It would be great to celebrate more than mediocrity.
Last week, I caught this tweet from our state’s governor, Bill Lee.
Our state is proof that conservative principles work.
The story he’s sharing is a local opinion piece by reporter Clint Cooper. In it, Cooper praises Lee because he “is not afraid to be the conservative he told voters he was when he ran for the office in 2018.” It’s an interesting take, considering just how lousy Tennessee is at most things.
As of last summer, we ranked 35th in education. My home state of Minnesota is 7th. Ouch. We did much better when it comes to living off the federal government, however. Tennessee is the 14th most dependent state of 2021. That’s, uh, something — right?
The latest CDC information places Tennessee in 12th place for death by firearms, 11th in drug overdose deaths, and also 11th in the latest quarterly provisional death rates from COVID-19. Last time I checked, we were tied for first place — with North Dakota, South Dakota, Rhode Island, Utah, and Arizona — for the country’s highest COVID infection rate. Currently, we’re in the bottom five states for coronavirus vaccinations.
But hey, we’ve got a whole lot of churches. So, our teen birth rates must be low — oh, nope. Tenth in the nation, my friends. We’re also 14th in births to unmarried parents if that matters to you. Life expectancy? In the bottom five. Homicide? Tenth place again. We are 20th for suicide — which, I suppose is a little bit better but it’s still not great, obviously.
The point is that Tennessee is hardly a happy or healthy state. Sure, it’s beautiful here in the Volunteer State… if you ignore all of the trash since recycling and waste management aren’t really our things either (44th place, cough cough). The mountains are certainly divine. Housing can be cheaper, but it varies widely and those prices are quickly trending upward.
If you’re thinking about moving out here, you might want to know that crime exceeds the national average. According to Best Places, we score 34.3 on violent crime, while the US average is 22.7. Property crime is calculated at 42.8, higher than the US average of 35.4. (All of these are on a scale of 1-100, so, the lower the better.)
One really has to ask what on earth conservatives have to be proud of in Tennessee. It seems that we’re constantly in the news for issues with one embarrassingly tone-deaf or racist educator after another. One recent story involves a veteran instructor on race and anthropology who used a hip-hop acronym that doubles as a racial slur in the classroom.
That’s one of the more “mild” problems, actually. Our local school district is presently embroiled in a $10 Million lawsuit for failing to intervene when a middle-schooler was assaulted multiple times on school property. Neighboring Ooltewah made horrifying headlines after a young basketball player was brutally assaulted by his teammates.
I’ve walked through low-income and subsidized housing down here and have been horrified about what actually flies. Cockroaches everywhere. Routine bedbug infestations. Holes in the walls, broken plumbing, unfinished electrical outlets, and feces all over the hallways from aging residents who can’t take proper care of their service pets.
I’ve seen so much in Tennessee that simply wouldn’t fly in other states. As a child, I grew up in subsidized housing in Minnesota, and there were annual inspections to make sure the apartments were healthy, clean, and up-to-date on repairs.
Our Tennessee government doesn’t appear to have any such standards. It makes me wonder if this is what happens when your state government is swarmed by those who profess “conservative values” and “Christian charity.”
There’s a lot of hate here. Before moving to this state, I never knew how overt racism in real life happened. Now, I know it’s shameless, happening anywhere and everywhere.
There are also a whole lot of strange mentalities in this state, like the whole, “I’m not better than you because I’m a church-going believer (but really, I’m better).” There’s a weird mentality about poor people as well. There’s definitely the mindset that everybody who’s poor did something to deserve it. That brings a sort of harshness or coldness to folks' voices when they talk about things like SNAP or welfare.
But then there’s also this weirdness among a lot of poor people struggling to get by they sort of look their noses down on other poor folks — again it’s the “better than you” attitude.
Many people down here have irrational fears of communism and Marxism, and those fears go far to keep the state red despite its lack of actual success.
And I suppose I don’t have to tell you just how wacky things have been over the past year with the coronavirus pandemic. I think I had moderate hopes for our state when it first shutdown for two weeks last March. But it quickly became clear that the conservatives were determined to politicize the whole thing to fight all commonsense and reason.
I’ve felt fortunate that my daughter’s school leaders actually trust science instead of just declaring, “Jesus take the wheel!” They’re more like, “God expects us to use wisdom.” So, you know, they do it. And it’s worked well. My kid has been able to get a lot more social interaction than me and the school hasn’t had to shut down once since reopening last August.
I think about all of these things when I hear Bill Lee brag about Tennessee’s supposed success. It would be funny if it wasn’t so terrible. We’re talking about a man who inherited his family’s business and had the luxury to quit working to raise his kids when his first wife died. The man doesn’t support the expansion of TennCare allowed by the Affordable Care Act, he opposes all abortion, and supports the discrimination against gay people trying to adopt a child. As if it’s better to have no parents than gay ones. He’s against transgender athletes, and trans rights in general.
And do you know what else Bill Lee opposes?
This is one of Gov. Lee’s priorities for 2021. Not healthcare in the middle of a pandemic. Not education. Just easier access to guns. Earlier this week, our state senate approved the removal of gun permits. They’re calling it “constitutional” carry, but what it means is that people 21+ and military members aged 18 to 20 will carry handguns (openly or concealed) without a permit requirement.
Can we just think about that for a moment? Our governor wants to make it easier for Tennesseans to carry guns. Why? What is so fundamentally wrong with people that they believe this is a bright idea?
We’re already doing poorly with gun violence. Why would we want to be worse?
But you know, I guess it’s all par for the course. In a state like Tennessee, people are determined to fight for “Christian and Conservative values,” even when they don’t work. Truly. Nothing that the Republicans push for the Bible Belt seem to do what they’re supposed to do… unless it’s all about getting mediocre results.
My entire county has about 108,000 people. We’ve got about 200 churches and the vast majority of voters are Republican. Our community is riddled with problems, yet people remain convinced that the answer is more Conservative politics.
Folks… it’s not as if Tennessee is sometimes a liberal state. But for those who take the Constitution and the Bible as inerrant, holy guidelines, I don’t think the results even matter. It’s more like Republicans simply want to fight a constant culture war.
The other day, I was writing about the way evangelical Christians use racism and misogyny in their constant bids for power. The reason it works is that they’re using fear. Fear keeps Tennesseans conservative regardless of where that gets the state. It takes a certain sort of fear to make people think gun permits are a bad thing. And it takes a similar sort of recklessness to believe that an Amendment written 200 years ago must be upheld precisely as written at all costs.
I used to wonder why Republicans were like this. Who wants their state to be terrible? Who fights for faith-based politics that never actually work?
Leaders who want to keep people afraid. Leaders who want their constituents to believe the alternative would be worse.
Why do Republicans celebrate mediocrity? The short answer, I guess, is that they’re still enmeshed with the mediocre white men who started the culture wars.
It must be exhausting to always need some “demon” to slay, don’t you think? To live as if the world is personally against you and your “values.” It must be exhausting, but clearly, it works. Republicans don’t need proof that those values are effective. The leaders don’t need to actually deliver any positive outcomes.
All they need to do is stubbornly fight for ridiculous and dogmatic politics. Then, people end up praising terrible leaders like Bill Lee just for sticking to their guns… no matter how ridiculous, and no matter how many people die.