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OPINION | JOHN BRUMMETT: Change of culture wanted

by John Brummett | April 25, 2021 at 8:55 a.m.

With recess likely coming this week in the most regressive and petty Arkansas legislative session ever, or at least in modern times, rumination seems in order.

Democratic legislators consistently tell me that Republican colleagues whom they won't identify occasionally apologize to them for some of the nonsensically right-wing bills they're voting for and about which they know better.

I'm referring to such gems as supposed gun-law sovereignty for the state, which would be formal secession if serious; creative ways to address nonexistent problems in order to make sure transgender children in Arkansas know that their state officially abhors them, and directives to restrict history teaching in school to make sure privileged white kids never get exposed to any history citation suggesting that their race has anything to feel bad about in America's racist history.

The Civil War, as all good white kids in Arkansas must understand, was fought over resentments emanating from a disputed call in an Alabama-Ohio State football game.

Several Republican legislators, I'm told, have lamented in the company of Democratic legislators that they can't risk voting against the nonsense because the current conservative culture punishes any perceived cooperation with Democrats or Democratic interest. They explain they can't invite extreme-right primary defeat because then they couldn't do the quietly worthy legislation they're interested in and that their extremist replacement wouldn't care about.

What we need, then, are more Republicans like my favorite this season. That would be our governor, Asa Hutchinson, a rather evolved Bob Jones University alum who seems moderate sometimes only by clinging to the limited-government, pro-growth themes of the Reagan conservatism of his politically formative years.

"Restraint is the word," Hutchinson told "Meet the Press" two Sundays ago when he got asked what he made of his party's interest in his state and elsewhere in pursuing "culture-war" advancements in ways that often raised fears despite the absence of actual problems.

I literally cheered the thing that Hutchinson then said, which means he may as well be term-limited and go on national television every Sunday because he could never get nominated at home by his gone-mad party.

Hutchinson said many in his party have genuine fears "that they're going to lose their culture," which "doesn't mean you need to use the instrument of the law in every case."

He said, "There is the church. There is society. There is community. That's where the culture is impacted."

Hutchinson said he merely was espousing the Republican principle of "limited government," one he sees abandoned in the extremist takeover fueled by Trumpism, which he has the independence, audacity--and I'd say courage--to reject.

What Hutchinson revealed was a slight thread of bipartisan agreement with more liberal people whose position has long been that we could really make America great again by returning to the constitutional and practical principle that religious matters are personal and varying and ought to be kept out of law.

In other words: If you are worried about cultural change ruining the way of life you love, then keep practicing your way of life and advocating it through your church and community while resisting any infiltration into your own life of what you perceive as destructive cultural change and clinging to the once-venerated American principle of separating personal religious belief from government policy.

Such retro-wisdom causes Hutchinson to get blasted as a Republican in name only by Trump and reviled by many in his party in this Legislature who say he is the enemy because sometimes he says and does things the enemy likes.

Why, these extremists abhor the very idea that Hutchinson would want to protect sinful perverts with a hate-crime law. They ask: Doesn't he know the Bible says not to cast the first stone toward a harlot unless one is without sin, but to chunk away, sins and all, if the target is a homosexual or transgender person?

I don't have the citation for the above ready at hand.

Amid this raging nonsense, a school of thought seems to be emerging that the culture that needs to be changed in Arkansas is the toxic right-wing legislative one.

It percolates lightly in and around the fledgling Common Ground Arkansas group founded by Sen. Jim Hendren. It holds that there is still a viable segment of the Arkansas electorate that liked the centrist way Mike Beebe governed and the center-right way Hutchinson governs and rejects the vile tone and divisiveness of this legislative session.

It is banking that more moderate, solution-oriented and pragmatic Republicans or center-right independents--the Democrats are largely irrelevant at the moment--could get nominated or elected to this Legislature over some of these right-wing extremists.

Ostensibly, more sensible Republican legislators could then embrace the cover of these new legislators rather than cower against the dark clouds of the current ones.

Then they wouldn't have to apologize.

John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame. Email him at [email protected] Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.


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