Senator Tom Cotton (R-AK) spoke with Terry Schilling, President of the American Principles Project (APP), on Monday about the Biden administration’s agenda and the potential impact of pending legislation on American families.
Cotton began the conversation by suggesting that the progressive movement was no longer interested in promoting tolerance and had embraced a more muscular posture in the culture war.
“I look around the country and I see a move over the years away from what used to be a defining American trait, which is toleration. Our founding fathers talked about the toleration for the views of others, especially for different religious creeds. But the Left is no longer content with toleration, by any means. They’re really not even content with acceptance. They want to demand celebration [of] their views about gender and race. They want to force them on the entire country,” Cotton said.
Cotton then discussed the mounting backlash to the efforts of activists, teachers, and school boards to install critical race theory (CRT) and other progressive ideologies in school curricula. He saluted the “courageous parents” who he said have been “standing up and fighting back” against the institution of critical theory in schools.
Schilling turned the conversation to perceived legislative threats to the family. He asked Cotton about the Equality Act, which would amend the 1964 Civil Rights Act to include protections for members of various sexual-identity groups and override key provisions of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
“Not surprisingly, as is often the case with Democratic legislation, the Equality Act doesn’t quite live up to its title,” Cotton said. “It would make unequal policies the law of the land, especially when it comes to protecting young girls and young women in sports or in their schools and colleges and so forth. It is far reaching – far beyond anything the Democrats have proposed in the past and it’s really just of a piece with the radical gender ideology that the left has been trying to indoctrinate.”
The Equality Act contains several provisions that have alarmed religious-freedom activists. For example, the Act would designate healthcare providers as public accommodations and prohibit those providers from treating “pregnancy, childbirth, or a related medical condition” less favorably “than other physical conditions.” Mary Beth Waddell, the Director of Federal Affairs at the Family Research Council, argued that this provision “would effectively create a legislative right to abortion on demand.”
Cotton suggested that the bill as drafted contains provisions that would undermine parental and conscience rights, particularly around issues of gender-identity. He argued that the Equality Act and laws like it around the country ignore essential differences between the sexes.
“There’s a reason why we have men’s and women’s sports in the Olympics. Some of us are old enough to remember in the 1988 Summer Olympics where the late, great Florence Griffith Joyner set the women’s world record in the 100-meter dash. It still stands to this day in a sport where records fall almost every year. Thirty-three year’s later, [Joyner’s] record still stands. No woman has ever run faster,” Cotton said. “You know who has run faster than [Joyner]? Seventy-six high-school boys in America in the last track season. That’s an indication of just how different the sexes are when it comes to physical and athletic competitions.”
Cotton mentioned the possibility that the Senate could vote on the Equality Act as early as this week, though thus far there has been no movement on the bill in Congress’s upper chamber. President Biden reportedly met with the leaders of various sexual-identity groups on Monday, leading some to speculate that the White House is interested in making the legislation a priority.
Schilling implored the conference’s virtual attendees to call their elected officials and express opposition to the Equality Act. He then asked Cotton what could be done to counteract corporate activism, particularly in the wake of corporate-led boycotts of states that pass conservative legislation.
Cotton argued that corporate activism is spearheaded by corporate executives rather than rank-and-file employees, many of whom, Cotton suggested, oppose the political positions of the executives. He opposed boycotting such corporations for that reason.
Cotton added that conservative activists should attempt to match the effort and intensity of their progressive peers.
“CEOs largely want to avoid controversy. They fear controversy coming from their left. Well, maybe they should fear it coming from their right, as well. If they’re worried about a small number of online activists condemning them if they don’t speak out on things like the Equality Act or that Georgia election law, maybe they should fear an online conservative outpouring of criticism if they do,” he said.
Schilling said that the APP has “some plans in the works to hold these corporations accountable for attacking our families,” and said there is a “whole list of corporations” his organization is “going to be going after in the coming weeks.” He then shifted the conversation to the rise of critical race theory and Cotton’s legislative efforts to combat the implementation of CRT in schools.
Cotton mentioned his bill that would prohibit federal funding of schools that teach the New York Times’s “1619 Project.” He added that there was additional legislation “coming down the pike” to ensure that CRT is not taught to federal employees, and mentioned his joint effort with Congressman Dan Crenshaw (R-TX) to create a resource for military whistleblowers to “expose how rapidly the military has bought in to critical race theory.”
Cotton recalled a black Arkansan whom he met in a grocery store who expressed her support for “conservative family values” as an example of the importance of “look[ing] past outward differences.”
Schilling argued that some progressives are beholden to “the Confederate mentality” according to which “there are inferior races, and there are people with privilege or supremacy.” Cotton responded by highlighting Ibram Kendi’s argument that the “only remedy to past discrimination is present discrimination” as evidence that certain professed anti-racists can sound like the racists they claim to abhor.
Schilling closed the conversation by asking Cotton about the greatest threat posed by the Biden administration. Cotton responded by arguing that President Biden’s economic policies, while regrettable from a conservative point of view, are less detrimental to the country than his administration’s cultural agenda.
“Look, I don’t want the Biden administration to raise taxes on Americans,” Cotton said. “I don’t want them to hurt our economic recovery. But if they do raise taxes, well, we can cut your taxes when we get back in office. There [are] lots of things that we can do when we take back power in the future, which I hope won’t be very far away. But if we allow Joe Biden and the Democratic Party to indoctrinate an entire generation of our kids earlier in these radical race and gender theories – especially indoctrinate them to hate America – what does it matter if we win a couple elections over the next few election cycles?”
John Hirschauer is a staff writer for RealClearFoundation.