As a part of the education community, I noticed two immediate responses to the insurrection of the U.S. Capitol by domestic terrorists seeking to disrupt the confirmation of the next President of the U.S.
One response anticipated that (once again) teachers would be on the front line of addressing trauma by suggesting ways that examining the riot in DC could be (should be) incorporated into the classroom—notably for those teachers dealing with history.
Another response, however, was the both-sides warning calling for no politics in the classroom.
Some educators received the identical email shared after the November elections, essentially telling teachers not to take political sides in the classroom.
We stand in the first weeks of 2021 once again needing to clarify language and confronting just what being “political” means.
First, to remain neutral or to use the “both sides” approach (or to remain silent) is a form of politics—often imposed by those with power onto those who fear for their jobs (notably teachers in non-union states).
“Politics” is simply the negotiation of power between and among humans; in other words, all human behavior is political.
Many demanding “no politics” are in fact confusing “political” with “partisan.”
2021 is providing a vivid and disturbing example of “partisan” though the behavior of Republicans who have for four years yielded all ethical ground to Trump in order to protect their partisan power in the White House and Senate.
With the insurrection at the Capitol, we have witnessed cowardly backpedaling (Lindsay Graham) and the most disturbing doubling-down on partisanship (Ted Crus et al.).
The politics of calling for no politics is both a paradox (since the ones in power demanding “no politics” are themselves being political) and the worst sort of ethical abdication.
The horrific four years of Trump has been fueled in part by calls for civility and by a simplistic belief that people can just get along if they have a difference of “politics.”
The last weeks of Trump have proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that rejecting Trump is not about his being a Republican. We are rejecting Trump on moral and ethical grounds; there is no compromise between white supremacy and human equity, no compromise between fascism and democracy, no compromise between lies and truth.
Trump’s minions storming the Capitol must not be read along partisan lines even though it is an easy thing to do.
For example, in 2016, Hillary Clinton gained 3+ million more popular votes than Trump, but lost in the Electoral College. Certainly we can all agree that most of Clinton’s supporters were at least as angry about Trump’s win as Trump supporters are of Biden’s win.
However, Clinton conceded, and the transition to Trump occurred without any disruption from Clinton’s majority of voters. Notable is that Trump won key states by even fewer votes than Biden won in 2020, yet no weeks and weeks of false claims of voter fraud.
The boundaries in 2020 and 2021 of democracy, however, have now been crossed, and Republicans have made that decision for the political party.
Regardless of our professions or stations in life, we cannot take the “both sides” or neutral approach to that line crossing without also being complicit in the insurrection.
Neutral is a political stance that endorses the status quo through silence and inaction.
Calling for no politics is always a political move of the powerful, who worship few things more than the status quo that allows their power.
Calling for no politics is always a political move of the powerful who depend on individual compliance and fear collective ethical resolve.
The worst and best examples of power in the U.S. is Trump and Mitch McConnell, both embodying the very worst of partisan and personal dishonesty and blatant loyalty only to their own fortunes; in other words, they have clung desperately to the status quo and their behavior has no ethical underpinning except to keep their own butts on their different thrones.
If the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us anything, we should now recognize that we are all in very tenuous circumstances; life has no guarantees.
But in our daily lives, we must eat, cloth ourselves, and sleep somewhere while we also have families and loved ones who need us so that they can live; calling for no politics where we work and because of our professions is the most insidious way to keep the status quo of inequity in place.
As adults, if we genuinely seek a country that honors life, liberty, and the pursuit of freedom for all people, we must take clear stands, especially in our work puts us in front of children and young people.
There is nothing partisan about calling fascism “fascism,” calling racism “racism,” and calling lies “lies.”
To name those wrongs is the very best of being political and remaining neutral and silent, then, is the very worst of being political.
We must not allow the latter.
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