And…Todd Rokita Again

I’ve posted a lot about the negative consequences of bigotry for individuals and the body politic. What I haven’t focused on–at least, not sufficiently–is the moral culpability of the politicians who pander to and encourage bigotry and ignorance because they think it will help them win elections.

Which brings me to Indiana’s current Attorney General, Todd Rokita.

Rokita, predictably, is one of the GOP officials currently screaming about President Biden’s vaccine mandate– elevating political identity over government’s obligation to protect  public health.

It’s part and parcel of his persona.

Some of you will remember that Rokita was a prime mover of Indiana’s Voter ID law–premised on a “voter fraud” that every single study found to be non-existent. But of course, minorities were less likely to have the required documentation–and  not-so-coincidentally, less likely to vote for Rokita.

Todd Smekens, who often comments on this blog, shared a letter with me that Rokita had sent to multiple media outlets in Indiana, “explaining” his war on the Confucius Institutes that dot campuses around the state. (I’ve previously noted how ridiculous and dishonest those attacks have been.)

This letter–replete with inaccuracies (China did not intentionally loosen the virus on the world, Valparaiso University does not have an “affiliation with the Chinese Communist Party”…) continues Rokita’s assault on Confucius Institutes and common sense, and ends with a ringing promise to protect Hoosiers from the Chinese Communist Menace. (Oh good..I’ve been so worried. Hoosiers are so susceptible…) In any event, that grandiose promise of “protection,” ridiculous as it is, falls far afield of the Indiana Attorney General’s job description.

As I’ve previously noted, Confucius Institutes exist at some 100 American colleges, including IUPUI, where I taught, although given its lack of prominence on campus, most students had probably never heard of it. The Institutes are one of a wide range of campus organizations intended to introduce students to a diverse set of global cultures.

Valparaiso University’s Confucius Institute–for some reason, a particular target of Rokita’s– was founded in 2008 and its website said it “aims at helping Northwest Indiana citizens learn about China and its people and culture and study the Chinese language, and promoting cultural, particularly music, exchange between the US and China.” Valparaiso shut the Institute down last year, citing a loss of federal funding.

It’s tempting to shrug at this posturing –after all, this is deep-red Indiana, where we’re used to  political figures making fools of themselves. But we need to realize that the character, morality and intellect of the people we place in leadership positions actually matters.

In a recent piece in the Economist, Stephen Reicher revisited the infamous Stanford Prison Experiment, and found evidence of the important role played by leadership–the researchers who shaped the experiment– in producing the shocking results that  brought the experiment to an early close. As Reicher reports, a full reading of the study archive–recently opened– “does not reveal natural brutality, as it is often depicted, but how brutality is mobilized by others.”

At the moment, Americans are in the middle of a different leadership experiment, this one focused on a deadly pathogen. “Leaders” like DeSantis and Abbott and Rokita are actively encouraging behaviors that are equally toxic–behaviors that pose a threat to public health and are directly responsible for hundreds if not thousands of deaths. That encouragement is clearly intended to enhance their standing in the ranks of the “freedom fighters” who control today’s GOP. (Rokita fought efforts by IU to ensure that students coming back to campus were vaccinated; he lost in court.)

Rokita’s “letter” (really a press release) was clearly intended to endear him to his natural constituency– to the sort of voter who would be receptive to his misinformation (pretty much the horse de-wormer crowd).

As I noted when he first initiated these attacks against China, communism and American universities, it really doesn’t matter whether Rokita is as loony and smarmy as he seems (a la Marjorie Taylor Greene et al), or just pursuing what he considers to be a savvy strategy of appealing to uninformed and loony voters. He’s a prime example of everything that’s wrong with contemporary American politics.

Our ability to get government functioning properly again–our ability to ensure that the various leaders of state agencies are doing the jobs they are supposed to be doing rather than chasing media mentions and the votes of the credulous and uninformed– requires ridding ourselves of elected officials like Rokita.

In Rokita’s case, I actually know several Republicans who agree….


  1. Professor-I am so dismayed at the press this guy, who we elected to be our Attorney General, gets. He deserves no media coverage…NONE. We need long time, respected Republicans to stand up and say enough is enough. In my opinion, this guy, who happens to be my elected Attorney General, has no right to really call himself a “Hoosier” as it is an insult to the 6.6 Million of us who are Hoosiers.

  2. “That encouragement is clearly intended to enhance their standing in the ranks of the “freedom fighters” who control today’s GOP.”

    The more outrageous the stunt, or act, the more attention they get from the media. “No press is bad press.”

    Sadly, there is a large contingency of Hoosiers, and elsewhere, who will eat this up. It’s pandering to the base and it works. They are also after the school boards in this state for teaching critical race theory and other subjects these alt-right bozos find offensive in their conspiracy groups.

    Meanwhile, the Democratic Party insists on bipartisanship with these goofballs while they actually have a slim margin. They insist on working with them even while the GOP launches themselves off the QAnon cliff into the abyss.

    One note, I wrote an article about the Confucius Institute and they are being closed all around the USA at campuses since the Department of Defense has refused to provide funding to any college that has an institute. Also, the Senate has passed a bill requiring the Department of Education to defund any college hosting a Confucius Institute. Therefore, Valpo chose to close the program. Meanwhile, our capitalists use China’s oppressive labor policies to their advantage, but that’s okay, we’ll attack their educators on college campuses teaching culture and Mandarin to our students eager to learn about a leader on the global stage. #SMDH

  3. Brutality mobilized by others. That is the name of the game in today’s politics, though we could probably blame Newt Gingrich for enhancing, if not actually starting the process, so sit is not new. But Trump certainly perfected it, and today’s mini-Trumps are continuing the despicable practices he used nearly every day. DeSantis and Abbott are just the most newsworthy ones, but McCarthy in the House, and the current governor of South Carolina are doing their share.

    Whatever works, is the underlying theme, even if most of it consists of lies.

  4. Indiana and all the other red states need to find their Stacey Abrams, someone to take over a moribund Democratic Party and organize it to win for a change.

  5. Yes, ” how brutality is mobilized by others,” is both fascinating, and the issue. Trump, as the Malignant Narcissist of the moment, was able to mobilize the brutality of those who were/are feeling that the demographics were turning on them, putting them at the bottom of the social barrel, with no one “other” to look down upon.
    When one speaks of morality Trump is not in the room, has no sense thereof, (and as a Malignant Narcissist that is one of his defining characteristics) and, apparently those who wish to take on his mantle, like Rokita, DeSantis and Abbott, have forsaken any claim to be considered moral individuals.
    It is amazing, to me anyway, that, as has been discussed many times, that so much of the Christian mass of the U.S. could adhere to a totally immoral loudmouth,like trump, but Reicher’s conclusion helps make at least some sense of it.

  6. Should we be more concerned that 5 of every 8 voters favored Rokita in the election for AG. With the large majority of the populace voting for him and others of similar persuasion, the propensity of voters does support bigotry, attacks on the social institutions that advocate both moderation and equity and rejection of rational scientific/medical approaches to a political witchcraft from the 16th century. Does the minority of rational beings stand a chance?

  7. As I commented on one of my friends Facebook feed about vaccine mandates impinging on his “Freedom”, I told him he was being manipulated by politicians, and not to for anybodies good.

    Here is a quote from the NY Times: “Republicans care about getting beyond this pandemic every bit as much as Democrats do,” said Dr. Ashish Jha, the dean of the Brown University School of Public Health. But, he added, “politicians are certainly happy to exploit this issue for political gain, which is why I think the Republican governors are up in arms.”

    The article was pointing out the hypocrisy of Missouri Governor, where they have some of the best vaccination rates in the US, and some of the toughest vaccination laws that don’t even allow for religious exemptions.

    I guess as long as you are not actually using a sword or a knife, it is still all right to kill people for political gain.

  8. Dan Lazeraton, It was really disappointing to see the number of people that voted for Rokita, but I think it was more of a reflection of the number of people that were going to vote Trump or Holcomb and were too ignorant or too lazy to do anything but vote straight ticket.

  9. Obviously the ham-faced idiot thinks that if he out-Trumps Trump, out-DeSantis’ DeSantis and out-Noems Noem that he will have a shot at the big prize…..but first he will strip Indiana of having any semblance of compassion, caring and fairness for its’ citizens. But hey, the likes of John Jacobs, Liz Brown etal will be more than happy to aid & abet. (Before reading about Indiana in any local/national news, I have an immediate “face-palm” moment in my mind as I’m pretty sure it ain’t gonna be good.) And with the supermajority about to redraw the maps, I have a feeling it will get even worse, if that’s possible. Now excuse me while I go out to my garden and try not to scream at the sky.

  10. China has a long and fascinating history long before the Communist party became the dominant political/cultural force in China. Many people studying philosophy and religion have studied both Confuscius and Lao Tze who is credited with writing the Tao Te Ching. The study of Chinese culture, language, and history allows us to understand the China of today even better. And in fact, the Chinese author of “The Art of War” states that you must understand your enemy in order to defeat them. Rokita is blocking our ability to learn about China so that we can create strategies to counter China that are effective.

    Rokita like many who support the extremely rugged individualism of this country are totally baffled by a country like China which is extremely communal. He thinks they are like the Borg in Star Trek who say “You will be assimilated. Resistance is futile.” ( And in Star Trek, they grew to understand how the Borg functioned and where there weaknesses were so that they could defeat them.)

    China did gag a doctor who was trying to warn them that a new viral respiratory infection had emerged. They ignored his warning and sadly, he died of COVID. They do bear some responsiblity for the pandemic.

    I was embarrased enough by Trump’s sycophant Pence. If Rokita emerges on the national political stage, I will be just as embarassed again. Mayor Pete is the only Hoosier working in the federal government who does not embarass me.

    In the meantime, I think the only thing I can do with Rokita is turn him over to my Higher Power and ask that justice prevail. I would not be just, I would be vengeful. Needless to say, I did not and will not ever vote for him. I really wish we could get the bigots out of our state government.

  11. Rokita could not have come up with his War on the Confucius Institute on his own. Like Pastor Pence he is an intellectually vacant. So, I think someone gave him the idea. In today’s GOP no conspiracy hypothesis is to far fetched to keep the base in a constant state of FEAR.

    This anti-China stance seems to go along with The Trump GOP who believe China deliberately cooked up Covid in a Lab and turned it loose.

  12. China and Russia and North Korea and the GOP have competing authoritarian governance models. They all are based on the same premise, that there is an inherent ruling class, but differ in the details of who the ruling class is and if there are limits to their power.

    China and Russia and the GOP are similar in that they believe in the supremacy of Capitalism as part of a mixed economy because it empowers the leading capitalists as measured by accumulated wealth as the ruling class.

    Of course in Russia and China capitalist authoritarian government is a fait accompli, while in the US, democracy still remains an obstacle to be overcome.

  13. It is nice to believe that some sweet day Rokita will be treated by historians as a modern day Joseph McCarthy, but don’t bet the ranch on it. He is doing what works today, i.e., sharpening the bigotry and hatred of voters in exchange for their votes that enhance his political future. Why “Love thy neighbor” when hating thy neighbor pays off at the polls? Massive deaths due to propaganda in re “freedom” to kill? Collateral damage. Too bad etc. Price you pay etc.

    I am beginning to think that we need a redefinition of “Free Speech” by the Supreme Court in which homicide under the guise of “policymaking” is prohibited.

  14. Rokita is wrong about a lot of things, but he was not wrong about the voter ID law. Indiana’s signature match had always been a bad joke. My signature on file was my decades old and looked nothing like my signature today. Yet it was never challenged. Democrats are on solid ground when they say there needs to be alternatives to gov’t issued photo ID. The trouble is they won’t be reasonable on the subject – they want to return to the day of voting just by signing your name, no ID required. Oh, and the photo ID requirement has not decreased turnout. When you compare numbers of voters v. voting age population, we’ve had several elections where turnout has been higher than elections conducted before the photo ID requirement was adopted.

    My apologies for getting away from the main topic of Sheila’s column. It is just fingernails on a chalkboard when people complain about showing an ID to vote.

  15. In South Carolina we have Gov. McDisater.
    All I can say is that it’s pretty shocking that these “leaders” are advising their own people to do things that will make them sick and more likely to die. According to Neil DeGrasse Tyson, astrophysicist and director of the Hayden Planetarium in New York, “Right now in the USA, every ten days, more than 8,000 (unvaccinated) Republican voters are dying of COVID-19. That’s 5X the rate for Democrats.” How nuts is that statistic? — Darwinism at work!!! As I’ve said before, the present GOP is just this side of Jim Jones and the Peoples Temple.

  16. Paul and others. No problem showing a picture ID-been doing it for 40 yrs in Ohio. But let’s see what an elderly lady (others, too) has to do after she no longer drives due to health issues. Driver’s license expired while in nursing/rehab. To get a ID card from license bureau(standing in line/wheel chair acceptable) with valid birth certificate, valid marriage license, two other forms of ID including a tax form from state. It’s kind of a pain, the question that cannot be answered in why the expired pictured driver’s license cannot be used as ID .

  17. ‘Loony and smarmy’ are perfect descriptions. Now the newest worries among so many others: Measles (yes, MEASLES!) has shown up at at least three locations to which Afghans have been delivered. Tack that onto Covid-19 Delta, Mu, Lambda, and several variants that don’t even have Greek labels assigned to them yet.

Comments are closed.