In Microtones, our newsletter-first column.
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MICROTONES by Scott Gordon, editor-in-chief and publisher
Apparently we are supposed to be shocked this week that Governor Tony Evers is describing Republicans in the State Legislature with accurate terminology. Evers declared earlier this month that the State Senate’s vote to fire Braf Pfaff, his nominee for Secretary of Agriculture—not because they thought Pfaff was unqualified, but because Pfaff challenged them to follow through on funding to address the very real problem of farmer suicides—was “absolute bullshit.” Over in Daniel Bice’s Pearl-Clutching Corner, we further learned that Evers told a group of employees at the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection that the move was “amoral and stupid,” and used the word “bastards,” apparently saying “don’t let the bastards grind you down” or some variant thereof. Bice framed this as Evers calling GOP Senators themselves bastards, which honestly would be cool as hell but which Evers denies.
Maybe Evers was just going off on his political enemies, and maybe he was trying to reassure people who work at one of the important state regulatory agencies Republicans are constantly working to undermine. Don’t get me wrong, the words Evers chooses do indicate something important about Wisconsin politics right now: The Republican majority in the legislature is so vindictive, callous, and extreme that our famously bland governor is starting to fill up his swear jar only a year into his first term. To be fair, they probably didn’t think he needed a very big jar!
One Associated Press story on Evers’ recent comments made it sound like some sea-change betrayal of Evers’ promise to bring more civility to state politics. The story does little to hold Republicans accountable for their own callous behavior. It quotes Senate Majority Leader and 5th District Congressional candidate Scott Fitzgerald calling Evers’ behavior “shockingly disrespectful,” but doesn’t challenge Fitzgerald’s framing of the issue at all. The Wisconsin State Journal‘s editorial cartoonist, Phil Hands, even declared that Evers “has a potty mouth,” a thing that adults with a functioning conception of the world totally say. This is a familiar and dispiriting way to talk about politics: Whether it’s our fascist president spewing conspiracy theories or Evers pushing back with a cuss or two or a school board member daring to mention cops and Nazis in the same paragraph, just put it all under the broad rubric of “the coarsening of politics” or some such thing. Crush the vulnerable, erode whatever tiny shreds of legitimate democracy this country has in the first place, blithely dismiss efforts to protect people from being mass-murdered or to protect children from lead poisoning, but just please, please, don’t disrupt the pageantry around it all.
I’ve never been comfortable with the idea that Evers is meant to be Wisconsin’s civility savior—something that both the press and Evers himself have pushed. Anyone who’s actually paying attention knows that politics in this country and this state are headed into an incredibly ugly fight, whether we like it or not. Anyone who understands history knows that you can hardly “coarsen” a political landscape that is already inequitable and violent. And we know that Republicans in Wisconsin behave the way they do not because Evers is insufficiently “civil” or “collaborative,” but because they want to hold onto as much power as possible. They’ve chosen to do that by constantly keeping us on edge, by refusing to hear bills that a majority of Wisconsinites across the political spectrum support, by surprising us with extreme legislation and rule changes, by denigrating a disabled legislator just because they can, by shelving bills that actually matter to make time for Christian-supremacist declarations about “Bible Week” and Christmas trees. They fundamentally don’t accept that non-Republicans who win elections get to do some actual governing. Republicans are at worst slavering members of fascist white-identity cult, and at best people in denial about being members of a fascist white-idendity cult.
Evers, like most of today’s Democrats, probably hasn’t quite accepted that. Even when it became clear that Republicans would try to strip Evers’ powers before he took office and give the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee a bizarre level of quasi-executive power, Evers was too damn nice and conciliatory. So When Evers actually puts some spice into his words, it’s refreshing. We should never worship politicians, and we should keep in mind that Evers isn’t doing near enough on all sorts of issues, including the climate crisis. I’m not suggesting Evers can swear his way out of this, though it would be fun to see him try. But showing voters that you share their disgust and frustration is far better leadership than pretending that you can reason or bargain with the folks we’re up against.
(Photo via Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism on Flickr.)
New this week:
Unionized caregivers at Journey Mental Health Center fight against burnout and a politically connected law firm. (Illustration by Shaysa Sidebottom.)
Madison band Clean Room prepares to say goodbye to its current lineup.
On the Tone Madison Podcast, Ben Munson and Scott Gordon crack open an old CD book to explore the Madison music of yesteryear.
Join us on December 12 at Giant Jones Brewing Company for our Best of 2019 Listening Party.
Elsewhere on the Madison internet: A very good subtweet. Riff Raff is playing The Annex on December 21. Karben4 meets Karuba. When the Cap Times took on ’90s slang, or something.
This week’s Madison calendar: A night of challenging improvisation at Café Coda. Documentarian Julia Reichert visits UW Cinematheque. And more.
Upcoming Tone Madison Events!
December 12: Tone Madison Best of 2019 Listening Party. Giant Jones Brewing Company, 6 to 9 p.m., free, 21+