Running kritiks in LD is an educational, interesting, and valuable discussion to have!
I agree that in the past couple of years Stoa LD has drifted towards application clashes instead of value debates. Consider last year's resolution: "Privacy is undervalued." That year was a fun year, but basically value clash died a gory death as EVERYONE ran Human Rights. I am not exaggerating. I can remember three or maybe four cases who didn't use a Human Rights related value for the entire
year. I remember those distinctly because
they didn't use a HR value - every other round all tied back to human rights.
With that being said, I'm not so sure kritiks are necessarily the best
way to emphasize the theoretical aspects of LD debate. I believe excellent debate rounds are not simply excellent because they focus on values/logic or applications. In fact, there can be excellent pure logic rounds or excellent pure applications rounds. What makes a good round is dependent on several factors, including but not limited to the depth of logical argumentation, the eloquence of the speakers, and solid four-point refutation.
So, why do I believe kritiks are not necessarily the best to use in LD?
(1) As you touched upon, quite a few judges and debaters will gasp in horror when anyone even breaths the word "kritik." It's an unfortunate reality that some people will automatically discount your argument right from the get-go simply because it's ran as a kritik.
(2) If you think about it, technically every
argument in a Lincoln-Douglas debate round is like a mini-kritik of your opponent's ideology. After all, we are considering two different values or, in cases where the value is agreed upon, two different mindsets on achieving a given value and upholding the resolution or not. So each round you're running a set of "mini-kritiks" that may not be framed as a formal kritik but can still be viewed as such.
(3) Many debaters do not know how to run a kritik properly and can come across as arrogant or whiny. Kritiks can be butchered easily and are harder to manage/impact to the judge's mind and heart. A lot of times kritiks do not appear very winsome or convincing either because (a) the debater didn't communicate it clearly enough or (b) the debater was too forceful and came across poorly.
(4) A lot of the lack of educational clash in LD rounds could more suitably be solved by developing better arguments and sharper techniques, not bringing in a plethora of complex debate theory ideas like kritiks. In your example of an America-first mentality, I can simply present those same points under a different heading. I don't need
to say "here's my racism K." Debaters need to be forced to think outside the box in their normal
argumentation and reserve K's for more important matters. Speaking of which...
(5) Personally, I feel that kritiks should be reserved for egregious missteps or violations of accepted moral code...which pretty much means I would never run one unless my opponent point blank admits his case is racist or it is quite obvious to the judge my opponent holds fast to a certain wrong ideology. I don't think that running an imperialism K on an AFF saying "America is the world's hegemon, so we should use our influence for good" is the most effective way of defeating a case like that. I prefer to keep the round simple, clear, and concise. Kritiks tend to muddy waters unless run well - and it's very difficult to run a K in a way most Stoa judges will readily accept and understand.
So, overall, while I feel kritiks can be valid arguments, I'm not convinced moving to kritiks would substantially improve the quality of debate rounds.