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Unnecessary Solutions to Imaginary Problems

Across the country, Republican legislatures and governors are blazing a path of regress in a world of make-believe.
May 30, 2023
Unnecessary Solutions to Imaginary Problems
South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster speaks to a crowd during a rally with former U.S. President Donald Trump at the Florence Regional Airport on March 12, 2022 in Florence, South Carolina. The visit by Trump is his first rally in South Carolina since his election loss in 2020. (Photo by Sean Rayford/Getty Images)

Throughout the nation, states with Republican governors and GOP-led legislatures are tapping deep into the political zeitgeist and availing themselves of the opportunities of the moment to devise and execute creative solutions to imaginary problems. Here is a rundown of some of those efforts.

Imaginary problem: Drag queens are coming after our kids.

Unnecessary solution: Keep them the hell away.

Execution: Montana’s Republican-controlled state legislature passed and GOP Gov. Greg Gianforte last week signed into law a bill that prohibits people in drag from reading books to children at public schools and libraries. The new law, which took effect immediately, is nationally unique in that it does not require any sort of sexual component, as do bills to restrict drag show performances passed in Tennessee and Florida.

The Montana ban is “just constitutionally suspect on all levels,” said Sasha Buchert, an attorney with Lambda Legal, a national organization that advocates on behalf of LGBTQ people and those diagnosed with HIV and AIDS. An article in the publication them was headlined, “Montana’s New Anti-Drag Bill Is So Vague It’s Basically a Lawsuit Magnet.”

Tennessee’s ban on drag performances in public spaces or in the presence of children has been blocked by a federal judge. In Florida, a restaurant that can no longer permit children to attend its “family-friendly” drag shows on Sundays is suing Gov. Ron DeSantis and the state for violating its First Amendment rights. DeSantis, who sees brawling with businesses in culture war fights as a path to the presidency, has also signed bills to deny minors gender-affirming care and forbid the teaching of gender identity and sexual orientation in public schools, all the way up to 12th grade.

Imaginary problem: It is just too difficult to obtain and bear firearms in the United States.

Unnecessary solution: Take aim at existing gun laws.

Execution: Red states across the country are responding to the escalating carnage of gun violence by pushing back on the onerous restrictions that, despite the Second Amendment, somehow still remain in place. As the New York Times recently reported, “In Kentucky, Ohio, Nebraska, Texas, and Virginia, Republicans have pushed this year to limit gun-free zones, remove background checks and roll back red-flag laws that seek to remove firearms from those who are a danger to themselves or others.”

And then there’s Tennessee, which has long had some of the nation’s laxest gun laws. In July 2021, it approved allowing anyone 21 or older to carry a handgun, either openly or concealed, without any sort of training or permit. (“It shouldn’t be hard for law-abiding Tennesseans to exercise their #2A rights,” Gov. Bill Lee tweeted after signing his name.) But early this year, before a shooter with seven legal guns opened fire at a private Christian elementary school in Nashville, killing three young children and three adults, Tennessee Republicans decided they needed to do more.

They introduced a bill to remove the state’s cruel prohibition on brandishing guns and other weapons on college campuses, as well as public parks, playgrounds, and recreational facilities. The bill, before it was amended, called for allowing “law enforcement officers to carry a firearm when under the influence of alcohol or controlled substances”—language the bill’s lead sponsor, state Sen. Joey Hensley, said appeared without his knowledge or consent. Even with this language taken out, the bill still did not pass. But Tennessee House Republicans did stick together enough to expel two black Democrats who made a fuss about the legislature’s failure to do anything about gun violence besides encouraging it.

Imaginary problem: Young people these days have it too easy.

Unnecessary solution: Put them to work in the salt mines.

Execution: GOP-led legislatures across the country are rolling back laws against child labor. In Arkansas, Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders recently signed a bill ending the requirement that companies hiring anyone under the age of 16 obtain the child’s government-issued work permit, a document that verifies the child’s age and establishes the consent of his or her parents. In Iowa, the legislature passed a bill to allow 14- and 15-year-olds to work longer hours and 16- and 17-year-olds to work the same hours as adults. In Wisconsin, home to a sanitation company that was recently fined $1.5 million for putting more than 100 children as young as 13 to work, often in overnight shifts involving the use of dangerous chemicals to clean saws and similarly dangerous equipment, GOP lawmakers have introduced a bill to lower the age at which child employees can serve alcohol to from 18 to 14. What could possibly go wrong?

Imaginary problem: Books are corrupting our children’s minds.

Unnecessary solution: Crack down on people who encourage the wrong kinds of reading.

Execution: A bill overwhelmingly passed by the GOP-dominated Indiana legislature and signed into law in early May by Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb would allow librarians who expose children to books deemed ​​“harmful to minors” to be charged with a felony, facing up to two-and-a-half years in prison. As specified under Indiana state law, this includes any material that “describes or represents, in any form, nudity, sexual conduct, sexual excitement, or sado-masochistic abuse,” or that, when considered as a whole, “lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value for minors”—a standard that would omit the works of Mike Pence.

Other states are also passing laws that make it easier for parents to object to and force the removal of materials from library shelves. In Florida, a school district just banished from an elementary school library the poem “The Hill We Climb” by Amanda Gorman, which she read at President Joe Biden’s inauguration, because one parent scrawled that it “is not educational and have [sic] indirectly hate messages” and, in response to the question “What do you believe is the function of this material?,” answered “cause confusion and indoctrinate students.” (The complaining parent, who later apologized for sharing an approving summary of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion and other antisemitic content to social media, admitted that she had not read all of Gorman’s roughly 700-word poem.) Gorman, in her response, had this to say: “Robbing children of the chance to find their voices in literature is a violation of their right to free thought and free speech.”

Imaginary problem: There has been more than enough racial progress.

Unnecessary solution: End anti-discrimination efforts.

Execution: Tim Griffin, the Republican attorney general of Arkansas, is seeking to end federal consent decrees that have maintained desegregation supervision in four of the state’s school districts, because of how thoroughly we’ve gotten past the need for them. “Unconstitutional, race-based consent decrees from decades past are denying equal rights to parents to select the school that best meets the needs of their children,” he said in a press release. Whitney Moore, an attorney for the four school districts, disagreed, saying “This is about remedying the effects of past de jure segregation.” She said the districts believe Griffin’s action “will be segregative and not in keeping with the spirit of the consent decrees.” Imagine that.

Imaginary problem: White students at U.S. colleges and universities don’t get enough breaks in life.

Unnecessary solution: Spike efforts to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Execution: Republican lawmakers in Iowa successfully forced the Board of Regents for the state’s university system to suspend all new spending on DEI efforts until “a comprehensive study and review” of existing programs can be conducted. Republican legislators in other states are also proposing cuts in these programs with Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos saying DEI workers are “burrowed in like a tick on every single college campus.”

Imaginary problem: Obtaining an abortion is still much too possible.

Unnecessary solution: Make it as impossible as possible.

Execution: The South Carolina Senate last week passed a bill, which Gov. Henry McMaster promptly signed, to ban abortions in that state after six weeks, before most women even know they are pregnant. A ruling by the state supreme court previously kept abortions legal up to 22 weeks, which had made South Carolina something of a bastion of reproductive choice in the South. No more. Now it joins the 15 other states where abortion is now completely unavailable or is available only before six weeks. The state of Florida has also passed and Gov. DeSantis signed a six-week ban, which cannot go into effect until a case before the U.S. Supreme Court concerning Florida’s current 15-week ban is resolved.

Imaginary problem: There is too much public participation in democracy.

Unnecessary solutions: Rig elections, suppress votes, and bollix ballot initiatives.

Execution: In Montana, Republican lawmakers are pushing a bill to rewrite the rules to help their party’s nominee in the 2024 race for the U.S. Senate seat now held by Jon Tester, a Democrat. The bill would make it harder for a third-party candidate to get on the ballot, a move meant to keep a Libertarian contender from getting votes that could otherwise go to a Republican. The changes proposed in the bill would affect only Tester’s Senate race in 2024, and would be withdrawn after.

In North Carolina, GOP lawmakers, emboldened by a conservative takeover of the state supreme court, are asking the justices to rehear two cases they felt were wrongly decided: One was on electoral maps rejected for how badly gerrymandered they were, and one concerned a voter ID law struck down for disproportionately restricting the voting rights of black people. Objected senior attorney Mitchell Brown at the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, “The rule of law should stand. If the rule of law is able to flip flop back and forth, and precedent is not respected, then we as people won’t know how to follow the law.”

While citizens in Ohio are working to pass a state constitutional amendment to protect abortion rights, GOP lawmakers are trying to raise the threshold for passing such initiatives from a simple majority of 50 percent to a supermajority of 60 percent. According to the New York Times, the ballot amendment language that Republicans are racing to get on the August ballot, ahead of the November amendment vote, “will not include the word ‘abortion.’”

In Arkansas, the GOP-controlled state legislature passed and Gov. Sanders just signed a bill making it harder for citizen-led measures to get on the ballot. That promptly drew a lawsuit filed by the League of Women Voters of Arkansas, joined by state Sen. Bryan King, a Republican. North Dakota passed a similar measure in April.

Take that, democracy.

Bill Lueders

Bill Lueders, former editor and now editor-at-large of The Progressive, is a writer in Madison, Wisconsin.