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Montana doesn’t need to be ‘fixed’ by political culture warriors


Montana doesn’t need to be ‘fixed’ by political culture warriors

May 31, 2023 | 6:17 am ET
By Dave Chadwick
Montana doesn’t need to be ‘fixed’ by political culture warriors
Gov. Greg Gianforte speaks on the Montana Capitol steps on March 13, 2023. (Photo courtesy of the Governor's Office)

Most Montanans have never heard of Humanities Montana, an institution that touches nearly everyone in the state.

As the local affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities, Humanities Montana funds activities that support our state’s heritage and culture, including artistic productions, academic research and community discussions.

Humanities Montana has been in the news recently following some alarming statements by Jeremy Carl, a member of the organization’s board of directors appointed by Gov. Greg Gianforte last November.

A few weeks ago, Carl unleashed a wave of vitriolic rhetoric about transgender people, including a string of disgusting attacks on Rep. Zoey Zephyr, D-Missoula.

Carl’s rancor attracted considerable blowback from Montanans and shone a spotlight on his sordid record of denigrating diversity, maligning immigrants and people of color, and trafficking in white nationalist and anti-semitic conspiracies.  Many Montanans are calling for his removal from the Humanities Montana Board of Directors.

In response, Carl and the conservative commentariat have rolled out the usual right-wing-crybaby talking points about “leftists” trying to silence him.  Amid the theatrics, Carl and his talk-radio friends are right about one thing: He should not be punished by the government for loutish behavior and sophistic arguments. He has every right to hold terrible opinions and express them poorly, just as it is the right of every other Montanan to speak up and explain to this relatively new Bozemanite that real Montanans respect our neighbors, value democracy and derive strength from our diversity.

All the right-wing pearl-clutching about Carl’s free speech misses the point. The presence of diverse views is an asset to Humanities Montana directors.  Nobody disagrees with that, and Carl is hardly the first conservative to serve on the board.

The problem with Carl serving as a governing trustee of Humanities Montana is not his ideas, it is his agenda: To use the institution – and our tax dollars – to force his ideas on Montanans.  Just look to Carl’s unabashed admiration for Hungarian autocrat Victor Orban, who used culture war rhetoric to dismantle the rule of law to the point that Hungary is no longer even recognized as a democratic nation.  Carl has been particularly effusive in his praise for Orban’s practice of directing public arts and culture funding to promote conservative ideology and reinforce his authoritarian politics.

Having offensive views is not a problem for a board member of an institution like Humanities Montana. However, having an agenda to use that institution to craft a cultural revolution and support a political agenda is completely unacceptable. An ideological zealot like Jeremy Carl has no place in governing what should be the impartial allocation of tax dollars to cultural and artistic endeavors.

Carl’s culture-engineering plan really points to a bigger question: Why did Governor Gianforte appoint him in the first place? Gianforte’s carefully controlled media events tout economic issues (including taking credit for a budget surplus he inherited and bragging about the use of federal infrastructure funding he opposed).  But Gianforte’s actions repeatedly point to a real agenda to turn the Treasure State into a theocratic ethnostate in which the government controls what we can read and think, our private health care decisions, who we can love and how we live our lives.  If that sounds extreme, just look at his bizarre pattern the last few weeks of vetoing popular, bipartisan bills and signing wildly unconstitutional culture war bills.

Montanans don’t want to live in Greg Gianforte and Jeremy Carl’s creepy dystopia, and we’re tired of their culture war games.

We want true leaders who will focus on real problems and let us live our lives instead of trying to change Montana.