The Weaponization of Government is Proceeding Apace
At the state and local level, organs of the state are acting super-shady. They haven't thought this through.
Republicans have been railing about the “weaponization of government” for quite some time now. And yet today, the hard-working staff here at Drezner’s World couldn’t help but notice two small news items suggesting that the weaponization was coming from inside the GOP’s house.
Consider the New York Times profile of House Oversight and Accountability Committee chair James Comer by Jonathan Swan and Luke Broadwater. The story discusses Comer’s pursuit of the Biden family and the MAGA frustration that it has yet to lead to much of anything. Swan and Broadwater close their story with a pretty chilling anecdote.
“If you come to Kentucky and call me ‘ultra MAGA,’ that doesn’t hurt me in my district,” he said, referring to Mr. Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan.
Instead, at stops throughout his district — in restaurants, farms and small businesses — people treat Mr. Comer as a hero. During a visit last month, constituents told him they had seen him on Fox and urged him to “keep it up.”
Mr. Comer recalled a local deputy sheriff who had recently pulled him over for speeding but let him go when he realized who he had nabbed — only after leaning in to ask one question.
“We going to get Biden or not?”
Look, I get that a deputy sheriff in Kentucky is not going to be Joe Biden’s biggest fan. What’s more disturbing is that an agent of the state clearly factored in political affiliation in his decision to enforce the law. That almost seems like… what’s the appropriate phrase to describe it… weaponizing the government to spare political allies and punish political opponents (This, by the way, is exactly what Comer is doing as committee chair; Swan and Broadwater note that he has dropped committee investigations into Trump and Jared Kushner).
Meanwhile, in Florida, Christopher Rufo is continuing his jihad against university departments that he does not like in Florida’s state universities. In a recent column, Rufo made his political criteria explicit:
For conservatives, the first step in reforming the universities is to expose the abuse of “academic freedom,” which has been used as a defense of intellectual license, and to propose a clear policy that any academic departments that pursue activism instead of scholarship will lose their taxpayer funding. Administrators, faculty, and students can advance left-wing ideology in their private capacity, but the First Amendment is not an entitlement to state support and taxpayer subsidies. Lawmakers are well within their rights to demand that public universities focus on rigorous academic work over partisan polemics with a scholarly veneer. Any program that violates this compact will be abolished.
It is time for the “victim’s revolution” to be met with a meaningful counter-revolution. Legislators have an opportunity to abolish academic programs, such as critical race theory, ethnic studies, queer theory, gender studies, and intersectionality, that do not contribute to the production of scholarly knowledge, but serve as taxpayer-funded sinecures for activists who despise the values of the public whom they are supposed to serve.
There are many, many problems with this approach. The most obvious is that Rufo’s explicitly conservative agenda has no quarrel with right-wing activism in the academy — it’s only a problem if it’s “left-wing.” Another obvious problem is that Rufo’s system requires everyone to trust state legislators to be able to independently categorize scholarly outputs between “rigorous academic work” and “partisan polemics with a scholarly veneer.” How to put this gently… I doubt their abilities to do this job competently. Instead, it seems like they would follow Rufo’s lead and — wait for it — weaponize the government.
[Furthermore, the slippery slopes of Rufo’s formulation are frightening. Universities have increasingly prioritized scholarly research demonstrating “impact” beyond the ivory tower. Rufo might brand some of this as political activism, but in most instances it is a professor who is taking what they have learned from their research and informing the public. By Rufo’s criteria, my congressional testimony from last year would justify legislative action.]
Michael Munger tweeted out his objections to this earlier today, nd it highlights the corrosive effects of this approach to governing:
Conservatives have been very fond of decrying the “deep state” and warn about “weaponizing the government.” But it sure seem like whenever they are elected, the GOP behaves in exactly the way that they believe their opponents will govern.
This creates two problems. The first is the damage that Republicans will wreak while engaging in this behavior. The second is that Republicans are setting the norm for this kind of behavior by both parties for decades to come.