OPINION | JOHN BRUMMETT: Generational chagrin

It was an Arkansas liberals' gathering of people about the age of the president. Thus they were few and not so spry.

Much of the conversation was whether "they" had overplayed their hand.

"They" meant Gov. Sarah Sanders and Republican legislators who are so loyal to her that these aging liberals were reminded of a George Fisher cartoon of Orval Faubus addressing an Arkansas General Assembly made up exclusively of Orval Faubus lookalikes.

I thought the requisite first question had to be whether Sanders and the legislative sheep could possibly go too far in the current Arkansas political climate of grievance politics.

I'm sadly dubious on that.

Arkansas people have never paid much attention to state legislative politics other than to voice general ridicule of the legislative body as a whole, and then, without any specific displeasure, re-elect overwhelmingly their local contribution to the problem.

To the extent that Arkansans might be paying more attention now, it's likely because Sanders and her obedient flock have rendered our state a cookie-cutout of national politics.

White rural conservative people despise Democratic liberalism on buzzwords like "woke" and "indoctrination." They fear sexual and gender movements that they believe their Bible condemns and which threaten them and their children somehow.

For that matter, our politics has become so bitterly tribal that most political communication is conducted in echo chambers where people sometimes mistake the passion, intensity and rising volume of their dissent for growth in their ranks.

We in Arkansas seem to live now by a fully inverted political paradigm that must be largely generational.

As I was coming up in the 1960s, the premium in Arkansas politics was on improving the state's image from the race debacle in Little Rock in 1957. We tried to do so by electing more modern and moderate politicians to enact a few reforms and present a better face to the country. So we got Win Rockefeller, Dale Bumpers, David Pryor and Bill Clinton.

In that era it became logical and fashionable to lament demagogic conservatism as an "embarrassment" to the state. Even today, aging liberals behold today's legislating--bigoted discrimination, an anti-public education ethic and railing against the federal government--and despair over our state's humiliation.

But it's not embarrassing at all to Sanders and what Rex Nelson has called her band of "Traveling Trumpettes." They believe embarrassment is now due for the Democratic control that lingered longer in Arkansas than in other Southern and red states.

Their idea of modernization is to be conservative in the national resentment mold that has made the '50s-style right-wing demagoguery mainstream 70 years later.

This generation came up when people were fleeing colder winters and rusted industries for the opportunities and liberations of the "Sun Belt." People fled progressive taxation for lower high-income taxation.

An old liberal's view of "embarrassment" for our state is a new generation's ideal.

Just the other day, amid national news about Sanders' signature on a bill to repeal the Arkansas child labor law, liberal California Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom chimed in for some reason. He put on Twitter that it had not occurred to him to include encouragement of child labor on his agenda for his state's legislative session.

Sanders tweeted back to him to say maybe he ought to consider that Arkansas had merely put its child-employment law in line with that of Texas, Arizona and Colorado--states, she said, that Newsom might recognize because so many of his state's citizens are fleeing to them.

In Sanders' national view, Arkansas must aspire to the modern glory of rural Texas with its high dirty-energy use, guns, parochial schools, exurban evangelical megachurches and the big-talking cussed independence of modern frontier cowboys. Her idea of embarrassment is Silicon Valley, Napa Valley, San Francisco, Hollywood and a California public university system encompassing at least a half-dozen of the most highly regarded institutions of higher education in the world.

Just Monday a national right-wing website published an article from an hour-long interview with Sanders on the theme that she was putting Arkansas in a supposedly favorable national limelight.

Sen. Matt McKee, the guy who asked the transgender woman if she had a penis, was quoted in that piece saying Sarah was making Arkansas, rather than Florida or Texas, "the place."

Sen. Bart Hester, the president pro tem, boasted in that article that legislators are more afraid of Sanders than of their local school superintendents.

Arkansas lacks resources for frequent public-opinion surveys of a governor's job performance. I know of only one poll we're soon to get and it will come after the legislative session.

I'm predicting Sanders' favorable rating will come in under the 63 percent of the vote she got in November, but not nearly as low as ought to be the case, at least by my antiquated sense of embarrassment.

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.