Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin Makes Matt Gaetz Look Really Dumb

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Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, who is a retired four-star general from the U.S. Army, expertly dismantled shoddy arguments from Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) during a Congressional hearing on Wednesday in which the Florida Congressman tried to drag the conservative boogeyman known as “critical race theory” into the discussion. Gaetz argued that Bishop Garrison, a recently hired Defense Department adviser, is a purveyor of “critical race theory,” apparently suggesting that Austin ignorantly accepted Garrison onto the team — but as Austin pointedly put it, maybe it’s the Congressman who’s getting told things that they “want to hear.” In other words, Austin suggested Gaetz could be a dupe.

Critical race theory is, as a recent article from Education Week explains, an observation that “racism is a social construct, and that it is not merely the product of individual bias or prejudice, but also something embedded in legal systems and policies.” It’s not difficult to see the connections between that relatively straightforward idea and real-world circumstances — take redlining, for instance. “Redlining” constitutes the systematic denial of services like home loans to communities like Black Americans, and these denials obviously carry over into the real world. Inability to secure the support necessary to move to a new area can, of course, have long-lasting effects. Ending up essentially stuck without the support that white communities have received can impede economic development and the people who rely on it.

Conservatives have, for some reason, recently freaked out over critical race theory, although its connections to the societal structure of the United States go on. The U.S. Constitution itself essentially protected slavery to the point of formally identifying enslaved Black individuals as merely three-fifths of a person for the purpose of allocating Congressional representation. That left white slaveholders with increased power to shape government policy and public investment. Pretending like these circumstances aren’t reality just seems willfully ignorant.

During the Congressional hearing featuring Austin on Wednesday, Gaetz bizarrely characterized the hashtag “#Black44” — in reference to former President Barack Obama — as seemingly “very ethno-nationalist.” At one point, Garrison posted the (in reality rather innocuous) hashtag on Twitter, leading to Gaetz’s comment. Incredibly, Gaetz subsequently questioned whether Austin had personally examined Garrison’s Twitter posts prior to his hiring. Unsurprisingly, Austin indicated that he’d not done so — after all, he’s the U.S. Secretary of Defense rather than part of the “Protect Matt Gaetz From Annoyance” team.

Austin commented as follows:

‘Let me just share one other thing that you brought up, Congressman, about the input that comes to me. I trust my leadership from top to bottom that they will give me fair and balanced and unvarnished input, and for you to say that people are telling me what I want to hear. I get it, but I’m smart enough to know –‘

At that point, Gaetz cut him off, insisting “that does happen.” As Austin put it in response, addressing the Congressman: “Maybe they’re telling you what you want to hear.” Previously, Gaetz had claimed that members of the military had brought concerns to him about the supposed implementation of critical race theory in service operations, and Austin appeared to be hearkening back to the Congressman’s allegation via questioning his information. Check out the interaction below: