Not that he needed the help, but lawmakers in California and West Virginia and other states of philosophical bent akin to the latter appear determined to prove Voltaire correct in his assertion that the only means to comprehend infinity is “to contemplate the extent of human stupidity.”
Few things make an elected official stupider in the modern hour than strict fealty to the separate social ideologies coursing like a poison through the veins of the country’s competing political parties. On this score, to borrow from the movie title, America is dumb and getting dumberer.
Groups of lawmakers in California and West Virginia are cases in point. This state is among 17 where California bans state-funded travel, an absurdity in response to absurdity.
West Virginia last session passed a ban on transgender student-athletes competing outside their biological genders. Those straining to hear the voices of student-athletes crying out for the relief the legislation provided will hear crickets. This was a solution without a problem.
Other problems would figure to have merited notice from the Legislature’s supermajority of Republicans, a party that once touted economic bona fides. West Virginia is superlative in almost every sense no one wants. It leads the country in population loss and is the epicenter of the opioid crisis. It is second only to Mississippi in poverty and adult obesity rates. The list could extend ostensibly into perpetuity.
Republicans’ answer to West Virginia’s continuing economic freefall and population outflow was a failed attempt at income tax repeal based on the unsubstantiated and patently fatuous claim that it would send 400,000 people — more than a fifth of the current population — streaming into the state. This notion was so ridiculous even the full-court press of part-time Gov. Jim Justice couldn’t sell it and a party with two-thirds control of the Legislature couldn’t pass it.
But, by God, By God West Virginia got its transgender ban. Then came the sound of stomped feet from the Left Coast. In 2016, the California State Legislature approved a ban against state taxpayer-funded travel to states that pass laws discriminating against people on the basis of sex, gender or sexual orientation. California’s ban was triggered by other states’ bans on transgenders using bathrooms based on their gender identity.
Beyond California’s boundaries, more than a third of the country’s population resides in the 17 states where the travel ban is now in effect. Recently joining West Virginia on the list were Arkansas, Florida, Montana and North Dakota. Other states include Texas, Tennessee and North and South Carolina.
“There has been a coordinated attack on fundamental civil rights,” California Attorney General Rob Bonta explained at a recent news conference. “It’s about aligning our dollars with our values.”
The effects of all this are almost entirely symbolic, a fact of solace or further discomfiture, depending on one’s perspective. Californians traveling on state taxpayers’ dime, presumably, are no more likely to stream into West Virginia than those mysterious 400,000 souls would have after income tax repeal.
But just as opponents rightly worry about the discriminatory message of the transgender athlete ban, regardless of the number of athletes it might impact, there is also reason to worry about the message of California’s travel ban.
What of those in this state who opposed the transgender ban? Has California decided that because that group is a minority here it must be cast with the banished majority? This seems counterintuitive. From the vantage point of the enlightened Left Coast, doesn’t that group need more attention rather than less?
Instead, California has declared that merely visiting West Virginia, merely treading on its soil, represents a betrayal of values. For a state filled with people over whom the left claims to fret, people battling every modern plague, from poverty to addiction to HIV, this represents a kind of callousness that belies all the principles that side claims to represent.
Most of West Virginia, of course, responds with a sniff and a snort, declaring, while borrowing from Lynyrd Skynyrd, that this state don’t need California anyhow. They’d just as soon see that state finally fall off into the sea as see their kind here.
In this era of woke culture, it would be good for the country if both sides woke up. They keep drawing lines, driving further into their corners and further from one another, based on an illusion, either that stubbornness might persuade the other side or that a divided house can stand. Hoping for the kindling of reason amid the madness might be an exercise in futility. Stupidity, after all, knows no end.