and knowing, always, that there is more that unites than divides us. In the interest of clarity, "black and brown" is for us a large tent inclusive of all genders, socioeconomic classes, racial and ethnic groups, as well as white allies.

Our membership also consists of an aggrieved humanity, most particularly, the Uvalde families advocating for reform. Now we add Allen, Texas, to a growing list of casualties whose deaths should not be in vain. I hope that Gov. Abbott signs into law the bill that will raise the age limit to 21 for any person to be able to purchase a high-powered weapon. I hope vouchers don't pass and that our state leaders open their eyes and see the U.S.-Mexico border as the humanitarian crisis that it is.

It's not easy, but we do win when we hold onto the core of who we are and don't become the polarizing, divisive, or violent force that oligarchs want us to become. 

Do listen to Dr. MacLean. Her analysis not only masterfully connects the dots, but is prophetic. Forewarned is forearmed.

Happy Mother's Day, everybody! 

-Angela Valenzuela


ABC News. (2020). Examining Extremism in the Military. Retrieved: 

Herman, E. S., & Chomsky, N. (2010). Manufacturing consent: The political economy of the mass media. Random House.

Twenge, J. M. (2023). Generations: The Real Differences Between Gen Z, Millennials, Gen X, Boomers, and Silents—and What They Mean for America's Future. Simon and Schuster.

Valenzuela, A. (2021). Decolonizing Citizenship: The Movement for Ethnic Studies in Texas. In Pratt, M., Gonzales, P., & Rosaldo, R. (Eds.) Trumpism, Mexican America, and the Struggle for Latinx Citizenship. Santa Fe: University of New Mexico Press.

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