Tag Archives: Ron DeSantis

Where Will It End?

Picture by Hilary Stone Ginsberg

First, they ban books; then, speech. Where does it end?

The modern Republican Party has launched numerous assaults in recent years on freedoms most Americans take for granted. The right to vote is under attack by Republicans doing the bidding of disgraced former President Donald Trump, who continues to push the “Big Lie” that he won the 2020 presidential election. Republican-controlled states have passed or are considering a plethora of laws restricting the right to vote and laying the groundwork for voter nullification.

In Virginia, Tuesday’s gubernatorial race hinges on Republican attempts to make critical race theory, which is not taught in the state’s public schools, an issue and attacks on the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Beloved, written by Nobel Prize-winning author Toni Morrison. Bogus so-called cultural issues are the Virginia Republicans’ answer for the party’s inability to grapple with substantive issues such as access to healthcare and repairing the state’s crumbling infrastructure. Glenn Youngkin, the Republican nominee, would rather attack academic freedom than discuss the serious issues affecting Virginia voters. 

It is in Florida, though, where academic freedom is under the gravest threat today. Three University of Florida professors have been barred from assisting plaintiffs who are trying to overturn the state’s new restrictive voting law. According to a report in The New York Times, university officials told the educators that their testimony would not be in the university’s “interests.” Denying the teachers the right to testify is precedent-shattering. Like institutions of higher learning in most states, the University of Florida routinely has allowed academic experts to testify in court, even when that testimony runs counter to the interests of the political party in power. 

A spokesperson for the university told the Times that the school is not denying “the First Amendment right or academic freedom” of the professors. Rather, the spokesperson said, “The university denied the requests of these full-time employees to undertake outside paid work that is adverse to the university’s interests as a state of Florida institution.” In other words, University of Florida employees are free to say whatever they want as long as what they say is not forbidden by the state of Florida. 

The three professors have filed a suit of their own challenging the school’s decision to bar them from testifying. In their suit, the teachers seek to question Florida Governor Ron DeSantis to find out if his office was involved in the university’s decision. DeSantis has staked his political ambitions on out-Trumping Trump by backing the voter suppression laws the state legislature has passed. He certainly has an interest in who testifies in the original suit challenging the state’s attack on voting rights. The United Faculty of Florida, a union representing faculty at the states’s public schools, tweeted, “Why would @GovRonDeSantis be afraid of experts?”  

This is scary stuff! Republicans are pushing wars on culture because they appeal to the party’s base and rev up voter enthusiasm. At least, that is the supposition, which will be tested in the Virginia governor’s race. Virginia has been trending blue, but polls show Youngkin pulling even with — or ahead of — Democrat Terry McAuliffe, who is seeking a return to the governor’s office. 

A Youngkin victory would provide a template for Republicans running in the 2022 midterm elections. It would also give fresh impetus to attempts by Republican-controlled state legislatures seeking to pass laws restricting how teachers discuss racism, sexism, and issues of equality and justice in the classroom. More than half the states are considering or have considered legislation to control classroom curriculum. Many of the laws are designed to keep critical race theory out of schoolrooms. More fundamentally, they are an attempt to sanitize the teaching of American history. 

Teaching about the American past has motivated Republicans at the national level as well. Republicans in Congress have introduced legislation to cut federal funding for schools that base lessons on the “1619 Project,” a New York Times series that stresses the enduring legacy of slavery on American society. Representative Glenn Grothman, a Wisconsin Republican, introduced a bill in the House of Representatives that would direct teachers in District of Columbia public schools on how to discuss racism and sexism. 

The current attacks on academic freedom beg comparison with the early years of the Cold War. But, the current situation is worse than the McCarthyism of the 1950s. The Red Scare of those years marginalized dissent and encouraged conformity, but its promulgators did not attempt to influence classroom teaching or school curriculum. The McCarthyites went after supposed Communists with the goal of getting them fired from teaching posts. 

The nation’s schools and universities often complied, but their classrooms remained inviolate. This time around is different for one fundamental reason. In the 1950s, the supposed enemy was a foreign ideology pushed by a foreign adversary abetted by supposed accomplices at home. Today, the enemy is the American past.

Cleansing the past — insuring that students do not learn the more unsavory parts of American history — motivates those who feel their power threatened, politicians and the shrinking White electorate alike. The emphasis on influencing school curriculum combined with attacks on academic freedom raises a fundamental question: Where will it end?

Because where speech is censored and books are banned, books are then burned. Where books are burned, then people are burned. It could happen here!

Posted November 2, 2021

Death Is Not Good Politics

Picture by Hilary Stone Ginsberg

Many Republican governors have staked their political reputations on fighting vaccine and mask mandates. These state chief executives evidently believe a rather quixotic definition of freedom is good politics. But, the soaring hospitalization and death rates from COVID-19 in their states has led to plunging poll numbers.

Death, apparently, is not good politics!

Governors Greg Abbott of Texas and Ron DeSantis of Florida have staked their political reputations on loud and public opposition to mandates intended to curb the spread of the coronavirus. Sure, there is some cachet among certain followers on the far right in opposing vaccine and mask mandates, but both leaders are paying a steep price with the general public for their opposition to commonsense public health measures. Abbott’s job approval rating has dropped from a high of 56 percent in April 2020 to 41 percent last month. DeSantis’ net approval rating has plummeted even more dramatically, falling 14 points between the beginning of July 2021 and late August. (Net approval rating calculates the share of voters who approve a politician’s performance minus the share who disapprove.)

Fixing precise cause and effect for a politician’s popularity is, of course, difficult. In the case of Abbott, there are many reasons why Texas voters may have soured on his stewardship over the last year or so. This past winter, Texas suffered an energy crisis when three severe winter storms caused the state’s power grid to fail. Abbott dithered in his response, choosing to blame renewable energy sources — which provide only a small fraction of the Texas’ electric power — for the crisis. Abbott’s popularity may be taking a hit as well from the severe rightward tilt of the state’s Republican Party. The GOP-controlled legislature has passed — and Abbott has signed — a draconian law virtually banning abortion, a measure that allows for the open carry of handguns without a permit, and a voting restriction law that suppresses minority voting. Texas is now a minority-majority state, so some or all of these laws may not have widespread public support.

It is hard to ignore the very public fights Abbott and DeSantis have waged against mandates, particularly against local school boards mandating masks for public school children and teachers, as a cause of their declining popularity. DeSantis has been outspoken in protecting what he calls “parents’ freedom to choose whether their children wear masks.” Apparently, the desire of other parents to ensure that their children are safe in school is not a concern of the governor.

A number of school boards in Florida pushed back against DeSantis’ ban on local mask mandates. More than half of the state’s students attend schools in districts that have ignored the governor’s ban. DeSantis countered by threatening to withhold the salaries of top school officials and school board members who defied him. DeSantis may be losing this fight. A Florida judge ruled this week that the state cannot enforce a ban on school districts mandating the wearing of masks intended to protect students, teachers, and staff from infection. Abbott, too, has suffered defeats in state courts over his ban on mask mandates in Texas school districts. 

For much of the past few months, Florida has been the epicenter of contagion from the Delta variant of the coronavirus. Texas has also suffered higher than average infection rates, with correspondingly high hospitalization and death rates. Florida’s vaccination rate mirrors the national average, while the rate in Texas is below the national average. Both governors have urged state residents to get vaccinated, but both oppose vaccine mandates. Most tellingly, in both Florida and Texas child hospitalizations from COVID-19 have risen, a statistic guaranteed to encourage more parents to demand their children attend schools where masks are mandated.

Both governors are up for reelection in 2022. Normally, both would be odds-on favorites to win another term since both Florida and Texas lean Republican. Besides, incumbency usually gives a candidate a boost of a few points, and candidates from the party opposite of the president frequently get a lift in midterm elections. But, given the two governors’ declining popularity ratings, normal may not be in play next year. And, a failure to win reelection would doom the presidential aspirations of both men.

Other Republican governors in red states have followed the lead of DeSantis and Abbott. Even Glen Youngkin, the gubernatorial candidate in the purple state of Virgina, has come out against mask mandates in the name of parental rights. And, in blue state California, Governor Gavin Newsom’s bid to survive a recall vote has received a boost because voters have recoiled from the opposition to mask and vaccine mandates by his chief rival, rightwing talk show host Larry Elder. Obviously, there are political incentives for Republicans to defy logic and public health guidelines. The political calculation for these politicians is clear: Their base on the far right believes mandates — even when enacted to protect the health and safety of children — somehow infringe on personal freedom. Angry shouting matches and violence have broken out at school board meetings and teachers have been attacked over the issue of mask mandates.

But, in shoring up their right flank and protecting against primary challenges, are red state governors — and other Republican politicians — courting problems in general elections? It is an axiom in American politics that candidates run to the extremes — the right for Republicans, the left for Democrats — in primaries, then tack to the center in general elections. Will that be possible for governors of states in which the electorate believes their elected leaders’ vociferous opposition to mask and vaccine mandates resulted in the unnecessary hospitalizations and deaths of thousands?

Being seen on the side of death is never good politics.

Posted September 10, 2021


Playing Politics with Children’s Lives

Picture by Hilary Stone Ginsberg

The first job of government is to protect members of society — particularly the most vulnerable members. And, who is more vulnerable than children? 

That is why Florida Republican Governor Ron DeSantis’ order last week earns a very high place in the ranking of despicable actions taken by Republican leaders and politicians in the recent past. Perhaps the very highest spot, because the governor placed his naked political aspirations ahead of the safety of Florida’s children. 

Governor DeSantis wants to run for president in 2024. To do that may mean challenging former president Donald Trump. DeSantis, like most other Republicans, apparently has calculated that the only way to get ahead in today’s Republican Party is to appeal to the party’s base, which is slavishly devoted to Trump. Such an appeal means endorsing the nuttiest and most dangerous ideas out there. And, when it comes to COVID-19, that means denying science. It does not matter if the denial involves striking down mask mandates and social distancing rules.

This is the context in which to place DeSantis’ executive order effectively overturning mask mandates for children in Florida’s schools. DeSantis is willing to sacrifice the children of Florida so he can play the tough guy in the battle against the coronavirus. Can a politician take a more self-serving and societally dangerous action? 

Two counties in Florida, Broward and Gadsden, recently issued guidelines requiring children returning to school later this month to wear masks. The governor, standing at a lectern with a sign reading “Free to Choose,” decreed that the counties should use “all legal means available” to control the spread of the highly transmissible Delta variant of the coronavirus — without violating what he called the constitutional freedoms of Floridians or parental rights. “The question is, shouldn’t this be something the parent is best to evaluate?” DeSantis asked.

DeSantis’ hypocrisy on choice is evident to all. On July 30, the governor signed onto a brief calling on the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade abortion ruling. Evidently, the right to choose applies in limited ways in Florida. And, the governor, a white male, is the official who decrees when choice applies and when it does not. 

Well, guv, what about the rights of the parents of little Susie, who is masked, sitting next to unmasked Bobby? Or Susie’s rights? COVID-19 is most commonly spread by little droplets emitted from the noses and mouths of people who are hosts to the coronavirus. Children in school notoriously have runny noses and do not always follow the safest hygienic practices. Granted that wearing a mask is not the most comfortable thing and children are not likely to get very sick even if they contract COVID-19, but still a sick child is a sick child, some sick children do get very ill, and infected children can spread the contagion even further in the wider society.

DeSantis burnished his reputation in right-wing circles during the pandemic as he pushed to relax restrictions on businesses in the Sunshine State, opened schools, and overrode federal guidelines for containing COVID-19 while inviting tourists to Florida. And, it seemed to work, for a time. The infection rate in Florida remained relatively low — compared to the rest of the United States — until a recent spike. The average number of new cases in the state in the week ending August 1 was almost 16,000 a day. The total of 21,600 cases last Friday broke the state’s previous peak during the surge last winter. Florida is now the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Try running for president on that record, Governor DeSantis. Better yet, try running for reelection as governor in 2022. 

DeSantis’ presidential ambitions have been on display. In June, he led all potential 2024 Republican presidential candidates — including Trump — in as straw poll at a conservative conference in Denver. At 42, he certainly has youth on his side, especially compared to Trump, who is 75. And, any Republicans who grew weary of the incessant turmoil in Trump’s White House might find DeSantis a welcome change, Trump-like in most respects but less incendiary and insulting. But, given DeSantis’ willingness to ignore science and endanger some Floridians in pursuit of his own interests, it is doubtful whether he would prove a more competent steward of the federal government than Trump. DeSantis also can be insulting, though probably not at the level of Trump. He has been hawking campaign merchandise on his political website with the message, “Don’t Fauci my Florida,” a reference to Dr. Anthony Fauci, a current favorite target of the far right.

Still, with a soaring infection rate in a state with a vaccination rate below 50 percent, DeSantis is looking less and less like a viable alternative for Republicans. And, if children start getting sick with COVID-19, the governor may have trouble keeping his current job. DeSantis has urged Floridians to get their shots, but his willingness to play politics with children’s lives may jeopardize his political chances in 2022, making all talk of a presidential run moot.

In the meantime, the children of Florida will suffer for DeSantis’ political aspirations.

Posted August 3, 2021

A Double Standard

Picture by Hilary Stone Ginsberg

Not content with eroding the right to vote, Republican legislators in several states now are targeting the right of assembly, a right guaranteed in the First Amendment to the Constitution. What is next? Free speech?

Not if Republicans have their way in Oklahoma, where the GOP-controlled state legislature seems to be defining free speech to include the right to plow a motor vehicle into a crowd of protestors. In the Sooner state, a Republican-backed bill grants immunity to motorists who kill or injure protestors exercising their constitutional right to peaceably assemble. As for the actual exercise of free speech — in which, presumably, some of the peaceably assembled protestors might be engaging —  the Oklahoma legislature appears oblivious. 

Across the United States, Republican-controlled legislatures are cracking down on the right to assemble. The proposed punitive laws are part of a wave of anti-protest legislation that has been introduced by Republicans in the year since Black Lives Matter protests swept the nation following the murder of George Floyd by then-police officer Derrick Chauvin in Minneapolis. According to The New York Times, GOP lawmakers in 34 states have introduced 81 anti-protest bills. 

Many of these bills punish lawful assembly by redefining certain kinds of protests — such as Black Lives Matter demonstrations — as riots. The punitive nature of these bills is enhanced by further measures — such as one in Indiana — barring anyone convicted of unlawful assembly from holding state employment. Similarly, a proposed Minnesota law would prohibit anyone convicted of unlawful protesting from receiving student loans, unemployment benefits, food stamps, or housing assistance. 

In Florida, Republican Governor Ron DeSantis — who is trying to out-Trump former president Donald Trump — signed draconian legislation that toughens existing laws governing public disorder. DeSantis called the bill “the strongest anti-looting anti-rioting, pro-law-enforcement piece of legislation in the country.” The new Florida law imposes harsher penalties for existing public disorder crimes. Previous infractions categorized as misdemeanors now become felonies. In other instances, whole new categories of felonies have been created, and defendants cannot be released on bail until they appear before a judge. The law also imposes stiffer penalties for taking down Confederate monuments, and anyone who injures a protestor — by driving into a crowd, for example — will escape civil liability. 

The anti-protest legislation tilts at windmills. The laws are aimed at supposedly violent protestors — often citing Black Lives Matter demonstrations following the death of George Floyd — yet most of those protests were peaceful and involved no property damage nor injuries to civilians or police.  According to The Washington Post — which conducted an exhaustive study of last summer’s protests — the Black Lives Matter demonstrations were remarkably non-violent. Indeed, most of the violence during those demonstrations was directed at protestors by police or counter-demonstrators. 

Rioting in the course of protesting already is unlawful, and many laws are on the books to punish those who engage in violence while demonstrating. Civil rights advocates rightly worry that the new legislation violates the constitutionally guaranteed rights of assembly and free speech, rights protected under the First Amendment. As Vera Eidelman, a lawyer at the American Civil Liberties Union told The New York Times, the current spate of legislation “is consistent with the general trend of legislators responding to powerful and persuasive protests by seeking to silence them rather than engaging with the message of the protests.” Eidelman added, “If anything, the lesson from the last year, and decades, is not that we need to give more tools to police and prosecutors, it’s that they abuse the tools they already have.”

Republicans offer anti-protest legislation as proof they support police. Yet, most of these purported tough law-and-order lawmakers have been noticeably silent or — in some instances — supportive of a truly violent, in fact, deadly, protest in the last year: The storming of the Capitol on January 6 by pro-Trump demonstrators. The actions of prominent Republicans indicate the party’s continuing unwillingness to grapple with the treasonous insurrection that attempted to overturn a legitimate and fair election.

In Congress, Republicans are opposing an investigation of the attack. Recently, sponsors of a conference at Trump’s Miami resort proudly displayed photos of the crowd gathering before the attack. Donors at the event cheered when Trump bragged about the size of the January 6 mob and complained that his supporters should have fought even harder to prevent certification of his electoral defeat. Other Republicans have argued the insurrectionists posed no danger to Senators or Representatives while Republican Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin claimed he would have been worried had the mob contained Black Lives Matter protestors. And, speakers at the Conservative Political Action Conference in February said the left is wrongly placing the blame for the riot on the rioters. One speaker — summing up the views of many others who spoke at the conference — said, “The reason that people stormed the Capitol was because they felt hopeless because of a rigged election.”

Double standards in politics are common. But, the hypocrisy surrounding Republicans who cannot bring themselves to condemn a violent insurrection at the nation’s Capitol — or, worse yet, praise the insurrectionists — while criminalizing peaceful protest — infringing on long-established rights such as assembly and free speech — shatters most existing records for inconsistency. Such hypocrisy is further proof that the modern Republican Party no longer wishes to preserve American democracy.

Posted April 23, 2021


Election Violence

[T]he only way we’re going to lose this election is if the election is rigged. Remember that. It’s the only way we’re going to lose this election, so we have to be very careful. — President Donald Trump to campaign supporters in August.

Trump is trying to convince his supporters — probably has already persuaded many of them — that Democrats are stealing the election. His constant litany against voting by mail is part of his strategy. If his supporters, many of whom are heavily armed, are convinced that a Trump loss can only occur in a “rigged” election, will they simply accept the result? Will Trump demurely step aside or will he urge his supporters to demonstrate their “Second Amendment” rights, as he has in the past? 

Many voters — on both sides — may find their nerves frayed if, as is likely, the results on Election Day are not clear. With millions of voters casting their ballots by mail, the tabulating will likely be slow. It may take days, probably weeks, to know the winner. A likely scenario for this November mimics what happened two years ago. On November 6, 2018, it appeared that Democrats had scored modest gains in the House and Senate, but not the expected “blue wave.” But, because more Democrats voted by mail than Republicans, many races shifted — the so-called “Blue Shift” — into the Democratic column as the mail-in votes were counted. 

Expect the president and his sycophants to take to Twitter and the air waves to demand that election officials certify the results as of November 3 — Election Day. There is a precedent for this in Trump’s response to the very close senatorial and gubernatorial races in Florida in 2018. “The Florida Election should be called in favor of [Republicans] Rick Scott and Ron DeSantis in that large numbers of new ballots showed up out of nowhere, and many ballots are missing or forged. An honest vote count is no longer possible-ballots massively infected. Must go with Election Night!” the president tweeted. Scott and DeSantis won in the end, but Trump was quick to yell fraud, even though there was no evidence of any. 

American elections are usually close, and the body politic today is divided evenly into opposing camps who no longer trust each other to play by the rules. Add to this toxic mix increasing evidence of political violence and a president who encourages his supporters to take matters into their own hands and you have a powder keg. In recent weeks, armed individuals have shown up at more than 50 demonstrations. A 17-year-old from Illinois drove to Kenosha, Wisconsin, armed with an assault rifle that he used to kill two demonstrators and wound a third.  Armed right-wing militants shut down the Michigan legislature over mask wearing and social distancing. In Portland, Oregon, unidentified federal officials shoved demonstrators into unmarked vans.  

Stoking violence appears to be part of Trump’s reelection strategy. He retweeted recently a prediction by conservative provocateur Dinesh D’Souza that “recent riots and political unrest could lead to ‘rise of citizen militias around the country.’” This past week, the president appeared to endorse extrajudicial executions when he described the death of an alleged shooting suspect at the hands of U.S. Marshals as “retribution.” Trump has a long history of appealing to the worst instincts of his supporters. He began his climb to political power by graphically warning of “rapists” from Mexico.

Election violence in the United States is more common than most Americans would like to think. There is, of course, the example of the Civil War when Southern Democrats refused to accept the election of a Republican president because he opposed the expansion of slavery into the territories. Three-quarters of a million Americans died as result of that refusal, which led to secession and the Civil War. 

In 1856 in Baltimore, nativist Know-Nothings used gunfire to keep opponents form the polls, and in many districts in the city immigrants were not able to vote at all. In 1874, five-thousand men fought in the streets of New Orleans in a battle that pitted supporters of Louisiana’s Republican governor against the White League, a group allied with Democrats and opposed to racial equality and Black suffrage. Forty years earlier, battles between Whigs and Democrats on election day in Philadelphia resulted in the burning to the ground of an entire city block. 

Violence has been rare in recent elections, with the exception, perhaps, of the so-called “Brooks Brothers” riot in Miami in 2000 in which Republican campaign operatives, congressional staffers, and lawyers — many of them in suit jackets and ties — invaded the Miami-Dade County election office, ending the recount of votes in that heavily Democratic city. Perhaps the most famous operative on the scene was Roger Stone, the old Richard Nixon “dirty trickster” and current Trumpista. Stone, a convicted felon, has said the president should declare “martial law” and seize power if he loses in November. 

Trump — who encourages violence in the first place — might use violence as a pretext to attempt something along the lines suggested by Stone. Benito Mussolini exploited violent clashes between his Blackshirts and their left-wing opponents to ascend to power. The Fascist Italian dictator positioned himself as the only person who could end the violence that he himself had encouraged from the beginning. A similar scenario played out in Germany in 1933 when Adolf Hitler used the burning of the Reichstag as the pretext to consolidate dictatorial power. 

Trump is a good deal lazier than the Mussolini and Hitler, and the United States has stronger institutions and, hopefully, a deeper commitment to constitutional norms than either Italy or Germany had. But, the danger of violence remains great, which is why it is necessary that Joe Biden win an overwhelming victory in November, a victory so big that all Trumpian claims of fraud would be viewed as absurd whining.

Posted September 15, 2020

Science Matters

My feed on Facebook has been filled with comments and images linking the coronavirus to climate change. Postings have suggested that as the severity of the pandemic proves the warnings of epidemiologists right, perhaps climate change deniers might take a second, more sober, look at the science of climate change. 

The initial response on the political right to the burgeoning pandemic mimicked much of the conservative bias against science and fact. Led by President Donald Trump, many right-wingers claimed the virus was not a severe threat, and many conservatives viewed warnings from the political left as a “hoax” aimed at damaging the president’s reelection prospects. Others imagined that downplaying the crisis might prevent an economic collapse. Trump responded to this concern when he floated the idea of reopening the economy by Easter Sunday.  

But, a far more important explanation than political and economic worries for ignoring the seriousness of the coming pandemic was the right-wing mindset. The Republican Party in the last few decades has been built on the assumption that anything experts say and write should be treated with suspicion, if not downright hostility. Many conservatives deny evidence of evolution, efficacy of vaccines, and proof of climate change. Right-wingers subscribe to the easily disproven theory that tax cuts for the rich produce economic miracles. Not every Republican believes all these ideas, but many do, and they have turned the GOP into a party hostile to fact and science. The Trump administration is just the culmination of this trend, revealed to all when White House senior adviser Kellyanne Conway claimed that lies were “alternative facts.”

Trump appears to have had his “Road to Damascus” moment, and he now takes the pandemic seriously, for the most part. But, many conservative governors and a large part of the Trump base has been slow to make the 180º turn from denial to recognition, and the result has been and will be unnecessary suffering and death. Ron DeSantis, the Republican governor of Florida — a state with an unusually high percentage of elderly, thus more vulnerable, residents — issued a stay-at-home order only this week, after allowing party-goers to congregate on state beaches during spring break. Georgia Republican Governor Brian Kemp followed suit Wednesday, claiming he only learned the day before that asymptomatic people infected with the coronavirus were contagious. This fact has been known since at least February, so Kemp is either the dumbest person in America or a liar. Mississippi Republican Governor Tate Reeves resisted a statewide stay-at-home order — issuing one for only one county — even though Mississippi has the highest rate of coronavirus hospitalizations of any state.

It is hard to know if any of these head-in-the-sand governors are now devotees of empirical fact and scientific knowledge, or simply bowed to public pressure and fear of political reprisals if many of their constituents succumb to the disease. And, the virus now is spreading throughout the country, upsetting the early trend in which the disease seemed to afflict the more densely populated blue states. As the rate of hospitalizations in Mississippi indicates, people in red states are getting sick because a virus, any virus, knows no political party or geographical boundary, and this one is no different. The New York Times reports that Idaho’s scenic and beautiful Wood River Valley is a coronavirus hotspot. A funeral in Albany, Georgia, attracted 200 mourners, one of whom evidently was infected with the virus; now, the small, rural town is the center of what epidemiologists call a “super-spreading event.”

It is, of course, tragic if it takes a pandemic to convince science-deniers that truth, facts, and experts matter and should be heeded in the areas in which they are well versed. But, if some are converted by the hard facts of the coronavirus — after denying reality for weeks in the face of evidence and the testimony of experts, and if they transfer that conversion to acknowledge climate change — then perhaps some good will come out of this tragedy.

A modification in attitude toward climate change may be spurred by environmental occurrences seemingly linked to the response to coronavirus. In China and Italy, the air suddenly is cleaner. The canals of Venice, normally fouled by boat traffic and the detritus of people out and about, are now clear. Air pollution has lessened in New York, Los Angeles, Seattle, and Chicago. The level of global carbon emissions has fallen. These changes, of course, are due to the shutdown of economic activity and the resulting drastic reduction in the use of fossil fuels. (In my neck of the woods, the price of gasoline has dropped 70 to 80 cents.)

The lesson here might be lost on climate-change deniers, but it might inform those who throw up their hands and say, well, global warming is a problem, but there is not much to be done about it. Now, there is evidence that a switch from fossil fuels can make a big difference in a short time. A recognition of this fact could persuade people to take steps to limit their consumption of fossil fuels — drive less, buy more energy-efficient cars, switch to electric-powered vehicles, invest in solar panels, and so on. There could well be a kind of transference from the virus to the climate. Once the disease abates, the urgency of tackling the pandemic might settle on tackling climate change. In that way, the coronavirus may become a catalyst for much needed action. 

An effect of all the stay-at-home orders could be a permanent change in consumer and travel habits. Perhaps, people will telecommute more in the future. Changes in work habits and lifestyles would lower emissions. Beyond that, people who doubted the efficacy of science and who traditionally have been skeptical of experts may have learned a lesson from a disaster made worse by their refusal to heed the medical wisdom readily available at the beginning of the crisis. 

Posted April 3, 2020

The Party of Trump, er, GOP Playbook: Fear-monger, Lie, Suppress the Vote

The Party of Trump, formerly known as the Republican Party, no longer plays by the rules that long have governed American politics. The Party of Trump — which controls all branches of the Federal government — has achieved little and what it has enacted in the two years since President Donald Trump’s election — corporate tax cuts — is not popular. So, with no record to take to the voters, the GOP has resorted to fear-mongering, lying, and suppressing the vote.

As this is written — the day before the midterm elections — the election results are unknown. But, what is known, is that the once-“Grand Old Party” has taken the nation into its darkest corners, reviving some of the worst instincts of an unsavory past. The racial attacks marking the last days of this election cycle are more blatant than anything seen since the 1960s.

In Georgia, where Oprah Winfrey recently campaigned for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams — who, if elected, would be the nation’s first female African American governor — a robo-call spews out a minute of the vilest racism. “This is the magical Negro Oprah Winfrey asking you to make my fellow Negress Stacey Abrams the governor of Georgia,” the voice on the call says. Then, the call pivots to another traditional hate, anti-Semitism: “Years ago, the Jews who own the American media saw something in me — the ability to trick dumb white women into thinking I was like them, and to do, read, and think what I told them to. I see the same potential in Stacey Abrams. Where others see a poor man’s Aunt Jemima, I see someone white women can be tricked into voting for, especially the fat ones.” The message was made by an anti-Semitic video podcasting website called TheRoadToPower.com. 

The Georgia robo-call is the work of a fringe white nationalist group. But, the racism it represents has infected what now passes for mainstream politics. In Florida, Sonny Perdue, Trump’s secretary of agriculture, used a racist colloquialism in urging voters to reject Andrew Gillum, an African American running for governor. “This election is so cotton-pickin’ important,”  Perdue said. And, Gillum’s opponent, Representative Ron DeSantis, launched his campaign by telling voters, “The last thing we need to do is monkey this up” by electing the Democratic candidate. Of course, no one can exceed the vileness of Iowa Representative Steve King who has augmented his history of racist comments by endorsing a Toronto mayoral candidate with ties to Nazism and meeting members of Austria’s extreme right-wing party. 

Trump proved in 2016 that stoking racist fears works in a presidential election. Now, in the closing days of the midterms, the entire Republican Party is betting that such tactics will work up and down the ballot. The president is using racism and nationalism as he campaigns for Republicans in mainly red states. He refers to a “caravan” of Central American immigrants — men, women, and children seeking the internationally recognized right to asylum — as an imminent “invasion” of dangerous “illegal aliens.” Never mind that the “caravan” will not be near the United States for several weeks, if ever. He has called immigrants “the worst scum in the world” and claims Democrats welcome all comers by saying, “Fly right in, folks. Come on in. We don’t care who the hell you are, come on in!” 

Many of Trump’s lies are blatant. He claimed Abrams in Georgia would take away the right to bear arms, though governors lack the authority to rescind the Second Amendment. He has promised a 10-percent tax cut for the middle class, though there is no such legislation in the works. And, like all Republicans, he promises to maintain the Obamacare guarantee of coverage for people with preexisting conditions. Republicans, who have always opposed all parts of the Affordable Care Act, have discovered that it is now very popular, so they are ignoring their 70 prior attempts to repeal the law, lying about their past record of weakening its provisions, and covering up their lack of a plan to cover preexisting conditions without a mechanism to drive buyers to insurance marketplaces.

When fear-mongering and lying are not sufficient, Republicans are willing to resort to voter suppression and fraud to maintain their hold on power. In Georgia, Secretary of State Brian Kemp, who is the Republican candidate for governor against Stacey Abrams, controls the state’s election process in a clear conflict of interest. Kemp has placed 53,000 voter registration applications on hold because the applications show slight discrepancies — sometimes a missing hyphen — with driver’s licenses. An investigation reveals that most of the applications belong to minority voters, who tend to vote Democratic. Now, Kemp accuses Democrats of possessing software that could be used to hack the state’s voter registration system, though he offers no evidence to support the allegation. His campaign called Democrats “power-hungry radicals” engaged in “criminal behavior” and “abuse of power.”  

Elsewhere, inactive voters have been removed from the rolls in a move voting rights activists label improper “purges.” A recently tightened North Dakota law requires voters to have a street address, which makes it harder for Native Americans, who commonly maintain a Post Office box, to qualify. In Dodge City, Kansas, which is 60-percent Latino, election officials moved the city’s only polling location from downtown to a location a mile from the nearest bus stop. Kansas, of course, is the state where Kris Kobach, the Republican candidate for governor, has built a reputation by alleging that foreigners vote illegally, even though there is no evidence of massive in-person voter fraud in American elections. But, claims of voter fraud by foreigners tie into the anti-immigrant hysteria Trump and his cohorts are inciting.

Voter suppression, fear-mongering, and lying: The modern Republican playbook in the age of Trump. These are the tactics employed by a party bereft of ideas and fearful of change. Trump has taught Republicans that lack of a program does not matter if candidates appeal to voters’ worst instincts, lie about their records, and restrict the ballot. It is up to the American electorate to reject such cynical ploys. 

Posted November 6, 2018

Undermining the Rule of Law (It’s the Autocrat’s Way)

Autocracy grows when society’s institutional protectors of freedom are sabotaged. President Donald Trump relentlessly has attacked the free press, calling it “fake news” in an effort to undermine the credibility of news accounts detailing collusion between his campaign, then his administration, and Russia. Now, Trump and his enablers are attacking special prosecutor Robert Mueller and federal law enforcement officials in hopes of stopping or curtailing the investigation of the president’s inner circle of advisers, past and present.

For the past several weeks, Trump and his partisans have engaged in a reckless and sustained attack on the FBI and the special counsel. Their aim is obvious: If Mueller’s impartiality is questioned, then the public might not believe any report he issues concluding there was wrongdoing on the part of Trump or his aides. Even more ominous is the possibility that the sustained attack on Mueller’s probe is intended to lay the groundwork for Trump’s firing of the special counsel.

Trump is leading the charge. “After years of [former director James] Comey, with the phony and dishonest Clinton investigation (and more), running the FBI, its reputation is in Tatters – worst in History!” the president tweeted earlier in December. In a speech last week in Pensacola, Florida, the president referred to a “rigged system.” He added, “This is a sick system from the inside. And, you know, there is no country like our country but we have a lot of sickness in our institutions.” It is a curious spectacle that Trump heads a government that he accuses of conspiring against him politically. Trump’s ploy is obvious: If the system is “rigged” no one can object to the president either pardoning aides (or himself, for that matter) indicted during an allegedly corrupt probe or removing the special prosecutor.

Trump is not alone in attacking law enforcement; he is receiving assistance from a number of shameless congressional Republicans. At a hearing last week, Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee launched an all-out assault on the special counsel and the FBI. Representative Steve Chabot of Ohio said, “The depths of this anti-Trump bias on the Mueller team just goes on and on. It’s absolutely shocking.” No, Representative Chabot, what is shocking is how you and your cohorts are willing to undermine the public’s faith in the impartiality of the special counsel’s office.

There was more. Representative Ron DeSantis of Florida speculated that anti-Trump bias is leading the FBI to conclude that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election, and DeSantis threatened current FBI Director Christopher Wray with “a contempt of Congress.”  Ohio Representative Jim Jordan said he has a “hunch” that there is  “pro-Clinton, anti-Trump bias” at the FBI. Representative Matt Gaetz of Florida called Comey an “egomaniac rouge” who was biased against the president. The assertion of FBI bias against Trump and attacks on Comey are interesting, given that Comey’s decision to reopen the probe of Clinton’s emails less than two weeks before the election probably contributed to Trump’s victory.

Fox News anchor Sean Hannity, a sometime Trump adviser, called Mueller “a disgrace to the American justice system’’ and said his team is “corrupt, abusively biased and political.’’  The goal of the onslaught against Mueller by conservative media and politicians is, in the words of Matthew Miller, a former Justice Department spokesman, “to delegitimize Mueller in such a way that he can either be fired or can be ignored if he concludes the president broke the law.”

All of this talk of bias in the probe is beyond absurd. Mueller is a longtime Republican who was appointed FBI Director by President George W. Bush. Rod Rosenstein, a Republican who was appointed deputy attorney general by Trump, named Mueller as special counsel. Comey is a Republican who served in the Justice Department under George W. Bush. He has made political contributions to John McCain and Mitt Romney, both former presidential nominees of the Republican Party! The current director of the FBI, Wray, is another Republican who has contributed to GOP candidates and who was appointed to head the bureau by Trump.

Despite all this, Trump and his cohorts have no reluctance to scream “bias.” They cite political contributions that some on Mueller’s team made to Democrats. Trump’s defenders also point to anti-Trump texts made by Peter Strzok who was a key FBI investigator into Clinton’s use of a private email server. Strzok was removed from the investigation promptly after his texts became known. Rather than showing anti-Trump, pro-Clinton bias, the Strzok episode appears to be evidence that the system is functioning well.

The FBI is one agency of government Americans traditionally have held in high regard. A 2015 poll found that 68 percent of respondents viewed the FBI “favorably.” But, a poll by the University of Texas — completed after Trump began attacking the FBI — shows that only 43 percent of Texas Republicans now look favorably on the bureau.

Trump simply does not care about any damage he does to American institutions such as the FBI. The only goal is his own survival, and, to insure that, he has attacked (so far) the courts, the media, American allies, his own political party, the Intelligence community, former presidents, and even the pope. And, there is no evidence his attacks will end.

It is the strategy of an autocrat. Do not believe the press or the justice system or the electoral process. Believe me!

Which is why the most dangerous president in American history must be removed.

Posted December 15, 2017