Right-wingers: ‘Don’t Tread on Me’
BY RICHARD C. GROSS
“In politics, an organized minority is a political majority.”
Republican conservatives in state legislatures, pushed by far-right ideologues, are taking apart liberal democracy little by little, looting the future for millions of Americans. They’re destroying our freedoms.
Undoubtedly inspired by racist Donald Trump’s denigration of everything that is not Donald Trump, particularly the Other, the bashing of progressive gains intended to pursue equality for all manifests itself in suppressing voting rights, restricting abortions, curbing teaching about race and identity, banning books in schools and libraries and picking on one of the most vulnerable in society — LGBTQ youths.
These infringements on legal rights are occurring as Ukrainians, led by courageous, inspirational President Zolodymyr Zelensky, are fighting and dying to keep their country free and liberal against a cruel, destructive Russian attempt to force Ukraine back into what was part of the Soviet empire. Canada’s Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, called Zelensky a “hero of democracy” before the besieged leader addressed the Canadian parliament via Zoom Tuesday.
In a similar meeting with Congress Wednesday, Zelensky, invoking the surprise attacks of Pearl Harbor and 9/11, appealed to the lawmakers, “I call on you to do more. . . . We need you now.” He echoed the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., saying “I have a dream,” meaning a no-fly zone should be imposed over Ukraine.
“To be the leader of the world means to be a leader of peace,” he said in English of the United States.
President Joe Biden responded to the emotional plea immediately afterward that he was sending an additional $800 million in military aid, a supplement to the $1.2 billion recently approved.
This bravery, this determination, this willingness to die for one’s country for democracy denigrated by extremists like Tucker Carlson but wholeheartedly endorsed by democratic countries globally, should shake the foundation of the selfish, ruinous, crippling, bankrupt ”America First” policy embraced by Trump and his Republican disciples.
Only the real threat of a nuclear war, potentially started by a humiliated Russian President Vladimir Putin in defeat, prevents Ukraine’s allies from doing more, including establishing a no-fly zone and giving older MiG-29 Soviet fighters to the Ukrainians.
You don’t need missiles, tanks and infantry to threaten democracy.
It has been very much alive here at home, where Republican-dominated state legislatures have been passing bills signed by GOP governors to impose restrictive laws, igniting unprovoked culture wars aimed at attracting political support.
They can’t seem to get votes by promoting policies acceptable to a majority. So, bullying everyone to practice what they preach in order to satisfy the demands of their base, including the evangelicals, appears to be the strategy.
Much of the right-wing negativity is made-up nonsense, from banning discussions of critical race theory that’s not even taught in the public schools to banning books that will be read eagerly just because they’re banned. A smaller segment of society than the majority censoring what they believe is harmful, especially to our youth. Who do they think they are?
And we thought we live in a free country. What are we doing to ourselves?
And then there’s the ridiculous among those who see themselves as the arbiters of society. There’s no law against the absurd.
Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., has concocted an 11-point proposal to “Rescue America” by having all Americans, regardless of earning abilities, “to pay some income tax to have skin in the game, even if a small amount,” according to the Tax Policy Center, a joint venture of the Urban Institute and Brookings Institution.
His rescue plan could boost federal income taxes by more than $100 billion this year. More than 80 percent of it would be paid by households earning up to $54,000 and 97 percent would come from those making less than $100,000 a year, the center said in its TaxVox blog. Every household would be obliged to pay at least $100 a year for singles and $200 for couples filing jointly, regardless of income, it said.
Further, forget about the refundable portion of the Child Tax Credit and the Earned Income Tax Credit, the center said.
And this is intended to be a Republican vote-getter? It follows a Trump administration $1.5 trillion tax cut for the wealthy. The idea behind this seems to be the poor and what’s left of the middle class is to make up for those tax losses.
Speaking of Florida, a hotbed of conservative Republican legislation that had the highest number of COVID-19 deaths at 153 per 100,000 residents, according to CDC figures, its legislature recently passed a bill forbidding teaching K-3 schoolchildren anything about sexual orientation or gender identity. “Age-appropriate” lessons could be taught to older kids.
During debate on the bill, GOP Sen. Dennis Baxley, one of its sponsors, said an intention of the legislation was to slow down the number of children who were coming out as gay, lesbian, bi or trans, The Washington Post reported.
“All of a sudden, overnight, they’re a celebrity when they felt like they were a nobody,” the paper quoted Baxley. “I know parents are very concerned about the departure from the core belief systems and values.”
Whose “core belief systems and values?” His? Other right-wingers, who’d like to be living in the ‘50s? That’s when being the Other was mocked, challenged, despised and bullied. Now we have a former presidential candidate and current transportation secretary, Pete Buttigieg, who not only is outwardly gay but is married to another man. That’s freedom.
We as a people, as a country, have come so far. Let’s not retreat into oppression or allow others to do so.
Democrats complained Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill, dubbed as such by them and LBGTQ activists, would curtail discussions and prevent students from asking questions about the topic. Florida is far from alone in the right-wing campaign to blot out sex-related discussions.
“Currently, 15 such bills are under consideration in nine states,” PEN America reported last month. “This is in addition to the wave of book bans sweeping through schools and public libraries, bans that overwhelmingly target materials dealing with gender and sexuality or that center LGBTQ+ characters. Many other bills currently under consideration target LGBTQ+ students for special scrutiny in other ways.”
Will Larkins, a junior at Winter Park High School in central Florida, who is gay, nonbinary and co-founder of his school’s Queer Student Union, told the Post’s Tim Craig after the Senate vote:
“Growing up, I wasn’t exposed to queer people and I hated myself by fourth grade. . . . Knowing that I’m different and not knowing why, and not having an explanation was awful for me. And knowing that we’re solidifying that into law is so disturbing.”
Then he opened up further in an opinion piece he wrote that appeared in The New York Times Saturday:
“From an early age I knew I was different. I wasn’t interested in the things other boys my age did, and I really didn’t feel comfortable in the clothes my parents bought me. The struggle for acceptance was not just internal, it also felt like my classmates didn’t know what to make of me. By fourth grade I was convinced that I was broken.”
The bright side of our humanity that pulls at our heartstrings as well as knowing in our heads what’s right and wrong insists that we come together to help the outnumbered and those numbed by circumstances beyond their control, whether in a war to preserve our ideals or individuals who need assistance with themselves.
We have the ability to think, not merely to react. It’s what it means to be human.
Richard C. Gross, a correspondent, bureau chief and foreign editor of United Press International, retired as the opinion page editor of The Baltimore Sun.