Tag Archives: Valparaiso University

And…Todd Rokita Again

I’ve posted a lot about the negative consequences of bigotry for individuals and the body politic. What I haven’t focused on–at least, not sufficiently–is the moral culpability of the politicians who pander to and encourage bigotry and ignorance because they think it will help them win elections.

Which brings me to Indiana’s current Attorney General, Todd Rokita.

Rokita, predictably, is one of the GOP officials currently screaming about President Biden’s vaccine mandate– elevating political identity over government’s obligation to protect  public health.

It’s part and parcel of his persona.

Some of you will remember that Rokita was a prime mover of Indiana’s Voter ID law–premised on a “voter fraud” that every single study found to be non-existent. But of course, minorities were less likely to have the required documentation–and  not-so-coincidentally, less likely to vote for Rokita.

Todd Smekens, who often comments on this blog, shared a letter with me that Rokita had sent to multiple media outlets in Indiana, “explaining” his war on the Confucius Institutes that dot campuses around the state. (I’ve previously noted how ridiculous and dishonest those attacks have been.)

This letter–replete with inaccuracies (China did not intentionally loosen the virus on the world, Valparaiso University does not have an “affiliation with the Chinese Communist Party”…) continues Rokita’s assault on Confucius Institutes and common sense, and ends with a ringing promise to protect Hoosiers from the Chinese Communist Menace. (Oh good..I’ve been so worried. Hoosiers are so susceptible…) In any event, that grandiose promise of “protection,” ridiculous as it is, falls far afield of the Indiana Attorney General’s job description.

As I’ve previously noted, Confucius Institutes exist at some 100 American colleges, including IUPUI, where I taught, although given its lack of prominence on campus, most students had probably never heard of it. The Institutes are one of a wide range of campus organizations intended to introduce students to a diverse set of global cultures.

Valparaiso University’s Confucius Institute–for some reason, a particular target of Rokita’s– was founded in 2008 and its website said it “aims at helping Northwest Indiana citizens learn about China and its people and culture and study the Chinese language, and promoting cultural, particularly music, exchange between the US and China.” Valparaiso shut the Institute down last year, citing a loss of federal funding.

It’s tempting to shrug at this posturing –after all, this is deep-red Indiana, where we’re used to  political figures making fools of themselves. But we need to realize that the character, morality and intellect of the people we place in leadership positions actually matters.

In a recent piece in the Economist, Stephen Reicher revisited the infamous Stanford Prison Experiment, and found evidence of the important role played by leadership–the researchers who shaped the experiment– in producing the shocking results that  brought the experiment to an early close. As Reicher reports, a full reading of the study archive–recently opened– “does not reveal natural brutality, as it is often depicted, but how brutality is mobilized by others.”

At the moment, Americans are in the middle of a different leadership experiment, this one focused on a deadly pathogen. “Leaders” like DeSantis and Abbott and Rokita are actively encouraging behaviors that are equally toxic–behaviors that pose a threat to public health and are directly responsible for hundreds if not thousands of deaths. That encouragement is clearly intended to enhance their standing in the ranks of the “freedom fighters” who control today’s GOP. (Rokita fought efforts by IU to ensure that students coming back to campus were vaccinated; he lost in court.)

Rokita’s “letter” (really a press release) was clearly intended to endear him to his natural constituency– to the sort of voter who would be receptive to his misinformation (pretty much the horse de-wormer crowd).

As I noted when he first initiated these attacks against China, communism and American universities, it really doesn’t matter whether Rokita is as loony and smarmy as he seems (a la Marjorie Taylor Greene et al), or just pursuing what he considers to be a savvy strategy of appealing to uninformed and loony voters. He’s a prime example of everything that’s wrong with contemporary American politics.

Our ability to get government functioning properly again–our ability to ensure that the various leaders of state agencies are doing the jobs they are supposed to be doing rather than chasing media mentions and the votes of the credulous and uninformed– requires ridding ourselves of elected officials like Rokita.

In Rokita’s case, I actually know several Republicans who agree….

The Real “Red Scare”

I’m old enough to remember when the “Red Scare” referred to American concerns over the influence of Communism and the power of the USSR.

Today,  I would submit that the term is once again useful, but because it addresses a very different source of threat: red states and the lunatics who’ve been elected by their voters. Here in very red Indiana, for example, we have our Attorney General, Todd Rokita, who recently launched an investigation of Valparaiso University and  the Confucius Institute for…no kidding…promoting Communist propaganda.

Now, I know that there is a spirited debate about Rokita among the people who follow our local politics. His “defenders” attribute his anti-constitutional forays into culture war to his obvious and overweening ambition, rather than mental illness. They see his bizarre positions as strategies intended to play to the increasingly loony GOP base while keeping his name in the news. (He’s already booked himself on Newsmax to discuss his investigation,” an outlet likely to be more supportive than others  that have covered this clown show, although In his frantic desire for any attention, Rokita, like Trump, apparently doesn’t care if coverage is positive or negative as long as they spell his name right.)

The attorney general’s office declined to tell IndyStar what specific evidence it has supporting the insinuation that Beijing is attempting to brainwash Hoosiers through the Valparaiso University-Confucius Institute relationship, which partially relies on funds from the Chinese government. “We are not able to comment on the specifics of an ongoing investigation,” a spokesperson said.

“The societal and political cost of the Chinese Communist Party infiltrating our universities and K-12 education institutes to indoctrinate our students is incalculable,” the spokesperson said, when asked how much this investigation will cost taxpayers in Indiana. “Comparatively, the cost of our investigation is minimal, but will depend upon the details of the investigation.

Yeah, comparatively…

Some 100 American colleges host Confucius Institutes; IUPUI (where I taught) has had one for several years, although given its lack of prominence on campus, most students have probably never heard of it. It’s one of a wide range of campus organizations intended to introduce students to a diverse set of global cultures. Valparaiso University’s Confucius Institute was founded in 2008 and its website says it “aims at helping Northwest Indiana citizens learn about China and its people and culture and study the Chinese language, and promoting cultural, particularly music, exchange between the US and China.”

But what if Rokita’s paranoia–or pandering– was actually based in fact? What if these Institutes actually were “promoting” a communist philosophy? (Obviously, in Indiana they aren’t doing that very well.) The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution would protect that activity–something you would like to believe an Attorney General would know. After all, Rokita went to law school and somehow graduated; he also took an oath of office requiring him to pledge allegiance to the U.S. Constitution, which you would like to assume he’d read.

If the government actually had the authority to seek and destroy “propaganda,” sometime in the future a Democrat holding office could launch a similar “investigation” of Fox News or Newsmax…Even a non-lawyer can see the problem.

So why, exactly, is our embarrassing buffoon of an A.G. wasting the resources of his office on an “investigation” of propaganda that he couldn’t shut down even if it existed somewhere other than in his fevered imagination? Here’s a clue: Toward the end of the linked story, it notes that Rokita has also been referring to COVID as the “Chinese virus.”

In order to appeal to the current GOP base, you must whip up fear. Fear of “the other.” Fear of “uppity women” getting control of their own bodies. Fear of scary Black people and that evil Critical Race Theory. Fear of (an undefined) “socialism.” Fear of those Chinese “commies.”

At the end of the day, it really doesn’t matter whether Rokita is as loony as he seems (a la Marjorie Taylor Greene et al), or just pursuing what he considers to be a savvy strategy of appealing to uninformed and loony voters. He’s a prime example of everything that’s wrong with contemporary American politics.

He is “the Red Scare.”