The other day in RI, I saw the voters who weren’t there.
If you’re not familiar with the poem, “Antigonish,” give it a read. The classic example of surreal poetry might feel relevant to Rhode Island’s political landscape.
Speaking with a friend in the foyer prior to the 2023 Freedom Banquet of the Rhode Island Center for Freedom & Prosperity, by which I used to be employed, I expressed my astonishment that most Rhode Islanders — even those who make a point of being informed — have to be forgiven for not knowing that the organization exists at all. The most-recent entry on the organization’s media-center page is from 2021, and the featured image there is of the late Bill Rappleye.
And yet, the event was apparently the most successful in the organization’s history. It featured a live interview by CEO Mike Stenhouse of national conservative media figure Guy Benson and a panel featuring three high-level executives of the nationally powerful Americans for Prosperity about its commitment to its branch in Rhode Island. How is it possible that such an event is apparently of no account locally?
To be sure, American society is so vast that we humans are able to find alcoves of community that are, in objective terms, significant in size, but that hardly rank for attention. So much is this true that organizations can become quite profitable using the Internet to micro-target specific audiences. A fair living can be made by defining a “small” group of a few thousand people and catering to its needs.
The subject at hand, however, is different in an important way. The Center is a civic organization, offering an alternative point of view to that of the powers who be in Rhode Island. In that context, the knowledge that some hundreds of people are interested in paying money to come together in the middle of the workday to support the alternative can change people’s understanding of their state, and therefore their activities, and therefore the course of history.
Yet, there it is. Bill Rappleye. Articles from 2021. And scarce a mention of the RI Center for Freedom and Prosperity since. One suspects the reason the group (along with Anchor Rising, for that matter) has become unmentionable is that mentioning it might have some modest effect on the course of history. Making opposition irrelevant is a coup for political control.
On a particular day when she was still the governor of Rhode Island and COVID had not yet hit, Bill interviewed Gina Raimondo, and afterwards (as journalists are wont to d0) he mentioned that he was on his way next to speak with Mike Stenhouse and asked if she had any thoughts on what he might ask. “Why are you talking to them?,” she reportedly asked. Coming from the governor of a state — a rising star in her political party — such questions can hardly be taken as mere curiosity. Recall that Ted Nesi of WPRI (primary competitor to Bill’s WJAR) won the coveted first in-person, post-COVID-lockdown interview with the Governor Raimondo. “Why are you talking to them?” was a clear admonition that “you should not be talking to them” — a decree from on high.
Something changed after the election of Donald Trump that became ingrained during COVID. Journalists and other institutional practitioners used to prove, through their actions, their belief that pretenses to objectivity required some effort to engage with people they’d rather shun; they have since given themselves permission to pretend their pretenses were unassailable, with no proof needed. We’ll regret the results if we let them carry on like that. The Center for Freedom & Prosperity exists and is active. It is vital that we remember such facts of reality.
Featured image by Justin Katz using Dall-E 2.