About this Episode
Episode 37: Chris Rufo
Writer, filmmaker, and senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute Christopher Rufo discusses the phenomena of critical race theory, homelessness, poverty, and other societal afflictions.
Greg Ellis: In this episode, I talk with a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute known for his activism against critical race theory, which he says has pervaded every aspect of the federal government, poses an existential threat to the United States, and is fundamentally anti-American. This week, Chris Rufo is the Respondent. Hi, Chris it's good to see you. Thanks for coming on the show.
Chris Rufo: It's great to be with you.
GE: So you started out as a documentarian and you spent your 20s and early 30s working as a documentary filmmaker, have you left documentary filmmaking behind for good?
CR: Ah, this is a good question. I think I have, you know, it just, um, I enjoyed it. And I think I first got into documentary as a kind of method for traveling around the world in my 20s. And I accomplished that I went all over the world, I produced films, directed films, worked on films, and then in the last few years have been really shifting away from it. And I think a big part of that is the documentary format is, is pretty brutal. It's pretty punishing, you work on a film, essentially in isolation for a few years. And then you take your film, and you take it around, and you kind of market it, you distribute it, you sell it. And the project cycle is so huge. You spend these, like long gaps where you're not really engaged. And I think working as a... as a... as a writer, as I'm doing now, a kind of commentator I guess, is much more kind of... suits my personality much better. It's a bit more engaged, it's a bit more current, it's a bit more fast paced.
GE: So I'm bound to ask how and why did you get involved in critical race theory or CRT, as it's known?
CR: Yeah. I think I'll kind of answer that question in two ways. First, it's been something that has been at the margins or the kind of very outer regions of the work that I've been doing for... for a few years now. I've been doing a lot of work, I had been doing a lot of work on kind of urban policy, homelessness, addiction, mental illness, crime, the justice system in West Coast cities, some of the most progressive jurisdictions in the United States and these ideologies have always been there. If you look at the policy documents, if you listen to the speeches, if you understand the justifications for a lot of these policies, especially regarding something like crime and criminal justice, these… these ideas had been kind of working. And then I finally took, I guess, took the plunge. When I received a tip from, actually a city of Seattle employee, who said, 'Hey, you really need to look at some of these training programs that they're forcing public employees through'. And the one that caught my eye and I eventually requested the documentation for was internalized whiteness and internalized white supremacy. And it was a kind of classic CRT inspired training program where white employees were asked to kind of raise their hand, introduce themselves, admit their complicity in white supremacy, kind of denounce themselves publicly and then work on reshaping their internal racial identity to conform with this new ideology. And after that story broke and kind of broke widely, kind of traveled everywhere, I started getting new leaks and new leaks and new leaks, now to the point where I have a database of not all great stories, but at least people are sending stuff, about 5000 different people. So this is not just a kind of isolated incident. It's not just… these kind of programs are not, you know, only in select places, they're actually pretty widespread and have built up the evidence to support it.
GE: So I read somewhere that marooned-at-home civil servants record and photograph their own anti racism training sessions, and send the evidence to you. Is that.. are you getting more and more of that evidence? Is that happening a lot more now that people are, you know, you're becoming more known?
CR: Yeah, that's right. Yeah, it kind of has as if you look at the curve of submissions, you know, it started with a few, and then a few more, and then, you know, 10 per day, and then sometimes 100 per day, I mean, in the periods where I'm out there, talking about the stories, publishing the stories appearing on the news to kind of publicize the stories, there's always then a feedback mechanism. And what I noticed too, I'm now working on corporate, so like Fortune 100 companies, you know, so called anti-racism programs. Well, whenever I do a corporate story that breaks and kind of splashes it has an impact, I get more in return. So it's this kind of virtuous circle where the more stories I publish, the more feedback comes my way.
GE: So reading through these documents and others, I think you notice that they tended to cite a small set of popular anti-racism books, by what I call entrepreneurs of racism, such as Kendi and Robin DiAngelo, who gets paid tens of thousands of dollars to tell black people how weak they are. Who would you rather debate, Kendi or DiAngelo, and why?
CR: I think both simultaneously would be the most kind of cost effective and time, time efficient. You know, I don't think that it's a coincidence that neither of those people who have really risen to prominence in the last year, since the death of George Floyd, have never debated anyone outside of their own circle. They've never actually tested their ideas publicly in a debate format. They have different excuses. You know, even Kendi always says, Well, no one has actually read my books. So it's not worth debating people who don't understand what I'm saying. Robin DiAngelo, I think it's more of a kind of duck and hide, doesn't engage with the kind of challenging voices. So I would love to debate either or, and or both of them simultaneously. But I think it's a it's a long shot, because one thing we've seen with critical race theory, and not just to pick on on these two, but one thing we've seen with critical race theory, and I think the ideas are so flimsy and so fragile, in many ways, is that the entire academic discipline has basically gone unchallenged for decades, there's very little critical scholarship of critical race theory. Critical race theorists kind of carved out their niche. They took over departments in academia, and then they talked amongst themselves. So they were kind of exchanging ideas among people who already agreed with them, with very little pushback within the academy. And I think that, that shows when you actually look at the stuff and you, you kind of break it down, and you subject it to some rigorous criticism. It doesn't hold up all that well. It's pretty flimsy. I think it's also very unpopular with most people. And I think that's because they don't actually engage. And one thing that I'm proud of having done, I think, for really the first time in a wide way, is to actually bring this into the public debate and force them to withstand some scrutiny and force them, at least to a certain extent, to engage.
GE: Yeah, I did read the Coleman Hughes has challenged Kendi to a debate and I think Ayaan Hirshi Ali has challenged DiAngelo to debate but I think you're right, they reside in these silos. Samuel Kronen said, 'the over emphasis on race in American life, culture and politics is actually a continuation of and a complement to America's legacy of racism rather than a departure from it'. Would you agree with that?
CR: That's a good question. I don't know. I mean, certainly, like one of the things that I take seriously from the critical race theorists and actually, you know, in some ways tend to agree with them on a specific point is that race has always been a very important element of the American story. If you look back to the debates of the Constitutional Convention, then moving forward to the Civil War, then to the Civil Rights Act, civil rights movement, rather, there's been an evolving story and I think it's worth taking seriously. I think it's worth looking at, very honestly and very candidly, the history of racial injustice in the United States. So I don't know if critical race theory as it's practiced today is a continuation or departure. I think that it certainly is a new iteration and maybe a kind of revival of a certain strand of ideology from the radical movements of the 1960s. So, Black Panther Party, Communist Party USA, you know, even Weather Underground I believe, you know, it was really... the first associates of the Weather Underground, were the first to associate... to create the phrase, white race privilege or white skin privilege. These are old ideas that had been rejuvenated. And I think that the departure, if we want to talk about continuity and disruption, the departure is that these radical ideas which were deeply unpopular in the 1960s, have now been sanitized and euphemized and papered over with very kind of soft marketing language. And they've become popular among institutions. And I think that is really the story where it's like, how can you go from, you know, white privilege being an idea of, you know, a domestic terror organization like the Weather Underground, to now white, white skin privilege, or white race privilege being, you know, foisted on six year olds and public schools. That story, that transformation, I think, is quite important.
GE: Does it take its toll sometimes, I mean are there days you wake up and think I'd rather be documentary filmmaking again?
CR: No, no, definitely not a documentary. It’s tough. You know, I think the last couple years I was, I was burned out and burned out on it. And it's such a grueling process. And it's a lot of cooks in the kitchen, you have to have a lot of... big team, you have to raise big budgets, you have to do big travel, you have to do massive editing sessions. It's such an intense experience that, I think, as I was kind of wrapping up on my last film, which broadcast on PBS, I think two years ago now, end of 2019, I was ready to let it go and ready to move on. And I'll tell you one other thing. And I don't know if this is your experience, too, but as I became more politically public with my political opinions, my work, my funding, my relationships in the documentary world, you know, really just kind of took a nosedive. It's like, people I'd worked with for years in some point, in some cases had said, 'Oh, you know, well, if you're, you know, you're a libertarian, or you're conservative, you know, I just, I can't associate with you, I can't I, you know, I can't work with you'. And, and so I knew the writing was on the wall, as I was becoming more politically engaged. I knew that my career in documentary in the traditional documentary industry was pretty much toast. So took it as a nice, honestly, and a good kind of happy accident, you know, took it as a challenge and took it as a, as a sign to really move on.
GE: Yeah, I think people who haven't worked in documentaries and filmmaking really don't quite have a grasp on the amount of work that’s entailed, 4-5 years working on a project on and off, really intense, then not so intense, knowing where the story's going, then it takes you in a different direction. And there's no money in documentary filmmaking for the most part, you're not going to become a millionaire making documentaries. And when I first learned about K-12, and CRT, I was absolutely appalled. But having looked at what's been happening with the academy, and particularly in the the humanities, and the liberal arts, and professors and teachers, teaching children what to think rather than how to think, I look at the Finland model of education, and they brought in critical thinking into their curriculum a couple years ago. That's what I think we need more of, and that is my understanding, and obviously is very minimal compared to yours in terms of CRT, is that we can be teaching a theory, but that theory shouldn't necessarily be what we're instilling as an ideology into people. We've recently seen so many I've seen on your social media channels, so many brave parents, speaking up and out against critical race theory at local school board meetings. And I say bravely because it, it is a tremendous amount of bravery out there from parents who feel, that can they cannot speak up, their mics get turned off. Do you think this is making a difference? And are you seeing more of this? Are you seeing more parents speak up and out?
CR: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, it really is a kind of, for me personally, this was the great surprise. It was totally unexpected. I've been working on policy issues for a number of years and when I started reporting on critical race theory in K-12 schools last December. And then really I did more than a dozen stories, generating a huge amount of media attention. And I thought, okay, good, the word is out there, people are taking this seriously, time to kind of move on to the next series of stories. And then this, this kind of spontaneous grassroots revolt happened, all of a sudden, I'm starting to hear from parents, ‘hey, we're protesting at our school board,’ hey, we're going to overthrow these, you know, take over the school board seats in the next election, hey, we're going to, you know, there are people, even as I'm driving the other weekend, last weekend, I was driving in my town in Washington State, very deep blue Washington State. And there were people on the overpass, you know, promoting a school board candidate who was opposed to critical race theory. And it's like, all of a sudden, this is a national revolt from parents. And I think it's, you know, two things, obviously, on a personal level, it's quite flattering. It's like this issue that I'm bringing to the attention of the public, the public is actually picking up the ball and running with it. And I think obviously, that's gratifying for me personally. But I think, more broadly and more to the point of what it means about our society is that we still have a democratic impulse in this country, people want to feel like they're in control of their public institutions. People want to feel like their public institutions are responding to their needs and desires and values. And I think that this is a really pivotal moment where parents are realizing that they can't just kind of sit back and relax and let the bureaucrats and let the diversity consultants and let the permanent activist class run the show. They're saying, actually, no, we're the taxpayers. We're the parents, we're the citizens. And let's subject this to a democratic oversight, accountability and control. And I think it's important, you know, Greg, to make the point too that, listen, if Berkeley California or Brooklyn, New York wants to teach critical race theory in their K-12 schools, that's fine. They're, they're entitled to do that, obviously, as long as they don't kind of abuse people in violating existing law. They're entitled to teach that, I fully support their right to do so. But just because it's popular in some kind of hyper blue districts doesn't mean that everyone else has to include it in their curriculum as well. And that's why I think, parents getting involved at the very local level, and then state legislators getting involved at that state level is just essential.
GE: Have you been surprised at how you've often, from what I've seen, been misrepresented on the subject and how, oftentimes, people are ignorant of the subject? I'm thinking about your interview with Joy Reid, and just how she spoke over you. And you are very eloquent and and how this I think, you know, mainstream media, obviously, with the sound bites and the punditry and there isn't so much time to actually get your point across and it is about that very fast, flowing debate. Do you think like someone like Joy Reid... if you actually had a couple of hours and you sat down and you had a cocktail and you had a chat, she might understand where you're coming from a little more?
CR: I don't know. I'm not convinced. You know, and I'll say this, I mean, I like Joy. Personally, she's, she's very feisty, she's very high energy, she's very charismatic personality. I think she'd be fun to spend time with off camera, I imagine she'd be a very interesting conversation, but I don't think I'd be able to convince her and I don't think any amount of evidence would be able to convince her. Because there are people who are so bought in just reflexively to this, that they are impervious to any contrary evidence. And I think Joy is one and I think there's a whole series of other people. You know, I went through the wringer in the media for about two months. These attacks from all quarters attacks from all publications, The Washington Post in a period of about six weeks published, I believe, 10 articles, detracting my work my colleagues' work. And, there are kind of two lessons to be learned from that. One is, like, we just live in, we live in an oppositional society. That's how it works. That's how our system has always worked. Like, you can't get too upset about it. We have two political parties, two political tribes, two competing sets of ideas. And I'm really, you know, I'm going after their, their crown jewel, I'm going after the kind of the kind of prized piece of their ideology, and I'm going after it in a way that has been very effective. So it shouldn't be surprising to me that they're upset. And then, you know, the second thing is, it's like the the old adage, there's really, you know, there's no bad press. I don't think that's quite true. I think there there is bad press, but I think, you know, like, there's a range of press that is maybe ostensively bad, that can actually be good. I think that's what a lot of this was because the fact is strategically. Sure, an article might attack me it might say all sorts of mean things about me. I'm an adult, I can handle it. It's not really a big deal. But I think that strategically more broadly, if you kind of put my own personal feelings aside, every time that the left wing media says critical race theory, they're losing. Every time they say critical race theory, they're losing, because critical race theory is deeply unpopular, not only with kind of white Americans, but actually by a two to one margin of those who have an opinion about critical race theory among Latinos and Asians oppose it, again, two to one. And even among African Americans, it's almost it's almost half-half, oppose... support and oppose. So you have large majorities of every ethnic group, except for African Americans, where it's a kind of plurality support critical race theory, but overall, taking all Americans the aggregate, it's deeply, deeply unpopular. So the more that we have framed the debate about critical race theory, good or bad, what is it, the more that they're responding, the more that they're losing, because it's like that old Clinton idea if you're explaining, you're losing. So I think that their attempts to make me the kind of villain of critical race theory. I take it as flattering, and I think it's only doing them harm in the long run.
GE: If you're the villain of critical race theory, is James Lindsay, your sidekick?
CR: No, no, no, I think you know, I mean, I would put this and I've told James this, it's like James and, and Helen and Peter were really like the founders of this. They laid the foundation, they're doing that very important theoretical work. And I think what I was able to do is build on what James and others have done, but translate it into politics, because they're really working at the theoretical level. And then I'm working at the more empirical level, reporting the stories, you know, and then translating it for essentially a right of center audience. So bringing it into the political sphere. So none of what I have done would have been possible without them. And I give them enormous credit. I think that the reason they're attacking me rather than James to a certain extent, is that because I've made it political, and that's the kind of... that's the game play. That's the kind of that's... the kind of battlefield that they play on. James is more kind of theoretical in his approach. And I think that, you know, I think the kind of high IQ Twitter users that are very upset about it, attack James. And then the and then the mainstream press, you know, that is more political in nature, attacks me.
GE: High IQ Twitter users, that sounds like an oxymoron. (laughter) In terms of diversity, equity and inclusion, we hear a lot about DEI. And I think I remember reading somewhere, where they are spoken as a package deal? You know, we should think about them one by one. Diversity is neither inherently good nor bad. Equity, that is equal outcomes, is as bad as communism. And inclusion is as good a value as one might think of. There seems to be so much money to be made in CRT, in DEI in all of this. Is this something that you're tackling and fighting as well, the DEI? Does that go along with the CRT?
CR: It does. Yeah. I mean, all these acronyms, you know, are kind of repackaging the same core set of assumptions and the latest, the latest numbers that I heard, I believe the DEI industry in corporate America is roughly $8 billion a year of business. So it's an enormous enterprise. And I think that they're constantly looking for ways to kind of expand their territory expand their their purpose. And listen, is DEI the same thing as CRT? Is divesity, equity, inclusion, the same as critical race theory? They're kind of like, intersect there... They're like a Venn diagram, right?
GE: You were about to say intersectional then weren't you?
CR: (laughs). Yeah, exactly. Right. They're like a Venn diagram where sometimes they are the same thing. Sometimes, sophisticated school districts or companies will launder the principles of critical race theory in the umbrella of DEI. They're not always that way. I've seen some DEI trainings that are, you know, all things being equal, okay. But I think more often than not, from what I've seen, and what I've witnessed, and in my reporting is that, yeah, they're more often than not interchangeable. And they're this kind of the technique that's used is what I think of as a linguistic shell game, where they're constantly changing the references, the language, the words, the brand identity, but always kind of over the top reshuffling language with the same core set of ideas underneath. So you know, and it's and it's smart. It's smart politics, it's smart persuasion where they say something as innocuous as inclusion. Well, how could you oppose inclusion? You know, so they set up the language in a very persuasive way off the bat. So I think that the better, the better argument is not to ever debate them on their own terminology where they win. It's to debate them on your terminology, and to come up with your own language, your own vocabulary, and then try to take territory from them linguistically, as you battle it out.
GE: Yeah, I've mentioned this before the linguistic manipulation, the woke strategy focuses on language for a very good reason, I think you don't need to change the law if you can change the meaning or the etymology of the words written into the law… and how one combats it? And you mentioned intersectional, what you were about to mention intersectionality, you've described intersectionality as a, I think, a hard left academic theory that reduces people to a network of racial, gender and sexual orientation in a complex set of ways. This determines whether you are the oppressed, or the oppressor. You know, I've said for a while I think identity politics eventually divides itself. It's just how many people it's going to take down in the meantime. Do you think this is predominantly about race? Or is it really about power dynamics
CR: Well, I, it's a great question. And I think that the history of critical theory and critical race theory answers that question in a way that is really helpful to understand. So initially, it was social class, right? Where you look at left wing movements or kind of Marxist ideology, up until, you know, the kind of post World War Two period was all social class, social class, social class, trying to get the working class together, trying to get sometimes even the working class of different racial groups together, identifying in economic terms, and the critical theorist Herbert Marcuse, who I think, kind of very pivotally was Angela Davis's thesis advisor at University of San Diego, or University of California at San Diego. You know, he famously in the late 1960s, says, The the kind of strategy of rousing the working class is dead, the strategy is over. The working class is not revolutionary, the working class is not pre-revolutionary, the working class is in fact, now part of the conservative establishment and think about it now. I mean, Trump voters, right, the white working class, Trump voter is very much not a kind of Marxist revolutionary, right? So Marcuse, saw this 60 years ago. And, and then he said, so therefore, what we need in order to succeed, and I think this is really prefigures intersectionality, is a revolutionary, a pre-revolutionary or revolutionary coalition between the left wing intellectuals, and kind of poor urban minorities, or what he called the ghetto population. And this coalition, is the only way where we can eventually subvert and overthrow these institutions of capitalism, etc. And I think if you look at intersectionality, and critical race theory, it really is exactly that. It's people from Harvard, Yale, University of California, University of California Los Angeles, some of the most elite privileged people in the world, right? People with PhDs, people have tenured, kind of guaranteed lifetime employment, people that have access to the most powerful institutions and people in the world, taking on the cause of the intersectionally, most marginalized, kind of people in the roughest neighborhoods in the United States. And then this is their coalition. But the problem with intersectionality and the problem with this coalition is that it's phony, it's false. It's it's a it's a fraud. You know, in the last film that I did for PBS, I spent more than three years in America's poorest neighborhoods, predominantly white neighborhood, and Youngstown, Ohio, predominantly black neighborhood in Memphis, Tennessee, predominantly Latino and multiracial neighborhood in Stockton, California. So I got to know these people, I interviewed 1000s of them. And the idea that they are, you know, somehow pre-revolutionary or gaining revolutionary consciousness or want to overthrow capitalism or see themselves through the intersection of their of their oppressed identities, is just insane. I mean, it doesn't bear out a reality at all. But what we have is that elite, intellectuals, policymakers and institutions are using the image of the poorest people in the country of all racial backgrounds to justify their elites-only political program. So I think we have to really show these ideologies for what they are. They really are a kind of left wing elite driven, an elite sustained ideology, oftentimes using public money, right? So public university systems, public school bureaucracies, etc, public state agencies and we need to really hammer that point home, it's like this doesn't have the best interests of marginalized or vulnerable people or poor people at heart. This has the kind of elite interests in the kind of cadre of critical race theory. First and foremost, and almost exclusively.
GE: Yeah, really good point. And in terms of the academy, you know, I've heard about a groups of distant students, and people withholding money from their particular universities that they went to. And I think you mentioned before as well, not just institutions, but corporations, we're living in this era of woke capitalism in which companies pretend to care about social justice to sell products to people who pretend to hate capitalism. Do you think that the American citizenry can see this or see this more? Do you think that the woke ideology is blind to this intersectional consumerism, if you will?
CR: That's a good question. I think I've been thinking about that question quite a bit, actually. And it's something that's not new, right? So there's a there's a book, an old book, actually maybe 15 years old, not an old book, but a 15 year old book, called The Rebel Sell - S E L L - that really just documented this from the 1960s counterculture to the present at that time, where the argument from the authors these are kind of Canadian, actually leftists who said, you know, all of our revolutionary culture, ideas, fashion, ideology is always been sucked into the system of capitalism, turned into a commodity and then sold back to us. I mean, that's absolutely what we're seeing with critical race theory, where critical race theory, let's just say let's pretend for an instance I don't think it is, I think it's kind of phony. But let's just say that the original ideas were somewhat revolutionary. Well, those original ideas have now been taken by diversity consultants, repackaged, and then sold to American Express, and Walmart, and Nike, and Starbucks. I mean, it's, it really is such a beautiful thing. Because you have these, like, these really, frankly, like kind of pathetic scholars right now, well, 'we're critical race there, we're gonna do this or that', you know, 'we're revolutionary, we're Marxist. We're this and that'. And their ideas at the end of the day, achieved prominence by being packaged and sold to Fortune 100 companies. I mean, there is no more beautiful kind of metaphor for the power of American capitalism, to absorb anti-capitalism into its own system, into its own structure. So I think like, on one hand, like, obviously, I think it's bad. I mean, I don't think companies should be teaching critical race theory to their employees. But at the same time, I do appreciate this irony. Where where these where the revolution will be either they say the revolution will not be televised. Right. The revolution will be commodified. I mean, without a doubt, the revolution will be commodified. I love it. It's just, it's just, it's just a beautiful thing.
GE: Yeah. That's very good. I've seen, you know, it's like all these humane resources departments, I call them inhumane resources departments, because they just spread this, this, this culture of fear of almost like, you know, the, the Stasi and who's going to report to who and what's going to be said. And look... I want to Chris, I want to talk briefly about something that's, you know, I'm passionate about in my book, The Respondent, which is named after the show is about and that's family, the breakdown of the family, which I believe is the single biggest civilizational catastrophe we're facing today. I believe the greatest indicator at the root of America's torn familial tapestry is marriage and family breakdown, social ills and public policies stem from the health and wellbeing of relationships and family formation. I know you don't speak on this particular issue, but how is the Manhattan Institute tackling this particular issue?
CR: Yeah, well, yeah, I’ve talked a bit about Manhattan Institute. But um, you know, I actually have worked on this issue extensively. And, and surprisingly, to some folks maybe including you who think of me as critical race theorist, actually, my previous film, which I mentioned about following these families in Youngstown in Memphis and Stockton. What's really at its heart about this kind of family breakdown. And that's an old phrase, I think we need to update the language because it has kind of a, it kind of has a kind of a kind of connotation from like 90s I think we need to update it find a better way to talk about this, but it really was about that. I looked at particularly these these families in these four communities and one statistic that I that I uncovered doing this film that I think sums the story up and is really the most shocking and heartbreaking and devastating statistic I've ever come across, in kind of... generated in my work is that in the zip code where I was working in Memphis - 38126 zip code in South Memphis, the fourth poorest zip code in the United States. It's almost, it's almost an entirely African American community. There are 6000 residents. And out of those 6000 residents, there are only 10 nuclear families. So 10 mother, father and children in the home. So not only are you essentially 93 or higher, you know, more than 90 plus high 90s likely to grew up in a household with a one, a single parent, predominantly mother, in that neighborhood, but you've probably grew up and never have engaged with or have a relationship with any family, with a mother and father in the household. So I mean, it just doesn't exist, you grew up in a neighborhood where there's only 10 families, and you may not know them, because they live on the other side of the zip code. So that to me was and I should say, like, not limited to African American, I think the numbers are most kind of extreme in the African American community. But certainly on the on the, in the in the zip code in Youngstown, which was a white neighborhood, it's 77%. It's not that much better, and in Stockton, which was kind of multiracial, roughly the same. So this is increasingly a kind of class issue, not just a kind of correlation with race. But I think this is reality, what do you do? How do you have a functioning society when, you know, 90% plus, of the families are non intact families. We're the first society in the history of humankind to make this experiment. I mean, we really are, if you look at the anthropological literature, family structures are a bit different depending on time and culture. But there's always an acknowledged father, there's always a kind of kinship group or nuclear production, oftentimes that kind of nuclear family structure. In addition to the kinship structure, we're the first society to say, no, we're not going to do any of that. We're going to actually try to do it in these neighborhoods, poor neighborhoods around the country. We're going to run this experiment. And the early evidence that we've had now for 50 years is not good. It's actually as you said, a kind of catastrophe. And I certainly saw that making this film.
GE: Yeah, it's staggering to me when I found out that the US has the world's highest rate of children living in single parent households. And every day in America 4000 children lose a parent in family court, and the effects of particularly dad deprivation for young children, girls and boys, but particularly boys, you know, our children, the future of our country are paying a very high price for our policies and our lack of or inability or unwillingness to tackle this. I mean today, an estimated one in three American kids live without their biological father in the home. And these children are at greater risk of having more difficult lives. According to just about every measurable metric, they're more likely to misuse drugs, experienced abuse, go to prison, twice as likely to drop out of high school CRT or not, live in poverty, seven times more likely to become pregnant as a teen. And it seems to me very few people are talking about this, if they are I'm not hearing them. I did have Heather McDonald on the show. And Heather knew I was going to talk specifically about family law. I think that for me is family law is a devastating when I when I learned that 4000 children lose a Parent and Family Law every day, that's 20,000 children a week, and there's no presumption of innocence in family law is the one branch of our legal system that has no presumption of innocence. And Heather knew I was going to talk about this, I don't want to put her on the spot... you on the spot because of her but you know what, it's important. It's really important. And she avoided the question twice, and then I moved on. And and I hear it's because you know, people don't want to talk about this because of livelihood and losing jobs and etc, etc. But who's going to talk about this, Chris? I mean, it seems like you've done some work on this with your documentary. But this to me is a real crisis, particularly in America being you know, the world leader in children growing up in single parent households.
CR: Yeah, yeah. And I personally haven't have no hesitation talking about it. I think that if we don't talk about it, we're doing tremendous harm not just to kids, which is kind of primary and most important, but actually to the entire community and then eventually to the country. I mean, this is the kind of kind of red alarm issue in my mind. And one of the great reasons why I made this film and because you see it and I think that you know that certain stories to me that I that I I came across in making the film really took hold. And I remember I was with a woman, a grandmother, who was the kind of sole caregiver for this grandchild, maybe four years old. And in Youngstown, Ohio. And the grandmother said, we were kind of sitting out there on her steps, I can't remember we've met her kind of on the street. And she says, you know, my son is in jail, my son is in jail for drugs, and then for stabbing his girlfriend or his wife or fiancé across the face with a knife. And then she, the fiancé, the mother of this this grandchild was on drugs and kind of out of the picture and just gone, leaving this four year old boy with the grandmother who herself was a single mother. And I remember observing this child and, and this young boy, very cute kid, but, I mean, was... I mean, it sounds weird to say of such a small kid, but you could just feel the anger, the rage, the violence, the aggressiveness, and, and, and then just the kind of the behavior of this kid was kind of frightening. It was kind of you really felt something is really wrong with this young kid. And I tried to talk to him and see what was going on. But I had this weird feeling. And I felt very guilty about it at the time, I had this feeling this child is going to go to prison, for sure. And I felt so guilty about like, I shouldn't even think that because you know, how can you even think that about a four year old, innocent child. And then, later in the conversation, the grandmother, she said, 'This young child reminds me just like my son. And I think that he too will end up in prison'. Oh, I mean, it's like, whoof I mean that like just, it just drops your whole stomach.
GE: It's the intergenerational trauma, like it continues through the dogma, the DNA if you will. And it is trauma. I mean a four-year-old not having their parents present. That's traumatic on a moment by moment basis and how one processes... I mean I don't know about you but I wouldn't know how to process that. This kid's four years old.
CR: Yeah... you're doomed. I mean in a lot of ways and social science confirms it, and not in every case obviously, but I mean you're really dooming these kids. And I mean I struggle with that. That was like 6 years ago and I still remember it vividly and... maybe more than 6 years ago now. And then what do you do? Is the state going to intervene? Is that going to be better? Is the government bureaucracy better than the grandmother? It's like the solutions at that point are so limited. They're all very bad options and it's not a problem you can solve like an engineering problem. This is a human and social problem that's very very difficult but it's very widespread and the statistic about the 4000 a day doesn't suprise me because if you spend any time, especially in lower income neighborhoods around the country, you see it happening in real time and it's just a tragedy. It's really tough and I think the reason why some people don't want to talk about it is that it's perceived as judgmental by class or by race and I think that we have to get over that. It's not judgmental by race because as I was saying, this store for example, the whole family was white. This is increasingly a class issue so in a way it's judgmental by class. Yeah maybe. But what I learnt spending time interviewing folks going through this experience is that they're very honest about it, they're very upfront about it. They're very concerned about it and as kind of affluent, educated people, we fear that we'll be judging or saying something out of turn, but if you actually talk to people, they'll be very blunt about the situation. Very blunt about what's missing. Very blunt about the problem and in a lot of ways, much more insightful than our professors, academics and pundits because they're willing to just say the truth very plainly. You know, they'll say look I grew up without a father. My kids are growing up without a father. This is a disaster. This is causing tremendous hardship. Not in that exact language, but you know what I mean. It's like, it's so obvious. It's one of those things that is so obvious and so important and yet we avoid it. To me it just seems like such a cowardly move on behalf of our educated classes…
GE: Yeah and also our states and our policies and our government are incentivizing single parent households. I mean I think about the rates of fatherlessness and dad deprived children. 43% of US children live without their father. 63% of youth suicides are from fatherless homes and 85% of youths in prisons grew up in fatherless homes. There is a correlation here. Children have been intentionally removed from their homes. Seized from their families for profits. Snatched, kidnapped. Legally trafficked. All due to the legislation introduced in 1974 which offers financial incentives to the states that increase adoption numbers. So to receive the adoption incentives, and bonuses, the local CPS or DCFS must have more children or they have more merchandise to sell and the funding that comes is available when a child is placed in a foster home with strangers or placed in a mental health facility and ‘medicaided’ as it's called, usually against the parents’ wishes, and of course the people who are, the parents and families who are targeted the most, are poor parents and children and families because they don't have the wherewithal or the resources to fight the system. It's a horrible situation. Chris, there's a section at the end of my show and it's called the Philosophical Q. This is the part of the show where we go a little deeper. We get eclectic within the dialectic and see what's in the Philosophical Q. Socrates greatest axiom was 'Know Thyself.' So, Chris Rufo, how well do you know thyself? Let's find out shall we as we play a little bit of The Philosophical Q. The meaning seeker. I describe meaning as 'everything happens for a reason we make up afterwards'. Where does Chris Rufo find meaning?
CR: This is a great question and one that has changed for me over time. I used to be kind of much more like work focused, professional focused, kind of status focused and then over time as I got married, had kids, you know, started building a family. That's to me where... that feeling of meaning really expresses itself in the most kind of, in the deepest way and you know it was a big change from my 20s to my 30s and for me I think that kind of the foundation. That’s where it starts, that’s where I begin and then all of this other stuff and your kind of work life and your social life is all just kind of fun on top of that… and excitement and exploration. But that to me is kind of where I find it.
GE: What would you say is the most meaningful moment of your life so far?
CR: That’s a hard question. I don’t know… I think getting married or having kids. One of the two. It’s like a fight between the two. You know. I think those are the things that you… and yeah, I remember those moments and you’re overcome with that feeling. You’re overcome with that emotion. You’re overcome with this transcending experience that just never leaves you and you know, obviously I have two kids, I can’t pick one moment over the other… that wouldn’t be fair. But yeah, certainly those are the big milestones you know. Those are the big ones.
GE: Yeah I hear you. If you could write your own epitaph what would you want it to say?
CR: Well I hope I have some more time left but I don’t know what I want my epitaph to say. I think that… you know, I like to be a good man and I like to do good work and those are the two things that I think at the end of the day matter. You know… Is what kind of a man you are. Especially to the people closest to you and then what kind of work or contribution you make to the society and to the people more broadly in your community or in your country.
GE: If you had one wish, what would it be?
CR: Take a vacation… that would be a good one.
GE: Didn’t you just go hiking?… and it sounds like you live an idyllic life…
CR: That’s true I did just go hiking, this weekend for a couple of days… but yeah I need… I’m writing a book now and I think it’s going to be all hands on deck for the next year and then I’m hoping that we’ll have a nice chance to go to Europe and maybe spend a couple of months in Europe. That’s my short term wish. Short term dream.
GE: What’s the book about?
CR: This idea of the ideologies that are devouring our institutions. So I’m going to go look at where these ideologies come from, what these ideologies believe and do and then how they are now kind of expanding their reach and their grip on American institutions and then finally at the very end, what we can do about it.
GE: Do you think they’ll be a documentary eventually, after the book?
CR: We’ll see. There’s talk of… you know my agent who you know well is in talks with some film crews and video crews. We’ll see who wants to pick up the rights. I think there might be but I won’t be directing it, I won’t be making it. I’ll just be the talent. You know… like you. The talent is the best place to be. It really is. Let the producers, let the directors, let them do all the work. You come in and share your gift. You know. It’s the only way to keep sane in this business.
GE: I agree with you. Chris Rufo, thank you so much for joining us on The Respondent. Really appreciate you taking the time. Keep up the good work and keep in touch will you?
CR: Thank you. Of course.
GE: Thanks Chris.