Former President Donald Trump played a key role in developing the conservative hysteria over critical race theory that continues to run rampant today.
An advanced academic framework, critical race theory examines racism in the United States through the lens of how overtly racist policies of the past remain covertly embedded in American society today, contributing to racial inequalities across economic, political, social, and educational sectors. Republicans have slammed the theory as "racist" and unpatriotic, absurdly claiming that it's taught in secondary schools across the United States in an effort to sow resentment against white people.
In September of his last year in office, Trump ordered a purge of federal agency trainings that supposedly promoted critical race theory. He also introduced the 1776 Commission, a response to journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones' 1619 Project, the controversial New York Times Magazine initiative examining the United States' origins from when the first ship carrying enslaved Africans arrived on its shores.
Trump's commission sought to emphasize "patriotic" education in America's schools, often at the expense of historical accuracy.
Though Trump lost the election, critical race theory remains a major talking point of conservatives, so it came as no surprise when the former President brought it up at his rally this past weekend in South Carolina.
Trump told the crowd of his supporters:
"Getting critical race theory out of our schools is not just a matter of values, it's also a matter of national survival. We have no choice. The fate of any nation ultimately depends upon the willingness of its citizens to lay down—and they must do this—lay down their very lives to defend their country. If we allow the Marxists and communists and socialists to teach our children to hate America, there will be no one left to defend our flag or to protect our great country or its freedom."
Trump's calls for his supporters to "lay down their very lives" shouldn't be taken lightly. As the deaths of at least two Trump supporters during the Capitol insurrection proved, there are factions of Trump's voters who are willing to risk their lives if the former President's conspiracy theories demand it.
The critical race theory debate is just one facet of a broader, unfounded anti-intellectual hysteria over the supposed mass indoctrination of children through the public school system. Conservative opposition to this imaginary foe is delivered through increasingly warlike terms. One Republican candidate, Steve Lynch, urged his supporters to gather "20 strong men" and forcibly remove school board members. Far-right Ohio Senate candidate J.D. Vance said professors are "the enemy," despite his professor at Yale Law School convincing him to write the book that gave him a modicum of relevance in the first place. There are growing calls from Republicans in favor of abolishing the federal Department of Education.
In a controversial letter, the National School Board Association (NSBA) warned of spikes in threats and violence against school board members, imploring the Deparment of Justice to monitor the spike in threats at school board meetings, which the NSBA said, in some instances, could amount to domestic terrorism.
So few are taking lightly Trump's calls for his supporters to sacrifice themselves in the name of critical race theory hysteria.
Some likened Trump to a cult leader.
Trump isn't expected to deescalate his rhetoric any time soon.