Critical Race Theory (CRT) examines how racism remains embedded in societal structures, but the very idea that racism still exists sends some conservatives into orbit. Critical Race Theory has become convenient shorthand for conservatives too lazy to engage with the theory itself. Instead, the theory has become the umbrella term for everything wrong with America’s direction. Predictably, that includes trans rights.
According to research by Media Matters, right-wing pundits on Fox have been indiscriminately lumping trans issues into Critical Race Theory as part of an overall attempt to fuel viewer grievances.
“The network’s hosts and guests have often simultaneously brought up the topic alongside mentions and discussions of trans people, using both topics to portray the left as extreme,” Media Matters, a media watchdog for right-wing sites, notes. “Fox News figures regularly compared the two topics to each other, claiming that they are both ‘designed to divide’ people, that transgender rights silence women while discussions about race silence white people, and that teaching about race or gender identity will lead to ‘dumber’ kids and a weaker military.”
The right has moved the description of Critical Race Theory from an academic concept to an assault on grammar and high school students. The fact that the theory isn’t actually being taught in schools doesn’t matter. And since trans students have already been a target for the right wing, why not lump them into Critical Race Theory?
That’s exactly what Fox News talking heads have been doing.
On one show, conservative writer Douglas Murray said that “CRT, like a lot of the transgender ideology, is designed to divide” because it brands people as bigots. After right-wing parents in Loudoun County, Virginia, disrupted a school board meeting to protest protections for transgender students, Fox News host Will Cain declared the location the “Lexington and Concord” of the “cultural revolution” with its “transgender policies, Critical Race Theory policies.”
Fox host Rachel Campos-Duffy said that “Critical Race Theory and gender ideology have infected nearly every institution in America,” with the aim of undermining the military. Anti-trans writer Abigail Shrier said “gender ideology” is “very much like Critical Race Theory” in that one “tells women they are never allowed to speak up if they feel unsafe” and the other tells white people “that they’re not entitled to be part of any conversation.”
Unsurprisingly, Media Matters has plenty of other examples. Once the right-wing media machine cranks out a new outrage, it will continue using it ad infinitum.
Republicans are desperate to find a campaign message that will propel them to victory in the midterm elections next year. Reminding the public of the disastrous Trump administration is a proven loser, but alienating Trump’s base is equally dangerous for the GOP. So going after Critical Race Theory and trans students is a useful club, no matter how untrue it is. The attacks appeal to the very same white grievance messages that propelled Trump to the White House in 2016. They also capitalize on the long legacy of transphobia that was a centerpiece of the Trump administration. Without mentioning Trump, Republicans can recreate his toxic brew of hatred, division and fear.
Clearly, the GOP, and its mouthpiece Fox News, believe that this is a winning message. They are already using it to recruit conservative evangelicals to run for school boards. Republicans are also convinced that the attack on trans students will serve to bring suburban women back into the GOP fold, after that group’s defection last year.
Whether or not the combination of attacking trans students and protecting white privilege works remains to be seen. But one thing is for sure. We will be hearing a lot more about it in the coming months.