I’ve posted a lot about the negative consequences of bigotry for individuals and the body politic. What I haven’t focused on–at least, not sufficiently–is the moral culpability of the politicians who pander to and encourage bigotry and ignorance because they think it will help them win elections.
Which brings me to Indiana’s current Attorney General, Todd Rokita.
Rokita, predictably, is one of the GOP officials currently screaming about President Biden’s vaccine mandate– elevating political identity over government’s obligation to protect public health.
It’s part and parcel of his persona.
Some of you will remember that Rokita was a prime mover of Indiana’s Voter ID law–premised on a “voter fraud” that every single study found to be non-existent. But of course, minorities were less likely to have the required documentation–and not-so-coincidentally, less likely to vote for Rokita.
Todd Smekens, who often comments on this blog, shared a letter with me that Rokita had sent to multiple media outlets in Indiana, “explaining” his war on the Confucius Institutes that dot campuses around the state. (I’ve previously noted how ridiculous and dishonest those attacks have been.)
This letter–replete with inaccuracies (China did not intentionally loosen the virus on the world, Valparaiso University does not have an “affiliation with the Chinese Communist Party”…) continues Rokita’s assault on Confucius Institutes and common sense, and ends with a ringing promise to protect Hoosiers from the Chinese Communist Menace. (Oh good..I’ve been so worried. Hoosiers are so susceptible…) In any event, that grandiose promise of “protection,” ridiculous as it is, falls far afield of the Indiana Attorney General’s job description.
As I’ve previously noted, Confucius Institutes exist at some 100 American colleges, including IUPUI, where I taught, although given its lack of prominence on campus, most students had probably never heard of it. The Institutes are one of a wide range of campus organizations intended to introduce students to a diverse set of global cultures.
Valparaiso University’s Confucius Institute–for some reason, a particular target of Rokita’s– was founded in 2008 and its website said it “aims at helping Northwest Indiana citizens learn about China and its people and culture and study the Chinese language, and promoting cultural, particularly music, exchange between the US and China.” Valparaiso shut the Institute down last year, citing a loss of federal funding.
It’s tempting to shrug at this posturing –after all, this is deep-red Indiana, where we’re used to political figures making fools of themselves. But we need to realize that the character, morality and intellect of the people we place in leadership positions actually matters.
In a recent piece in the Economist, Stephen Reicher revisited the infamous Stanford Prison Experiment, and found evidence of the important role played by leadership–the researchers who shaped the experiment– in producing the shocking results that brought the experiment to an early close. As Reicher reports, a full reading of the study archive–recently opened– “does not reveal natural brutality, as it is often depicted, but how brutality is mobilized by others.”
At the moment, Americans are in the middle of a different leadership experiment, this one focused on a deadly pathogen. “Leaders” like DeSantis and Abbott and Rokita are actively encouraging behaviors that are equally toxic–behaviors that pose a threat to public health and are directly responsible for hundreds if not thousands of deaths. That encouragement is clearly intended to enhance their standing in the ranks of the “freedom fighters” who control today’s GOP. (Rokita fought efforts by IU to ensure that students coming back to campus were vaccinated; he lost in court.)
Rokita’s “letter” (really a press release) was clearly intended to endear him to his natural constituency– to the sort of voter who would be receptive to his misinformation (pretty much the horse de-wormer crowd).
As I noted when he first initiated these attacks against China, communism and American universities, it really doesn’t matter whether Rokita is as loony and smarmy as he seems (a la Marjorie Taylor Greene et al), or just pursuing what he considers to be a savvy strategy of appealing to uninformed and loony voters. He’s a prime example of everything that’s wrong with contemporary American politics.
Our ability to get government functioning properly again–our ability to ensure that the various leaders of state agencies are doing the jobs they are supposed to be doing rather than chasing media mentions and the votes of the credulous and uninformed– requires ridding ourselves of elected officials like Rokita.
In Rokita’s case, I actually know several Republicans who agree….
by Sheila Kennedy