Religious War, Modern Version…

As weird as it seems–this is, after all, the twenty-first century– America seems to be in the throes of a religious war. Whatever the actual motives of the self-identified “righteous religious,” today’s culture warriors increasingly hide behind assumed doctrinal pieties.

And they’re suddenly everywhere.

The media is filled with stories about fissures in state-level Republican parties, fights between the GOP’s extreme Rightwingers and its flat-out nutcase “Christian warriors.” Here in Indiana, that schism is illustrated by the GOP’s internal fight over the Lieutenant Governor nomination. Mike Braun, who won the nasty race for the gubernatorial nomination, has picked a no-name, relatively inoffensive Rightwing female, but his choice is being challenged by religious warrior Micah Beckwith.

Noblesville pastor Micah Beckwith’s unconventional campaign for the Republican nomination for lieutenant governor appears to be surging. Several GOP insiders I spoke with believe he will upset Mike Braun’s hand-picked candidate Julie McGuire at the state convention this Saturday.

Braun evidently recognizes that a Beckwith victory will make his already far-Right campaign more difficult, since Beckwith is a proud member of the Christian Taliban. The linked article reported his remarks at gatherings of GOP insiders.

Beckwith told the delegates in both Fort Wayne and Nappanee that it was his belief that America was straying from its Christian principles that motivated him to get into politics.

“I started recognizing something very concerning to me, that the church in America was dropping the ball on stewarding our nation,” he said in Nappanee. “When [the church] started shutting our mouths, the silent majority did a huge disservice to this nation. We became quiet. No wonder we’ve gone off the rails.”

Beckwith blamed America’s problems on a list of issues for which, according to him, the Bible has already provided guidance.

“Isn’t it interesting that all of the political things that are destroying our nation right now are things like marriage, things like abortion, things like parental rights, things like the sovereignty of our borders, things like taxes. But wouldn’t you know, God has said something about all of those issues.”

Evidently, God also told Beckwith to attack Governor Holcomb’s attempt to protect Hoosiers from COVID.

“It was March 15, 2020. I called out COVID exactly what it turned out to be,” he told the delegates in Nappanee. On that day, he said he broadcast a Facebook live video telling people “don’t shut down, don’t lock down, don’t mask up. And I called it out.”

As the linked article notes, 22,450 Hoosiers died from COVID after Beckwith made that video, including 616 residents in his home of Hamilton County. But evidently, that was God’s plan–after all, Beckwith is certain he knows what his God wants…

Unfortunately, the growth of Christian Nationalism isn’t a phenomenon limited to state-level politics. Not only does a rabid (and distinctly unChristian) cohort consistently prevent Congress from functioning, it has infected the nation’s highest court. That infection is most apparent in the person of Justice Alito, who–as Robert Hubbell recently reported–has now “said the quiet part out loud—i.e., that the reactionary majority on the Supreme Court is engaged in a religious battle to return the country to a place of godliness.”

It seems that an enterprising reporter has obtained evidence of what most observers have long surmised.

Lauren Windsor, a progressive filmmaker and political activist, bought a ticket in her own name to the Supreme Court Historical Society dinner that was held on June 3 and carried her cell phone so she could record conversations she held with Justices Samuel Alito and John Roberts.  She’s done it before, posing as a fellow conservative as she recorded conversations with right-wing politicians at public events.  This time, Windsor appears to have been posing as a Christian Nationalist Catholic when she got close enough to Alito at the dinner to ask him a few questions.

While condemning the tactic employed, the New York Times reported the taped conversation,  and Alito’s view that that the nation should return to a “place of godliness.” Several other reports included anti-gay remarks made by his wife. (The taped conversations have since been uploaded to YouTube.)

The utter lack of humility that characterizes these smug “warriors for God” always reminds me of that FaceBook meme–something to the effect that “it’s interesting that God hates the same people they do.”

Historians and legal scholars can rebut these efforts to rewrite American history and undermine the First and Fourteenth Amendments, and theologians can contest the simplistic, dishonest and oh-so convenient approach to belief, but it will be up to voters to reject Christian Nationalists’ drive to deliver social and legal control to White Christian fundamentalists.

Vote Blue. Religious liberty depends on it.


The Year Of The Woman?

Are we finally approaching that much-heralded (but thus far elusive) “year of the woman”–a year that, despite previous predictions, has yet to materialize?

Maybe. It’s happening in other countries, even those with a deeply “macho” culture–in Mexico, a woman has been elected President. In the U.S., twelve states currently have women governors.

Here in regressive, Red Indiana, the Democratic Party will run an all-women slate of statewide candidates, a first. I have previously written about my enthusiastic support for Jennifer McCormick, the former Superintendent of Public Instruction currently running for Governor. I have not previously written about Valerie McCray, who defeated Marc Carmichael, the candidate I supported for U.S. Senate, or about the contest between two other women–Destiny Wells and Beth White–who are the only candidates vying for the Attorney General nomination.

So let me get to it.

I’ve previously explained why Jennifer McCormick, who will face Trumper Mike Braun in November, would be an excellent Governor. If you visit her website, you will note that she is focused on issues that actually concern Hoosiers, unlike Braun, who–like all MAGA culture warriors–talks almost exclusively about the federal issues he did little or nothing to address in his six years as a Senator.

I recently sat down with Jennifer and her equally impressive campaign manager, and was encouraged to learn that, not only is she personally compelling and right on the issues, she is running a savvy, organized and well-thought-out campaign.

I have also had the opportunity to meet with Valerie McCray and her campaign manager, both of whom noted the extent to which Hoosiers–at least, Democratic-leaning ones– seem to be favoring women candidates this year. (Evidently, voters unfamiliar with either of the Democrats’ Senate contenders overwhelmingly opted for the female candidate.) That phenomenon failed to help Suzanne Crouch, the only woman vying for the GOP’s gubernatorial nomination–a reminder of the parties’ very different attitudes toward women.

As readers of this blog know, in the primary, I supported McCray’s opponent– an older white guy. (I firmly believe that voters should support candidates based upon their individual merits, rather than voting for an identity. I’ve known some pretty reprehensible women politicians.) That said, I was very relieved to find that McCray, whom I’d not previously known, isn’t only right on the issues  (see her excellent website), but is also energetic, informed, and thoughtful. That said, McCray’s biggest asset is actually her opponent, Jim Banks, who represents the most anti-American, anti-woman, theocratic aspects of the MAGA movement. (As I intend to explain in upcoming posts, Banks is very consistent–wrong about everything.) 

If Valerie McCray’s biggest campaign asset is Jim Banks, Todd Rokita will definitely fill that role for the eventual Democratic Attorney General nominee. I have posted about Rokita’s multiple deficits several times; he has been a consistent embarrassment to the legal profession and to the Hoosier State. He was a disgrace as a Congressman and has ignored his professional and ethical obligations as Indiana’s Attorney General, using the position (and taxpayer dollars) to feed his considerable ego while pandering to the far, far Right of the GOP. (Recently, several state senators called him “a hammer in search of a nail.”)

The specific merits of these candidates is important. Their campaigns, their performance in debates and on the stump, their fundraising–all of those traditional elements will matter, and matter a lot. But in addition to the normal horse-race factors, I come back to the question with which I began this post: will this be the year of the woman?

How angry are America’s women? How motivated? How many women who haven’t previously voted will register and cast their ballots in November? How many “good guys”–men who aren’t threatened by women’s growing equality, who care deeply about the status and health of their mothers, sisters and daughters– will signify that support by voting Blue? 

Hoping for a year of the woman is most definitely not an attack on men. It is endorsement of an equal civic partnership that benefits both men and women– and a refusal to return half the population to the subordinate status demanded by the GOP’s White Christian Nationalists.

In Indiana this November, voters will choose between a statewide slate of three talented and accomplished women and three out-and-proud MAGA misogynists and theocrats. This won’t be an election in which differences are minor. It also won’t be an election affected by gerrymandering–you can’t gerrymander a statewide race. 

Here’s an idea: If everyone reading this who cares about civic equality and women’s rights would send a few dollars to each of these women, we could demonstrate widespread support for a Hoosier year of the woman.

If Mexico can do this, so can Indiana.


Thank You, Nikki Kelly!

I have vented several times about the political advertisements being run by candidates vying for their parties’ nominations in Indiana’s upcoming primaries. (Actually “parties’ nomination” is inaccurate: all of the ads I’ve seen have been for Republicans –Democrats have fewer primary battles and are presumably saving their dollars for the general election.)

It’s bad enough that the GOP combatants have engaged in out-and-out racism and claimed ridiculous “outsider” status; virtually all of the candidates for Governor have ignored the issues that a governor actually faces in favor of culture-war appeals. A governor has zero authority over America’s southern border, for example, but these Republicans clearly believe that an appeal to anti-immigrant sentiment (those people are brown!) coupled with wild accusations that immigration is the source of illicit drugs (it isn’t), will win the cold hearts of their primary voters.

The ads are offensive to anyone who has the slightest understanding of the difference between federal and state jurisdiction. I can only assume they are evidence of one of two things: either the candidates themselves are ignorant of basic legal and constitutional boundaries, or–more probably–they believe their likely voters are uneducated and unaware of how government works.

Obviously, I’m not the only one who has come to that conclusion. Nikki Kelly, of the Capital Chronicle has addressed the issue. 

Up until now, the GOP gubernatorial candidates have mostly fallen back on national talking points. But that does a disservice to Hoosier voters who want their next governor to be focused on Indiana issues.

And despite what many of their ads say, that’s not China or the southern border or even online safety — which are largely federal issues.

Kelly has a surprising ally in her quest for a discussion of legitimately local issues: Indiana’s incumbent Republican Governor, Eric Holcomb. Holcomb has thus far withheld an endorsement of any of the candidates.

It appears that even Gov. Eric Holcomb is getting impatient. Though he has declined to endorse any candidates, he recently had some interesting comments about the race.

“My thought process is: there are a lot of folks who approach me that are undecided because they’re uninformed about where (the candidates) stand on issues that a governor has to address on a day in day out basis.

“We can repeat words. And (in) most of those words I see broad agreement within the candidates,” he said. “But there are items that come across the governor’s desk and what the Legislature grapples with that aren’t being discussed that I think should be more in detail.”

The Governor mentioned several of the issues where voters deserve to know the candidate’s positions: economic development strategies, infrastructure financing, the state’s mental health challenges, the extension of broadband, and a sustainable Medicaid program. Those are, after all, issues with which the next administration will have to contend.

Kelly adds to that list. How will the next governor approach taxation–especially given the GOP’s fixation on reducing the “tax burden”? If taxes are cut, where will the state get the funds to maintain–let alone repair and/or expand–infrastructure and essential services?

What about support for Indiana’s death penalty? The state can no longer get the drugs used in executions. “Do candidates support eliminating the death penalty and saving money on court battles? Or, would they move to other execution methods? And how does their position square with their anti-abortion rhetoric?”

Where do these culture warriors stand on education? As Kelly notes, Republicans have controlled Hoosier education for over 20 years, yet we have seen no improvement. Test scores and graduation rates have stagnated while the state continues to rob public schools of critically-needed resources in order to fund vouchers for private–overwhelmingly religious–schools.

And what about abortion, and the numerous other issues involved in health care? As Kelly says,

When a candidate can answer these questions with depth and specifics they will earn my vote. And I don’t necessarily have to agree with them philosophically on every matter — they just have to be willing to speak beyond slogans and political dog whistles.

Well, these candidates are certainly going beyond dog whistles, but not in a direction either Kelly or I would endorse.

Nothing I’ve seen in these ugly political spots gives me any confidence that any of them are interested in tackling the real work of governing. I used to mentally divide political candidates into two groups: those who want to do something–improve governance–and those who want to be someone. Someone important.

I’d put all the candidates running these deplorable ads in the latter category.


Indiana’s Autocratic-And Delusional–Legislature

The most positive thing I can say about Indiana’s just-departed legislature is that at least it was a short session.

I have yet to address one of the most offensive bills passed by our legislative overlords: Senate Enrolled Act 202, which presumes to overrule accepted academic standards and procedures in the name of “intellectual diversity.” As numerous professors and other educators have pointed out, the bill is a thinly-veiled effort to combat what its proponents believe is “liberal bias” in higher education. (Unfortunately, as a popular meme proclaims, facts have a well-known liberal bias.)

The bill aims to emulate Ron DeSantis’ war against education and “wokeness”–turning Indiana into Florida, but without the water and sunshine.

Actually, as faculty and students overwhelmingly and unsuccessfully argued, in addition to having a chilling effect on free expression, the proposal is first and foremost an effort to micromanage Indiana’s higher education institutions. And that effort highlights the most prominent characteristic of our legislature’s Republican super-majority: its unbelievable hubris.

Hubris is defined as “excessive pride or self-confidence; arrogance.” It comes from the Greek, and denotes an excess of ambition and self-regard that ultimately causes the transgressor’s ruin.  It is the overwhelming trait of the Republicans who control Indiana’s Statehouse.

Do Indianapolis citizens want public transportation? Our legislative overlords will restrict the kinds of transit for which we can tax ourselves (no light rail, for reasons that escape most of us). If we are finally allowed to proceed, self-appointed mavens in the legislature will overrule transit experts on issues of implementation.

Did the City-County Council pass a tax to support special needs in the city’s mile square? The legislature will tell them who can and cannot be subjected to that tax. (Gotta protect those political donors…)

The same hubris that is evident when the legislature routinely overrules local government decisions about transit, taxes, puppy mills and plastic bags extends to the idiocy of Senate Enrolled Act 202.

As the Capital Chronicle recently described the Act: 

Included are changes to institutions’ diversity-oriented positions and their policies for tenure, contract renewals, performance reviews and more. It also establishes new reporting and survey requirements based on “free inquiry, free expression, and intellectual diversity.”

Garrison noted that, as part of Senate Enrolled Act 202, Indiana “is one of the few states” that now requires boards of trustees to establish diversity committees on our campuses.

Under the new law, those diversity committees must make recommendations promoting recruitment and retention of “underrepresented” students rather than the “minority students” specified in current law….

The law additionally requires institutions to establish complaint procedures in which school students and staff can accuse faculty members and contractors of not meeting free-expression criteria.

Institutions will have to refer those complaints to human resource professionals and supervisors “for consideration in employee reviews and tenure and promotion decisions,” according to the law.

From a legal standpoint, I would argue that language in the bill is unconstitutionally vague, but of course, that’s the point.

It is glaringly clear that the intent of the measure is to warn professors who might be advancing “liberal” ideas that they are jeopardizing their tenure. Of course, what constitutes a “liberal” classroom lecture and a lack of “intellectual diversity” is pretty subjective–and in our current political environment, subject to constant change. If a biology professor teaches evolution and fails to give equal time to creationism, has she failed to be “intellectually diverse”?  Is a professor teaching about the Supreme Court case on same-sex marriage prohibited from agreeing with its reasoning?

And about that encouraging of complaints….

When I taught, it was abundantly clear that most students who filed complaints against my colleagues were students who got poor grades. (I didn’t get any official complaints, but one student did sue me in Small Claims court for giving him a B-, a grade that was actually a gift. He lost.)

There is much more that is truly horrible about Senate Enrolled Act 202, but what is even more troubling than its content is that its passage represents the majority’s hubris and lack of self-awareness. Someone needs to tell these self-important examples of the Dunning-Kruger effect that election to the Indiana Statehouse (courtesy of gerrymandering) is not a grant of  authority to rule everything in Indiana.

At some level, Indiana lawmakers must recognize that they’re on thin ice–why else would they adamantly refuse to extend the hours our polls are open, or allow citizen referenda or nonpartisan redistricting?

Until Indiana’s weak, ineffective Democratic Party is able to run credible candidates in every one of Indiana’s gerrymandered districts, Hoosiers will continue to inhabit an autocracy governed by culture-war know-nothings with wildly inflated self-images.


Evidently, The GOP War On Cities Isn’t Limited To Indiana

When the Indiana legislature is in session, residents of urban areas don’t feel safe–and there is ample reason for our angst, as this blog has repeatedly documented.  A sad side effect is currently playing out in the Indianapolis City County Council, where the Democratic majority is trying to quiet one Counselor’s expressions of anger over the arrogance of a legislator who says he knows best what sort of transit city folks are entitled to. The Democratic caucus is evidently worried that open resistance will make the legislature even harder to deal with.

The bottom line, of course, is that Hoosiers–both city dwellers and rural folks–are absolutely helpless to influence our legislative overlords. Thanks to extreme gerrymandering, legislators in Indiana choose their voters, not the other way around, and Indiana lacks the ability to mount referenda or initiatives. We are truly subjects, not citizens.

There’s no mystery about why.

Our Red state legislature makes war on the cities that provide virtually all of the tax dollars they spend–the cities that are demonstrably the economic engine of the state–because cities are where Democrats live and vote.

It turns out that Indiana is not the only retrograde Red state engaging in these tactics. According to a recent article in The American Prospect, Republican-led states have now taken to blocking liberal cities from even thinking about legislating on behalf of their residents.

There’s nothing historically novel about America’s politics dividing along urban vs. rural or cosmopolitan vs. parochial lines. One has to go back a full century, however, to find a time when the nation’s political fault lines ran so clearly along the city/country divide as they do today.

“Those people” tend to live in cities, and they tend to vote Democratic.

 In the 1920s, cities were too Catholic and Jewish and freethinking for the countryside’s Protestant traditionalists, and new urban-based media (radio, movies) brought the taint of the new to rural communities whose susceptible young people were lighting out for the cities. Today, culture wars and economic conflicts also play out largely along urban/rural lines. Of the top 35 cities in America by population, only four have Republican mayors, and one of those, Eric Johnson of Dallas, Texas, was elected as a Democrat and switched parties in 2023.

State level lawmakers may not be the brainiest of people, but a number of them have figured out that–as the saying goes–there’s more than one way to skin a cat.

Since Republican legislatures and governors can’t stop city residents from electing Democrats, however, they’ve devised a whopper of a Plan B: negating majority rule in those areas by denying those cities the right to enact any laws or promote any policies that run counter to the preferences of the governor and the legislature.

The article lists a number of examples. North Carolina’s legislature nullified a Charlotte ordinance protecting LGBTQ rights. When the city of Birmingham passed a municipal minimum-wage statute, the Republican state legislature outlawed municipal minimum-wage laws.

More recently, majority-Black and majority-Democratic Jackson, Mississippi, has had a crime problem, so the Republican Mississippi state legislature responded by enacting a law that stripped criminal trials from the jurisdiction of Jackson courts and established a new group of courts, with judges to be appointed by the state’s Republican chief justice. When Democratic Nashville established a civilian review board for its police, the Republican legislature and governor passed a law that banned civilian review boards. The underlying racism in such preemptions is never very far from the surface. The Republican neo-Dixiecrats who dominate Southern legislatures can no longer keep Blacks from voting, but they’ve found a way to keep Blacks, in the cities where they constitute clear majorities, from governing.

And of course, there’s always Texas.

In the past, the state had enacted laws to stop municipalities from creating local ordinances that protect tenants facing eviction and to stop cities and counties from regulating fracking within their boundaries. Last summer, however, the Texas legislature passed and Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law HB 2127, which its sponsors gloatingly called the “Death Star” bill for local governments. The law prohibits municipalities from enacting local ordinances that go beyond any state laws that deal with agriculture, business and commerce, finance, insurance, labor, natural resources, occupations, and property.

The sweeping law negated local statutes like those that Dallas and Austin had enacted to require employers to give water breaks to construction workers in torrid summers. It further forbade cities from enacting any such ordinances that climate change or conscience might require. It’s so broad that it’s not clear just what kind and how many local laws and regulations it would negate.

Knowing that Indiana isn’t alone really doesn’t give me any comfort.