Tag Archives: Ron DeSantis

Briggs Gets It. Banks Doesn’t

James Briggs is currently an opinion columnist for the Indianapolis Star. (I say “currently” because for the past several years, the Star has employed one columnist at a time to opine about the news–usually national– arguably to distract readers from recognizing the extent to which the newspaper doesn’t cover state or local government. But I digress.)

I have tended to agree with Briggs’ take on the various matters he’s covered, and a recent column was no exception.The target was Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, and his retaliation against Disney for having the temerity to oppose his “Don’t say Gay” bill. Briggs wonders whether Florida’s break between business and the GOP will spread to other Red states.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ war on Disney feels like a potential breaking point for Republicans and big business.

The question is whether the rift will extend beyond certain regions (such as the Southeast) and personality-driven politics (DeSantis boosts his national profile by taking on that lib, Mickey Mouse) to alter the governing philosophy of Republicans in red states across the country.

As Briggs notes, the traditional alliance between the GOP and big business has become strained, as a number of corporations have responded to public opinion by taking political positions that have angered Republican culture warriors. He mentions Dick’s Sporting Goods, which led large retailers to stop selling semiautomatic rifles and ammunition in 2018, and decisions by Coca-Cola and Delta to oppose Georgia Republicans’ voting legislation last year.

The most famous Indiana example of government clashing with big business, of course, was the 2015 response of Hoosier business to the effort by then-Gov. Mike Pence and the Republican-controlled Indiana General Assembly to pass an altered version of the Religious Freedom and Restoration Act–a version that would have facilitated anti-LGBTQ discrimination. Business won that conflict.

This year in Florida, however, DeSantis’ obedient state legislature  passed a bill to eliminate a special district that enables Disney World to operate as its own municipality in the state. The effective date of the measure was delayed until after the midterm elections, undoubtedly because–if it goes into effect– it will raise taxes and shift enormous debt from Disney to Florida taxpayers. (Culture wars come at a cost…)

Some Indiana Republicans are agitating for that shift as well, most notably U.S. Rep. Jim Banks, who has called out Eli Lilly & Co. and bragged about being blacklisted by the Indianapolis drugmaker’s political action committee over objecting to Joe Biden’s election certification last year. Banks also is among 17 Republican members of Congress who wrote to Disney expressing opposition to extending copyright protection for Mickey Mouse beyond 2024.

The sentiment is simmering throughout Indiana. Rank-and-file Republicans in the Indiana General Assembly have been putting the state’s top companies on their heels in recent years, including the most recent session when they introduced legislation that would have all but banned employer vaccine mandates.

I find this 180 degree shift in Republican philosophy gobsmacking. The GOP used to be overly deferential, if anything, to corporate America’s freedom to manage its own business affairs.

Briggs is confident that Indiana will not follow DeSantis’ authoritarian lead. His reasoning is persuasive, but depressing. Essentially, he says Florida remains a state where people want to live and do business. It’s the eighth-fastest-growing state, and it has three of the 10 hottest housing markets. It’s “attracting the population and talent to drive a thriving business climate.”

Indiana is a tougher sell. Eli Lilly CEO David Ricks recently laid that out in brutal terms during a speech to the Economic Club of Indiana.

“Our education attainment in the state is not good,” Ricks said, as reported by WISH-TV. “The ability to reskill the workforce, I think, could improve. Health, life and inclusion, overall, I think, conditions rank poorly nationally in our state. And also workforce preparedness, also related to reskilling, is a liability for us.”

Ricks might have elaborated on that thesis, pointing out that Indiana’s infrastructure and overall quality of life don’t send welcoming messages to potential residents or businesses. “We’re cheap” isn’t exactly an enthusiastic endorsement. Add to our other visible deficits the voices of far too many of our elected officials; Banks isn’t the only embarrassment working overtime to appeal to the under-educated and overwrought GOP base.

Indiana’s Republicans have long since abandoned the statesmanship of Dick Lugar and Bill Hudnut. Instead, they are emulating the bigoted idiocies of Margery Taylor Green, Paul Gosar and their ilk.

As Briggs points out, Indiana needs big, high-paying employers–and those employers need workers who are unlikely to agree with Jim Banks, et al, on social issues. We aren’t Florida, “where oceans and warm weather in January have a way of making you forget about politics.”

These days, businesses will think twice about Florida–ocean or not–let alone Indiana.

 

Celebrating Ignorance

I will never understand political “leaders” who actively celebrate ignorance–or those who vote for them.

The lack of  basic civic literacy–which I’ve ranted about for years–is bad enough. The utter cluelessness of people who piously declaim their reverence for life while making it easier for the violent and mentally-ill to acquire and carry firearms is appalling. But nothing–nothing–in my adult lifetime has been as incredible and ignorant as the anti-COVID vaccine “movement.”

A recent essay in the Washington Post echoed my reaction. The essay wasn’t written by a hated “librul,” but by Michael Gerson, an Evangelical Christian refugee from the GOP who served in the administration of George W. Bush. As he said in his introduction

When the future judges our political present, it will stand in appalled, slack-jawed amazement at the willingness of GOP leaders to endanger the lives of their constituents — not just the interests of their constituents, but their lungs and beating hearts — in pursuit of personal power and ideological fantasies.

That observation–the recognition that the GOP officials preaching anti-vaccination nonsense are actually complicit in killing their own partisans–is what I find so incomprehensible. I can’t decide if these people are truly as ignorant as they sound, or if they are playing to what increasingly seems to be a death-wish of their rabid base.

Gerson divides them into three categories.

The first, practiced most vigorously by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, uses an ongoing pandemic as a stage for the display of ideological zeal. In this view, the covid-19 crisis — rather than being a story of remarkable but flawed scientists and public health experts deploying the best of science against a vicious microbe — has been an opportunity for the left to impose “authoritarian, arbitrary and seemingly never-ending mandates and restrictions.” Never mind that U.S. public health officials are not part of the left, and are authentically confused about the equation of their advice with ideology.

As Gerson notes, populists like DeSantis are demonstrating that “their MAGA commitments outweigh all common sense, public responsibility and basic humanity.”

The second category is populated by conspiracy theorists (and major twits) like  Rand Paul. These jackasses are playing “crackpot roulette.” They

 depict the most visible representatives of the United States’ covid response as scheming, deceptive deep-state operatives. Any change in emphasis or strategy by scientists — an essential commitment of the scientific method — is viewed as rich opposition research.

Paul talks of jailing Anthony S. Fauci in the midst of our public health crisis on the basis of imaginary claims. But the fundraising appeals to MAGA loyalists that immediately follow such attacks by Paul and others are real. And for a subset of true believers, Paul’s acts of dehumanization provide cover and permission for threats of violence against scientists and their families.

Senator Ron Johnson exemplifies Gerson’s third category of Republican ignorance peddlers. Gerson dubs this category “the practice of strategic ignorance” and he notes that in the case of Johnson —” one of America’s most reliable source of unreliable information” — such ignorance might not be feigned.

He might well believe that gargling with mouthwash call kill the coronavirus, and that thousands of people are regularly dying from vaccine side effects, and that a pandemic that has taken more than 800,000 lives in the United States is “overhyped.”…

Johnson is not only making dangerous statements about the coronavirus. He is using his willingness to cite stupid things as the evidence of his independence from the rule of professionals and experts. He is defining democracy, in the words of Tom Nichols, author of “The Death of Expertise: The Campaign Against Established Knowledge and Why It Matters,” as “unearned respect for unfounded opinions.” Johnson is practicing strategic ignorance.

As Gerson points out, all of these behaviors encourage the development of alternative realities, and make the pursuit of a common good difficult if not impossible. But the damage goes well beyond that–to celebrate ignorance during a pandemic is an invitation to die.

If a significant group of Americans regard the musing of a politician such as Johnson as equal in value to Fauci’s lifelong accumulation of expertise, the basis for rational action is lost. And the result is needless death.

Gerson is an example of the sane Republicans who used to dominate the GOP, partisans whose policy positions were based upon drawing different conclusions from a reality shared with Democrats and Independents, not upon invented “facts,” conspiracies, or a spineless need to assure the party’s increasingly lunatic base that–as Isaac Asimov would have put it–their ignorance is just as good as the hard-won knowledge of those stuck-up elitists.

A country where a significant percentage of people revel in, pander to and/or actively celebrate ignorance is in big trouble–even without a pandemic.

 

Corrupting The University

In order to take control of a country, zealots have to undermine not just people who may have been educated to be independent thinkers, but the very idea and legitimacy of a liberal education. Those intent upon spreading belief in “the Big Lie,” for instance, must attack the institutions committed to truth-seeking and a commitment to verifiable evidence.

So we see the escalating attacks on knowledge, on science , on expertise. We see a co-ordinated effort to replace the very concept of education with the far less threatening goal  of job training.

And we see unremitting attacks on the nation’s universities.

I spent twenty-one years as a faculty member at a public university, and I would be the last person to claim that all is well in academia. There are plenty of legitimate criticisms that can–indeed, should–be leveled: bloated administrations, too-cozy relationships with moneyed donors, a knee-jerk tendency to “cancel” proponents of currently unpopular positions, and a depressing willingness to equate academic success with job placement statistics.

That said, the degree to which the GOP is waging war on education–at both the public school and college levels–  seems unprecedented.

I’ve previously posted about former Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s efforts to destroy the University of Wisconsin–including his attempt to change the century-old mission of the University system by removing language about the “search for truth” and “improving the human condition” and replacing those phrases with “meeting the state’s workforce needs.”

At least Walker understood the need to be sneaky.  Florida Governor Ron DeSantis–a poster boy for today’s GOP–hasn’t bothered to hide his animus for science, truth and higher education. The results have been ugly.

A special panel created by the faculty at the University of Florida has completed a review of the academic environment there, and what it has to say is not flattering.  As The Miami Herald reports, the report shows that academics in Florida live in a literal state of fear; one where they don’t dare tell the truth out of fear of reprisals from Gov. Ron DeSantis. That’s particularly true when it comes to revealing the facts about COVID-19.

The report makes it clear that researchers felt a great deal of outside pressure in preparing research information for publication. That sometimes meant that information was delayed, or not published at all. In some cases, scientists were told not to reveal their affiliation with the university when releasing information, or to take the University of Florida name off presentations.

All because they were not allowed to do anything that could be viewed as criticizing DeSantis, or policies related to COVID-19. Faculty in the university’s Health Department were warned that funding might be “in jeopardy if they did not adopt the state’s stance on pandemic regulations in opinion articles.”

DeSantis’ attacks went well beyond his approach to COVID.

Course descriptions, websites, and other materials concerning the study of race and privilege had to be hidden, altered, or removed. The persecution in this area became so ridiculous that instructors were told:

“The terms ‘critical’ and ‘race’ could not appear together in the same sentence or document.”

Much of this bullying has occurred “under the radar,” but a few months ago, national media reported that the University of Florida was prohibiting three professors from testifying as experts in a lawsuit challenging a new law restricting voting rights. The prohibition was justified by the the University on the grounds that “it goes against the school’s interest by conflicting with the administration of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.”

There was a sufficient outcry that the University reversed that decision, but it is blindingly obvious that less well-publicized efforts to “get along” with the Governor remain in place.

It isn’t only Florida.

At a time when University Presidents are chosen more for their fundraising abilities than for their devotion to scholarship, some are using their authority to simply remove inconvenient scholarship from  their institutions. Here in Indianapolis, the administration of Marian University has simply eliminated its department of political science. 

The school’s administration has failed to offer a rationale for removing political science, a program with as many declared majors as most other liberal arts programs on campus —and which you would think is especially important, given the troubled state of U.S. political life–and especially since the faculty vociferously opposed the decision. The linked report notes that no other major was targeted for elimination.

The dispassionate pursuit of science, evidence and “inconvenient”  knowledge is being targeted by ideologues, autocrats and their facilitators. To the extent that they are successful, this country is in deep, deep trouble.

 

Unprecedented Lunacy

Wow. Just wow. Someone has opened the asylum door….

It’s hard to overstate the lunacy of Trump’s “legal” team defenders. Rudy has been making himself a pathetic figure for several years now, but he isn’t the only bizarre figure who once somehow managed to graduate from law school and pass the bar exam.

Politico reports on Sydney Powell, recently expelled from those designated as official Trump lawyers for being too wacko even for a group that often seems certifiable.

Sidney Powell released the Kraken. And it turns out the mythological sea beast can’t spell, is terrible at geography and keeps mislabeling plaintiffs in court.

A congressional candidate Powell claimed to represent in one lawsuit said that, in fact, he had nothing to do with Powell or her quixotic effort, which she dubbed “the Kraken,” arguing the election was stolen from President Donald Trump. An expert witness cited in another suit named a nonexistent county in Michigan. A Wisconsin lawsuit sought data on alleged irregularities at a voting center in Detroit, which is in Michigan. And a filing in federal district court signed by Powell misspelled “district” twice in the first few lines.

According to Politico, Powell has, “at least twice,” sued on behalf of a plaintiff who had not agreed to be a part of the case.

Judges reportedly have been flummoxed/bemused by the multiple errors committed by Powell, who has continued crusading to overturn the election results even after she was booted from Trump’s legal team.

Powell and another Trump-supporting lawyer, Lin Wood, are causing chaos in Georgia, in advance of the Senate runoffs there. They have been soliciting donations and urging Republicans not to vote for the GOP candidates in those runoffs, because they say those candidates have been insufficiently supportive of Trump.

Powell and Wood allege a vast conspiracy in which states’ electronic voting systems have been manipulated by a company with ties to the late Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez. What has set them apart from Trump’s official legal team, which has offered similarly unsupported claims of fraud, is their willingness to accuse sitting Republican officials of committing crimes to aid Biden’s election.

Pro-Trump crazy hasn’t been limited to lawyers. The Republicans with whom I used to work would be equally appalled by today’s GOP officeholders. Florida Governor DeSantis is a good example of just how detached from competence and reality these people are.

In addition to urging Trump to “fight on,” DeSantis has continued to be one of the President’s staunchest supporters. He has publicly urged Republican-controlled Legislatures in Pennsylvania and Michigan to overturn results in those states. He also has accused Chief Justice John Roberts of undefined “crazy stuff.” (Perhaps, in addition to being a Trump ally, he has taken vocabulary lessons from The Donald.)

DeSantis’ lack of competence has been most damaging, of course, in his refusal to follow medical advice with respect to the pandemic. In a recent speech, he criticized the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for its “ridiculous” studies on the Covid-19 outbreak, which he said were more about “affirming” the positions of “bureaucrats” than science.

I don’t think this guy can spell science. He has steadily resisted imposing state-level restrictions on gatherings or mandating–or even encouraging– mask-wearing, even as Florida has reported more than 1 million cases.

If DeSantis were the only Republican governor inhabiting an alternate reality, you might chalk up his election to the fact that Florida voters include lots of elderly folks with dementia, but there are several others. Just last week, Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt, who has refused to issue a mask mandate, declared a “day of prayer and fasting” for those affected by the pandemic. (I thought God helped those who helped themselves…)

And that, of course, leads me back to my recurring question: who believes these clowns? Who takes them seriously?

Evidently, thousands, perhaps even millions, of people do–they send money to the demented lawyers, vote for the science-and-expertise-rejecting politicians. They post comments to Facebook asserting that an election that was won by over seven million votes was somehow “rigged,” and that failure to acknowledge that “fraud” is to believe “fake news.”

If there’s a psychiatrist reading this blog, can you weigh in and explain the appeal of obvious lunacy? Because I really, truly do not get it.