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Abbott and DeSantis prefer partisan stunts to substantive solutions

Getty/AP-Phelan M Ebenhack

Convinced, it seems, that politicians can fool lots of the people most of the time, Govs. Greg Abbott (R-Texas) and Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.) continue to offer voters partisan stunts instead of substantive solutions.

Here are the most recent examples:

Soon after April Fool’s Day, Gov. Abbott denounced the Biden administration for ceasing to apply Title 42 (a 1944 statute that allows the federal government to deport migrants to stop the spread of transmissible diseases into the United States) at the southern border. Abbott indicated he would take “unprecedented action” to prevent an influx of criminals into Texas.

The governor announced he would provide one-way bus tickets to transport immigrants to the nation’s capital. “Texas is tired of being the unloading dock for illegal immigrants,” Abbott declared. “The new unloading dock is going to be Washington D.C.” To date, four busloads have arrived. The immigrants have been given a tour of the Capitol. Their future prospects remain uncertain. The situation at the border is unchanged.

Abbott directed the Texas Military Department to conduct “mass migration rehearsals,” including “a boat blockade of the Rio Grande River, razor wire along the river’s edge, and equipping state troopers and members of the National Guard with riot gear.”

Although U.S. Border Control & Customs and Border Protection already search automobiles and trucks at border crossings, the governor ordered the Texas Department of Public Safety to conduct “enhanced safety inspections” of every commercial vehicle entering the state from Mexico. The redundant operation brought commercial activity to a standstill, with thousands of trucks carrying perishable fruits and vegetables backed up for miles and protests shutting down Pharr-Reynosa International Bridge, the busiest crossing in the Rio Grande Valley.

Asked about the results of the initiative, officials of the Texas Department of Public Safety cited tickets for 943 violations, including defective brakes, defective tires, and defective lighting. No mention was made of drug seizures or apprehension of immigrants.

Gov. Abbott’s new border policies produced a backlash among many Texans, including a few Republicans. The plan, declared Allen West, former GOP state chair, “was stuck on stupid.” In an open letter to Abbot, Sid Miller, Texas’ Agriculture Commissioner, called the measures “political theater.” The “economy killing” inspections, Miller added, exacerbated already strained supply chains and would soon empty grocery shelves, resulting in “untold losses” for Texas businesses.

Abbott soon rescinded the inspection protocols, with a face-saving explanation that the governors of the four Mexican states bordering Texas had agreed to enhance safety and security.

Gov. DeSantis, the Costello to Abbott’s Abbott, has made opposition to “Critical Race Theory” one of his signature stunts. In December 2021 DeSantis blasted CRT proponents for seeking to erase American history. Promising to prevent taxpayers from subsidizing teachers to “cultivate Black communism” and “teach kids to hate our country or to hate each other,” DeSantis proposed the WOKE [Wrongs to Our Kids and Employees] Act. Although Critical Race Theory has never been included in the curriculum of Florida’s public schools, DeSantis signed legislation prohibiting instruction using CRT or the New York Times’ 1619 Project.

“We don’t have CRT in our classrooms,” said Democratic State Representative Anna Eskamani, ”but really what it is doing is silencing students, surveilling teachers, and creating an environment where any conversation on race and culture seems off the table.”

Since July 2021, according to the free speech advocacy group PEN America, public school districts in Florida have banned over 200 books, including Beloved, Toni Morrison’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel. This year, the legislature required school districts to give parents a say in the selection of instructional material, including library books and texts used in classrooms. This month, the Board of Education rejected 54 of 132 mathematics textbooks because they were found to be “impermissible with either Florida’s new standards or contained prohibited topics,” such as “the tenets of CRT or other unsolicited strategies of indoctrination.” The Board did not initially provide any examples of objectionable content or “strategies of indoctrination,” but has subsequently cited a textbook with bar graphs measuring differences in racial prejudice by age and political identification. 

Are math classes hotbeds of CRT indoctrination? Should every reference to race be banned from all K-12 public schools? Floridians (and, for that matter, Texans) who say yes should prepare for lots more fear-mongering stunts by politicians unwilling or unable to propose substantive solutions to the pressing problems our country actually faces.

Glenn C. Altschuler is the Thomas and Dorothy Litwin Professor of American Studies at Cornell University. He is the co-author (with Stuart Blumin) of “Rude Republic: Americans and Their Politics in the Nineteenth Century.”

Tags 2024 presidential election banned books Book bans Border busing Critical race theory Education Greg Abbott immigrants Immigration indoctrination K-12 education political stunt Republican governors Republican Party Ron DeSantis textbooks

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