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Wednesday, September 28, 2022

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Opinion Just how racist is the MAGA movement? This survey measures it.

Opinion Just how racist is the MAGA movement? This survey measures it.

A Trump supporter holds a Confederate flag outside the Senate chamber after rioters breached the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. (SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images)

“It has long been understood that the MAGA movement is heavily dependent on White grievance and straight-up racism. (Hence Donald Trump’s refusal to disavow racist groups and his statement that there were “very fine people on both sides” in the violent clashes at the white-supremacist rally in Charlottesville.)

Now, we have numbers to prove it.

The connection between racism and the right-wing movement is apparent in a new poll from the Public Religion Research Institute. The survey asked respondents about 11 statements designed to probe views on racism. For example: “White Americans today are not responsible for discrimination against Black people in the past.” The pollsters then used their answers to quantify a “structural racism index,” which provides a general score from zero to 1 measuring a person’s attitudes on “white supremacy and racial inequality, the impact of discrimination on African American economic mobility, the treatment of African Americans in the criminal justice system, general perceptions of race, and whether racism is still significant problem today.” Higher scores indicate a more receptive attitude to racist beliefs.

The results shouldn’t surprise anyone paying attention to the MAGA crowd’s rhetoric and veneration of the Confederacy. “Among all Americans, the median value on the structural racism index is 0.45, near the center of the scale,” the poll found. “The median score on the structural racism index for Republicans is 0.67, compared with 0.45 for independents and 0.27 for Democrats.” Put differently, Republicans are much more likely to buy into the notion that Whites are victims.

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The poll also found that the religious group that makes up the core of today’s GOP and MAGA movement has the highest structural racism measure among the demographics it surveyed: “White evangelical Protestants have the highest median score, at 0.64, while Latter-day Saints, white Catholics, and white mainline Protestants each have a median of 0.55. By contrast, religiously unaffiliated white Americans score 0.33.” This is true even though Whites report far less discrimination toward them than racial minorities do.

The survey also captured just how popular the “Lost Cause” to rewrite the history of the Civil War and downplay or ignore the evil of slavery is on the right: “Republicans overwhelmingly back efforts to preserve the legacy of the Confederacy (85%), compared with less than half of independents (46%) and only one in four Democrats (26%). The contrast between white Republicans and white Democrats is stark. Nearly nine in 10 white Republicans (87%), compared with 23% of white Democrats, support efforts to preserve the legacy of the Confederacy.”

Americans who fully support reforming Confederate monuments have a much lower structural racism index score, while those who oppose it have a much higher score. The same is true when it comes to renaming schools honoring individuals who supported slavery and racial discrimination or changing racist mascots.

Those who want to keep Confederate monuments and offensive mascots in place might deny that their views have anything to do bigotry, but then again, they often deny the legacy of racism and paint Whites as victims, too. In general, MAGA forces have one goal when they amplify “replacement theory” or fuss over corporations promoting inclusivity: to maximize White anger and resentment.

Robert P. Jones, who leads PRRI, tells me, “While this result may seem surprising or even shocking to many White Christians, it is because we do not know our own history. If we take a clear-eyed look at our history, we see a widespread, centuries-long Christian defense of white supremacy.” He adds, “For example, every major Protestant Christian denomination split over the issue of slavery in the Civil War, with Methodists, Episcopalians, Presbyterians, and Baptists in the South all breaking fellowship with their Northern brethren.” Given that history, Jones says, “it’s hardly a surprise that a denial of systemic racism is a defining feature of White evangelicalism today.”

The PRRI poll shows the MAGA movement has done a solid job convincing the core of the GOP base that they are victims. And let’s be clear: An aggrieved electoral minority that believes it has been victimized and is ready to deploy violence is a serious threat to an inclusive democracy.“

Monday, September 26, 2022

So Much News, So Little Time - Ron DeSantis' Migrant Stunt | The Daily Show

How social-emotional learning became a frontline in the battle against CRT

How social-emotional learning became a frontline in the battle against CRT

Classrooms through the decades.
Lucy Engleman for NPR

“It's hard to pinpoint when exactly the questions started coming in. Angelyn Nichols, an administrator for Virginia Beach City Public Schools, thinks it was sometime in early 2021.

What she does know is that no one really expected them in the first place, and no one expected them to keep coming – week after week, and now, year after year.

That's because the questions involved a decades-old teaching concept many educators thought was settled, uncontroversial territory: the idea that, in order to learn, students need to know how to manage themselves and get along with others.

"Principals were being asked, 'Can you talk to me about how you use social-emotional learning in your school? Are there connections to critical race theory?" says Nichols, who coordinates professional learning for the district. "Families were asking at a PTA meeting. Parents were asking their child's classroom teacher."

But one of the most visible places these concerns emerged was at the school board meetings.

"Our school board meetings have been tense and they've gotten heated," says Natalie Allen, the district's chief communications and community engagement officer. "We saw multiple terms being linked to critical race theory. Social-emotional learning just seems like the latest."

Virginia Beach is not an anomaly.

Although its core concepts have been around nearly as long as public education itself, social-emotional learning is emerging as the latest lightning rod in the battles over what gets taught in schools nationwide.

Across the country, parents and community members have protested angrily at school board meetings, administrators have distanced themselves from the term and legislators have introduced bills trying to ban it. In the last two years, NPR found evidence of disputes specifically concerning social-emotional learning in at least 25 states.

What is social-emotional learning?

Essentially, social-emotional learning teaches students how to manage their emotions, how to make good decisions, how to collaborate and how to understand themselves and others better.

It's more common in younger grades: All 50 states have standards related to SEL in preschool, and more than half have standards in K-12.

It has existed under different names across the decades: character education, 21st century skills, noncognitive skills. In the adult world, they're often called soft skills.

"It was just part of what a good teacher does," says Aaliyah Samuel, president and CEO of the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning, or CASEL.

Samuel says social-emotional learning can be broken down into five areas: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills and responsible decision-making.

"Let's say a student is working on a really difficult algebra problem and they get so frustrated because they can't remember what the next step is," says Samuel. "They have to be self-aware enough to say, 'You know what? I'm feeling frustrated. How do I handle this?' "

A student solving a hard math problem, for example, might use all these skills to recognize and deal with their frustration and ask another student or a teacher for help. Think of any situation that happens in a school, and social-emotional skills probably come into play.

Morning meetings are a common practice in social-emotional learning.

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"All academics also have a social-emotional component," says Lisa Xagas, an assistant superintendent for student services in Naperville, Ill. "It's impossible to tease them apart because you can't have academics if you don't have social-emotional learning."

Research shows this type of approach pays off. In 2011, researchers looked atmore than 200 SEL programs across the country and saw improvements in behavior and academic achievement. A 2015 study found students deemed more socially competent in kindergarten were more likely to graduate from high school on time, complete a college degree and get a stable job in young adulthood. From an economic point of view, another 2015 study found SEL programs yield $11 for every $1 spent on them, by reducing crime, increasing earnings and contributing to better health.

Conservatives began connecting social-emotional learning to CRT

All of which is why the educators in Virginia Beach were puzzled when those questions started coming in.

"Everything related to social-emotional learning that we are putting out there is research-based and it's in demand," says Allen, who handles community engagement at the district. "Very often there's been a narrative created that's not accurate."

In the last year, in states across the country, parents and community members have increasingly been fighting the teaching of social-emotional learning in schools – largely because social-emotional learning has become linked with another flashpoint in public education: critical race theory, or CRT.

Critical race theory, a decades-old legal framework, is the concept that racism goes far beyond the individual: It is systemic and deeply entrenched in our laws, policies and institutions. Nearly 900 school districts experienced anti-CRT protests between September of 2020 and August of last year, according to a report released this year from the Institute for Democracy, Education, and Access at the University of California, Los Angeles.

"We've seen a real freak-out on the right about the so-called teaching of critical race theory in schools. And usually the terms of that freak-out are white children are being taught to hate themselves and all children are being taught to hate America," says Natalia Mehlman-Petrzela, an associate professor of history at the New School in New York City and the author of Classroom Wars: Language, Sex, and the Making of Modern Political Culture.

But critical race theory itself is not something that is explicitly taught in K-12 schools.

"The defense of most educators has been: 'I don't even know what critical race theory is. I've never heard of it until you, the conservative at the school board, brought it to my attention,' " says Andrew Hartman, a professor and historian of educational trends at Illinois State University. "But of course, all educators now know what social-emotional learning is. It's something much more tangible. It's a curriculum that is officially being implemented in schools all across the country."

A few years ago, conservatives began to connect the two concepts. A 2021 article in the Washington Examiner said conservative activists were calling social-emotional learning a "Trojan horse" for both critical race theory and transgender advocacy. In April of this year, a conservative group referred to it as a "new variant of the "CRT-virus."

"It will be concealed as a number of different things," another article publishedon the right-wing website The Federalist says. "Most common is something including 'social justice,' 'equity and diversity,' 'multicultural education,' or 'social-emotional learning,' which is the most deceptive because it doesn't sound like it involves race at all!"

An "IndoctriNation Map" on the website of the conservative group Parents Defending Education tracked "incidents" in schools related to gender ideology, ethnic studies and social-emotional learning. The conservative Center for Renewing America includes social-emotional learning in its glossary of "CRT-related terms."

How the SEL-CRT narrative is impacting schools

In some places, these attacks have had real consequences. In Georgia, an administrator tasked with leading a district's diversity, equity and inclusion efforts was forced to resign before she even started, with one protester referring to social-emotional learning as "synonymous" with critical race theory.

In Wisconsin, Republican lawmakers introduced a bill last year trying to limit how educators talk about race and racism in the classroom. One of those lawmakers, Rep. Chuck Wichgers, added an addendum of terms he thought were associated with CRT, including social-emotional learning.

And when the Florida Department of Education issued specifications for this year's social studies textbooks, it indicated: "Critical Race Theory, Social Justice, Culturally Responsive Teaching, Social and Emotional Learning, and any other unsolicited theories that may lead to student indoctrination are prohibited."

Rick Hess, the director of education policy studies at the conservative-leaning American Enterprise Institute, says some of the angry debates about social-emotional learning are a direct reaction to the stories about SEL that conservatives are seeing on social media, Fox News and elsewhere.

"I think a lot of people wind up wedged into these debates about something like SEL, not because they necessarily have paid a lot of attention and have decided that, 'Gosh, you know, in good faith, we really disagree,' " Hess says. "It's more a gut level reaction to the other team and to be with your guys, than it is to really parse like, 'What are we arguing about here? And is there a more constructive way to solve this?' "

For some parents, the outrage is rooted in mistrust – particularly of organizations that provide SEL resources and recommendations to school districts.

Hess says many parents feel "this is a case of big, deep-pocketed, liberal, coastal foundations coming in, led by people who went to elite colleges who aren't from their communities, pushing ideological agendas that they find problematic and then calling them racists and idiots when they push back."

"If there's anything more likely to turn skepticism into full blown rebellion, it's hard to think of what it might be," he added.

SEL has always had an identity component

Hess says many conservatives ultimately feel social-emotional learning spends too much time talking about identity.

But Hartman, the Illinois State University historian, says there actually is an important identity component to teaching students how to get along with others.

"It's pretty impossible to do social and emotional learning without larger social issues coming into play. It's not just about individuals. It's about how an individual is situated in a society," Hartman says. "If you're going to be a healthy, emotional individual, you're going to have to understand your own identity relative to society."

CASEL is quick to emphasize that social-emotional learning is not tied to any political viewpoints. But the organization acknowledges that questions of identity and culture might come up, for example, in conversations about social awareness, one of the organization's key SEL competencies.

"Social awareness is about developing a better understanding of people around you so that you understand different perspectives and build healthy relationships," Samuel, the CEO, says. "For students, this might mean learning about different cultures, reading about different people's experiences and perspectives, or studying historical figures and their strengths."

Some SEL advocates want those conversations to be more explicit about systemic racism.

Dena Simmons, the founder of LiberatED, an organization which aims to center racial social justice in social and emotional learning, says being able to talk about social-emotional learning without talking about identity is an example of white privilege.

"You can't have those conversations without talking about identity ... Social-emotional learning is so that people can get along better. We also have to talk about why people don't get along," Simmons says. "If we don't apply an anti-racist, abolitionist, anti-oppressive, anti-bias lens to social-emotional learning, it can very easily turn into white supremacy with a hug."

Some prominent SEL programs do talk about racial justice and racism. The website for Second Step, for instance, has a section dedicated to Anti-Racism and Anti-Bias Resources. When educators don't acknowledge that identity component, it can make things worse, Mehlman-Petrzela at the New School says.

"I know it's really hard to have these nuanced conversations, especially when often some of these attacks are scary, and they're bad faith, and they're distracting from teaching kids," she says. "But I do think it's really incumbent upon people to paint the full picture of what's going on here. Because without that, I don't really think we can move forward."

The fear that teachers are indoctrinating children is not new

The actual term "social-emotional learning" has existed since at least the 1990s. In 1997, researchers at CASEL published a book titled Promoting Social and Emotional Learning: Guidelines for Educators. But social-emotional learning, in a broader sense, has existed for much longer.

"One of the great ironies of the backlash around teaching morality or values in American education through social-emotional learning today is that American schools have always been about teaching values and character," says Mehlman-Petrzela. "And for much of American history, that focus has been on pretty conservative values, quite honestly."

In the mid-1800s, small books called McGuffey readers sought to instill morals in young readers. Around the same time, Horace Mann, an education reformer and proponent of public education, saw schools as the "great equalizer" in society.

"This is where you impart in children not only academic learning, but the sort of beauty of the American experiment that one can transcend," Mehlman-Petrzela says. "You work hard. You are industrious. You don't lie. You are a good member of your community. Those are values."

In the early 20th century, John Dewey advocated for the idea that schools should educate the "whole" child. By the 1950s, there was "life adjustment" education, which focused on social order and patriotism as a response to growing fears of communism. Coronet Instructional Films were shown in schools, with titles like "marriage is a partnership" and "mind your manners."

Then the 1960s happened. Some teachers began to address topics like social justice and racial equality – and, much like we're seeing today, those teachers faced a backlash.

The fear that teachers are trying to brainwash or indoctrinate children has been around for a while. Today, it's present not just in the disputes over SEL and CRT, but also in the current debates around sex education, transgender rights and banned books, says Mehlman-Petrzela.

"I sometimes cannot believe how much what we are experiencing right now feels so similar to what we have gone through in other moments, particularly in the 1960s and 70s," she says. "The rhetoric is the same."

How one school district is finding common ground with parents

But in places like Virginia Beach, educators weren't there 50 years ago. They're in schools now, stuck in the middle of a political fight that feels new, at a time when many students are struggling and need more support managing their emotions, not less.

Angelyn Nichols, the district's lead for social-emotional learning, says 2020 put a heightened scrutiny on public education – one that's been rapidly evolving. First, it was about COVID policies. Then, after the police murder of George Floyd and the subsequent protests against racism, the conversation shifted to critical race theory. Now, it has spread to any topic deemed to be related to critical race theory.

That's when Aaron Spence, superintendent of Virginia Beach City Public Schools, wrote an op-ed for The Virginian Pilot.

"Conflating good and longstanding work — such as our work around social and emotional learning — with things that simply aren't happening in our schools, debating who is more invested in our children, and undermining the credibility of public education with accusations of indoctrination is disappointing at best and debilitating at worst," he wrote.

Spence asked community members to look for common ground. For Nichols, that's been easier to find outside of the school board meetings, in one-on-one conversations with parents.

"We can sit down together and say, 'Can you share with me what part of this is a concern for you? Which skill here do you feel is a threat, feels like indoctrination, or is of a concern for you?' " she says. "I've never exited one of those conversations where both parties didn't say, 'I actually think this is really important.' "

She feels good about the progress they've made so far this year. In September, the school board passed a resolution that, in part, supports the continued teaching of social-emotional learning in schools.“

They were preyed upon’: immigration lawyers denounce transport of migrants

They were preyed upon’: immigration lawyers denounce transport of migrants

“Florida governor Ron DeSantis transported asylum seekers from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard in ‘appalling’ political stunt

A picture of Ron DeSantis seen during a rally against the relocation of migrants to Martha's Vineyard.

In the wake of the transport of nearly 50 Venezuelan asylum seekers and migrants from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard by Florida’s rightwing Republican governor Ron DeSantis, immigration lawyers representing the group have labeled the move as an “appalling” political stunt that should never be allowed to happen again.

DeSantis – who is both an ally and a rival to Donald Trump – has claimed responsibility for the flight as an attempt to protest Joe Biden’s immigration policy. But the move had been widely condemned as racist and abusive towards those dumped on the upmarket resort island in Massachusetts.

Mirian Albert, a lawyer for the group Lawyers for Civil rights, said: “Lawyers for Civil Rights was not looking for this fight. Neither were our clients. But we’re more than ready to take this on. And we’re not gonna let this happen again – not on our watch.”

The result of the efforts of Albert and her colleagues was a federal class action lawsuit against DeSantis and others, which could see the extremist Republican governor face severe consequences for violating federal immigration law by engaging in acts some legal experts have deemed human trafficking or smuggling.

“What we hope to do with the class action that we filed is stop the shipment of immigrants across state lines by misrepresentation and fraudulent efforts, specifically from Ron DeSantis, and the state of Florida,” Albert said “And we hope to seek a nationwide injunction to make that happen, and then also to make our clients whole again. They were stripped of their integrity throughout this whole process. And I think that making sure that they feel whole is also important here.”

DeSantis’s actions have only been the most extreme of a wave of efforts to transport migrants by Republican governors. Leaders in Texas and Arizona have bussed them to Chicago, New York and Washington DC, also sparking widespread condemnation for using a complex human situation for political theatre.

Target communities of the busing and flights have reacted to welcoming the migrants, including in Martha’s Vineyard.

Sarang Sekhavat, political director for the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition, said he began the work of calling pro-bono attorneys for the arrivals as soon as they news broke.

“My initial reaction was just confusion. It didn’t make any sense. Even for the political point that Governor DeSantis is trying to make, complaining about what [he’s] seeing in [his] state, why are you going to another state to get people? Why pull people out of Texas, if your complaint is in your state?,” he said.

Sekhavat added: “Second off, these are asylum seekers – folks who are lawfully present in the country. The DeSantis administration keeps talking about illegal immigrants. That’s not what these are.”

In spite of the overwhelming backlash, DeSantis doubled down on his actions and vowed to continue to transport more migrants to self-declared sanctuary cities, despite Martha’s Vineyard having no such designation.

DeSantis said: “The legislature gave me $12m [for migrant transport]. We’re going to spend every penny of that to make sure we’re protecting the people of the state of Florida.

In response to DeSantis, Sekhavat said: “Send them, that’s fine. What I think the state of Massachusetts showed last week is that we have a lot more compassion and humanity than he does.”

Albert traveled from Boston to catch the ferry to the Vineyard and described the scene she found as “extremely outrageous”.

“We were just trying to talk to families and individuals about how this event occurred and what led up to it. I was distressed. It’s so disorienting to put myself in their shoes and to imagine getting on a plane and then landing somewhere that’s completely unfamiliar to you. And then not having anyone to call or not being able to get any of your needs met.”

Multilingual brochures given to these individuals by their transporters, shared by Lawyers for Civil Rights, promise employment, food assistance, school registration for children and housing if they got on the plane to Massachusetts.

“I can only imagine how terrifying that must have been, especially for the mothers who weren’t in the group. It is appalling to think that politicians are using human beings as political pawns to just make a political statement,” Albert said.

“[They were] feeling frauded, feeling tricked, feelings of desperation. A mother mentioned that she started crying when she landed, because she just didn’t know what was going to happen. It was not okay.”

Island residents rallied to quickly gather food and supplies and set up shelter. There were reports of locals helping set up St Andrews Episcopal Church to house the new visitors and high-school students in the area stepping in to provide Spanish translation services.

But, despite DeSantis’ political stunt, there could be more legal implications in store for him in the wake of the flight. Criminal investigations in both Texas and Massachusetts could result in state charges for DeSantis, as well.

Javier Salazar, sheriff of Bexar county in San Antonio, said: “I believe that they were preyed upon. Somebody came from out of state and preyed upon these people, lured them with promises of a better life which is what they were absolutely looking for, and hoodwinked into making this trip to Florida and then onward to Martha’s Vineyard for what I believe to be nothing more than political posturing.”


Opinion Why Georgia is neither red nor blue, and not changing anytime soon

Opinion Why Georgia is neither red nor blue, and not changing anytime soon

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) and Democratic gubernatorial nominee Stacey Abrams. (Brynn Anderson/AP) 

Charles S. Bullock III is the distinguished university professor of public and international affairs at the University of Georgia and co-author of “African American Statewide Candidates in the New South.”

Not that long ago, Democrats thought Stacey Abrams was leading Georgia firmly into the blue column. Now, they’re worried. And they should be, not just because she is trailing in her second attempt at becoming the state’s governor, but also because statewide elections in Georgia increasingly hinge on just the slightest moves in the electorate. That will probably be true for years to come in this neither-red-nor-blue state.

Many in the party thought the Democratic trend was clear when Abrams came within 55,000 votes of becoming the nation’s first Black female governor in 2018, and her expansion of the electorate paid off when Joe Biden became the first non-incumbent Democrat to win statewide since 1998. Senate victories by Democrats Raphael G. Warnock and Jon Ossoff in their 2021 runoffs seemed to confirm the bluing of the Peach State.

But now, Abrams’s second gubernatorial campaign is languishing, with polls consistently showing her solidly outside the margin of error, in a rematch with her Republican rival, Gov. Brian Kemp. In between the two elections, her books and speeches attracted a national audience and, significantly for her campaign, a national funding base. That gave Abrams a financial advantage, but Kemp has a perhaps more decisive asset: incumbency. Across the country, and in most offices, incumbents usually succeed unless they get entangled in scandal.

On the campaign trail, Kemp points to Georgia’s record-low unemployment, which he attributes to his decision to bring an early end to pandemic restrictions. He also touts the state’s $5,000 increase in teacher pay; an income tax rebate of $500 to families filing jointly; and the decision by two electric-vehicle manufacturers, Hyundai and Rivian, to build plants that will create thousands of jobs. GOP ads trumpet additional reasons to renew Kemp’s contract by linking Abrams to Biden and inflation. That message was reinforced last weekend with news that Atlanta has the second-highest inflation rate in the country, trailing only Phoenix.

Abrams tries to deflect attention from Biden and inflation, emphasizing instead issues in which Kemp is out of step with a majority of Georgians. Most Georgians (53.7 percent) oppose the overturning of Roe v. Wade and slightly more object to the law passed in Kemp’s first year that bans abortions after six weeks except for instances of rape, incest and the life of the mother. Abrams also focuses on Kemp’s backing of a 2022 law eliminating the permit requirement for carrying a concealed weapon. Ending the requirement is unpopular with 61 percent of Georgians.

Yet Abrams’s campaign has struggled to gain traction in a state where the evenness of the red/blue mix can be better seen in the neck-and-neck Senate race between Warnock and Republican challenger Herschel Walker.

Like a creature in a horror movie, former president Donald Trump looms over the Kemp-Abrams contest. Kemp famously drew Trump’s ire by refusing to indulge his false claims of winning Georgia in 2020, but he has also declined to counter Trump’s vitriol. In seeking reelection, the governor needs to maintain a delicate balancing act.

By signaling that he is very much his own man, Kemp can hope to win over some White, college-educated suburbanites who remain Republicans but cannot bring themselves to support Trump. By not attacking Trump, Kemp could also draw votes from at least some of the former president’s supporters.

But if Trump decides to campaign in Georgia over the remaining weeks before the midterms, reiterating his 2020 election claims and launching fresh attacks against Kemp, that could turn off enough GOP voters to deny the governor a second term.

That’s hardly the only wild card. Republicans are feverishly trying to make inroads with minority voters in the Democratic base. They have established three outreach posts in metro Atlanta — one aiming at African Americans, another targeting a largely Hispanic area and the third focusing on Asian Americans. Consider: If Trump had won one percentage point more of the Black vote in 2020, his claimed victory in Georgia would be reality.

For Abrams, the challenge will be to achieve a 29-29 election — a variation on what used to be the 30-30 formula in Georgia, which held that if a Democratic candidate could attract 30 percent of the White vote and if Blacks cast 30 percent of all votes, the Democrat would win. Now, as the state’s electorate becomes more diverse, 29-29 suffices — that’s about what Biden, Warnock and Ossoff achieved.

Those results, though, came with Trump very much in the mix. Kemp could be excused for praying that, with so many other state contests to wade into before Nov. 8, the former president doesn’t have Georgia on his mind.“

Beto O’Rourke on Abbott’s Dehumanizing Stunts and Why He Hopes an Upset Looms in Texas

Beto O’Rourke on Abbott’s Dehumanizing Stunts and Why He Hopes an Upset Looms in Texas

Eric Gay/Associated Press

Gov. Beto O’Rourke of Texas.

“ A few months ago, the wind appeared to be at O’Rourke’s back, as he fought to make that happen, to become the first Democratic governor of the state since Ann Richards over a quarter century ago.

He was gaining ground on the incumbent, Greg Abbott, following the mass shootings in Uvalde, Texas, and the Supreme Court’s decision striking down the constitutional right to an abortion.

But now the winds seem to have shifted. A new Spectrum News/Siena Pollshows Abbott widening his lead over O’Rourke. According to the poll, that lead now stands at 7 percentage points, a little more than 40 days until Election Day.

Abbott reversed his fortunes by leaning into demonization and cruelty: He focused on immigration and bused immigrants to faraway sanctuary cities run by Democrats, part of a larger program he called Operation Lone Star.

The first immigrants were bused to Chicago in August, with Abbott saying at the time: “To continue providing much-needed relief to our small, overrun border towns, Chicago will join fellow sanctuary cities Washington, D.C., and New York City as an additional drop-off location.”

It was a callous and politically calculated stunt. But it is apparently paying off. Not only is Abbott up in the polls, a slight majority of Texans — 52 percent — agree with the busing.

On Friday, I spoke at length to O’Rourke by phone, to get a sense of how he views the state of the race, his own challenges, Abbott’s cynicism and the voters of Texas.

We talked about how Democrats run against a politician, his or her policies and the Republican Party as a whole, while Republicans create enemies of classes of people: women, racial and ethnic minorities, L.G.B.T.Q. people, immigrants. This time it’s immigrants and immigration, a charged issue in Texas.

O’Rourke said that Abbott’s plan to bus immigrants to liberal cities was obviously an attempt to distract from his failure to shore up the state’s fragile electrical grids, prevent school violence and reduce inflation, but he also framed it as “an effort to incite fear and hatred and connect with people at a very base, emotional level,” an “effort to dehumanize people,” and that is precisely what it is. Abbott is not only trying to dehumanize immigrants, but to strip them of their individuality and create an ominous class.

In that way, immigrants can be converted from throngs of individuals with individual lives, stories and feelings into an amorphous wave, overwhelming and unrelenting, crashing into the country.

Abbott is using these human beings as a weapon and a tool for the shallow purpose of retaining power. For O’Rourke, this is obscene. As he put it:

“There is no way that I would ever, in a million years, resort to that kind of fear mongering and demagogy, and vilifying, demonizing people, because as an El Pasoan I saw exactly what that results in: Twenty-three of my neighbors were murdered in a matter of minutes there.”

O’Rourke is referring to the mass shooting last year in which a white racist, targeting Hispanics, killed 23 people in an El Paso Walmart. He left a 2,300-word manifesto reeking of white replacement anxiety, one that spoke of a “Hispanic invasion of Texas” and detailed a plan to separate America into territories by race.

As repugnant — and dangerous! — as Abbott’s stunt is, it earned him a lot of free media attention, which gets people talking. Media coverage — what is called “earned media” — even negative and mocking coverage, is sometimes more powerful than paid ads. Look no further than Donald Trump’s victory in 2016.

O’Rourke is running a different race. He understands the potency of the immigration issue in his state. As he put it: “I think what you may see reflected in that poll is the deep frustration that all of us, including myself, feel about the fact that the last time we had any real major progress on immigration, Ronald Reagan was the president.”

But he believes he is seeing something that hasn’t showed up properly in the polls: a shadow army of angry voters animated by the overturning of Roe.

“The Dobbs decision, of course, is galvanizing for turnout everywhere,” he said.

He also believes that many of the people who are energized to vote will be turning out not just because of abortion, but also because of Abbott’s lack of movement on gun control.

One analysis by political data and polling firm TargetSmart found that thousands upon thousands of voters had registered in the state since the Dobbs ruling, and they were “younger and more Democratic than before the June ruling,” according to The Houston Chronicle. O’Rourke believes these voters are going to help make the difference for him and produce an upset.

He is counting on them. He is counting on the people of Texas. As he put it: “In Greg Abbott’s Texas, it’s ‘you or me,’ right. And in our Texas, it’s ‘you and me.’ Which of those visions is going to win out? My faith is in the people of this state.”