In the past year, my reporting on critical race theory in America’s institutions has helped catapult the issue onto the national stage. My reporting inspired a presidential order, a fierce public debate, and legislation in nine states impacting 75 million Americans. The New Yorker called me the “conservative activist [who] invented the conflict over critical race theory.” While this might be a pejorative, it is also an unintended compliment — my work broke through the Left’s defenses and struck at the heart of their political project.
As I have reflected on the battles of the past year, I have discerned six principles for fighting against the ideologies of the Left, which might prove useful to other writers, activists, and political leaders:
Much of the national political media is structured like a tabloid: reporters follow personalities, scandals, and horse-race politics. There is a place for this, to be sure, but more sophisticated writers and activists should seek a deeper understanding of the ideologies and power structures that shape the modern world. Luckily, the ideology of the woke is hiding in plain sight: they have left a 60-year paper trail of books, articles, and speeches. Conservatives must do the homework to understand the ideology, rather than simply continue tilting at the tabloids.
Many political writers and activists spend an immense amount of time “debating the issues,” imagining that politics functions like a college debating society. While debate is certainly stimulating, it is only one component of politics — and, arguably, a small one. To be effective, one should spend more time conceptualizing political goals and devising a straight-line strategy for achieving them. Sometimes, this will include debate, which elevates the issue through conflict and controversy; but, more often than not, one can win the fight with very little debate.
In practical politics, narratives are superior to arguments. For example, one could argue that “critical race theory is a neo-Marxist ideology that divides the world into oppressor and oppressed.” Certainly, this would engage some readers. But imagine another approach: “In Cupertino, California, teachers forced 8-year-olds to deconstruct their racial and sexual identities, then rank themselves according to a hierarchy of oppression.” This formulation connects emotionally, which is the essential precondition for action.
Hypocrisy in politics should surprise no one — and yet, conservatives often celebrate its exposure as a victory. In reality, hypocrisy reveals an existing power asymmetry: political and intellectual leaders who can engage in hypocrisy without consequence are in a position of greater power. The solution, therefore, is not to merely expose the hypocrisy, but to devise a strategy to undermine that deeper power and change the incentives. When the hypocrisy starts leading to consequences, you have succeeded.
Good reporting exposes the powerful and demands action. For example, earlier this year, the boisterous social media activist Karlyn Borysenko exposed Coca-Cola’s diversity training program, which encouraged employees to “be less white.” This led to a round of intense negative media for Coca-Cola and, according to some reports, contributed to the resignation of the company’s chief counsel and decision to pause its “diversity” program. Borysenko not only stopped the program — she changed the incentives for the future.
Politics plays out over relatively long cycles, so it is essential to establish a narrative over time. One story about corruption in government will draw curiosity; but a series of stories over the course of a year will change how people understand the issue and, with some luck, inspire reform. The ambition of a reporting series or activist initiative should not be to establish a simple narrative, but to create the skeleton of a broader “meta-narrative” that can be fleshed out with each new story, which gives it life.
These six strategies are by no means exhaustive, but they sketch out some of the principles that have made my reporting on critical race theory successful. Some left-wing critics have complained that my reporting is “biased”; the New York Times calls me a “clever propagandist.” But I am not a hard news reporter; I am openly and unapologetically a politically engaged writer who uses the techniques of journalism, rhetoric, persuasion, and policy to inch the world towards my vision of the good society. If anything, I am significantly more honest — to myself and to the public — than my critics at outlets such as the New York Times and Washington Post, who hide their political agenda behind a false veil of neutrality, objectivity, and “fact checking.”
Ultimately, success is the best evidence. Writers, activists, and political leaders who understand these principles and put them into action can laugh away their critics, who, consciously or not, live in a world outside reality.
Christopher F. Rufo is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute.