Voter Beat was created in 2017 as I plunged into disbelief and outrage at the election of Donald Trump. Once he was turned out of office (oh, what a relief that was) spirits, my own and those of others, rose. The joy was short-lived, however. It lasted only until we all realized what a petri dish the Republican Party had become for the incubation of immorality and disdain for our once-stable democracy.
As many have said, Trump was the symptom, not the cause of our dysfunction, but his bizarre descent down the golden escalator ushered in a hostile take-over of a once viable political party. It’s dead now.
Today some call it a cult, but that understates the case. Cults are characterized by uncritical devotion to a singular leader who proclaims--from on high, so to speak—the beliefs and expected action of the hapless devotees. Cults can cause people to behave in ways that are clearly not in their own self interest. (Remember Jonestown*?)
The Republican party, on the other hand, is not only hostage; it’s self-motivated perpetrator. It goes beyond what Trump, the group’s intellectually challenged “leader,” can envision. In several states, the party has branched out from the Trumpish chaos they so enjoyed at school board meetings to attempts to control in gritty detail some of what happens in the classroom. Their concerns have gone from mask mandates to curriculum decisions, the details of which are generally left to school administrators and classroom teachers.
Florida appears to be leading the pack in this adventure, although I’m not sure they really are. This infamous home of Disney World gets the most attention, I think, because of some of its politicians’ bizarre paranoia regarding LGBTQ and sexual issues in general. At first blush, one element of the Florida legislation seems to be such a no-brainer that I can’t help but wonder why it’s necessary in the first place. It reads as follows:
“Classroom instruction by school personnel or third parties on sexual orientation or gender identity may not occur in kindergarten through grade 3 or in a manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards.”
That makes sense, you might say, but does it?
First it says that such instruction “may not occur.” But in the same sentence we have “or in a manner that is not age appropriate or developmentally appropriate.” Which is it? What’s the or doing in there? Is such instruction completely prohibited? Or is it only prohibited if it is not age or developmentally appropriate?
Truly, it looks like a solution in search of a problem. How many cases of inappropriate instruction in K-3 grades has Florida experienced? And have they ever considered developing what they would consider an “appropriate” curriculum for the early grades? (See National Sex Education Standards, pp. 18-19, for instance.)
Actually, the infamous sentence quoted above comprises only five lines in the 163-line bill, much of which is concerned with mandating that school personnel communicate with parents regarding their children’s “mental, emotional, or physical health or well-being.” At first blush, that makes sense, but as usual, the devil’s in the details. There are enough “prohibits” in this bill to make your head spin. Just a couple of examples: “prohibiting the procedures from prohibiting a parent from accessing certain records … prohibiting school district personnel from discouraging or prohibiting parental notification … in critical decisions …”** Who wrote this stuff?
Nevertheless, the question arises: Why are the Republicans, in Florida and elsewhere, so exercised about sex and gender and instruction thereof? Robert Reich—professor, author, lawyer, political commentator and explainer of the American economy—has a theory.
“First, it’s part of their culture war, and culture wars sell with voters …,” he writes. “Also by focusing on sex, Republicans can court both the evangelical right and the rightwing extreme QAnon vote … Most importantly, a culture war over sex allows Republicans to sound faux populist without having to talk about the real sources of their jet-fueled populist anger—corporate-induced inflation…soaring CEO pay, billionaires who pay a lower tax rate than the working class, and the flow of big money into the political campaigns of lawmakers who oblige by lowering taxes on the wealthy and big corporations and doling out corporate welfare.”***
Well, there you have it: a reason for the “far-right” craziness. More later.
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Thoughts for Our Time
“Conservatism discards Prescription, shrinks from Principle, disavows Progress; having rejected all respect for antiquity, it offers no redress for the present, and makes no preparation for the future.”