This is one of those weeks where no one thing dominates the news cycle (or my mind). There are three themes worth keeping an eye on to see what develops. Here’s what you need to know:
Georgia is Just the Opening Act
This week, the Republican-controlled state legislature in Georgia passed a sweeping voter suppression law that was immediately signed by Republican Governor Brian Kemp. Kemp’s photo-op for the bill signing made clear whose votes Republicans elected aim to suppress. He was surrounded by white men and signed the bill under a painting of a slave plantation.
Sadly this bill in Georgia is just the tip of the iceberg. As we’ve covered here extensively before, the Republican Party is anti-democracy. They know they can’t win a free and fair election in most places anymore, and the solution they’ve come up with is to change the rules rather than attempt to persuade more voters. According to the Brennan Center, “as of February 19, 2021, state lawmakers [across the US] have carried over, prefiled, or introduced 253 bills with provisions that restrict voting access in 43 states.”
It’s worth pointing out that nationally Republicans seem to have no agenda other than trolling, culture warring, and creating Fox News/YouTube moments for themselves. It might seem like Republicans are flailing nationally, and failing to mount an opposition to Biden and Democrats, but as Ted Cruz made clear on a call with Republican State Legislators this week, nationally Republicans are also relying on voter suppression legislation in the states to save them. Potentially their current circus is an intentional smokescreen intended to keep the focus on their antics and away from what’s happening in the states.
There will of course be a flurry of lawsuits in Georgia and other states that pass similar legislation, and you can follow all of it via Democracy Docket. It’s also imperative that Congress passes a new national voting rights act this year, which means at the very least we’ll need to reform the Senate filibuster.
Tech CEOs Went to Congress Again and Republicans Engaged Differently
Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Twitter’s Jack Dorsey, and Google’s Sundar Pichai visited Congress via Zoom this week for a hearing on social media’s role in promoting extremism and misinformation with the House Energy and Commerce Committee. I haven’t covered tech hearings in awhile because thanks to Republicans they’ve mostly become useless exercises in frustration, but I had to track this one for clients and I’m glad that I did because Republicans on the committee tried a new strategy which is worth noting.
Instead of fixating solely on conservative bias that doesn’t exist and Trump’s recent deplatforming, Republican members focused most of their energy on social media’s toxicity to children. Ranking member Cathy McMorris-Rodgers, R-WA set the tone with her opening statement shaming the CEOs for abusing their power to “manipulate and harm our children.” Other Republican members followed suit criticizing the CEO’s for allowing child exploitation, causing depression in teenagers, and products geared towards children such as Instagram for Kids. The strategy both put witnesses on the defensive and also had the benefit of not being a giant waste of everyone’s time. I hope we see more of this in other tech hearings.
Dorsey, Zuckerberg, and Pichai didn’t exactly crown themselves in glory during the hearing. They came off as evasive and frustrated much of the time. Members of Congress asking the questions seemed equally frustrated by their answers. I’d say most members were well prepared with questions about recent research and news reporting and that preparation seemed to annoy the CEOs who had to answer questions normally left to their companies’ communications teams. It will be interesting to see how this dynamic plays out when other committees inevitably have Big Tech CEOs back for additional hearings over the next few years.
Persuading Vaccine Hesitant Republicans
Vaccine hesitancy continues to be strongest among white Republican voters. I’ve written about this, and my curiosity about what might move some of these folks, before. This week we have some anecdotal evidence worth keeping an eye on, a focus group led by GOP pollster Frank Luntz. Luntz managed to move all of the participants from being more against the vaccine than for it over the course of the focus group. The key seems to be hearing from messengers they viewed as scientists over those they viewed as political. Luntz plans to follow up with national polling to further test these messages.
Trump has now encouraged his supporters to get the vaccine during a Fox News interview but I can’t find any polling saying it had any effect and none of the online MAGA communities I monitor even had a discussion about Trump’s endorsement. At this point, I’m guessing the effect of Trump’s endorsement is probably negligible.
The above article is an excerpt from Ctrl Alt-Right Delete, a newsletter devoted to covering the rise of far-right extremism, white nationalism, disinformation, and online toxicity, delivered on a weekly basis to more than 16,000 subscribers.