Truth V. Myth: Trump Executive Order On Diversity Training, or, a return to McCarthyism

Hello and welcome to part 5 in our series on the Trump Administration’s September 22, 2020 Executive Order on Combating Race and Sex Stereotyping (find the official White House version of this executive order here). This time, we slog through Sections 4-6.

Section 4 is Requirements for Government Contractors. This Order is, after all, directed toward “Executive departments and agencies (agencies), our Uniformed Services, Federal contractors, and Federal grant recipients”, so here’s where it gets very specific by outlining policy.

During the performance of this contract, the contractor agrees as follows:

1. The contractor shall not use any workplace training that inculcates in its employees any form of race or sex stereotyping or any form of race or sex scapegoating, including the concepts that (a) one race or sex is inherently superior to another race or sex; (b) an individual, by virtue of his or her race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously; (c) an individual should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment solely or partly because of his or her race or sex; (d) members of one race or sex cannot and should not attempt to treat others without respect to race or sex; (e) an individual’s moral character is necessarily determined by his or her race or sex; (f) an individual, by virtue of his or her race or sex, bears responsibility for actions committed in the past by other members of the same race or sex; (g) any individual should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress on account of his or her race or sex; or (h) meritocracy or traits such as a hard work ethic are racist or sexist, or were created by a particular race to oppress another race. 

The term “race or sex stereotyping” means ascribing character traits, values, moral and ethical codes, privileges, status, or beliefs to a race or sex, or to an individual because of his or her race or sex, and the term “race or sex scapegoating” means assigning fault, blame, or bias to a race or sex, or to members of a race or sex because of their race or sex.

–This is copied and pasted from Section 2: Definitions, which we covered all-too-thoroughly in part 4. As we said there, “We do not believe in good faith that the context of diversity training in the U.S. provides or supports [eight] separate, and often completely opposing, definitions of “divisive concepts.” In a nutshell, this is the third restatement in this Order of the idea that acknowledging the existence of racism and sexism is racist and sexist.

Now we get to what this means in terms of actions that federal contractors must take. First, they must send a copy of the Order “to each labor union or representative of workers with which he has a collective bargaining agreement or other contract or understanding” and each union office must “post copies of the notice in conspicuous places available to employees and applicants for employment.” We pass over the sexist language in this ostensible Order against sexism… for now.

The next item swerves from what the contractors should do to a warning that if they are non-compliant “this contract may be canceled, terminated, or suspended in whole or in part and the contractor may be declared ineligible for further Government contracts”.

Back to tasks: the contractors must “include the provisions of paragraphs (1) through (4) in every subcontract or purchase order unless exempted by rules, regulations, or orders of the Secretary of Labor, so that such provisions will be binding upon each subcontractor or vendor.” The Department of Labor will “establish a hotline and investigate complaints received” against any contractor who is “utilizing such training programs in violation of the contractor’s obligations under those orders. The Department shall take appropriate enforcement action and provide remedial relief, as appropriate.”

Unlike the usual lip service that accompanies any civil rights protections, the DOL is very likely to follow through with this for as long as the Trump Administration lasts. All the energy it never has for providing enforcement and relief for victims of race and sex discrimination will be poured into prosecuting people trying to fight race and sex discrimination.

Finally, “Within 30 days of the date of this order, the Director of OFCCP shall publish in the Federal Register a request for information seeking information from Federal contractors, Federal subcontractors, and employees of Federal contractors and subcontractors regarding the training, workshops, or similar programming provided to employees. The request for information should request copies of any training, workshop, or similar programing having to do with diversity and inclusion as well as information about the duration, frequency, and expense of such activities.”

The constant theme here is Soviet- or McCarthy-style encouragement of informants. Instead of going to your company or union first, go directly to the government and report your employer or union. Secretly inform the government about any violations you perceive. Again, if this administration had ever protected whistle-blowers for justice, this would be less infuriating. Only informants, not whistle-blowers, will be protected.

Section 5 leads, for the third time, with the same cut-and-paste 8-part (re)definition of terms and statement that acknowledging racism and sexism is racist and sexist. In fact, that’s all Section 5 includes after the brief intro text “Sec. 5. Requirements for Federal Grants. The heads of all agencies shall review their respective grant programs and identify programs for which the agency may, as a condition of receiving such a grant, require the recipient to certify that it will not use Federal funds to promote the concepts that (a) one race or sex is inherently superior to another race or sex; …” We are perhaps meant to be hypnotized by this repetition.

Section 6 mixes it up by not repeated the cut-and-paste.

Sec. 6. Requirements for Agencies. (a) The fair and equal treatment of individuals is an inviolable principle that must be maintained in the Federal workplace. Agencies should continue all training that will foster a workplace that is respectful of all employees. Accordingly:

(i) The head of each agency shall use his or her authority under 5 U.S.C. 301, 302, and 4103 to ensure that the agency, agency employees while on duty status, and any contractors hired by the agency to provide training, workshops, forums, or similar programming (for purposes of this section, “training”) to agency employees do not teach, advocate, act upon, or promote in any training to agency employees any of the divisive concepts listed in section 2(a) of this order. 

…(ii) Agency diversity and inclusion efforts shall, first and foremost, encourage agency employees not to judge each other by their color, race, ethnicity, sex, or any other characteristic protected by Federal law.

…(b) The Director of OPM shall propose regulations providing that agency officials with supervisory authority over a supervisor or an employee with responsibility for promoting diversity and inclusion, if such supervisor or employee either authorizes or approves training that promotes the divisive concepts set forth in section 2(a) of this order, shall take appropriate steps to pursue a performance-based adverse action proceeding against such supervisor or employee..

–More cultivation of informants here, as any employee that dares to “promote in any training to agency employees any of the divisive concepts listed in section 2(a) of this order” will be informed upon and the Director of OPM “shall take appropriate steps to pursue a performance-based adverse action proceeding against such supervisor or employee…”

Three sub-steps reinforce this message, and part ii, requiring “the agency inspector general [to] thoroughly review and assess by the end of the calendar year, and not less than annually thereafter, agency compliance with the requirements of this order in the form of a report submitted to OMB” is particularly irritating; how we wish that there were at least annual, and ideally monthly, reviews to ensure enforcement of real civil rights laws in the workplace.

Next time: the bleak conclusion

Bad history: John McCain as Holden Caulfield

There are blog carnivals out there where people collect good posts from many different blogs. One of those that we follow is the Carnival of Bad History. We ran across a shocking example of bad history in the New York Times last night.

In “When the Times Make the Man,” the idea is put forward that John McCain is not an elderly and ever-more neocon hardliner but rather a 1950s rebel: “Robert Timberg reports that when Mr. McCain recalls his youth he “describes himself as a rebel without a cause, a James Dean type, though it’s just as easy to imagine him as Holden Caulfield.” And he cultivated the part, “clad in blue jeans, motorcycle boots and his overcoat, and smoking a cigarette that dangled from his lips,” as Paul Alexander writes in his book “Man of the People: The Life of John McCain.”

This is illustrated by a 1956 photo of McCain at his sister’s wedding, smiling ear to ear as he proudly stands at attention in his full-dress Navy uniform.

Now, we can’t make any claims about the accuracy of this take on Sen. McCain. Perhaps he was really a James Dean rebel–in the Navy.  Perhaps you, unlike us, feel it is “easy” to picture McCain as Holden Caulfield. But we can doubt that accuracy based on the terrible history in the rest of the article.

The author claims that people born in the 1930s, and thus in their teens and 20s in the 1950s, experienced none of the “tumult” that people who were the same age in the 1960s experienced: “They typically came of age in the 1950s, when consensus reigned, and with it conformism. Young Americans were collectively disengaged from politics and distrustful of ideology. They were the “silent generation,” content to be guided by their elders: Eisenhower, the avuncular white-haired president who had been the hero of World War II, and the Wise Men who formulated the strategies of the cold war.  In this climate the young were more likely to serve than to lead. The Korean War, which raged from 1950 to 1953, claimed nearly as many American casualties as Vietnam, and yet, despite the universal draft, there was scarcely a protest from those waiting to be called. At home, civil rights was emerging as a great cause, but it did not attract many young activists until the 1960s.”

Why Americans put up with this common type of bad history–that the 1950s were a happy, quiet, conformity time–is beyond us. It is hard to think of a decade more gripped by terror than the 1950s. WWII was over, but danger was everywhere–China had been overtaken by Communists, “forcing” the U.S. to go to war in Korea, and Vietnam was also being prepped as an arena for war. And Europe itself was not safe, with half of it in the grips of the Soviet Union.  Would we have to go back to war against the USSR? Would it be atomic war?

Everywhere Americans looked, the spectre of atomic war loomed large. The government seemed resigned to its likelihood, and made scores of informational films to help people deal with the prospect.

On top of this, there was conflict with millions of American women, who were being forced out of their factory jobs to give the places back to men. Even women who had been working before WWII started were forced out. These women did not disappear back into happy domesticity. They seethed just under and above the surface, and were eventually described so well by Betty Friedan.

On top of this, the civil rights movement’s successful challenge to school segregation set off terrifying and disgusting violence that Americans watched on their TVs. Race war seemed as likely as atomic war.

So this was not a decade of mindless conformity and contentment. Americans were scared out of their minds by Communists, atomic war, the fundamental upheaval of desegregation, and Soviet domination. There’s a reason why the military-industrial complex was founded in the 1950s. People clung to the popular propaganda of contented bland conformity in an attempt to calm their fears of apocalypse. But the reality was that their whole way of life seemed up for grabs.

Now, the author posits that the 1950s were quiet rest time for America. But then he inevitably contradicts himself: “Mr. McCain seems to combine the two strains of the decade in which he grew up; he is skeptical toward the very expectations he stoically fulfills.”

How can skepticsm toward conservative social goals be the hallmark of a decade completely engulfed by unthinking conformity? The author also states that “he approached his Vietnam service much as 1950s men approached the Korean War, less with a sense of patriotism than of fatalism — the same fatalism that young people felt back then when many thought the cold war might end in apocalypse but quietly went about their lives.”

We’re afraid you simply cannot mention fear of atomic apocalypse in the 1950s if you have already set out a thesis stating that the 1950s were a time of quiet conservatism where people followed their political leaders calmly as sheep. You also cannot say both that young men went to Korea without protest and that they were fatalistic about going to Korea, not when you have posited that the lack of protest came from total acceptance of the government’s orders.

This is all bad history. The 1960s happened because of the 1950s, not in spite of the 1950s. It was the fear that kids in the 1950s grew up with that led them to abandon the society that fueled that fear. They felt they could no longer deal with the fear, and that, unlike their parents, they would not try to live normal lives in the presence of that fear.

Pushing this kind of bad history only damages America, by telling us that a chunk of our historical experience simply didn’t happen. To call the 1950s a happy, contented, conformist time is to deny the horrific responsibility we must take for creating and using and threatening to use atomic weapons, to deny the real anguish of black Americans, and the real response of white Americans (for good and for ill) to that segregated reality. It is to say that women were happy at home as housewives, that children took to “duck and cover” films with unruffled aplomb, and that we are not still dealing with the consequences of creating a military-industrial complex that is increasingly subbing in for democratic government in the United States today.

It was Eisenhower, the “avuncular white-haired president” who led the young of the 1950s to the brainwashers, according to this article, who named the military-industrial complex, fought its power, and warned Americans in his last address against it. He knew what the 1950s were; why don’t we?