Disinformation has taken control of Tennessee politics and created a modern ‘civil war’
This column by Sen. Heidi Campbell was first published by The Tennessean
I live on a hill that was and is on a civil war battlefield in the southern part of Nashville, not far from the Davidson county line.
When I drive north to take my son to school, we’re amongst the masked and the vaccinated. When I drive south to take him to soccer practice in Williamson County, we are in the Bible Belt.
The day after Trump was elected, the halls of the school were funeral. Later that day, at practice, it looked like everyone had won the lottery.
Those were the early days — my how the chasm has grown.
This past legislative session, in the midst of the pandemic, we passed bills to criminalize teaching about systemic racism, to assault the rights of transgender people, to remove local authority from the cities that fund our state, and to effectively eliminate gun regulations.
It continues to baffle me that this reads like a list of positive developments to some of our neighbors.
My colleagues across the aisle are great people who legitimately care about the welfare of our state. Several of them have told me that they are disappointed with what’s happening to their party but that they have to go along with it, or they’ll get primaried.
Our state, like much of our country, is being held hostage by a misinformed and outraged minority.
In all fairness, they are being fed a steady diet of terrifying disinformation. Vaccines cause cancer. Masks make us sick. Our Governor is setting up concentration camps for the unvaccinated. Teachers are trying to make our kids feel bad about being white. Liberals want to turn us into a socialist country. Caravans of brown people are coming to kill us.
Disinformation is driving policy and laws in Tennessee
The majority of Senate Republicans are old guard conservatives who believe in strong fiscal policy and would just as soon stay out of people’s bedrooms and personal lives, but the relentless deluge of emails, calls, and social media posts demanding immediate action has changed their priorities over time.
We now find ourselves in a world where an obnoxious minority demands that we exercise identity politics to kill identity politics, that we adopt extreme government overreach to prevent government overreach, and that we employ prejudice to eradicate prejudice.
Everyone loses. That’s the logical consequence of this political calamity. Public health emergencies require mutual sacrifice of the type that the greatest generation offered selflessly. If everyone doesn’t meet the moment though, then no one does.
Infectious diseases don’t care about personal freedom. Good guys with guns never seem to show up. Environmental disasters are inured to tribal politics, and racism and sexism are not going to disappear because we stop talking about it.
So we end up with one of the highest COVID-19 rates in the world, individuals shopping for groceries getting shot, entire cities experiencing devastating floods and a school system that isn’t allowed to teach about racism or sexism.
This is the state of our state as we head into redistricting. Performative nods towards equitable map-making have been made, with Democrats allowed a seat at the committee table, preferably seen and not heard. Nobody expects fair maps though. Our state is already gerrymandered to heavily favor Republicans. These are the skirmishes of the modern civil war.
A few days ago, state senators received an email from a colleague sharing a link to an article that advocates for a ‘soft secession’ from the country.
As with the last civil war, the secessionists claim that states rights should prevail to protect personal freedoms. Americans see it as a way to oppress minorities, women, and the impoverished.
Modern ‘civil war’ has made us forget what’s important
Tennessee is a state that is run entirely by one party that has a trifecta, and though we are rated first for fiscal stability, we’re in the bottom decile for almost every other metric. Our own tax dollars are held in reserve and often spent on bad contracts. This is a state that does not invest in its people.
State departments are falling apart. All of the alphabet soup; corrections, children services, education, welfare, wildlife resources, energy/conservation and health are underfunded and dysfunctional. The horrible stories of abused children, traumatized caseworkers, indefensible deforestation, and good people getting fired just for doing their jobs are endless. Everyone loses.
It is evident that some Americans are fine with relinquishing our democratic experiment for an authoritarian regime. They identify as Republican, though not all Republicans are on board.
The calculated plan to overturn the November 2020 results were codified in ink with the Eastman Memo. In this post-truth era, the radical right liberally invents “alternative facts” with complete buy-in from constituents.
The rest of us are committed to painstakingly vetting our messages against the rigor of substantiated truth. This puts us at a profound disadvantage, but that is the only way that democracy works.
Every skirmish brings us closer to a critical juncture. Almost eight score ago, Republican President Lincoln ensured that we protected the great democratic experiment.
This time, with our environment, our union, and our civil rights on the line, we face a formidable and not necessarily identifiable foe. This is a time for courage, and it is a time for action. Sometimes we forget that democracy is hard work. We must do it together.
Heidi Campbell, D-Oak Hill, represents District 20 in the Tennessee Senate.