What is the worldview driving some people to call President Trump’s tweets about congressman Eljiah Cummings and Baltimore racist? And why are they downplaying some of the factual realities described in Trump’s tweets?
How, in the view of Heather Mac Donald, do victim mentality, intersectionality, and identity politics threaten American culture and prosperity?
And what are the root causes of socioeconomic disparities in America, and solutions to what she sees as the deep-seated corruption of education and culture today?
Today we sit down with Manhattan Institute fellow Heather Mac Donald, who is a contributing editor to City Journal and author of “The Diversity Delusion: How Race and Gender Pandering Corrupt the University and Undermine Our Culture.”
We discuss Trump’s unique approach to identity politics, and what Mac Donald describes as the myths of institutional racism and sexism in America, the “Ferguson Effect,” affirmative action, and the proliferation of hatred in public discourse today.
Jan Jekielek: Heather Mac Donald, it’s wonderful to have you on American Thought Leaders.
Heather Mac Donald: It’s an honor Jan, thank you for having me on. This is a pleasure.
Mr. Jekielek: So it’s almost like nothing in society escapes identity politics these days. This is something that’s very stark in my mind. I wanted to look at a few current events, a few things that are currently happening and just kind of get your perspective on them, the most recent one being a Trump tweet. Of course, we have to start with a Trump tweet … talking to Rep. Cummings about Baltimore being disgusting, rat and rodent-infested. And the response immediately being this is the most racist thing ever, basically. And I even saw Nazi-like language referenced and so forth. What do you make of this?
Ms. Mac Donald: Well, the charge of racism today is basically tantamount to saying: I got nothing. I can’t make an argument. It is the all-purpose response to try and shut down evidence that you don’t like. But it is becoming almost a mode of hysteria on the part of the Democratic left at this point, where every presidential candidate in the Democratic field is struggling mightily to show that he is the most sensitive to this alleged systemic American racism. Trump has his major failings, but it is tonic that he seems completely oblivious to the racism charge. What he was saying is, of course, factually demonstrably provable. And if you take it out of … in any other environment, the people themselves in Baltimore admit they’ve not been able to get a handle on the crime problem.
You have these insane driveby shootings. They’re taking lives by the weekend. The mayors have one effort after another to try and bring peace. It doesn’t work. So when Trump is pointing out that this is a failed city, he’s absolutely correct. But to then simply say that’s simply racist is to say, I’m refusing to argue on the facts. And it is becoming the case at this point that anyone who is black has an automatic shield of immunity. You cannot do anything to that black person. Another of the Democratic contenders Pete Buttigieg from South Bend, Indiana, there was a police shooting there that frankly, to me, does not look like a bad shooting. A man … there’s been a 911 call to the police. As a car thief suspect the guy was trying to get into cars, and he had an eight-inch gun [sic] that he raised over his head at the officer.
He was shot fatally. All of a sudden this becomes a race incident. One of the things that has been used against Buttigieg by his Democratic opponents is that he fired a black police chief. Buttigieg did so on perfectly valid grounds. He was worried about the chief’s management style, his honesty. But instead, because the chief was black, he has a shield of immunity, and it is assumed that it is racist to fire him. This is a very dangerous place to be in our society. It means that you no longer have a single standard of justice, of competence, of merit, but inevitably have at least two standards, if not many more, given the rapid fissuring of the various identity categories that go into this ruthlessly competitive totem pole of intersectional victimhood.
Mr. Jekielek: Heather, so many things to unpackage from what you just said. Why don’t we start with this. You mentioned alleged systemic racism. Tell me more.
Ms. Mac Donald: Well, that, I think, is the defining issue of our time, which is how do we explain our current reality? At present the left dominates the narrative, and it argues that ongoing socioeconomic disparities in the United States are by definition a result of a panoply of bigotry. The primary one being race-based bigotry. I would say the fundamental divide in a sort of philosophical way between liberals and conservatives is that liberals will only accept structural explanations for disparities. That is, well, the society is structured in such a way that it is impossible for people in official victim groups to succeed. What is taboo in liberal discourse is to talk about behavior and individual choices.
A conservative will look at the world and say, but I see very vast behavioral disparities that are, in my view, far more powerful as explanations of socioeconomic disparities. When you have tragically an out-of-wedlock birth rate in the black community of 73 percent, that means that 73 percent of black children are being raised by single mothers. That is a social catastrophe of a civilization-crushing magnitude. Other behavioral choices that people are making–not going to school, being truant, not studying, not taking your textbooks home, not paying attention to your teacher, getting involved in gangs. Those are vast behavioral disparities that, to me, are much more important.
Nevertheless, the left’s narrative that everything is explained by systemic bias is winning. And as long as they win on that explanation, they are going to control politics and the culture from here on out. So I think one of the most important things that conservatives need to do to reclaim the discourse and reclaim some honesty in our ability to accurately analyze the problems America faces is to be able to talk about behavior and not just sweep everything under this frankly meaningless umbrella term of, “well, it must be systemic racism.” You can’t see it, but you look at the outcomes and the only allowable explanation is systemic racism.
Mr. Jekielek: It seems so bizarre to me that we could be in a place where there’s just a blanket charge that can be made, just as we described in this case, to end discourse, and this is somehow normal in our society. How did we get here?
Ms. Mac Donald: Oh boy, that’s a tough question. Obviously, America has a very problematic history when it comes to race. We betrayed our founding principles for decades and decades in the most brutal and unthinking way. You look back and you ask yourself, how did people not see the glaring, grotesque contradiction between our founding ideals and the way we dehumanized blacks and refused to have equal protection under the laws. That’s very real. I would say today that is simply not the problem.
I think as hard as it is to believe, given the deep roots of racism in American society, I think we have done a 180-degree turn. I do not know a single mainstream institution, whether it’s a law firm, a bank, a corporation, a university, a foundation, a government, a newspaper, a cable channel, a network, a publishing house that is not obsessed with diversity, that has not made as its primary goal hiring and promoting as many people of color as possible.
If you want to be applying to Harvard today, you don’t want to be a white male. You want to be a person of color. That is going to increase your chances four times. But I think whites now, there’s a long guilt, and now it’s even beyond racial guilt. It is that somehow the anti-racism has become a sort of national religion. And the people who profess it, the college presidents who stand up there and preposterously claim that they are presiding over a racist institution. This is something that is so absurd. There’s never been a more liberal, compassionate institution in human history than an American college today, which actively celebrates those very same traits that are still the subject of stoning and civil war and hatred and murder elsewhere in the world and certainly were so throughout history.
For a president like Yale’s president Peter Salovey to get up there and say Yale is a racist institution is a form of virtue signaling because you’re saying, yes, I may be white and I may be part of the problem, but I know enough to say that there’s racism here. Whereas, those bigots out in Trump-land, the MAGA hat-wearing yahoos, they’re the problem. And so I think that this idea of structural racism making it the central defining issue is in part a vanity project and in part a discomfort with the fact that the racial achievement gap is not closed. There still are some very profound problems in the black community.
I spend a lot of time in inner-city communities for my writing on police work. And I can tell you, I mean, there’s the things that are normal there that would never be allowed elsewhere. And yet the press is so racist that it turns a blind eye when black kids are gunning each other down because it doesn’t fit their narrative.
So I think it’s a mix of things. It’s virtue signaling. It’s fear that we’re not going to close the achievement gap. And it’s a way of, again, shutting down discourse and turning the conversation away to things that are easier to talk about, which is claiming that whites are racist.
Mr. Jekielek: You actually mentioned that the press is being racist. Can you tell me more?
Ms. Mac Donald: It’s amazing. In 2016, in Chicago, there were 4,300 people shot. That’s one person every two hours. Twenty-four children under the age of 12 were shot in Chicago that year. Now, let’s imagine 4,300 white people being shot in Chicago. It is unthinkable. There would be a national revolution. We see what happens when white kids get shot in Columbine or whatever. The whole nation freaks out. It’s completely unacceptable. Nobody knows about this toll in Chicago because the victims were black, and the perpetrators were black. We’re all told that it’s the police who are the biggest threats to black people. That year in Chicago, the police shot 20 people, virtually all armed and dangerous, threatening either the officer or civilians. That’s 0.5 percent of the total. The cops aren’t the problem there. It’s individuals who have not been socialized because they don’t have parents. But the press doesn’t give a damn. The only time the press cares about black lives is if one has been taken by a police officer, which is a minute fraction of the black homicide toll.
Mr. Jekielek: This is turning everything we’re hearing about racism on its head, what you’re saying here.
Ms. Mac Donald: Yeah. It’s a defining deviancy down. There’s complete double standards. It’s just assumed, well, that’s just normal in black neighborhoods. It’s not even worth covering. I mean, it’s amazing. Earlier this summer, I can’t remember, there was a white girl who was abducted, I think. And this was national news, one measly white girl. What about all the black kids who were shot in drive-by shootings? Among those 24 kids under the age of 12 was a three-year-old shot on Father’s Day, who’s now paralyzed for life. A 12-year-old, the bullet went through his pancreas, intestines, and spleen. Again, imagine this … just changed races, people would be rioting in the streets.
Mr. Jekielek: It’s so fascinating to me what you’re saying because it almost does suggest a kind of racism from another perspective, where you’re saying, well, the whites matter and the blacks don’t.
Ms. Mac Donald: I don’t know what else … how else do you explain what’s going on? … here’s a typical leftist explanation. Well, it’s because these TV shows and the mass media realize, well, a white audience doesn’t care. Well, the fact is that the black leaders don’t care either. They should be screaming bloody murder. But we see what’s happening now with the Trump tweet about Baltimore. Everybody is running in circles frantically to try and deny this reality.
Mr. Jekielek: Which is bizarre because it’s been documented extensively, actually, even by these media that we’re talking about right now and our own.
Ms. Mac Donald: Yeah, they’re at their highest per capita homicide rate in their history, thanks to something which I’ve called the Ferguson effect, which is police backing off of the essential proactive policing that saves lives—intervening in crime before it ripens into something truly horrific. The cops are unwilling to get out of their cars and question somebody hanging out at a known drug corner at 2:00 A.M. because they’re so fearful of another riot happening if they’re forced to use force to subdue a suspect. So they’re de-policing and crime is through the roof.
And people, the good people in Baltimore, those good, hardworking minority residents that have businesses, they’re all begging for the police to step up to the plate and start clearing the corners of miscreants and loiters and drug dealers again. But in the political climate the officers are unwilling to do so, and I don’t blame them.
Mr. Jekielek: Something that struck me about these recent … I don’t know if they’re daily or every few days, accusations against President Trump of racism and so forth. … Because it’s such a phenomenon dominating social media, it’s almost like the charge is losing importance even though … I think it’s one of the worst things you could say on top of everything else about someone, right?
Ms. Mac Donald: Well, worst in our current climate. That statement is itself an epiphenomenon of our current climate. One can imagine there’s worse things–being a murderer, being a child abuser. But, now, this year, you’re absolutely right. As a factual statement you are correct. But that’s not true in some sort of platonic sense.
Mr. Jekielek: Someone had, I think it was Sebastian Gorka, described Trump as the kryptonite to political correctness. I thought that was a fascinating thing, and I just keep thinking of that, as I see racism, racism, racism, and wondering is the word not meaning anything anymore. Tell me–
Ms. Mac Donald: It’s a real question. Are more and more people going to say, are you kidding me? Get a grip. I’m talking about something real here. I’m talking about real problems. I don’t know.
I think we’re in a race against time. Demographically, the Republicans and conservatives have to stop saying that more people have to go to college. As much as I revere the ideal of college, the humanistic education, passing on the inheritance of Western civilization, the ability to, the opportunity, the privilege to study beauty and greatness and sublimity …
I aspired to become an academic. I can think of nothing more enriching and important in one’s life than to be in a university properly defined. Currently, however, they are the engines of this toxic victimology and identity politics. As long as Republicans, some part of them, are continuing to say, yeah, we need more people going to college, we are going to get more of this nonsense because we see a generational divide. The younger people are the ones that are most committed to the woke politics. And it’s all because they’ve been brainwashed, not just in college, but increasingly K-12, but it starts earlier and earlier and earlier. So there’s dissenters on college campuses, there’s brave conservatives that are willing to sometimes, perhaps, be a little too provocative in just trying to stick their thumb in the eye of the hegemony of narrow discourse. But, by and large, people, I think, come out of that with this view of America as defined by racism. So we’ll see whether Trump can rally enough people.
All I know is that we see in corporations … I mean, look at how rapidly Nike has folded. Corporation after corporation faced with its own absurd charges of racism, whether the Betsy Ross shoe or earlier this year, Adidas brought out a sleek white tennis shoe with black pride logos on the insole in honor of black history month. And people said it’s racist because the shoe is white. Adidas withdrew the shoe. So, again, the mainstream elites, the corporate leaders, they seem completely cowed by this, if not true believers themselves.
Mr. Jekielek: So many things I want to ask you. The idea of victimology is so closely tied, inseparable from identity politics. Any book you read on entrepreneurship, any self-help book you read will tell you if you want to be successful, if you want to be happy, you have to take complete responsibility for yourself and your actions almost to an extreme. Victimology is the antithesis of that. So how can these people, these extremely successful people who know this be pushing a victimology agenda? I just don’t get it.
Ms. Mac Donald: Ideology, I guess, is a blinding force. And, yeah, one can hypothesize answers without really knowing. I don’t know how you would answer that. But it’s just, there is so much status attached in the elite world now to buying that narrative, and buying oneself virtue. Shelby Steele at Hoover has written about this for decades now of this weird codependency between blacks who play on their own victim status and sort of leverage that to induce … in whites, sort of a sense of shame and the urge to reparations and that both sides depend on each other.
But, yes, again, for me the test case always and the thing that I’m most upset about is what’s happening with the universities. It is absolute educational malpractice for the college administrators, whether it’s the presidents or these massive diversity bureaucracies, to tell students that they’re victims. Whereas, in fact, everything is open to them. Everything. Every library, every classroom, every chemistry lab, it’s all open. And if those students are being so lied to that they think of themselves as oppressed on a college campus, which again is filled with liberal, well-meaning adults who want all of their students to succeed, they are going to carry that chip on their shoulder that prevents them from seizing opportunities because they are angry, sullen, defensive all the time out in the real world. Now, I would say that one of the drivers of this that is not sufficiently recognized is the practice, in every minutely selective college in the country, to use vast racial preferences in admissions. This is in order to engineer diversity because of the academic skills gap, which is very huge and troubling, and that gap is driving a whole lot of our discourse today subtly, covertly. Schools are admitting the vast majority of their black students with academic scores that are at least a standard deviation beneath those of whites and Asians.
The average black 12th-grader today reads the level of the average white eighth-grader. This is a huge disparity, but these schools are so insistent on looking out over their sea of diverse faces that they’re admitting these students that are not qualified to compete in that particular school. A student who’s admitted to Duke University, a black student, with SATs that are standard deviation below his white peers, he’s going to flounder. … I’m not saying he shouldn’t go to college, he’d do perfectly well if he was at a school where he matched the criteria, the qualifications of his peers, whether it’s North Carolina University or not. This is an incredible burden and handicap to put on the so-called beneficiaries of racial preferences. But what happens is catapulted into academic environments for which they’re not prepared.
And let’s take it out of race for a minute, Jan. Let’s say it was gender. And MIT decided to admit me in order to get more gender diversity in its freshman class. And let’s say that on my math SAT, on an 800-point scale, I got a 650, and all my peers admitted to MIT on merit alone without reference to gonads had 800s which is probably close to the case. What’s going to happen to me my first year? I am going to flounder, I’m going to struggle. I’m not going to be able to keep up in freshman calculus. Now I have two options at that point. I can be honest with myself and say I was admitted to a school for which I was not qualified. Instead of being at MIT, I should’ve been at Boston College or UMass. Or I could say I’m in a patriarchal rape culture environment, and if I’m feeling oppressed it’s because I’m facing a wall of sexism.
The same thing happens with minority students, with blacks and Hispanics. They are not doing well. They end up at the bottom of their class and they blame it on racism. So as long as these schools insist on using these destructive racial preferences, they are going to continue generating racial complaint and animosity, and it is going to be very hard to get out of our situation.
Mr. Jekielek: So what I’m hearing is almost like a death knell for the educational system if things continue like this.
Ms. Mac Donald: It’s tragic. It is the thing that breaks my heart the most. It’s why I write out of sorrow and anger that we are destroying this institution that developed over centuries in the West that should be the repository for passing on an inheritance. And instead, students and faculty should be down on their knees in gratitude for the opportunity to read the Greek tragedians, to read Aeschylus, to read Milton, to read Mark Twain, to read George Eliot. This is the greatest privilege one can have, and we’re betraying it by teaching students to hate, to hate the greatest products of civilization and, frankly, to hate each other.
Earlier this year, there was a tirade, a student at Williams College, which is one of the most privileged, cushy environments you’re ever going to see. Everything is available to you. The adults are walking around just saying, how can I make you feel better? It’s a beautiful campus. You’ve got it made if you’re there. So the black student group wanted funding for doing a blacks-only event, and the student government was a little bit uncertain as to whether this qualified for student government funds. Well, because this request was not immediately rubber-stamped, one student got up and engaged in a tirade that I can’t repeat here because there was so many, it was so foul-mouthed and filthy, but basically claiming that to be a black student at Williams is to be constantly prostituted and to be subject to the racism of whites in this awful institution that destroys blacks, and that he’s forced basically to engage in a carnal sex act, which I’m not going to go into further, but it was astounding. This explosion of hatred towards an institution that only wants the best for him.
And the scary thing is nobody in that institution is going to correct that student, try and bring him to a reality-based understanding of his world. And he is going to carry that rage with him into the world at large, and the institutions are being transformed by people like this.
Mr. Jekielek: It seems like everyone is accusing each other of hate these days. That’s kind of a broad statement. But I see that accusation being flung around by all sides.
Ms. Mac Donald: I try a lot to turn the tables and make sure that I’m not accusing only the other side of violations of neutrality in principle that I’m myself guilty of. I have to say though, I think that the left has a monopoly in using hate. And this is something that interests me a lot because it is a reflex in discourse today on the left that any position you disagree with, you say it grows out of hate. So if one believes in having border security and having an immigration policy set by Americans rather than by people outside the country who decide to violate our laws the first thing they do when they come in. That’s hate. No, it’s not. It’s a good-faith disagreement about what is in the best interests of this country.
The place where I see the right do it the most, I think, is probably with regards to Israel and they will characterize criticism, good faith or bad faith of Israel as hate. But I don’t quite see the right doing it the same way. And again, I’m very conscious of the hypocrisies of the right. They are tolerating things that Trump is doing that they called Obama out for all the time, whether it’s the executive orders, going around the legislative branch, golf, vacations. But the hate thing I think really is a specialty of the left.
Mr. Jekielek: I just did an interview a couple of days ago with Michael Knowles. He’s someone that’s doing campus circuits, so to speak. He goes to speak, like you have, to a lot of universities, and he’s encountered some similar scenarios from what I understand. I just want to describe one to you that he actually described to me in an interview I think we published today, actually. So he says, “The moment I opened my mouth to start giving this talk, a group of students started shrieking for about 25 minutes. Someone opens a fire door, and some masked weirdo Antifa guy busts and sprays me with some chemical.
Ms. Mac Donald: Wow. Where was that?
Mr. Jekielek: I can’t remember right this second, but we’ll pull it out. But, basically, it’s almost like violence becomes justified because of someone coming to speak. Not almost—it is justified in some folks. How does that work in your mind?
Ms. Mac Donald: Yeah. One doesn’t want to be apocalyptic, and what’s always … you and I know that a little tip for the media is you’re supposed to be optimistic. You’re supposed to give people hope, they don’t want to have just all this dreary … But I’m sorry, I’m going to be honest with you. It is kind of time to start sounding some really big alarm bells here. I think this growth of violence, the tolerance of violence, people turning their eyes away from it–Antifa. It’s really worrisome.
Now, maybe America just has so much sort of solidity and common sense in it that we’re not going to keep going down this path, but we have to acknowledge the human being is tribal by nature. It actually kind of loves to hate. It loves to have an enemy and feel like it’s us against them. And it is one of the accomplishments of Western civilization to try and tamp down that tribalism, to have ideals of neutrality, a non-corrupt civil service that isn’t just out for your clan or your tribe. And to aspire towards the rule of law. But this idea that you are justified in using violence–we’ve seen this against Trump officials, administration officials–that, again, maybe it’ll just always remain the minority, but we’re really playing with fire. And, again, it’s like calling racism, calling racism is saying, I got nothing. It’s the same with shutting somebody down. You should want to argue with them. If you believe this person has such weak reasons, one should welcome the opportunity in a public debate to crush him.
Steve Bannon was invited, Trump’s former adviser, was invited by a professor at the University of Chicago Business School to do a debate on immigration and trade policy. Well, the faculty at the University of Chicago wrote this petition saying Bannon should never come on campus because he puts our communities of color at risk. That’s a bizarre claim in itself. But they are again admitting their own impotence to make a good argument. They should welcome the opportunity to have Bannon up on a platform so they can grill him.
Britain is also in the throes of political correctness. It’s sort of the whole Anglosphere it seems. This is something that is particularly virulent in the Anglosphere. I don’t know why. It’s not quite as bad on the continent. But they still have their wonderful tradition of the prime minister’s questions, and there’s this great debating tradition in Parliament.
That’s what we should aspire to, is the belief in rational discourse, making arguments. Because once you throw that out, your only choice is violence. We either argue rationally or we resolve our disputes by violence. There is no middle ground and there’s many societies today that are still choosing the violence. These are the civil wars, people getting their hands cut off. This is an eternal temptation for human beings, and we are playing with fire in romanticizing this type of violence.
Mr. Jekielek: One of the arguments I’ve heard often is simply that the left doesn’t have any answers to some of–there just aren’t answers. That’s why they resort to shutting down discourse. What do you make of that?
Ms. Mac Donald: Well, they have their answers. They certainly do. I mean they have a whole panoply of explanations for, again, the persistent socioeconomic disparities in our country, and that is the systemic racism. One could argue that their answers, which have been the motivators of a lot of government policy now for decades, Robert Rector at the Heritage Foundation has estimated we’ve spent $1 trillion at least on welfare entitlement programs, redistribution of wealth. So it doesn’t look like it’s had much of an effect because the racial gaps persist.
To just revert to what we were saying before, I would say the answers have got to be in culture change and behavior change. People have to start making different decisions about how they lead their lives. So the left is going to say, no, we have our answers. They’re the right answers, we’ve just never funded them enough, which is a little hard to believe, like what amount of funding would it take? But that is what they would say. So they certainly not going to concede that they don’t have answers. They would say the right’s answers are the ones that are in bad faith.
Mr. Jekielek: You’ve described this descent into identity politics as a totalitarian power play. Can you break that down for me a little bit?
Ms. Mac Donald: Well, it, again, is a way of using a categorical identity to gain power without doing anything else.
Here’s a little secret Jan. I don’t regard being female as an accomplishment. I don’t regard it as particularly interesting. And that goes for every other identity-based trait. These are not accomplishments. Accomplishment is learning calculus, learning German, developing a product that other people want to use, but the identity politics victimology says just by virtue of checking off various boxes of victimhood … and the more, the better. This is what this whole intersectionality concept is. You get power, you get to silence your opponents and without using arguments.
So I would say that it is a source of status-based power. One of the ideas in legal history is to describe the transition from feudal Europe to the renaissance and modernity as a transition from status-based relationships to contractual relationships. That in a feudal system when you have the landowning lord and a group of peasants under him, their relations are based on their status that nobody contracted, it’s not voluntarily entered into with an agreement. And that dissolved and gave way to a society where people make relations based on voluntary contracts that each side determines, puts his own interests first, and is mutually advantageous. Well, we’re kind of moving back towards this feudal system of a status-based hierarchy of power that by virtue of being a female, I have more power than you do. And if I were a black female, I would really, I’d have twice, three times as much power as you do. But, again, these are not based on anything that I’ve accomplished, but just based on my status.
Mr. Jekielek: So it’s kind of basically throwing out meritocracy as a concept.
Ms. Mac Donald: Absolutely. It is. It’s everywhere. The assault on meritocracy, it’s the most worrisome in the scientific sector where you have Silicon Valley now, every big tech firm, Google, Microsoft, Amazon, they are all obsessed with diversity and identity, focused primarily on females because there are so few black and Hispanic computer engineers that that’s not really where the game is. The game is trying to promote more females.
This got James Damore fired from Google in August of 2017 because he dared to challenge the reigning feminist orthodoxy, which is that only sexism explains the lack of gender 50/50 proportionality at Google and other big tech firms. And Damore said, well, there may be other factors at play as well, such as the average career predilections of males and females. He was not talking about the females at Google. He was saying, why aren’t there more females at Google? And he said, psychology is known for decades that there are differences between males and females in their interest in idea-centered work versus hands-on human relational work, appetite for risk, appetite for competition. This got him fired. And Google and other tech firms have gone on happily on their merry way, continuing to privilege employees based on the utterly irrelevant characteristics of gender and to a lesser extent race.
One guy was working for YouTube and Google and was told that he could only hire females and people of color for entry-level engineering jobs, and he refused to go along with it and was fired. So we’re putting our competitive edge at risk by this wholesale attack on meritocracy. I don’t care what the race and gender is of the lab that’s going to discover Alzheimer’s. If they’re all female, fine, as long as they are the best scientists out there. But if they’re all male or if they’re all Asian, I really don’t give a damn because the only thing that should matter is their scientific expertise. That is now under assault at the universities and in the corporate sector, private sector as well.
Mr. Jekielek: It also makes me think that there’s all sorts of realms of inquiry that would be completely off-limits here. Right? Like, for example, based on identity politics, that you can’t look at differences between men and women. You can’t look at gender identity from an empirical perspective. This is very serious.
Ms. Mac Donald: It’s very serious because if the left is wrong, that what explains disparities in society is structural racism, if they’re wrong, and let’s say conservatives are right or I’m right, that there’s really behavioral differences and culture and choices that matter. We’re never going to be able to self-correct. If that other explanation, if the unorthodox radical explanation, which is that … everybody should be valuing education, they should be waiting until they’re married to have kids, they should work full time, don’t drop out, don’t join drug gangs. If those explanations are right, but you’re not allowed to talk about them, we’re never going to be able to self-correct.
And as far as gender, I mean, I’ve been looking at what I call these natural experiments to test the sexism hypothesis, which is that only sexism explains the fact that if you look at Silicon Valley, it is hugely male-dominated. The tech entrepreneurs are hugely male-dominated. I couldn’t care less. I say, go for it guys. If you guys have the balls to take risks and you have an idea and you’re going to work yourself at 2:00 A.M. in a cold computer lab because you have this vision, go for it.
But the dominant explanation is … there’s barriers, there’s glass ceilings and there’s discouragement, blah, blah, blah. Well, there’s a bunch of institutions which are barrier-free. There’s no gatekeepers.
So here’s a natural test to see, well, is sexism the explanation. Wikipedia, the online free encyclopedia, a novel institution, there’s no history attached to it. There’s no gatekeepers. Anybody can write and edit, and it’s anonymous and it’s blind. Ninety percent of all entries on Wikipedia are written by males.
Mr. Jekielek: Fascinating.
Ms. Mac Donald: Nobody is keeping females out. There’s no gatekeepers. You just do it. The fact is, is there are differences between males and females on average. I’m not talking about anybody’s daughter out there. I’m not saying your daughter’s not going to win a Nobel Prize in physics. I’m talking about distributions and averages, which is what James Damore was trying to talk about in Google before he was fired. On average, males are more driven to this competitive, fact-based obsession, whether it’s sports or keeping track of every last voting district, and there are differences in high and low in math skills. There’s a lot more math dummies who are male–people who are completely clueless when it comes to math are male. But the very, very high end of math skills is two-to-one, two-and-a-half times to one male to female. So these things matter. But, again, we’re not allowed to talk about that.
Mr. Jekielek: Heather, I could talk to you for hours and hours and hours. This is absolutely fascinating. I want to shift gears a little bit. You’re doing some really important work–we’ve been doing some of this as well at The Epoch Times around the homelessness situation in San Francisco and some of the realities around that. You have a big article upcoming in the near future. Can you tell us a little bit of what you’ve been doing?
Ms. Mac Donald: Sure. I went up earlier in the summer, spent several days on San Francisco, spending as much time as possible in these homeless encampments, talking to people, talking to the drug users and wrote up my findings for an article in City Journal, which will come out probably in September, fall. It’ll be online and people can order a hard copy of it.
And what I found is that–we’ve known this for decades–the central narrative about homelessness, that it’s a problem of lack of affordable housing is a complete swerve from the truth. It’s just not the case. These people are overwhelmingly drug addicts. They are taking advantage of a system that enables their behavior. Mental illness is also very prevalent. And what you have in San Francisco and places up and down the West Coast now are societies that have lost the will to enforce bourgeois norms of behavior.
And so you have an entire enabling industry for the homeless. Free food is everywhere. People are eating all the time. They’re catered to. Drug use is encouraged. They’ve got the clean needle districts. San Francisco is distributing vitamin C to mix with crack and heroin, sterile pads, cookers, the most grotesque book you’ve ever seen about the junk that you’re using to shoot up. It’s got these whole diagrams about how to properly find your vein. It’s just amazing. Nobody is willing to say these are behaviors that are going to destroy your life. And so once the society starts tolerating this, it’s going to get more of it.
So the idea that somehow San Francisco should be building affordable housing for addicts and mentally ill, who many of them come to San Francisco, this is true in Los Angeles, skid row, as well, because it has a nationwide reputation as a place where you can party, and nothing’s going to happen to you. As long as that is the norm, you’re not going to solve it.
And you cannot build your way out of it. San Francisco is among the most expensive housing markets in the country. It costs about $700,000 to build one unit of affordable housing. With 8,000 people in their latest homeless count in San Francisco, I think that works out to about 6 billion to create housing for all of those people, which is a third of San Francisco’s already very large budget. It’s just not going to happen.
So I think it’s very difficult because … because of bad decisions society has taken down before that, you do have people that are on the streets, what do you do with them? We should never have allowed it to get to this point because there’s social disaffiliation that goes on. People have broken with families and friends that would otherwise in earlier times have provided social support.
But if they know they have got that safety valve of being able to live on the streets, there’s less of incentive to stay on the straight and narrow. How you change and get back to a more functional ended and a system of values that will help people stay stable and on their feet is difficult. I argue for using unused land outside of cities that is cheap to have clean and sober facilities.
Certainly, we’ve got to start enforcing immigration laws. I had a very interesting encounter—which I’m going to write about, and I’m not going to spill the beans now—with the Honduran drug dealers in San Francisco who control much of the drug trade there. San Francisco, of course, is famously one of the most left-wing sanctuary policies, but the city should use immigration laws to get rid of these dealers that are preying on people.
So there’s things we can do, but the other thing that I came away with is just a sense of traditional social structures in the United States are disintegrating. Families are disintegrating. People are forgetting how to be parents. This is something Charles Murray has written about with the white working class and coming apart. Jim Carney has a book about this as well. There’s something going on. This is even beyond identity politics—although it may be part of it—when you have a culture now that is decided to be so against itself to hate its own accomplishments. The only analogy I can think of is the Chinese Cultural Revolution.
I can imagine that that starts to eat away at people’s self-respect. And, certainly, to be a male in the culture today is to be the target of constant rhetoric about your toxic masculinity. So, I don’t know, but these [inaudible] these people’s lives, they’re chaotic, disorderly, and the traditional structures above all family that kept people stable are breaking down in a very worrisome way.
Mr. Jekielek: So I got a chill up my spine as you referenced the Cultural Revolution, which is of course the wholesale destruction of traditional culture in Communist China by Mao’s edict, essentially. This is something we are very familiar with at The Epoch Times. Are you saying that there’s almost a kind of a cultural revolution happening in America? Is this possible?
Ms. Mac Donald: Well, yes. He turned on the great Chinese civilization and said it’s just a source of oppression … now, the difference there is, I think he actually did go after the elites. The difference in America is it’s the elites who are staying in power at the same time that they are trashing the past.
But, again, I don’t know any civilization that can go forward without giving its members a sense of pride. And as far as this trashing of Western civilization, are you kidding me? I mean, there’s other great civilizations. But as far as the exploration, the explosion of scientific experimentation and progress that began in the 17th century in Europe with the Royal Society of London, amateur scientists for centuries thereafter tinkering, discovering chemistry, electricity, the movement of the blood, the intake of oxygen. It’s astounding. It’s astounding. And yet we’re told that this is somehow the source of oppression in the world today. It’s insane. So we’ll see where this ends up. I don’t know.
But we’re getting close to burning books. Maybe they’re not actually torched, but certainly they’re banned. There’s things that you’re not supposed to read or say. So, as I said, maybe we’re still play acting at the ethnic hatreds that are very real in the rest of the world. But there may come a point when the play acting becomes very real, and that’s something to be worried about.
Mr. Jekielek: Extremely worried, it would seem. Well, so, there’s two fundamental questions here. One is, as a typical person, someone that’s watching this show, this is an extremely bleak picture, right? But I would feel motivated. I feel motivated to do something. What can I do?
Ms. Mac Donald: Well, I know that people with an amplifier, I do believe this, I’ve concluded this over the last six months, is that the thing that needs to be done is to rebut the myth of bias. That that is what’s driving it. That is what’s driving a whole lot of nonsense across the left, which is the idea that racism is the primary driver of American society. And that explains everything that is troubling in our culture today. So people that have an amplification system have to cut back, have to push back against that narrative because as long as that narrative holds, they win.
If you don’t have that amplification system, I would say, teach your kids to love greatness. Give them the great books, read them the children’s classics, developing them an ear for language. Give them respect for beauty, for music, for Mozart, for Chopin, for Schubert to inoculate them against this, this hatred and self-loathing.
And if you can, and it’s very hard, I realize, if you yourself are the target of one of these phony racism accusations, try and withstand it. Don’t go and deliver your false show trial self-indictment, and the more courage people can have, again … I’m not going to hold Trump up as a model for everything because I don’t think in some respects he’s the greatest model for what manly virtue should be. I think he’s thin-skinned and vindictive, but on some things he is admirable, and his ability to continue speaking the truth when under these charges of racism is very refreshing and more of us have to be able to do that.
Mr. Jekielek: The next question is now that you mentioned the president or the administration, what about policy? Right? Because somehow whatever policy has been out there has allowed this kind of political correctness victimology to fester, to grow on campus, to dominate, in fact. That’s central to your argument. Now, as a society, we need to transform from that. Not just at the individual level, but also at a societal level. What kind of policy would you recommend?
Ms. Mac Donald: I’m not a big believer in policy. I think this is a cultural issue. I don’t think there’s a whole lot of policy levers. There’s some standard evergreens in the conservative armamentarium of tying welfare to work to have a reciprocal contract. I would certainly say government’s got to stop driving tuitions up, which is part by the student loan debacle of encouraging more and more people to go to college and allows these schools to bulk up on their diversity bureaucracy because they’ve got all this free federal money coming in.
I certainly would change immigration policy. I think we have to move away from low-skilled mass immigration that is creating competition for jobs, is putting enormous fiscal burdens on cities when it comes to education and healthcare and criminal justice costs.
But I don’t think, in fact, I was skeptical … Trump issued an executive order earlier this year on higher education and said that schools should create an atmosphere of open inquiry. Well, this sounds good. As somebody who has been the target of unopened inquiry, I certainly understand the need for it, but I’m reluctant to have this tool placed in the hands of the federal government just because I’m all too conscious that the political pendulum can swing. And you can imagine a Elizabeth Warren or Kamala Harris or Ilhan Omar administration defining open inquiry in the usual Orwellian terms, which is that you can only be open by closing down speech.
So I would say, again, it’s really up to people to make arguments to, I hate to use this terrible academic word, but to valorize the accomplishments of Western culture, to refuse the idea that we remain today a bigoted culture, and to be able to say bourgeois habits matter. Self-control matters. The way that parents raise their kids matters. So we need, obviously, we need better schools. I would get rid of progressive education. I would get rid of most ed schools, all of them, I guess. But those are things more on how we understand what it means to be human and what society needs to raise children that are capable of realizing their gifts.
Mr. Jekielek: It sounds to me a little bit like it’s on the influencers, the people that have the ability to transmit as you were describing earlier, and, frankly, also on the media, on us, on me, in your prescription.
Ms. Mac Donald: Yes. I can think of one other thing, I’ve not written about this yet, or even visited one, but I keep hearing about these classical academies that are being started, and these are K-12 schools that are dedicated to the great books. This is a thing of beauty. And if there’s parents out there that have the opportunity to send their children to one of these, I would seize it.
Because, again, more in the fact that I’m going to die before having heard all the great music that exists or having read all the amazing 19th-century novels that have been written. And now education is all about rubbing kids’ nose in dysfunction and premature sexuality awareness, which is child abuse. So, as a parent, preserve that zone of innocence and imagination for your children as long as possible. I think I would probably homeschool because I think it’s just absolutely heartbreaking and tragic that the left-wing identity-based hating mob has taken over K-12 education and is already telling students to think of themselves as either victims or oppressed, is celebrating various forms of dysfunction. It’s such a shame because childhood should be a time of imagination and play and learning and free from the adult world of sexuality. And it’s no longer that, and it’s just tragic.
Mr. Jekielek: So classical academies? I hadn’t actually heard that term, but that sounds super interesting. Sounds like a bit of the education I had the privilege of having way back when. But homeschooling, and homeschooling purely among the classics?
Ms. Mac Donald: Well, yes. I mean, obviously, you do math and science, but I would certainly not choose any book based on anything other than the greatness of its language and imagination. I don’t think diversity of author … I’m very grateful that I was in college in the ’70s before multiculturalism hit. So I was allowed to read in my freshman year Chaucer, Spenser, Milton, Wordsworth without anybody thinking to complain that these were dead white males. So I don’t think books should ever be chosen on the basis of the race and gender of their authors. It’s completely irrelevant. So, yes, homeschooling should be the foundation and the classics because it’s the only time you’re going to get it.
Mr. Jekielek: Powerful place to finish up. Heather, thank you so much.
Ms. Mac Donald: Thank you. My pleasure.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.