Freedom News

Notes from the US

Freedom’s long-running US correspondent Louis Further does his monthly roundup of some of the lesser-known stories that have emerged over the last few weeks.
‘Notes from the US’ focuses on education this month – for two reasons.
Firstly, educators, families and theorists have long known that a broad, deep and unbiased understanding of the world, particularly equality, justice and respect for our planet and those who live here play a crucial role in confronting some of the crises which the world now faces.
Secondly because the right in the US has identified schools – along with the legal and prison systems, local government and religion – as key areas where their malice and distortions, oppression and supremacist rot can advance their élitist and destructive agendas.
One of the most vital aims of education is to encourage learners to know how to change their minds; how to refashion their opinions according to new – and truer – information. Lying Republicans are trying to rewrite (election) history as the midterms approach in ways which learners can detect, and act on. Some trumpy candidates are pretending that they never claimed that the 2020 presidential election was ‘stolen’. The better equipped young adults are to spot and reject nonsense from the élite the healthier society will be.
In particular this month we look at the pernicious attempts originating in one small, otherwise seemingly insignificant such source of misinformation and negativity – potentially on entire educational communities across the United States.
Hillsdale College is a small Christian school in southern Michigan. Founded in 1844, it has 1,500-students and brands itself a ‘citadel of conservatism.’ Its campus is littered with statues of emblematic destroyers like Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher.
If those are not enough to ring warning bells then take note of Hillsdale president Larry Arnn’s complaint in 2013 to a committee of the Michigan legislature about a visit by state officials to Hillsdale to assess whether the student body included enough… “dark ones” (Arnn’s words).
Notorious Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas once alluded to Reagan and colonist John Winthrop when he called Hillsdale a ‘shining city on a hill’. Thomas’s wife, of course, has recently been active in pushing the Big Lie that the 2020 election was stolen, apparently continuing to maintain this even when ‘giving evidence’ to the Congressional Committee on January 6. Indeed, in 2009 she was employed by Hillsdale to help the college launch a Washington campus on Capitol Hill.
Hillsdale is at the centre of many networks of far right activists in education. But it is much more.
Its influence extends to any school, college, parents and some teachers organisations willing to be brainwashed into adopting its values – of overt ‘Christian Nationalism’. Its views of (American) history are particularly distorted; they proffer an all-white pride in the 250 years of American exceptionalism.
Hillsdale College and its adherents also react negatively to broadly positive developments in educational theory and practice over the last couple of generations. So-called ‘student-centred learning’, which aims to put the pupil first and help them to understand the world in a more tolerant and transparent way, is opposed by the Hillsdale movement. Just as it opposes any attempts by teachers to address inequality. The College has held and promoted lectures describing the January 6 insurrection as a hoax and Vladimir Putin as a ‘hero to populist conservatives around the world.’
Earlier this year the governor of Tennessee, Bill Lee, used his State of the State address to float the possibility of what may be the most ambitious Hillsdale-inspired plan to date. He suggested building up to 50 new charter schools. These are élitist, fee-paying institutions which also draw on public funding. In a proposed partnership with Hillsdale these backward-looking and broadly anti-student schools would use Hilldsale’s ‘1776 Curriculum’ (a Trump idea to squash the award-winning ‘1619 Project‘ to push what Lee calls ‘informed patriotism’ and launch a higher education ‘civics institute’ to ‘combat anti-American thought.’ The truths of history would become irrelevant.
The same goes for science: last year Hillsdale launched a new project in Washington DC – the Academy of Science and Freedom. Its aim was to advance the lies and disinformation of such COVID-19 sceptics as radiologist Scott Atlas, who did so much harm as Trump’s pandemic adviser for a while. Arnn recently announced that the far right governor of South Dakota, Kristi Noem, wants to build ‘an entire campus’ for Hillsdale in that state.
Many backward steps are being taken which may have nothing to do with the specific reach of Hillsdale; yet are clearly inspired by its grip on the far right in adversely distorting educational practice and theory. Earlier this month, for instance, the University of Idaho warned its employees not to discuss contraception with students or to offer advice or counselling on reproductive health. If they do, they could be sacked and/or charged with a felony. In Idaho nearly all abortions are now illegal.
Some states are enforcing ignorance and intolerance on pupils without any apparent help. The Republican lieutenant governor of North Carolina, Mark Robinson, claims that God intended men to run the world. He calls homosexuality and the transgender experience “filth”. He has suggested anyone who thinks that the law in the US should not be controlled by a purely Christian outlook should leave the country. In support of his views, he has it that neither science nor history should be taught to anyone until they get to sixth grade (age 11 years) and that… “We surely don’t need to be talking about equity and social justice.” Robinson plans to run for governor in 2024 and is seen as one of the proverbial ‘rising stars’ in the Republican party, with widespread support.
In reality the Republican machine is augmenting its campaign to keep those in the school, college and university systems as unaware as possible of issues around equity, gender, race and – eventually – around many more issues like the climate collapse, good public health, corruption and how power is exercised.
At times it sees as though this onslaught is winning. Those like Summer Boismier, a doctoral student at the University of Oklahoma who’s been teaching for nearly a decade in Norman, Oklahoma, are being systematically silenced: Boismier made her students aware of the Brooklyn Public Library’s Books Unbanned site by giving them a link there via a QR code. This ought to have helped the students refine and/or acquire their skills of critical thinking and even open up new horizons by seeing how multiple views of an issue are possible and how these can be understood and evaluated. What actually happened? Boismier was told that she must attend a disciplinary hearing and was almost immediately placed on paid administrative leave.
It is also to be remembered that these steps backward are being aggressively planned and taken at a time when states such as California and Florida are facing significant shortages of teachers with tens of thousands of qualified professionals leaving the profession – often because of ridiculous legislation as well as poor conditions and pay.
Last month the Democratic National Committee rejected a proposal to disallow contributions and donations of ‘dark money’, anonymous and sometimes allegedly questionable or improper sources. At the same time the Democratic party in the Senate showed its true colours by caving in to the Democratic Senator from West Virginia, Joe Manchin, who has significant holdings and financial interests in the businesses of fossil fuel destruction – including the proposed Mountain Valley gas pipeline fracking project in that state. Environmentalists point out that procedures in the way in which the federal government grants permits for oil and gas projects would weaken environmental laws, limit legal challenges to oil and gas projects and make greater the danger and likelihood that new pipelines will be built. All of this is at a time when devastating weather events are adversely affecting tens of millions in the United States. The severity and frequency of many of these hurricanes, floods and wildfires are widely accepted to be exacerbated by the climate catastrophe.
Don Bolduc (actually an adult) is a retired army brigadier general. He denies that Trump lost the 2020 election: in fact most cases of fraud (like this one) are committed by his own party. He wholeheartedly embraces Trump’s brand of fascism and says that he ‘knows’ that vaccines developed for Covid-19 contain microchips. Such positions are so absurd that the Democratic party made huge monetary contributions to his campaign over this last summer. Their plan was to get a candidate with such evidently absurd ideas selected by their opponents so that voters will reject him in favour of a Democrat in New Hampshire in next month’s midterms. They’ll certainly get a chance: this time last month Bolduc was selected (by registered Republicans) in his primary and becomes their candidate.
Over 90% of all the Republican candidates Trump endorsed have won their primaries this year.
The far right Koch Network, which derives most of its wealth from assets which have long contributed to the elimination of live on Earth, fossil fuels, does not have a very high (public) profile. Yet it is enormously powerful and has money to throw around. Last month it emerged that the organisation has donated US$607,000 (£560,000) to the (re-)election campaigns specifically of those Republicans who push the lie that the 2020 election was rigged against Donald Trump. Data exists which indicate that Fortune 500 companies have given a total of US$25 (£23) million to election deniers this year alone.
Not that many of them need much encouragement. Speaking at a MAGA rally in Minden (Nevada) last week, Jim Marchant, the Republican candidate for secretary of state there, pledged publicly and unambiguously that – if elected – he and his party would subvert the vote if necessary to ensure that Trump were re-‘elected’ president two years from now. One of the secretary of state’s duties is the management of elections.
In August a federal jury convicted two men of conspiring to kidnap the Democrat governor of Michigan, Gretchen Whitmer, at her vacation house in 2020. The maximum sentence which they face of gaol for life takes into account the fact that they also planned to blow up a bridge so that police would be prevented from responding to the crime. Tudor Dixon is the Trump-endorsed fascist/MAGA candidate challenging Whitmer in next month’s midterm elections. In a particularly bad error of judgement, Dixon mocked Whitmer’s experience at a rally in September, saying: “For someone so worried about being kidnapped, Gretchen Whitmer sure is good at taking business hostage and holding it for ransom.” But once wasn’t enough. A few days later at the Detroit Auto Show she told those in attendance that Whitmer looked like [sic] she’d “…rather be kidnapped by the FBI.”
On the horizon for this term’s Supreme Court consideration is a case (Moore v Harper) which could see a major change in election law. If the Supreme Court decides in favour of Republican lawmakers in North Carolina, it will become legal for states to redraw electoral maps with the specific aim of disenfranchising certain sectors of the community in order to present an electoral advantage to the political party so doing. Read that again: gerrymandering will have the legitimate force of law.
Worse still, the Supreme Court is being asked to rule on a proposal which will give state legislatures and officials the final say in election results – regardless of how the votes were cast. States would be allowed to select the electors who are sent to the Electoral College in Washington DC to confirm the outcome of elections. This would happen in future in line with that states’ ruling élite determine – not according to the recent electoral vote. This is exactly how Trump broke the law by pressuring several states to do in the winter of 2020/21 in order to stay in power despite having lost the election.
‘Notes from the US’ has reported several times on the nefarious activities of the far right American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). It’s an innocuous enough sounding name; but the damage it does, the hurt and death it causes, are huge. It builds what are essentially templates for oppressive, destructive, biased and supremacist laws and ‘policies’. These can then be adopted by trumpy (and right wing before him) state legislators in order to preserve discrimination, injustice; in order to keep power and influence with the élite; and in order to wreck the environment.
In recent weeks a number of (Republican-controlled) states have passed laws whose wording was crafted by ALEC to promote the suppression of protests which push for the preservation of life on the Earth. It seems to be a response to protests by indigenous communities which have successfully resisted pipelines. The new laws provide for fines of up to one million dollars and up to ten years incarceration for anyone who protests, wishing life on Earth to continue. By this month over a third (17) of all US states had passed such laws.
“We welcome you with open arms! You are people – like us. We respect the fact that you are here in the United States after significant adversity. Perhaps unwillingly. Because for decades our country has imposed economic conditions on your countries which have made living in them harsh and gruelling – to say the least. Yes, we bear responsibility. The colour of your skin matters nothing to us. Again: Welcome!”
These are not the words which the fascist lawmakers or governors of Arizona, Texas and Florida (Doug Ducey, Greg Abbott, Ron DeSantis) have said, are repenting and saying now, or are likely ever to say.
Instead these men are bussing and flying cohorts of impoverished, tired and frightened guest-workers from the states which they mismanage to the north east of the country as political stunts in the hope that their overt racism will win them votes.
DeSantis said, publicly, “[If I could…], I would send [them] back to Mexico or back to the[sic] home country.” Most – perhaps all – those guest workers (who, if settled, would make a nett contribution to the US economy and welfare) trafficked by DeSantis were from Venezuela. He plans to continue.
Lawyers for the guest workers have sued DeSantis, who received a standing ovation from fellow supremacists at a meeting he attended a few days later.
A sheriff (the most senior member of the local police) in Bexar County, Texas, Javier Salazar, opened an investigation into DeSantis’ human trafficking stunt. Predictably, Salazar’s office immediately began to receive threats for so doing.
What wasn’t so widely reported, and what highlights the racism of DeSantis’s exercise in human trafficking, is the fact that locals in Florida, in the hospitality sector for example, consistently report a shortage of available workers to fill open positions – something which the asylum seekers trafficked by DeSantis are legally allowed to do while awaiting processing; and so help the local economy.
For a taste of how white supremacism seems to be thriving, it’s enough to visit a site like this. This kind of filth is allowed in the United States under the banner of free speech.
Health and well-being is now increasingly being tied to money. For example, a children’s hospital in Oklahoma was told it would only get would get US$39.4 (£35.5) million for a paediatric mental health unit if the hospital agreed to end its work providing gender-affirming care.
An open letter from 238 organisations which was published towards the end of September as the UN’s 77th General Assembly convened reveals that are now nearly a quarter of a million people with ‘ultra-high net worth’ (those with at least US$30 (£26) million) in the world; this is an increase of over 20% from the previous year. Nearly 350 million people consistently experience acute hunger (twice as many as in 2019): one person starves to death every four seconds.
Let’s get this month’s Marjorie Taylor Greene snippet out of the way next. As we’ve said before, much (most?) of what she does is for show and her own would be aggrandisement. Last month the way she found to do that was by kicking an opponent in front of her out of the way as she was surrounded by people criticising her for her love of killing people by ensuring that they can carry arms.
Trump – possibly without really knowing what it means – is deliberately and publicly edging closer to what informed people recognise as overt fascist imagery and ceremonial. According to MediaMatters, the count of covert or overt messages which Trump has posted online since January that either allude to, endorse or support the QAnon ‘warning’ that a ‘storm is coming’ has grown alarmingly, and continues to grow. QAnon hopes that a powerful and righteous dictator (Trump) will be returned to power and vanquish his enemies in a moral bloodbath.
Just remember this is the 45th ex-president of the most powerful country in the world and maybe a contender (if not him, then (a member of) his cult) for the presidency in two years time.
Note that for the first time, at a rally in Ohio last month, Trump explicitly endorsed the antisemitic QAnon movement. He wore a ‘Q’ lapel badge and posted a photograph of himself with QAnon insignias.
Yes, Trump, also technically an adult and the most influential and powerful person in the Republican party explicitly endorsed – and showed his support for – a conspiracy cult whose members believe that Joe Biden is really a sock puppet.
And their mission is to watch as Trump is returned to power in a violent revolution during the course of, or shortly after, which his political opponents will be executed on television and his ‘reign’ secured indefinitely. His supporters cheered Trump on with Nazi salutes.
This came at a time when detailed plans by the fascist militia, the ‘Proud Boys’ for the January 6 attempted Putsch were published.
It’s almost certainly safe to say that there will be no full-scale civil war – contrary to incendiary comments from the right. Yes, people are arming. Yes, ideologues like Trump want to stir up hatred and ‘nationalistic fervour’. Yes, many organs of public life are now heavily polluted with far right detritus. There may be skirmishes after the November midterms. Surely lots of hot air.
Yet the truly disturbing things are firstly how far to the right (and increasingly officially fascist) the once mainstream Republicans have become in the last five or six years (always inevitable in aggressively capitalist and wrecking polities).
And secondly how great the potential is over time for the illicit cant and templated dogma of the Republicans and fascist tendencies to push further because “no-one thinks it can happen here” and because most of their thoughts are still being widely taken in the media and in the spheres of organised politics as acceptable and legitimate alternative forms of the democracy on which a majority still believes the United States must have been founded.
Women’s rights to care for their own reproductive health are being – predictably – withdrawn across the United States. Last month, for example, a judge in Arizona lifted an injunction which allowed the procedure to save a mother’s life. That state now has laws banning abortion which date from 1864. It does, though, look as though the Supreme Court’s ruling in June is going to prove highly unpopular with otherwise right-leaning voters in next month’s mid terms. Some Democrat spokespeople are even predicting gains in both the House and Senate.
Returning for a minute to education, it seems as though lawmakers in the Republican party and its orbit need a few lessons in sex education themselves. As an excuse for supporting bans on abortion, for example, Doug Gilliam, a state representative for South Carolina recently suggested that describing a child rape victim as being ‘forced’ to carry her rapist’s baby was inaccurate: such victims have ‘options’ like Plan B after they’d “taken the ambulance” to a supermarket to buy it. Utah state Representative Karianne Lisonbee later said – in response to a text message which she had received – that she “[trusted] women enough to control when they allow a man to ejaculate inside of them and to control that intake of semen.” For Brad Tschida, a former House leader in Montana who is running for state Senate this year “[the]… womb is the only organ in a woman’s body that serves no specific purpose to her life or well-being”, while Representative Tom Emmer of Minnesota, who is actually the chair of the National Republican Campaign Committee, likened the right to abortion to the ‘Chinese genocide bill’.
They also need to bush up on the word ‘hypocrisy’: while banning and burning books whose content they fear or dislike, some Republicans had the gall last month to complain about free speech in educational institutions. Last month Republican representatives James Comer (Kentucky) and Virginia Foxx (North Carolina) sent a letter to the Education Secretary Miguel Cardona informing him that they were ‘…conducting oversight over the U.S. Department of Education’s administration of taxpayers’ dollars awarded to public and private colleges and universities under various federal programs’ Specifically, they ‘…are concerned many of these colleges and universities are undermining free speech and academic freedom on their campuses.’
They also need a refresher in history. Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, of course, was a megalomanic dictator responsible for the detention, deportation and deaths of nearly a quarter of all Jews in Italy under his dictatorship; Hitler was his ally. At the end of the Second World War those unwilling to see the end of fascism founded the infamous MSI (Movimento Sociale Italiano, or Italian ‘Social’ Movement) – which had as little to do with social conscience as Germany’s National ‘Socialists’ did. Italian (party) politics are complicated and involve almost permanent horse trading. But simply put, the party of the newly-elected Italian Prime Minister, Georgia Meloni, the Fdi (Fratelli d’Italia, Brothers of Italy) is the direct ‘descendant’ of Mussolini’s fascist movement, guilty of the deaths of tens – if not hundreds – of thousands of people in Italy and its colonies.
In the week after Meloni (a fascist) was elected in Italy, prominent Republicans delivered themselves of these approving comments:
• Marjorie Taylor Greene, in congratulating Meloni on her election victory: “Beautifully said”
• Ted Cruz: “Spectacular”
• Arkansas senator Tom Cotton: “[I look…] forward to working with her and other Italian leaders to advance our shared interests. America is stronger when Italy is strong, sovereign, prosperous, and free”
• Kari Lake, candidate for the governorship of Arizona, said she was “excited” about Meloni’s success. Lake praised (fascist) Georgia Meloni: “This is somebody I can relate to”
• former Trump adviser and convicted criminal Steve Bannon described Meloni’s victory as “…the rise of Christian nationalism”
• Matt Schlapp, the head of the American Conservative Union, said her success was a “warning shot coming from Italy”
• Tore Maras, a QAnon conspiracist running next month as an independent candidate for secretary of state in Ohio: “We need more people like Meloni running. I hope I am just as successful as her”
Finally, let’s say you felt that the best way to respond to the result (which you hated) of the election in 2020 was by taking part in an attempt to subvert the transition process. Let’s say you went to the US Capitol – say, on January 6, 2021 – and smashed windows, broke a few heads, maybe even killed people. Don’t worry: the far right ‘Look Ahead America’ movement has your back. They’ll even find you a job because you’ve been so badly persecuted.
Louis Further

Image: Brother Atticus – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

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