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Bill Straub: Be prepared, ‘fanning the flames and condemning the fire’ has just gotten started

There was some strange fruit hanging from a tree on the grounds of the state Capitol in the hours before Memorial Day, fruit that was nowhere near as savage and ghastly as the sort Billie Holiday sang about, but strange nonetheless.

A proud product of the Kentucky educational system, attending a rally to promote guns that morphed into a protest over state-mandated coronavirus restrictions, drove his pick-up truck to the affair and proceeded to hang an effigy of Gov. Andy Beshear on a tree limb. Around the image’s neck was a sign declaring “sic semper tyrannis,’’ the words shouted by John Wilkes Booth as he fled Ford Theater after shooting President Abe Lincoln who, as we all know, was himself a native of the Bluegrass State.

The dummy was quickly cut down (the effigy, not the dope who hanged it). It’s not known if the tree in question was a Kentucky coffeetree, which undoubtedly would further enhance state pride in the turn of events. About 100 people were in attendance and gathered near the Governor’s Mansion, Beshear’s residence, to chant “Come out Andy” and “Resign Andy.”

The NKyTribune’s Washington columnist Bill Straub served 11 years as the Frankfort Bureau chief for The Kentucky Post. He also is the former White House/political correspondent for Scripps Howard News Service. A member of the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame, he currently resides in Silver Spring, Maryland, and writes frequently about the federal government and politics. Email him at williamgstraub@gmail.com

Oh, and did we point out that many attending the rally, undoubtedly looking to get their point across, were armed? Some were Three Percenters, members of a far-right militia movement and paramilitary group.

Lovely people all, no doubt.

Beshear’s great sin, as we all know by now, is his attempt to contain the spread of COVID-19, a deadly virus that, as of this moment, has led to 8,951 cases and 394 deaths in the commonwealth, 1,678,843 cases and 99,031 deaths nationwide, with more certainly to come. The governor, among other things, closed all non-life-sustaining businesses to in-person traffic, prohibited mass gatherings, shut down state government buildings and closed schools for the 2019-2020 academic year, all with an eye toward saving lives.

The governor has generally received kudos for his efforts but a certain percentage of the populace believes government restrictions went too far – how dare he close the doors of Hooter’s on a Saturday night! – resulting in actions that have become all-too-familiar among those who keep an eye on right-wing populists. Using social media and various tactics devised by the current resident of the White House, those who object to the government’s efforts to stop people from dying are waving the bloody shirt.

Now it should be said a lot of folks on both sides of the political aisle deplored what went down on the Capitol grounds.

“A representative government does not include using free speech as a catalyst for terroristic threatening,” said Rep. Kimberly Moser, R-Taylor Mill. “This is abhorrent, wrong, and solves nothing. This behavior is a heinous abuse of our second amendment and makes a mockery of our right to free assembly.”

Even Senate Republican Leader Mitch “Root-‘n-Branch’’ McConnell, of Louisville, chimed in, even though his statement was so shallow and dull as dishwater that he might as well have kept it in the top drawer of his desk.

“As a strong defender of the First Amendment, I believe Americans have the right to peacefully protest,” said McConnell, the man who just last week was much harsher when he said former President Barack Obama, a Democrat, should have “kept his mouth shut” over federal anti-coronavirus efforts. “However, today’s action toward Governor Beshear is unacceptable. There is no place for hate in Kentucky.”

Yeah, whatever, Mitch.

Beshear, for his part, blamed Republican lawmakers for contributing to the tense public atmosphere that led to the ugly incident. The blowback was inevitable, he said, given that “these elected officials claimed that people including me aren’t Christian, and even told them that people wanted babies to be murdered.”

“You cannot fan the flames and condemn the fire,” Beshear said.

Now surely the governor is a bit overwrought over the incident and is being irresponsible for blaming members of the opposing party for creating an atmosphere of chaos. Certainly no responsible elected official would…oh…wait a minute…what’s this?

“So we have a relatively weak governor under normal circumstances, but right now we’re living under the dictatorship of Beshear, and we’ve got to get out from under him.”

Hmmm. And this?

“Usually in a totalitarian state they first shut down dissent, then they shut down religion. Gov. Beshear did it backwards, but still the same result.”

Then there’s the old Beshear is “drunk with power,” followed by the usual references to tactics employed by the Soviet Union.

A photo shared on Facebook of Gov. Beshear hanging in effigy. A Second Amendment rally turned into a protest of the Governor’s COVID-19 restrictions.

Those are the words and thoughts of one Sen. Rand Paul, R-Bowling Green, who isn’t shy about tossing around phrases about tyranny and “we’ve got to get out from under him.”

Gee, why would anyone take that as a cue to subvert the duly elected governor of Kentucky?
Paul, who knows neither shame, even when it’s appropriate, nor honor, has been strangely quiet about the effigy incident. Thus far he has had zilch to say, a change from his demeanor from when he sought to paint Beshear as a Stalin-like tyrant.

While our brave junior senator is MIA, others have sought to fill the void. Rep. Savannah Maddox, R-Dry Ridge, who is thought to have ambitions of higher office (God save the Commonwealth) is opening her yap. Maddox, who did not attend the Sunday rally, has nonetheless stated in the past that Beshear has made Kentuckians “prisoners in our own home” as the virus circulates outside their doors.

This dark effigy event is emblematic of an America where the divisions are going to grow broader and the rhetoric uglier, leading up to what promises to be the most hideous presidential election campaign ever witnessed. The current occupant, one Donald J. Trump, aka President Extremely Stable Genius, aka President Great and Unmatched Wisdom, is now like a cornered weasel, having failed the nation in its fight against covid-19, and will do anything – anything – to remain in power.

It all comes from the top.

Trump has already started, scurrilously hinting that a vocal critic, Joe Scarborough of MSNBC, murdered a staffer in his Pensacola, FL, office years ago while a member of Congress. The claim has been dismissed by all who have looked into it.

But Trump is setting the stage and his acolytes are following. Cruelty is the name of this game. Rather than use conventional tactics, Trump, Paul, Maddox, and the moron who hanged Beshear in effigy from the tree are poised to pull out the napalm and leave the republic as barren as Georgia after Sherman’s march to the sea.

Be prepared.

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