(Originally published here on April 26, 2022 in the South China Morning Post.)
America’s culture wars came to a head last week when Republican firebrand Rick DeSantis signed into law a bill revoking the Walt Disney Company’s special district status in his state and a Democrat landed on a message that finally sparked signs of life within the party.
In a move that was emblematic of the Republican Party’s concerted drive to beat the “woke” out of any company trying to stand up for minority rights, Florida’s governor championed the law as part of his revenge for Disney’s vow to help repeal the state’s Parental Rights in Education Law, dubbed by critics as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill.
The legislation restricts public primary school instruction about sexual orientation or gender identity in a way that will surely stigmatise the LGBT community, a prospect so tantalising to the Republican Party that at least 20 other states controlled by the party have introduced similar legislation.
The Sunshine state’s legislature also approved DeSantis’s plan to redraw Florida’s 28 congressional districts in a way that would slash the number of black-majority districts from four to two and change the boundaries of one represented by a black Democrat – Al Lawson – to give Republicans an edge.
Republicans are also boycotting debates, with the Republican National Committee voting this month to withdraw from the Commission on Presidential Debates. Why? Much like insular mediascapes controlled by the Kremlin and Beijing, they need full control of the messaging to make their positions seem rational.
In a world where entire cities are being obliterated because of the imperial ambitions of a madman, where the gap between rich and poor is as wide as it has been for decades, and where young people across the globe can expect climate change to impinge on every aspect of life, Trump-addled Republicans no longer have answers.
The new Republican Party, now aligned with Beijing and Moscow in ways they will never acknowledge, wants to silence anyone standing in the way of their political power. As has been the case with the Chinese and Russian governments under their current leaders, anything that runs against the grain of their nationalistic, hyper-masculine, and heteronormative image must be ostracised.
If this drive requires them to accuse opponents of being pro-paedophile, so be it.
The Democrats, who never miss an opportunity to undermine themselves, and who fail to push back adequately against Republican accusations that anyone opposed to legislation like that which Florida passed is “grooming” children for sex, have stayed true to form.
Their inability to connect with voters was perhaps most apparent in Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s appearance at the star-studded 2021 Met Gala last year in a floor-length white gown emblazoned with words “Tax the Rich” in bold, red letters.
The Democratic congresswoman seemed determined to alienate any American who isn’t a fashion major at the New York School of Design.
Enter Michigan state Senator Mallory McMorrow, a Democrat, who was accused by a Republican opponent of wanting to “groom” young children to be able to sexually exploit them and teach “that 8-year-olds are responsible for slavery”.
She responded to the attack in a way that took the internet by storm, and perhaps showed her party that they need not cower in the face of Republican attempts to portray them as paedophiles.
“I am a straight, white, Christian, married, suburban mom” who wants “every kid to feel seen, heard and supported – not marginalised and targeted because they are not straight, white and Christian,” she said in a forceful five-minute speech that racked up millions of views across Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
It’s difficult to know if McMorrow’s speech will have the same effect as Joseph Welch’s famous takedown of Senator Joseph McCarthy’s strident anti-communist crusade in the 1950s with his resounding question: “Have you no sense of decency?”
But if more Democrats show the kind of backbone that McMorrow displayed in the Michigan state house, they might have a chance to fight off the illiberal onslaught in America that gives comfort to autocrats worldwide.