Drive into Florida’s most conservative city – and hear an alternative reality emerge from the airwaves.
Radio show host Sean Hannity is discussing with callers the presidential election, but if it weren’t for the name Donald Trump, whose questionable conservatism is being swept under the rug as Republicans are urged to support him, you’d think it was the 1990s.
Trump’s opponent is not former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, but her husband, Bill. The issues of his administration, with emphasis on his history of infidelities, are on the table. For good measure, Hannity rattles off in quick succession the Republican talking points against Hillary Clinton – accuracy not being a problem – but the real hot talk is all about the worth of the woman, judging by her man’s record.
For the final blow, Hannity takes a call from a self-described Millennial, a female conservative who says that if she were a Democrat, she’d want Bernie Sanders to be the nominee because she just doesn’t like Hillary. She ends the orchestrated discussion by adding that, thankfully, she doesn’t have to worry about that. Trump is her man, no hesitation, in case you had any doubts.
This is only one talk show on a Wednesday afternoon. Northeast Florida is also pounded daily with different approaches to the same narrative by Herman Cain and Rush Limbaugh. Besides the election, the topic of obsession at the moment is transgender bathrooms.
This is territory where Gov. Rick Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi find their echo – and where a two term congressman, Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Jacksonville, is the new Marco Rubio wanna-be. He’s vying to replace the Miami Republican in the Senate in a crowded field of candidates. His great idea in Congress this week: to try to torpedo an unprecedented Obama Administration oil spill containment and clean-up agreement with Cuba beneficial to both nation’s coasts.
While ideological battles like that rage in the political arena, here’s a slice of real life in Jacksonville: The nation’s 12th fastest-growing city is facing urban problems: crazy crime, traffic congestion, and infrastructure that can’t keep up with growth. As the city becomes more diverse, residents are calling for more inclusive leadership and laws, but Bible Belt politics rule.
This is still a place that throws prayer and religion at issues and tackles fears by legislating morality. In the aftermath of the White House’s directive that vulnerable transgender children should use the bathroom of their choice, all of a sudden, there’s "confusion" over how to use the potty.
This is territory where gay and lesbian rights have been a long-standing divisive issue, U.S. Supreme Court rulings be damned.
In the midst of the latest City Hall battle over whether to add lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people to the city’s anti-discrimination laws, a University of North Florida survey found evidence that most LBGT residents find Jacksonville unwelcoming, feel the city doesn’t embrace diversity and believe a protective law is necessary. Progressive voices in favor of protection argue that opposition “comes from the same fearful place as opposition to the Civil Rights Act.”
Mayor Lenny Curry, a Republican, held three contentious town meetings packed with members of the LGBT community – only to conclude what he had thought from the beginning, that no laws are needed to protect the community. It was a blow to modernity and equality, and a bad example to set for the neighboring counties of Nassau and Clay, also undergoing growth and change at even faster rates than Duval.
There are more important issues than potties to tackle.
For example: At three different spots along a stretch of the major highway that circles Jacksonville, I-295, gunmen fired on a recent Saturday night at passing cars, injuring four people and terrifying other drivers. The local media, which often covers issues with trepidation and a conservative vent, labeled the shootings a case of road rage. Really? Three separate shootings on a stretch of highway. That’s a lot of road rage.
It’s time for Northeast Florida to wake up and revise the script. Transgender bathroom use is the least of your problems.
Like it or not, this Southern belle of a city and its sleepy neighbors to the north and west are going to have to grow up – and demand more of their government than stale conservative rhetoric.