The GOP’s Hurting the Kids to Own the Libs in Tennessee
As the Republican Party loses its grip on national power and goes nuclear with its cultural war, Tennessee has become a test lab for a new kind of crazy.
Nihilistic Tennessee Republicans, committed to advancing the most restrictive anti-abortion laws including a bill that forces the burial or cremation of surgically aborted fetuses, have stopped the state’s vaccination outreach to minors.
As the Delta variant spreads across America, with all 50 states reporting an increase in COVID-19 cases, the Tennessee Department of Health succumbed to immense pressure from Republican state lawmakers to help infect as many young people as possible. Tennessee announced it was halting all of its adolescent vaccine outreach even as the rate of coronavirus infections in the state has tripled in the past three weeks. Not just COVID-19 vaccines, mind you, but for polio, hepatitis, rubella and all vaccines.
In addition to stopping all COVID-19 vaccine events at schools, Tennessee will stop sending postcards and notices reminding teenagers to receive their second shot. The state’s top immunization leader, Dr. Michelle Fiscus, was fired after she sent a memo reiterating state policy that some teenagers can be vaccinated without parental consent. She received death threats and was sent a muzzle.
It seems the death rattle of white supremacy has transformed the GOP and its conservative base into a raging death cult. They are willing to sacrifice their own children as collateral damage in their culture wars while further radicalizing their base against science and vaccines. This represents their desperate attempt to hold on to the fading power of a conservative white Christian minority, whose anxiety makes vaccines, masks, and racial equality into terrifying dragons in need of vanquishing by self-proclaimed knights. These Don Quixotes in expensive suits and cowboy boots spend their time fighting windmills instead of a pandemic, climate change, gun violence and poverty.
The vaccine outreach ban isn’t the only way Republican lawmakers in the former Confederate state have worked to save kids, if by “save kids” you mean use the state as a test lab for the increasingly extreme measures Republicans hope to implement on a national level to ensure their ideological agenda and minority rule. After all, Tennessee was the site of the famous Scopes “Monkey Trial” where John Scopes was initially found guilty and fined for violating the Butler Act that banned the teaching of evolution. It’s only fitting that the state has now banned critical race theory to ensure, according to Governor Bill Lee, that they teach kids “the exceptionalism of our nation and how people can live together and work together to make a greater nation.”
What better way of bringing America together as it’s attempting to repair its awful history of racism than a state—that fought to save the barbaric institution of slavery—pulling funding from teachers who want to educate children about white supremacy and systemic racism? Similar proposals, pushed by right-wing groups and mainstreamed by Fox News, have now been introduced in 16 states.
Tennessee was also one of the battleground states where conservative activists promoted the manufactured anti-sharia threat, which created the template being used now to promote anti-CRT measures across the country. For years, these right-wing forces tried to stop the expansion of a Murfreesboro mosque to test their goal of “proving” that Islam somehow isn’t a religion, and as such deny Muslims protections and freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution. In 2014, the Supreme Court declined to hear the right-wing activists’ case, thereby ending the fiasco. But that didn’t stop Tennessee from joining five other red states in passing copycat “anti-Islamic and anti-terrorism measures” written and promoted by the same hateful organizations.
In order to save the kids, Tennessee is usually at the forefront of extremist anti-abortion bills. Earlier this year, Republican lawmakers introduced one that would give fathers the legal right to stop a woman they’d impregnated from ending that pregnancy. Along with 19 other states, Tennessee is supporting South Carolina’s anti-abortion law that forbids doctors from performing abortions if they can detect a heartbeat in a fetus, which can happen before a women even knows that she’s pregnant. Buoyed by a 6-3 right-wing Supreme Court, more abortion restrictions have been enacted this year than any other year, with Republican state legislatures passing at least 90 restrictive laws in 2021 alone.
Of course, that pro-life sentiment doesn’t extend to gun control, despite the prevalence of mass shootings terrorizing our schools across the country. As of July 1, Tennessee is officially one of 19 states that allows permitless gun carry. What better way of saving children than allowing most adults to carry and conceal a handgun without so much as a permit? This was a top legislative agenda for Gov. Lee during a crippling pandemic and recession. In the past 10 years, Tennessee’s rate of gun deaths has increased 28 percent. The state’s rates of homicides, firearm deaths, drug overdose deaths, and infant mortality rates are higher than the national average, so naturally Lee and Tennessee Republicans signed a Medicaid block grant this year and have tried and failed to repeal Obamacare.
Who needs vaccines and health care when Tennesseans can shoot away coronavirus and heart disease with a Glock 9?
The road to stupid is currently being led by Tennessee Senator Marsha Blackburn, one of the shining intellectuals of the right wing. She keeps stunning us with gems, whether it’s her climate-change denialism, her belief that universal daycare is Soviet propaganda, her ongoing feud with Taylor Swift, her failed Twitter polls, or her vigorous and spirited defense of “Neanderthal thinking.” If only she cared about protecting her constituents as much as she did about defending the honor of our extinct ancestors, then maybe Tennessee would have more than 38 percent of its population vaccinated.
But Blackburn, who is vaccinated, is just another proud soldier in the Trumpian death cult, along with the likes of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. He responded to rising COVID cases in his state by selling “Don’t Fauci my Florida” gear. More than 99 percent of COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. last month were among unvaccinated people, but that didn’t stop the crowd at the recent CPAC conference in Dallas from cheering the news about low vaccination rates. A Newsmax host recently made a case for genocidal Social Darwinism when he said that vaccines are “against nature” and some diseases should wipe people out. He didn’t mention if his family and loved ones were to be included in that sacrifice.
The GOP’s embrace of self-immolation should surprise no one considering their Chosen One is Donald Trump, who won the election thanks to the cultural and racial anxieties of voters concerned with their perceived loss of power. Robert Jones, head of Public Religion Research Institute, told me the cultural fears of conservative white Christians, who make up 68% of the GOP, “reveal the inner fears of a former majority who are losing their sense of ownership of the country.”
Right-wing media is able to manipulate these fears, promote disinformation, and create tangible targets, manufacturing enemies who serve as pinatas for white rage, frustration and pain. In the past it was the caravans of immigrants, earlier this year it was cancel culture, and now it’s CRT and vaccines. All are allegedly instruments of the left supposedly out to trash the Constitution and replace it with godless Marxist Sharia Communism that will force conservatives to pray to Mecca and stop using gender pronouns.
In the Upside Down, violent insurrectionists like Ashli Babbitt are martyrs, murderers like Kyle Rittenhouse are victims, war criminals like Eddie Gallagher are heroes, and selfish, hedonistic vulgarians like Donald Trump are flawed instruments chosen by God to do his will. Vaccines and masks are symbols and objects of tyranny, a means by the left to impose their oppressive agenda by using vaccination efforts to go “door to door” and, according to Rep. Madison Cawthorn, take away conservatives’ guns and bibles.
Ruth Ben-Ghiat, a scholar on authoritarianism who warned early on that Trump would abuse his powers to maintain his rule, told me the GOP has become the “pro-death party” with their embrace of lethal weapons, violent threats against public health officials, and rejection of vaccines. “No matter how many children and Republicans die, they must keep on this course,” she said.
Meanwhile, the majority keeps trying to give Republicans water to douse the flames, attempting to save them from their burning house that they voluntarily set on fire. As they remain trapped behind the collapsing walls and rising smoke, I fear they will instead embrace death with a smile, proud of their martyrdom, deluded in their belief that as they met their end they were at the very least able to own the libs.