FARGO — You have to, begrudgingly, sit in awe of Republicans and their conservative media industrial complex. How else can you look at something as silly as the "controversy" over critical race theory?

Quick: Explain critical race theory in detail.

Yeah, didn't think you could. Neither can I. Neither can 99% of Americans.

Oh, they can throw some sentences together that include "race," "history," "heritage" and "Marxists," but they can't really explain what critical race theory actually is.

Yet here we sit with talk shows, newspapers, blogs and online sites devoting time, space and energy on the "controversy" over critical race theory. Present company and this website included, for full disclosure's sake.

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The country's economy is getting better, a majority of Americans are vaccinated from COVID, the pandemic's grip on the nation has loosened considerably, people are feeling normal again and a president's Twitter feed isn't driving the daily news cycle.

This positivity can all be attributed to the Democrat in the White House.

And this country's media are increasingly focused on ginned-up battles over something called critical race theory.

Genius, really.

Applause, and jealous respect, for Republicans who've taken a literal non-issue and turned it into front-page news as a way to distract voters away from their inability to have one real issue on which to lean, that they are the party of insurrectionists and they continue to try to restrict voting rights because they can't win elections in key states if they don't.

Not to mention the success of President Biden's administration in distributing the vaccine and getting the country back to normal.

Oh, and it inflames "the base," too. Can't forget that. That might be the most important part. Nonexistent migrant caravans from Central America evaporated as soon as the election passed, so Republicans needed another fake issue to stir outrage among conservative writers and talk-show hosts.

And the winner is ... critical race theory!

Republicans and right-wing media took an obscure academic topic that was on nobody's radar — not even the school districts and board members who are now getting dragged into the fray — and turned it into a thing. Aided by their "think tanks," compliant right-wing media and, increasingly, mainstream media, critical race theory is latest cultural wedge issue.

Coming soon to your town: Jam-packed school board meetings with people shouting at each other over what little Johnny and Jane will be taught. Video at 10 p.m.

It's why Republicans continue to be better at politics than Democrats. Not correct on the issues, mind you, but better at the game of politics. When Democrats are droning on explaining why child care is infrastructure and how that's important to the nation's citizens and economy, Republicans are throwing bloody red meat to the masses.

In a fight between nerd-talk and professional wrestling, it's not difficult to know which is going to grab the public's attention.

Even if the bloody red meat didn't actually exist until Republicans manufactured it out of thin air.

It's worth a perverse tip of the cap, given the brilliance of the strategy.

Readers can reach columnist Mike McFeely at mmcfeely@forumcomm.com