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E-Pluribus | November 14, 2022
Florida and the culture war; no place to hide for Chinese student dissidents; and if not populism, what about popularism?
A round-up of the latest and best writing and musings on the rise of illiberalism in the public discourse:
Madeleine Kearns: ‘Where Woke Goes to Die’: How DeSantis Led the Way in the Culture War
As the 2024 campaign gets underway, some Republicans are looking for a Donald Trump alternative and Ron DeSantis’s name is popping up more and more. Though some of DeSantis’s actions in Florida have raised concerns about government overreach, Madeleine Kearns at National Review writes that voters may be inclined to see DeSantis’s moves against “woke” culture as anything but negative.
A particularly potent force in his campaign has been culture-war issues — battles DeSantis won by going on the offensive. “We fight the woke in the legislature,” he said in his speech. “We fight the woke in the schools. We fight the woke in the corporations. We will never, ever surrender to the woke mob. Florida is where woke goes to die.”
As with Trump, DeSantis’s political aggressiveness wins him admirers. The tactics that some conservatives consider morally or philosophically dubious appear only to intensify his popularity.
In March, the Republican Florida legislature passed the Parental Rights in Education Act, preventing teachers from instructing kindergarten through third-grade students in gender identity and sexuality. . .
[ . . . ]
The progressive overreach evident in wokeness was also apparent in the response to the pandemic. And it is here that DeSantis excelled the most. While in other states sick people were denied visitors, children were kept out of school and then required to wear masks in school, and people were fired for not getting the vaccines, DeSantis pursued the widely popular “Keep Florida Free” agenda.
As the ascent of Trump demonstrates, there is a great amount of public anger when people are bullied into suppressing their political priorities and values. Culture-war issues are kitchen-table issues. They play out in schools, communities, public services, and the workplace. Trump’s new nickname for DeSanctis, “Ron DeSanctimonious,” attempts to cast the governor as being out of touch with the political priorities of the non-elites. But DeSanctis has proven time and time again that, in response to popular demand, he is willing to play ball — and, if need be, to play dirty.
Read the whole thing.
Sarah McLaughlin: 'A Pretty Scary Moment': Dissident Chinese Students Say George Washington University Is Failing Them
Some Chinese students in the United States are learning that thousands of miles between them and the party that runs their government at home isn’t far enough and the U.S. institutions hosting them aren’t helping. Sarah McLaughlin of the Foundation for Individual Rights & Expression interviewed several such students for Reason recently to help tell their stories.
On an October evening, in a dorm room near flyers advertising one of the Chinese student groups they had criticized, I met some of these dissenting students for an interview, using pseudonyms. Johnson, Sam, and a student who preferred to be simply called "a Chinese student" hail from mainland China, while Carl is from Taiwan. Alex, an American student, is an ally. We talked about the protests they've organized on campus, the global anti-CCP movement, and the disputes over who represents Chinese students abroad. Established, politically active Chinese student groups, usually Chinese Students and Scholars Association chapters, believe they speak for all Chinese students, GWU's anonymous students say. But they dissent.
What does an individual in an oppressive society owe his fellow citizens when he has the opportunity to speak freely? Does he have a duty to say something, even if it puts him in harm's way?
To most Americans, this may come across as an abstraction. We all have different ideas about citizenship, what it requires of us, and our obligations to other Americans. But these debates take place within our free society. The parameters, and the stakes, are different. The consequences we fear are usually social, not legal.
To China's politically dissident students, though, whose travels take them from Barcelona to Brisbane to Berkeley, this is a profound question. Their status as international students abroad grants them temporary reprieve from the CCP's most blatant and immediate forms of suppression and protections—on paper, at least—for their right to speak freely in their campus and host country. Those liberties, though, come with an asterisk. Chinese students know all too well that their activities remain closely surveilled even overseas.
But does this freedom, poisoned as it may be, ask something of those individuals during their academic careers? For a group of anonymous Chinese students and their allies engaged in an ongoing political campaign on campus, the answer is clear. This year, they've found their voice, along with a sense of responsibility and their place in a global fight for freedom.
Read it all here.
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Jesse Arm: Toward a Conservative Popularism
No, it’s not a typo: “popularism” is a real thing, though one might be forgiven since the only things distinguishing it from populism is the extra syllable. Though the term originated on the Left, Jesse Arm at City Journal takes a look at what the Right’s version might look like in the wake of recent election outcomes.
Why did so many Trump-backed candidates perform so poorly in an election year where the conditions were ripe for success? And what explains DeSantis’s overperformance in America’s third-most-populous state in that same cycle?
To answer those questions, Republicans should consider a debate going on across the aisle, one inaugurated by David Shor, a left-wing data scientist and Democratic pollster. Shor’s own politics skew to the democratic-socialist left, but he champions a political strategy called “popularism” that has been the source of much controversy.
As defined by New York Times columnist Ezra Klein, popularism stipulates that “Democrats should do a lot of polling to figure out which of their views are popular and which are not popular, and then they should talk about the popular stuff and shut up about the unpopular stuff.” Examples of popularism in action might include Colorado governor Jared Polis’s refusal to reinstate statewide mask mandates as Omicron surged, Pennsylvania governor-elect Josh Shapiro’s defections from his party on school choice and law enforcement issues, or Maine congressman Jared Golden’s advertisement criticizing the Biden administration’s positions on spending and energy. All these Democrats defeated their Republican challengers this cycle.
The strategy has proved intensely controversial on the left. Progressives have criticized Shor for counseling moderation and abandoning allegedly urgent moral crusades. Activists have sought to develop their own version of “inclusive populism” that essentially amounts to recommitting to the politics of class and identity. And many have observed that popularism amounts only to a strategy for winning elections, not to a rigorous or well-developed philosophy. Yet progressives and conservatives alike must win elections to implement their political visions.
Read it all.
The Foundation for Individual Rights & Expression on a student-led attempted shoutdown of Ann Coulter at Cornell:
Interesting news via Nicholas Christakis on the chilling effect governments can have on free speech issues:
And finally, in case you are wondering, yes, it’s the real Twitter account for the National Education Association, and no, this is not intended as a joke: