Wednesday, January 10, 2024

DeSantis' "Asylum" Offer to Jewish College Students

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has issued an emergency order waiving various requirements for prospective transfer students into Florida public universities "who are seeking to transfer to a Florida university because of a well-founded fear of antisemitic or other religious discrimination, harassment, intimidation, or violence" at their current colleges.*

The "well-founded fear" language is borrowed from asylum law, so if I were a Jewish student considering this offer I'd have to be concerned that DeSantis' next step would be to traffic me right back out of the state via a one-way to a New England island.

In all seriousness, I have to give DeSantis a very faint tip of the cap here, if only because a few months ago I had a similar thought about whether colleges in blue states should offer a form of "asylum" running in the opposite direction -- assisting admissions or transfers of students leaving Florida public universities in the wake of DeSantis' assault on academic freedom and the rights of sexual minorities. I've certainly noticed an at least anecdotal uptick in "red state refugees" on the faculty side of academia, and it wouldn't surprise me to learn there's similar pressure on the student side. And on the other side of things, I actually wondered back in 2022 if DeSantis might seek to expressly differentiate himself from Trump on the subject of antisemitism. He hasn't really done so -- the seemingly obvious need of a GOP challenger to challenge Trump continuing to founder on the absolute inability of any Republican of substance to say a bad word about the Supreme Leader -- but he has tried to make "antisemitism" a relatively large part of his presidential narrative.

And so as DeSantis' presidential campaign continues to flounder in the most pathetic fashion, this reads like a theatrical attempt to capture some of the Stefanik-magic from last month. Of course, DeSantis isn't alone here. For whatever reason, Republicans have learned that fake performative concern about antisemitism is the easiest route for craven gutless mediocrities to become media starlets, at least for a few days. That it keeps on filling this role is maybe something that the Jewish community needs to ponder -- while on the one hand I'm not convinced it's actually Jews who are most impressed by these stunts, there does seem to be a repeated gullibility on this front that deserves closer interrogation. How has the GOP become so convinced that this play, in particular, is a winning strategy for them? 

* Nominally, "other religious discrimination" encompasses Muslim students as well -- an interesting prospect as various Muslim and pro-Palestinian groups have begun adopting the broad understandings of "antisemitism" vis-a-vis discourse about Israel and Zionism promoted by some Jewish groups and trying to cross-apply them to similar broad understandings of Islamophobia vis-a-vis how university actors talk about Palestine and anti-Zionism. In practice, it's hard to imagine that will amount to much -- in part because of the vagueness surrounding "well-founded fear" of persecution, and in part because the sort of person who is concerned about that sort of Islamophobia is perhaps unlikely to find Florida an attractive destination to flee to.

Tuesday, January 09, 2024

Vulnerable Situations

I was driving home from work the other night, and on my dimly lit suburban street I passed not one but two people walking their dogs while wearing all black, rendering them nearly impossible to see in the darkness (one had put a glow ring around his dog, clearly demonstrating his priorities regarding whose survival he cared about most).

I was furious as I passed them. How could they be so irresponsible? How could they put me in that situation? 

And then once I reached home, I reflected on that emotion, because it struck me as a bit weird and in need of unpacking.

Obviously, I was worried that I wouldn't see the pedestrian and would strike them with my car. Of course, if that happened, it'd be the pedestrian who'd actually be injured. I'm encased inside a one-ton steel tank. I'd be fine. But it'd be very traumatizing, and I'd feel terrible, and then there are the potential legal consequences -- those are all pretty scary, and it's that imagined prospect that really motivates my anger at the pedestrian.

So to sum up: I'm mad at the pedestrian for putting me in a position where I might be emotionally traumatized and/or face legal liability for seriously hurting them.

The thing is, when you put it that way, I sound like a sociopath. "Did you ever consider how you getting physically maimed on the hood of my car might effect me?" Who thinks like that?

Apparently I do, at least instinctively. So ... is that a sociopathic emotion? Certainly, we might say the pedestrian should behave differently (say, wear brighter colors) out of a healthy sense of self-preservation. But is there some sort of implied duty to the driver as well? Is there a sense in which someone who is vulnerable has, at least in circumstances where it is feasible/relatively costless, an obligation to mitigate their own vulnerability? Or is that nuts?

No broad moral here. Just a thought I was wrestling through.

Monday, January 08, 2024

Hostage Situation

While it wasn't on my formal list, I propose that one of our collective new year's resolutions be to remember that one does not, under any circumstances, have to hand it to Elise Stefanik:

Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) went after Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) on Sunday after Stefanik called those found guilty of crimes related to the Jan. 6 Capitol riots “hostages,” claiming that her divisive remarks are part of her efforts to join former President Trump’s 2024 ticket.


“I have concerns about the treatment of Jan. 6 hostages,” [Stefanik] said. “We have a rule in Congress of oversight over our treatment of prisoners. And I believe that we’re seeing the weaponization of the federal government against not just President Trump, but we’re seeing it against conservatives.”

In the immediate aftermath of January 6, Stefanik was vocal in demanding the Justice Department prosecute those responsible “to the fullest extent of the law.” But that was then, and this is now, and now Stefanik sees an opportunity to pander.

That Stefanik is a craven opportunistic weasel is too clear to need remarking on at this point. Kudos also to Raskin for taking the obvious but nonetheless necessary shot:

Raskin also demanded that Stefanik apologize for her comments, pointing to approximately 130 hostages held by Hamas in Gaza amid the brutal war with Israel.

“People convicted of violently assaulting police officers and conspiring to overthrow the government are not ‘hostages,’” he said on X. “Stefanik must apologize to the families of 130 people being held hostage by Hamas right now. Her pandering to Trump is dangerous.”

Israelis being raped and brutalized in Hamas captivity are "hostages". Insurrectionists imprisoned after being duly convicted for crimes following due process of law are not. Simple. And while Stefanik's casual insult towards actual hostages is hardly the primary story, anything that dims the ill-gotten luster Stefanik "earned" via her bad faith grandstanding about campus antisemitism is worth applauding.

(Actually, I'll make one more observation here, which is that somehow prison abolitionists -- who might agree in concept with characterizing workaday criminal convicts as "hostages" and certainly would support greater scrutiny of how we treat prisoners -- have somehow managed to resist any "well, I may not like her, but you've got to hand it to Stefanik ..." temptations. Fancy that.).