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Youngstown State appointing MAGA election denier Bill Johnson as its president is appalling

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Youngstown State appointing MAGA election denier Bill Johnson as its president is appalling

Nov 28, 2023 | 4:50 am ET
By Marilou Johanek
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Youngstown State appointing MAGA election denier Bill Johnson as its president is appalling
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Bill Johnson speaks at a press conference after being named the next president of Youngstown State University. Screenshot.

Appalling. No other word fits what Youngstown State University did recently by secretly anointing a MAGA Republican, with a shameful congressional history, as its next president. The abrupt announcement of Ohio Congressman Bill Johnson, R-Marietta, to the top post was met with dismay by university stakeholders — students, faculty, staff, alumni, community — left in the dark about the decision until after the fact.

Everything about the YSU Board of Trustees opaque maneuvers to quickly install a right wing Trump apparatchik and notorious election denier as the university’s 10th president stinks. How Michael Peterson, chairman of the board, could suggest that Johnson fit the “overarching expectations” of their search for “a president with unquestionable integrity” after what the dishonorable pol did before and after Jan 6, is beyond me.

Johnson was one of five Ohio Congressmen who attempted to overturn the results of a free and fair election based on a hunch or hearsay or passing conspiracy theory but no hard evidence. After all the manufactured mania about massive voter fraud in the 2020 presidential election, zero proof of a grand scheme to “steal” Trump’s contrived victory ever materialized. The reality is simply more Americans voted for Joe Biden than Donald Trump. 

That indisputable fact was confirmed repeatedly in multiple reviews, recounts, audits, dead-end investigations and scores of lawsuits brought and dismissed as groundless. But Trump refused to accept the will of the people and the narcissistic sociopath concocted a traitorous end run around the Constitution to stay in power. 

He enlisted congressional help to betray his country from reliable sycophants on Capitol Hill including Ohio’s 6th District representative. Bill Johnson didn’t disappoint. Early on he joined an outrageous Texas lawsuit — unanimously rejected by the Supreme Court — that sought to invalidate millions of legitimate votes in four battleground states that Biden won. 

Johnson came through again for the corrupt loser in the White House just hours after a mob of Trump supporters violently stormed the U.S. Capitol smashing windows, beating police and savagely desecrating the seat of our democracy. He stood with the rioters. Not the Constitution. 

Even after the gravest assault on our democratic republic since the Civil War, where armed throngs vowed to hang the vice president and hunted lawmakers assembled to formally ratify certified election results, Johnson did his level best to overturn the election for Trump by voting to throw out the results in two states. “Simply rubber stamping these slipshod and partisan-laced electoral outcomes is wrong,” he asserted without a shred of substantiation.

Johnson fueled baseless suspicions about a presidential election Trump’s own officials called America’s most secure in history. The conspiracies he and other Trump toadies fanned about a “stolen” election had the intended effect of eroding public trust in a remarkably trustworthy electoral system.

“Many believe the 2020 election wasn’t fair,” Johnson concluded after telling people for weeks that it wasn’t, that it was potentially fraudulent, that there were lots of (unproven) credible allegations of vote-rigging and that the news media, in cahoots with the “Democrat” Party and Big Tech, were hiding the truth about all the shenanigans that nobody could corroborate.

The truth is Johnson is an unprincipled opportunist who was willing to shrug off a close constitutional catastrophe to stay in the good graces of a vindictive bully and existential threat to the republic. He supported a disgraced president who incited the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, who, said former House Republican leader Liz Cheney, “summoned the mob, assembled the mob and lit the flame of this attack.” 

Johnson endorsed the same malevolent actor for president in 2024 even as Trump faces criminal indictments in four different jurisdictions on 91 felony counts for his lawlessness in and out of office. Even as Trump was found civilly liable for sexually abusing and defaming former magazine writer E. Jean Carroll. Even as the wannabe strongman vows harsh fascistic rule, if elected, with targeted retribution, government-wide purges, lockstep loyalty, denied rights and deployment of the military against citizens.  

But the congressman, whose district stretches from Mahoning County down to Washington County, made his bargain with the devil, whatever the terrifying consequences, because he liked being a congressman. Johnson chose to be a solid Trump ally (and partner in crime) not only in overturning a democratically-held election (“everyone knows that dead people did vote in 2020”) but on Trump’s bigoted Muslim travel ban. The demeaning immigration policy  complemented Johnson’s anti-LGBTQ+ and anti-choice intolerance.

This is what qualifies as “unquestionable integrity” by Youngstown State?? Please. It’s insulting that Youngstown State University’s Board of Trustees — several of whom, coincidentally, contributed generously to Johnson’s political career — would think a MAGA Republican with no educational background but a shameful history of undemocratic machinations in service to a con could be anybody’s best choice for president. 

Add a partisan record that sneers at inclusivity, diversity and equity to a college campus with nearly 1,000 international students — who had no say in the presidential search — and you have appalling.  Johnson convinces few that his congressional tenure of denigrating, illiberal politics “will not be reflected in the decisions that I make for YSU or its students here at Youngstown State.”

Seriously, what the heck was YSU thinking? And can the institutional damage be undone?

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