The State of Political Retaliation in the US
The State of Florida Just passed a bill stripping Disney World of its status as a municipality. The action will take away tax breaks and strip Disney of its status as a self-governed entity free from state or local government control. Disney received this status fifty years ago and the recent spate with the Florida governor is to blame for the flap. But why did this happen, was it political retaliation?
No studies were commissioned to determine its impact on taxpayers or public services. No public meetings were held with Disney or in the local communities. No public notice was posted to hear comments during a comment period. The action was proposed, drafted, voted upon, and signed by the governor within a week. It seems clear that this action was taken because of Disney’s backlash against the current governor’s “don’t say gay bill.” Using the power of the governor’s office and the state legislation offered by the state’s Republican legislators, they decided to exact revenge against Disney. Over the last five years politicians particularly Republicans have resorted to these tactics to silence their opposition. No one would have even known that Disney had this special status had it not been for this very public rift. Why should you care? If politics turn into a sport of organized retribution it will only be a matter of time before they come after you, other companies, religious organizations, and groups organized as non-profits, even community groups. That slippery slope threatens to upend decades of politicians steering clear of personal attacks, attacks on corporations, conglomerates, and other highly organized entities.
But in recent years, many state legislators have resorted to a kind of legislative reciprocity to exact policy changes for laws that have already been adjudicated by the courts, including the Supreme Court. Many of these legislative acts run counter to legal precedent and what is the law of the land. Realizing that states can effect change through challenges to the courts is a method that has stood out as highly effective. Just look at the recent voter suppression laws that effectively shut out entire groups of voters or the Oklahoma law completely banning abortion. Republican legislative leaders knew that the law they were about to vote on was illegal. But they went ahead and made it a state law anyway. Why? Because this has become a way of challenging the precedents established by the Supreme Court. With the recent conservative appointments made to the high court, most Republicans believe now is the time to strike. They have organized a multi-pronged attack on democracy through what can only be termed as legislative chaos. Put enough dogs in the ring and one of them is going to win. But this strategy runs the risk of alienating the electorate and destroying confidence in the Supreme Court. It also presents a threat to democratically held principles and ultimately to democracy itself.
Incredibly, the Supreme Court and the federal judiciary have stood by as most of this has happened. Even more surprising is that the normal lawsuits that would follow these legislative actions have not materialized as quickly as they have in the past. Why is that? Has the ACLU and other organizations that have championed these causes in the past lost their nerve? Or have the attacks on organizations like Planned Parenthood, Disney, Twitter and others made that kind of offensive untenable? Whatever the reason it is hurting our democracy. During the Trump presidency, countless organizations and corporations were publicly lambasted by Trump and his cohorts. Facebook, AT&T, Merck, Toyota, Ford, and T-Mobile all faced chilling attacks in the media designed to make others afraid to speak up or challenge any of that administration’s ideas. The press was equally blasted as Trump attacked newspapers all over the country including the Washington Post and the New York Times. All were labeled as fake news and Trump even so far as to ban media outlets from White House press events. Why is this relevant? Because it is part of the strategy employed by the Republican Party during and after Trump’s presidency and because President Trump initiated those attacks during his tenure. Trump filed more than 50 lawsuits following his loss in the election and he was involved in scores of lawsuits during his term.
The fact is that the Republican Party has mounted a coordinated attack against all of the laws, causes, institutions, corporations, and even individuals with whom they disagree. Using the power they have in statehouses they have sought to shape the federal agenda through state legislation that they know is unconstitutional but that will play well in the media and ultimately in the courts. It is by far the most coordinated political play in the history of the republic and a serious blow to the institution of democracy. Have democrats done this? Yes, democratic legislators with axes to grind have gone after folks, companies, and organizations but never as a political party in a national strategy as the Republican Party has done. These tactics may be here to stay and who knows if we will see the same from both parties in the near future. Because unfortunately, the state of political retaliation in the United States is alive and well.