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E-Pluribus | June 2, 2023
Florida and the limits of the state; 'disparate impact' takes aim at the internet; and how prosperity feeds the culture war.
A round-up of the latest and best writing and musings on the rise of illiberalism in the public discourse:
Jacob Sullum: Ron DeSantis Dangerously Blurs the Line Between State and Private Action
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’s popularity on the right has much to do with his willingness to “stand up” to “woke” businesses and corporations. Jacob Sullum at Reason argues that whatever the good intentions, DeSantis crosses a line when he conflates state and private actions because it violates the very rights DeSantis purports to be defending.
Ron DeSantis, who officially launched his presidential campaign last week, presents himself as a champion of individual freedom against overweening government. But as governor of Florida, DeSantis has repeatedly contradicted that stance by blurring the line between state and private action, a distinction that is crucial to protecting civil liberties.
During the pandemic, DeSantis not only opposed government-imposed vaccination mandates. He decreed that business owners could not ask customers to present proof of vaccination, and he proudly signed legislation prohibiting vaccination requirements by private employers.
That law also barred school districts from imposing mask mandates. But DeSantis did not stop there: He pushed legislation "permanently prohibiting COVID-19 masking requirements at businesses."
DeSantis said that bill, which he signed into law a few weeks ago, was aimed at curtailing the "biomedical security state." He thereby equated business owners' voluntary decisions with coercive government policies.
Read it all.
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Corbin K. Barthold: The Elephant in the Ethernet Port
Decades ago, “whites only” signs made discrimination obvious and undeniable (though some still tried). As overt discrimination and racism receded over the years, the concept of “disparate impact” became a common argument of advocacy groups seeking victories in the courts. At City Journal, Corbin Barthold writes that internet access is the latest front in this battle.
Enacted in late 2021, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act runs more than a thousand pages. The table of contents starts off tolerably enough: early headings include “Bridge investment” and “National highway performance program.” Scan down, though, and you can practically watch the legislators lose focus. Before long they drift into “Sport fish restoration,” “Best practices for battery recycling,” and “Limousine compliance with federal safety standards.” But don’t nod off. On page 10, you’ll abruptly stumble on “Broadband.” (If you hit “Indian water rights settlement completion fund” or “Bioproduct pilot program,” you’ve gone too far.) This rather cryptic caption refers to a segment that begins on page 754. Start reading there, and you’ll eventually arrive at the last section of Title V of Division F—Section 60506, to be precise, on pages 817 and 818—which contains about 300 words on “digital discrimination.”
The relevant provision directs the FCC to adopt rules to prevent “digital discrimination of [broadband] access based on income level, race, ethnicity, color, religion, or national origin.” Note the phrase “based on”: the Supreme Court has held that similar language, such as “on the ground of,” refers to intentional discrimination—also known as disparate treatment. Everyone agrees that the FCC’s Section 60506 rules should bar deliberately withholding broadband service from an area out of animus for people in one of the protected classes.
But progressive advocacy groups want to go much further, arguing that Section 60506 targets not disparate treatment but disparate impact. Under that standard, a risk of liability arises whenever outcomes among classes differ, even when the gap is entirely unintended.
Read it all here.
Robert Tracinski: Diseases of the Rich
In 1985, Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death came out, reflecting on how an entertainment mentality had taken over so many aspects of modern life and culture. In a similar vein, Robert Tracinski writes for Discourse Magazine that while America’s tremendous prosperity has freed us from a constant struggle to simply survive so we can focus more attention on the finer things, we often squander the opportunity with petty arguments and complaints.
For a large portion of our population, economic growth and increased wealth no longer seems like a top priority—because they can take it for granted. More to the point, this is the portion of the population that tends to be most culturally and politically influential. The college-educated upper-middle class are the people with the most time and money to devote to political activism, and they are the most likely to spend too much time on social media feeding its partisan echo chambers.
The result? There’s an old Tom Lehrer joke about a doctor who specializes in “diseases of the rich.” Well, today’s politicians also specialize in the complaints of the wealthy.
In the 1960s through the 1980s, our dominant political issues included the War on Poverty (for the left) and the Misery Index (for the right).
On the left, this has since been eclipsed by environmental and culture war issues that are often more symbolic than practical—issues that are less about one’s own well-being or the practical impact on one’s own life than they are about showing that one is on the right team and the “right side of history.”
For the right, the complaints are less about economic issues than cultural or lifestyle issues. The contest between freewheeling modernity and traditional values is the lens through which the right increasingly sees everything. This is why a certain faction on the right backs Russia against Ukraine, because they can only see foreign policy through the lens of our domestic culture war, where Vladimir Putin is seen as an opponent of “wokeness.”
Across the spectrum, these lifestyle issues have risen in prominence as our chief political concerns, pushing out the old “kitchen table” issues. If the agenda of the activist left has become about “virtue signaling,” the agenda of the activist right seems to be about signaling back one’s contempt for the virtues signaled by the left. It’s all the politics of the semaphore.
Read the whole thing.
The Foundation Against Intolerance & Racism (FAIR) has released a statement about the Medical College of Wisconsin uninviting the National Association of Scholars’s John Sailer from a recent event:
And finally, presented without comment: