My high school helped choose Glenn Youngkin
The excitement and faded promise surrounding Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology ushered in the unlikely populist.
VIRGINIA — Driving around I-66, that challenging freeway that bisects Northern Virginia west of Washington almost as far as West Virginia, means seeing almost none of the signs of a meltdown that are evident elsewhere in North America.
The Bidenvilles of Hollywood Boulevard don’t exist. Here it is definitely more difficult to buy fentanyl. The arrival of Google and Amazon buildings doesn’t seem overtly depressing. The further west you go, the more land there is.
This has always been the promise of the United States on the “sunset side” of copying and twisting George W. Bush. Squint a little and have a drink (Petit Verdot) in the town of Purcellville and you can still see Jefferson’s dream. The wealthy, and much more Yankees, of the north of the state where I grew up may not have blended seamlessly into the rest of the “Commonwealth” — rather, smashed into political submission — but the Changing of the Guard scarcely caused a civil war, in this the Cradle of the Confederacy.
This is generally not the country you are reading more about. That is, the bewildered Virginia provinces of Trump-Sanders voters. On the contrary, literal O’Malley-McMullin voters can live here in NoVA. Had he not dropped out before the primary, I would be personally ashamed to learn of Pete Buttigieg’s 2020 performance.
This place has more in common with the supposed “Hot Zones” of the USA – the sunbelt metropolis that pops up from Tucson to Phoenix, whatever’s going on in Georgia, the “New South” Valhalla in the “Exploration Triangle” – than with the forgotten lands of the USA Ohio, strange parts of Orange County and DeSantistan.
In general, Northern Virginia was On Message. It has voted correctly for the next President of the United States, Republican or Democrat, every year for the past quarter century except for 2016, that operatic and very real revolutionary moment. This country of Washington (and legal partners) understands, if nothing else, power.
But if there is a 1b priority, it is this: education.
The state described above is hardly a Trumpian cauldron (but head southwest), but its election of the goofy, candid, former private equity executive Glenn Youngkin last November might be remembered as the beginning of the end of the Joe Biden years. As has been debated ad nauseam, critical race theory is real, and its rejection has given Republicans victory, even in the face of an ambiguous globalization loser.
Nowhere was this failed “practice” more evident than at my esteemed secondary school alma mater, Magnet Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Alexandria. When I enrolled in 2005, they told you, “You’re hired for life.” Yale doesn’t say that anymore, let alone “TJ”
Yet the site’s status in the digital age has, oddly enough, become a dual focus of alumni boredom and escalated political attention. Even if the credential has lost relative value. When those in power tried to scrap admission tests (giving the “teachers” even more power), Youngkin stepped in and now has the courts as well.
“Today’s decision reaffirms that TJ’s admission should be based on merit,” the governor said said in February, after federal courts ruled that Asian Americans were neglected in the new regime. “We thank the parents who stood up for their children. We will work every day to ensure that every student across Virginia receives a quality education so they can dream big and be prepared for success in life.”
Anyone arguing this is a stroke of the pen of white supremacy has never carpooled: This high school is more Seoul than Stone Mountain or whatever. Still, the explicit gutting of any goals toward “merit” has proved a fanfare for anyone disgusted with the Democrats: a potential fulcrum that unites both the disaffected lower and upper-middle class.
Politically, that’s the difficult thing.
For those looking to capitalize or change the country, there are two routes.
On the one hand, the vaunted right-wing “bad guy” majority on the Supreme Court could step in and nullify these sorts of apartheid preferences. It’s a popular topic. Affirmative action was many things, but never democratic.
On the other hand, SCOTUS could go down the path it’s favored since the ’70s: exiting whatever the Kulturkampf is. If so, that most personal issue, children, will be debated at the ballot box for this decade and beyond. Eventually all the tides will roll back.
In such a case, places like my high school could actually change the world.