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Robert Gehrke: The hysteria has taken hold, as Utah lawmakers will vote to oppose ‘critical race theory’ — which isn’t even taught in schools

Legislators are taking their orders from Tucker Carlson instead of listening to the public.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Robert Gehrke.

When it seemed like rationality and reason might actually prevail at the Utah Capitol, the hysteria took hold and Republican legislative leaders are hellbent over “critical race theory” in Utah schools — even though it never has been taught in Utah schools.

If you’re not sure what critical race theory is, you’re not alone. Neither does the Utah Legislature or the hundreds of angry conservative moms convinced their kids will end up in Antifa.

In essence, critical race theory is a way to dig down to the foundation of our history and social structures and analyze the very real role race — and racism — has played and continues to play in our society. It’s been around for five decades and is taught in colleges but — as a reminder — is not taught in Utah public schools.

It doesn’t matter if it’s real or fantasy. In our state of delirium democracy, if Tucker Carlson says something on Tuesday, you can bet the Utah Republican Legislature will fall into line the next day, whether it’s transgender athletes destroying girl’s sports, or stolen elections or whatever else is the kook du jour.

So, despite critical race theory never having been taught in Utah schools, the fever-dream Republicans pushed Gov. Spencer Cox hard to include a bill on the agenda for Wednesday’s special session to ban it from schools.

Cox refused to include it, saying hot-button issues should not be handled in a special session and that State School Superintendent Sydnee Dickson and the chair of the State School Board were in the process of taking a careful look at the issue. Even the Sutherland Institute urged a measured approach.

But legislative leaders were determined to take a stand against this concocted crisis and they announced Tuesday that they would do something almost without precedent: After they adjourn Wednesday’s special session, the House and Senate would each re-convene to pass their own resolutions responding to the outcry over CRT.

Afterward they could also condemn Bigfoot in Utah schools.

The Legislature is not the only one tilting at windmills. U.S. Reps. Burgess Owens and Chris Stewart have caught the hysteria, too.

And Attorney General Sean Reyes has been asked by Indiana’s attorney general to join a lawsuit trying to stop a Biden Administration rule that conservatives say will infuse critical race theory in schools.

Reyes, by the way, has lived the reality of race in America but, if he has political ambitions — say running against Sen. Mitt Romney — there are easy political points to be scored. It makes his decision, expected Wednesday, intriguing.

But the Legislature, more than any of those others, is falling over itself to have its say on teaching race in schools. They are convening under questionable authority. Typically, the Senate will only call itself into an “extraordinary session” to approve judicial nominees and the like. The last time the House did it was to launch an impeachment investigation into then-Attorney General John Swallow in 2013.

The resolutions the House and Senate will pass had not been released as of Tuesday evening. And it appears there will not be a public hearing on either.

That’s unfortunate, because this is exactly the kind of issue that could benefit from a thoughtful, clear-headed analysis of the truth — defining what it actually is we’re talking about, gathering incidents that have caused concern among parents, and discussing the right path forward.

But if you only listen to people like state school board member Natalie Cline and her followers at Utah Parents United, you’re not going to get any of that nuance.

If you listen to Cline describe the issue — as she did on Reps. Phil Lyman and Mike Peterson’s podcast recently — you’ll come away less informed about what critical race theory is or isn’t, but it sure sounds bad.

Cline describes it as “the antithesis of the American way of life,” a Marxist attempt to reward the lazy and oppress white, straight Christians.

“They have flipped it in such a way that now they’re justifying oppressing us because we’re bad,” she said. “But if you’re a do-nothing person that claims victimhood due to your circumstances, somehow the world owes you everything. We just need to defer to them and hand them everything on a platter and confess our whiteness and apologize forevermore.”

What Cline is expressing is plain old white grievance. She goes on to explain how “they” are trying to destroy our country.

“When they say we have systemic racism, that means the only way to fix that is to destroy the system, to tear down the system they say is racist,” she said. “That is the American way of life. That is the Constitution. It is faith, family, freedom.”

It harkens back, she said, to times in history where people were “judged by the color of their skin and the color of their eyes and terrible things happened, millions of people were killed.”

And, presto! We’ve gone from not teaching something in our schools to the next Holocaust.

Utahns deserve better. On issues as complex and fraught as race, we deserve to have thoughtful discussions, informed decisions and a public process and hopefully let reason prevail.

But the Legislature couldn’t be bothered, so they are pandering to a minority, twisting the process, shutting out the public, embarrassing the state and embracing the madness.

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