One of the most striking things about the rolling dumpster fire that is the Trump daily Coronavirus briefing is the spectacle of supposedly mature, sober adults standing before the podium and heaping generous praise upon Dear Leader before offering whatever new information they were ostensibly there to disseminate.
Unfortunately, this has now apparently become part of the Republican mode of governance. In a time of crisis, it's not enough to simply try to protect the public, apparently Republicans' first duty is to protect the Republican brand, at least as it is known in its current Trumpist incarnation.
This was manifest yesterday when Jacksonville's partisan Republican mayor, Lenny Curry, issued "a statement" following Trumpist Republican governor Ron DeSantis's announcement of his plan for the first steps in relieving restrictions imposed to slow the Coronavirus' chain of transmission. An announcement, I should add, that was made at a press availability wherein the Trumpist Republican governor spent the first twenty minutes engaged in the by now familiar Trumpist refrain of castigating "the media."
Curry's full statement is available here.
The first paragraph of the 300-word statement reads:
"As part of a statewide group of advisors to Governor DeSantis, I have watched him lead Florida through this unprecedented COVID-19 crisis. His leadership has protected our people and minimized the tragic outcomes in other large states. We are all saddened for the families of those we have lost, and we continue to care [sic] those who suffer with this illness. In response to this virus, Governor DeSantis acted and prevented those numbers from being much worse."
This is fully one fourth of his "response" to the governor's announcement to the citizens of Jacksonville. What does the mayor believe the citizens most need to know regarding the governor's plan? Well, apparently what the residents of Duval County most need to know is that Lenny Curry thinks the governor is doing a super job!
Seemingly aware that this might be a little off-putting, he acknowledges the deaths of over 1200 Floridians and 20 residents of Duval County, and then uses this to prop up more praise of the governor.
I can't let the missing "for" in the sentence regarding the victims go unremarked. One might hope that in a time of crisis, official communications are carefully scrutinized to ensure their messages are clear and they show rigorous, careful attention to their content. Apparently we're just winging it.
DeSantis doesn't like the treatment he's received in the press. Tough. He's the governor, and he's not very good at it. He should expect harsh criticism and frankly, he deserves it. But it's damaging the Republican brand in a key swing state for Dear Leader. So it's not enough to simply "never speak ill of another Republican," now, in this Trump era, we must sing their praises to the masses and the heavens, regardless of any basis in reality or delusion.
In truth, DeSantis has slowly, manifestly reluctantly and clumsily followed the recommendations of public health experts, and that has saved lives and flattened the curve. It is the minimum standard in the performance of his duty, it is the absolute least he could be expected to do. He hasn't "led," he's been prodded, pushed, urged and shoved by expert opinion and his fear of bad press to do the very least he could be expected to do.
But in Trump's Republican Party, apparently this is what passes for extraordinary leadership. And Lenny Curry, like Ron DeSantis, is a paid-in-full member of the Trumpist Republican Party, where it's all about puffing up poor performance and protecting the brand.
It's a product of living in a political monoculture, and we shouldn't put up with it.
As an old blogging friend would say, "Deciding not to decide is a decision."
And all decisions have consequences.
This morning, a Facebook friend announced that he'd had enough from "both the left and the right," and he was going to leave Facebook (again). Which is fine, much of what goes on in "social media" is anti-social behavior and moderating our consumption is in the best interest of our mental health.
But the telling phrase in his announcement was not that he'd had enough, but the reference to "both the left and the right."
This is a place that is familiar to me, because I used to center my political identity in "the center," and despaired of the actions of "both parties." I was not "partisan." There were people I liked who held views that were partisan, and I didn't want to get into discussions with them. It was exhausting, and you could never change anyone's mind it seemed.
But here's the thing, when you despair of partisanship and choose not to engage in the process (at any level), you're giving power to the partisans, which leads to more partisanship!
For better or worse, we have an election system that is essentially a zero-sum game. Now, the existence of third party candidates in presidential elections is a wild card that doesn't solve the partisanship problem, in most ways it makes it worse. The third party is usually a spoiler for the losing party and it just creates more resentment and cynicism.
Because we have zero-sum elections, it leads to zero-sum governance. It's one thing to have "divided government," where different parties hold power in different branches. It's another thing to have dysfunctional government, because holding office isn't to govern, but to secure advantages for the next election!
I live in a red area of Florida. There's a Democrat majority Congressional district nearby, but it was created by a Republican legislature to ensure that most of the wealthy parts of the region were represented by Republicans. Everywhere I look, at every level of government as it relates to me, there's a Republican in office. And it's not like they're doing such a great job! We have the highest murder rate in all of Florida. In Jacksonville, there are scandals after scandals in city government.
And that's because of one-party rule. The people in office don't fear accountability, and they're infected with zero-sum thinking. Everything is a contest that they must win. Cooperation and compromise are anathema to them, because it makes them appear weak. To who? To the most partisan members of their party!
The "extremes" of both the left and the right can hold power outsize of their numbers because they are the most animated, energized and often organized members.
And because we're a one-party majority region, a political monoculture, big donors have outsized influence on who gets to run for office. So office holders must appease both the most partisan members of their party, and their largest donors. Whatever goals that compelled them to seek office in the first place must find a way to thread the needle between these two, often competing, interests. And who wants to square that circle? So the people who run, in the dominant party anyway, are the people who are seeking office for its own sake, happy to accommodate whoever will most improve their chances of winning or remaining in office.
And this is because far too many of us sit on our asses and simply lament "both sides."
We're content to be passive and just complain. Because it is inconvenient to get involved. It takes time, it often takes money, and it often involves doing things that may be outside your comfort zone. It's much easier to either be a do-nothing "centrist," or worse, an extreme partisan who does nothing other than befoul social media with partisan bullshit.
Right now, all over the world, civilization is encountering multiple instabilities, any one of which can topple it, and likely will.
If we are to have any hope of addressing these, it seems to me that it has to be through government. As a "centrist" one side or the other probably represents more of your values. You should pick one and get involved. If you're ambivalent, choose the one that isn't dominant in your region. Political monocultures are bad no matter which party holds power. There is no accountability without meaningful opposition.
In 2016, the absurdity of electing a failed game show host as President compelled me to get involved, and I became a Democrat. I'd been a registered independent my whole life. I patted myself on the back at election time where, in my solidly red district, I voted against every Republican, just to let them know that there was at least one person who didn't necessarily agree with them having all the power. It was feckless. Meaningless.
So now I'm much more engaged. I'm an office-holder myself in a non-partisan election (your party affiliation does not appear on the ballot - but since no one ran against me, my name never appeared on the ballot, I just got the job). I volunteer. I've stuffed envelopes (actually clear plastic bags (horrors!) to hang on doorknobs), I've canvassed, I've held a fund-raiser, I've been a donor. I'm in the fight.
You should be too.