Commentary

There’s nothing ‘free’ about Pennsylvania’s Freedom Caucus | Lloyd E. Sheaffer

Take it from a cancer survivor – we can’t afford to ignore this malignancy in our politics

December 1, 2022 6:30 am
The ceiling of the main Rotunda inside Pennsylvania’s Capitol building. May 24, 2022. Harrisburg, Pa. (Photo by Amanda Berg, for the Capital-Star).

The ceiling of the main Rotunda inside Pennsylvania’s Capitol building on Tuesday, May 24, 2022. (Photo by Amanda Berg for the Capital-Star).

Our pandemic year, 2020, was a bad year for everyone.  For me, 2022 was a worse year on several fronts.

On the medical front, in addition to contracting COVID-19, which I had avoided for two-and-a-half years, I now suffer from a back issue that impacts my daily activities.

Beyond those maladies I was stricken with cancer — again.

During the last decade I have had some skin cancers, the result, probably, of injudicious, unprotected sun exposure in my younger years; those instances were, thank goodness, little more than an inconvenience. But this year’s bout with the Big C occurred, let’s say, “where the sun don’t shine.”

While my competent surgeon performed curative surgery to remove the invasive cells, I continue to be probed and checked every three months to ensure that the doctor’s capable hands did not miss even a single, tiny cancer cell — or even a remnant of a cell —which could assert itself again in my body “where the sun don’t shine” or elsewhere.

While the medical matters noted above are a personal challenge for me, our Pennsylvania citizenry is facing a cancerous threat to democracy.

My dismay was palpable when I opened my morning newspaper a few days ago and read that the ignominious political tumor, The Freedom Caucus, has spread its cancerous coterie into Pennsylvania, joining eight other infected states.

“Pennsylvania is the latest branch, and in a public unveiling at the state Capitol on Monday, some of the most conservative members of the state House’s Republican Caucus declared themselves open for business in the 2023-24 legislative session,” reports Charles Thompson of The Patriot-News and pennlive.com.

“The new Pennsylvania Freedom Caucus, [House Freedom Caucus Chair Scott] Perry said, will be a center of resistance to what he fears will be a new period of Democrat-led encroachment of socialism – even though Republicans still have solid control of the state Senate – and federal government over-reach.”

In other words, the purpose of this Republican coalition is to block any proposal or legislation that benefits those who need the help and support of government, both state and national, to realize the rights and freedoms guaranteed to them.

Since its inception in 2015, members of the ironically named Freedom Caucus have opposed programs that warranted freedoms such as assurance of adequate medical care, equality in marriage, women’s control over their bodies, and fulfillment of the right to vote for every qualified American citizen. These ultraconservative minions of the MAGA movement have toiled to restrict what books our students can read; they have preached Christian Nationalism that is anything but Christian in its pronouncements and actions.

If such positions were not enough, according to the Wall Street Journal, the House Freedom Caucus emerged as Trump’s main defender, backing the individual who served as both the Prevaricator-in-Chief and the January 6th Inciter-in-Chief. Knowing now how the former President and his lickspittles toiled to unravel our democratic republic, we can surmise that these same mossbacks will continue to whittle away at our liberties both in the nation and in Pennsylvania.

The results of the Nov. 8 general election offered some hope to those of us in the middle of the political parties.

According to Melissa De Witte, Deputy Director for Social Science Communications at Stanford University, across the nation “… what is clear is Americans did not succumb to paranoia or violence as feared, say Stanford researchers. According to some scholars, the election felt almost like a return to normalcy: The most vocal election deniers lost, candidates running on extreme platforms failed to resonate with voters, and even polling – which has been off in previous years – fell reasonably within the margins of error. In an election where democracy was on the ballot, it proved to be one that was largely free, fair, and trustworthy.”

In the Keystone State the veritable defeats of Donald Trump sycophants Doug Mastriano and Mehmet Oz prove De Witte’s assessment. Yet voters were not able to excise completely the reactionist malignancy. The fact that 23 representatives in the Pennsylvania House have already made a Faustian deal and joined the movement indicates that the cancers of nationalism, racism, sexism, and xenophobia will continue to infect our commonwealth.

A week or so ago I received an email from a gentleman in Florida who was responding to a column I had written in May, 2020, [on “God Given Rights”] for the Capital-Star which he came across via Google.

As I typically do, I responded to acknowledge his comments, and we continued having a digital conversation. In our exchanges he told me that as a moderate Republican he was upset with the direction his party has taken; I informed him that as a moderate Democrat I was concerned about the extremist views represented by some in my party. From our conversation I concluded that if both parties elected moderates rather than partisan dogmatists, our government might be able to accomplish progress that benefits all citizens. The Us-vs-Them attitude would be extirpated.

Too often cancer is an insidious disease; it is not discovered until the pestilence has already done its destructive work.

In the political realm, the cancerous remnants of zealotry and sectarianism continue to metastasize and foment discord in our day-to-day experiences and prevent us from experiencing a salubrious way of life. But these cells can be easily identified in the likes of The Freedom Caucus and its carcinogenic spawn.

Of cancer it is said, “The power to heal lies mostly within the patient, and if the patient wants, [s]he can work out miracles.”

We citizens can work out miracles and can cure our political cancers by ridding our legislative bodies of right-wing zealots, by electing candidates who put people above power and party, by holding our elected officials accountable for their actions, by insisting upon civility and compromise from those who are chosen to work for better lives for all people.

Otherwise, our democratic republic will succumb to the malignant tendrils of the Freedom Caucus and their ilk.

Opinion contributor Lloyd E. Sheaffer, a retired English and Humanities teacher, writes from North Middleton Township, Pa. His work appears monthly on the Capital-Stars Commentary Page. Readers may email him at [email protected].

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.