Driving home from the dog park, I was surprised to hear the (Dixie) Chicks’ terrific song “Wide Open Spaces” on the country oldies station. The group had been banished from country radio since 2003 after saying George W. Bush made them embarrassed to be Texans.
Now that Bush has made Donald Trump’s unofficial Enemies List, the Chicks are evidently forgiven after 18 years. Meanwhile, most of my friends in Texas are embarrassed, but not because of Dubya — the make-believe rancher who’s given up brush-clearing to paint portraits of lap dogs and his own feet.
And more power to him, as the only Republican presidential candidate since 1988 to win an actual national majority. That was in 2004, with Bush still popular due to his ultimately disastrous invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. (I was myself removed from a college teaching job after a series of columns arguing that the Bush administration’s case for attacking Saddam Hussein was transparently fraudulent.)
But I digress. Never mind that Bush was the worst president in living memory, dragging the country into futile wars on false premises and presiding over the 2008 banking crisis. Before the roof fell in, he did achieve an actual majority.
And a big part of what’s going on in the United States today is that no Republican candidate — very much including Trump — has much chance of winning a national majority in the foreseeable future. This appears to have made an awful lot of Americans — particularly undereducated white ones, to be perfectly blunt — scared half to death.
Seemingly fearful of being relegated to second-class status, many “Real Americans,” as they’re styled on Fox News, appear eager to embrace minority rule. So long as they’re the ones wielding power, that is.
Tucker Carlson tells them that Democrats are scheming to “replace” them with aggrieved and undeserving voters of different races. Because they’re gullible and prone to apocalyptic thinking — “the rapture” was all the rage in evangelical circles not long ago — one result has been a succession of what can only be described as “moral panics” over largely imaginary threats such as “Sharia law,” “cancel culture” and “Critical Race Theory.” Since 2010, for example, several states have found it necessary to ban Islamic religious courts from exercising legal authority.
Those states are Alabama, Arizona, Kansas, Louisiana, North Carolina, South Dakota and Tennessee. Notice anything else about them?
Even the stuffiest Republican thinkers can get all worked up over the follies of campus leftists, of which there’s never any shortage. The Washington Post’s George Will wrote a stern column recently about a fracas involving a professor of management at UCLA, who unwisely engaged a student who worried that having to take a final exam would injure “the mental and physical health of our Black classmates” traumatized by George Floyd’s murder.
The professor replied with mild sarcasm, asking how he was supposed to identify Black students in an online course. Also, what about multiracial students, of which UCLA has many? For this, the poor dope got suspended from teaching, banned from campus and denounced by spineless administrators. (He’s been reinstated and has filed a lawsuit.)
Well, he should have known better. Although I’m prone to bickering and sarcasm myself, I’m also familiar with humorless campus leftists. My wife and I were once admonished by professorial guests for owning a Merle Haggard album. We thought “Okie from Muskogee” was funny; they thought it a fascist outrage. (Haggard himself was surprised so few got the joke.)
And speaking of “cancel culture,” public school teachers and administrators nationwide are being harassed and run out of their jobs for the largely imaginary crime of teaching “Critical Race Theory.”
In Grapevine, Texas, a Black high school principal got fired for the sin of writing a letter to colleagues expressing the anodyne view that “education is the key to stomping out ignorance, hate and systemic racism.” (Also for having posted a Facebook photo, 10 years ago, of himself kissing his white wife.) In Queen Anne’s County, Maryland, a highly successful Black school superintendent was hounded from the district for expressing polite concerns about racial injustice.
Activists calling themselves “conservative” are besieging school boards across the country, basically arguing that history lessons about slavery and Jim Crow teach white children to be ashamed of their race and country. At Boise State University, they have proposed eliminating whole academic departments — Global Studies, Sociology and History — to combat left-wing dogma.
In other news, Trumpist Republicans are working systematically to rig the electoral system to bring their champion back to power regardless of voters’ wishes. Never mind that Trump lost the popular vote to Joe Biden by more than 7 million, and lost the Electoral College 306 to 232. With GOP state legislators counting the votes, an identical outcome in 2024 would make Trump a big, big winner.
At least that’s the plan.
Arkansas Times columnist Gene Lyons is a National Magazine Award winner and co-author of “The Hunting of the President” (St. Martin’s Press, 2000). You can email Lyons at firstname.lastname@example.org.