You have to watch this Daily Show clip of anti-maskers at a school board meeting in North Carolina (despite the host, Jordan Klepper, self-righteously making fun of them, which doesn’t sit right with me).

It’s like an anthropological study of tactics that right-wing leaders use to divide us so that the wealthy few can maintain and expand their political and economic power.

“I’m against all mandates, whether it’s masks or vaccinations. I’m against it all,” said one protestor.

“[We’re here to] save the kids from all that’s going on with Critical Race Theory,” said another.

What really stood out was a phrase printed on t-shirts and written on protests signs throughout the clip: “I don’t co-parent with the government.” By which, I guess, protestors meant that democratically elected school boards shouldn’t be deciding how to make public schools safe for students and teachers.

This isn’t surprising. For decades, attacking government—perhaps more than any other idea or issue—has united right-wing forces, from white supremacists to the religious right. As political historian Nancy MacLean documents in her book Democracy in Chains, “The idea [is] to get voters to direct their ire at [public] institutions and divert their attention away from increasing income and wealth inequality.

Journalist Jeff Bryant nailed it when he tweeted, “The confluence of anti-masking with efforts to rid schools of teaching the truth about structural racism is where American libertarianism meets white supremacy.”

This is why we need to be loud and clear that public problems—inequity in public education, climate change, Covid-19—require public solutions. We must defend our public institutions, make them more democratic, make sure they’re adequately funded, and wholeheartedly articulate the value of public things. (BTW, you can sign up for our Executive Director Donald Cohen’s new email newsletter—called Public Thingshere.)

To be sure, it’s not that everything the government does is automatically great. I hate getting parking tickets. I get angry every time I go to the DMV. I’ve been waiting for a city-issued trash can for more than a year now.

But the answer isn’t to cut taxes on corporations and the wealthy few even more. Or get rid of the DMV. Or privatize the sanitation department. Or—in the case of public schools—hand them over to privately managed, unaccountable charter school management organizations.

It’s to defend, fund, and improve the public institutions we rely on every day. And it’s to call out the obvious attempts by right-wing leaders to divide us against each other.

Photo by Anthony Crider.

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