I worry about Kansas a lot these days, my home state for more than three decades. Several political and social developments worry me. The polls continue to show that Kansas would vote for Donald Trump even though the peoples of Kansas are religious folks who take conventional morality seriously and Trump flunks every norm of conventional morality. Kansas’ governor, three members of Congress, and the secretary of state are urging Kansans to support Trump.
Historically, Kansas has been a Republican red state and loyalty to the party is a predictable indicator of Kansans’ behavior under almost all national and international contingencies. Party loyalty is a commendable value but democratic politics also need flexibility.
Of course, not everyone in Kansas favors Trump but the anti-Trump minority does not define Kansas political attitudes. And voting for Clintons is rarely an act of virtue. Yet what is at stake is intelligent politics. For state offices, Kansans are much more open in ditching party loyalties and assessing politicians on the basis of their individual strengths and weaknesses. This is the intelligent political attitude of an open-minded electorate.
With respect to national politics, however, Kansas leans on a solidified psychology rooted in patriotism, nativism, anti-urbanism, and primal individual libertarianism derived from harsh memories of the early settlers’ code of behavior. This form of rigid social psychology breeds stubborn self-confidence and cultivates little self-skepticism, a prerequisite for self-transformation and learning more nuanced behaviors. (I detected a similar mindset in Pakistan where I spent the first part of my life.)
The Kansas secretary of state, a presumably enlightened man who studied at Oxford University and Yale Law School, continues to exhibit small-minded nativism and a militant mindset that wishes to exclude immigrants (mostly brown people) from voting booths. He takes pride in co-fathering laws in Arizona and other states designed to curb illegal immigration. In Kansas, he promotes himself as a Trump-style birther denying the right to vote to nearly 20,000 Kansans who cannot produce birth certificates or proof of citizenship. State and federal courts have rebuffed the legal logic of his anti-suffrage pugnacity but he remains defiant and unteachable. An African-American federal judge in Kansas came close to holding him in contempt of court.
In 2013, the Kansas Board of Regents made headlines when it modified policies regarding academic freedom after a professor posted an anti-NRA tweet. Universities are safe places for open and vigorous exchange of ideas and viewpoints. Bold and intellectually-vibrant teachers are the lifeline of schools and universities while teaching dead ideas is the death of education. Ignoring these elementary truths about education, the Board is determined to align itself with the broader rigid psychology that scoffs at criticism. “Don’t rock the boat” is the mindset that defines the Kansas elites and the boat they have in mind is so fragile that even a small rocking is taken as an unforgivable assault.
This form of rigid social psychology breeds stubborn self-confidence and cultivates little self-skepticism, a prerequisite for self-transformation and learning more nuanced behaviors.
The state legislature has assaulted the freedom of Kansas judiciary that stands out as a beacon of hope in otherwise cheerless times in Kansas. After the Kansas Supreme Court took a firm stand to uphold the state constitution and required the legislature to allocate adequate funds for public education, the state senate moved a bill to make it easier to intimidate and impeach high court judges. In the forthcoming 2016 elections, some high court judges, though rated highly by lawyers, face backlash as politicians fan the fires of revulsion against their court opinions. How can anyone be safe in a state where judges of the highest court are willfully disrespected by the legislature?
When state officials promote dogmatic nativism and hatred, the bigoted people are emboldened to carry out their violent fantasies. In 2012, I cautioned the state legislature to tone down vile rhetoric against Kansas Muslims, who serve as engineers, physicians, and in businesses, and Muslim foreign students who study at local universities. A few days ago, the FBI arrested three Kansan white males in Garden City, located in the western part of the state, where large immigrant communities from Vietnam and Somalia live and work for local businesses. These hate-filled self-proclaimed “Crusaders” were planning to go house to house to kill Somalis (black and Muslim), living quiet lives and providing the needed manual labor for local businesses. I have yet to see the state governor to issue a strong statement that such barbarity will not be tolerated in Kansas, once upon a time a free state that dared to be different in a territorial neighborhood that practiced and defended slavery.