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Opinion | Sabotage in the Liberal City

If this is a big challenge in the best of times — you can listen to a recent Times podcast, “Nice White Parents,” for a specific portrait of that challenge — then it’s hard to imagine a policy more likely to permanently break these parents’ ties with public education than a mass closure of urban schools.

One striking detail in the MacGillis piece is that even though school closures plainly have a disparate impact on minority students, the case for closures is often phrased in the language of anti-racism, with the frequent suggestion that re-openers don’t care about putting minorities at risk. This makes the schools issue the most conspicuous example of a larger pattern, in which the invocation of anti-racism and the reality of racial impacts can sharply diverge.

Part of this pattern reflects the impulse among Trump-era liberals to have no enemies to the left, lest they vindicate the president’s flailing attacks in any way. This is politically understandable, but the consequence has been that various forms of naïveté, utopianism and outright idiocy have hijacked liberal politics, marching under the banner of anti-racism while leading progressive policy astray.

This happened with the push for police reform, which was often diverted from reasonable proposals into unreasonable abolish-the-police fantasies, creating public paralysis in cities like Minneapolis even as public order deteriorated.

It happened with some of the George Floyd protests, which were redirected toward futile insurrectionary violence by a network of mostly white anarchists, whose very existence was hard for liberals to acknowledge even as their depredations did particular damage to minority and immigrant neighborhoods.

And it’s happening within the educational bureaucracy, where there’s a Trump-era vogue for attacks on “whiteness” that often seem to double as attacks on standards, discipline and rigor — with urban schools as the most likely laboratory for whatever educational alternatives the new progressivism dreams up.

How far any of this goes will depend on what happens after — after (as seems quite likely this year) Joe Biden defeats Donald Trump, after we reach the post-pandemic era, after the current sense of wild abnormalcy recedes. But right now, the same anti-Trump progressivism that’s crusading against presidential racism is also presiding over a mix of policy choices and abdications that’s worsening life for racial minorities across multiple dimensions, making their school systems less stable, their streets less safe, their kids less likely to succeed.

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