In my Tennessee home town, every time there’s a move towards something progressive — removing the Confederate flag from the county seal, for instance, imposing a mask mandate or changing the name of a school mascot to something not offensive to a third of the school’s graduates — the comments on social media usually include at least a few from people issuing that harshest of damnations:
“If you liberals don’t like it here, go back to California!”
And surely there are plenty of new residents with progressive and liberal political tendencies but just up the road in Nashville, generally construed to be the most liberal city in Tennessee, recent transplants include two darlings of the far right: Tomi Lahren and Ben Shapiro. A third, Candace Owens, jubilantly announced via Twitter she, too, is decamping for the Volunteer State.
I didn’t know who any of these three were until their moves here became public and now that I do, I don’t think I’ve missed out on much.
Lahren began working at One American News Network in 2014, fresh out of college. OANN is a far-right, pro-Donald Trump channel that has promoted a number of conspiracy theories and was recently suspended from YouTube for continuing to spread disinformation about COVID-19.
Lahren, who moved to Nashville in April, has frequently attacked Mayor John Cooper on Twitter for issuing COVID safety guidelines. She offers cautionary guidance along the lines of ‘this is what happens when you elect Democrats mayor.’ Spoiler: As many have pointed out to newcomer Lahren, the seat is nonpartisan but Nashville has few Republicans in any public office.
Owens, a once reasonable marketing professional, has become increasingly pro-MAGA and courted controversy by saying something “biochemically happens to women who don’t marry and/or have children.” Owens announced her move to Nashville in September. She will work for the Daily Wire, a right-wing news site founded by Shapiro.
Shapiro is a legitimately brilliant person who graduated summa cum laude — with highest honors — from the University of California at age 20. Three years later, he graduated from Harvard Law School.
Alas, Shapiro uses his brains for, if not evil, at least for not good things. He has served as an editor for Breitbart News. He has called for doctors who perform abortions to be criminally prosecuted, argued that being LGBTQ is a mental illness, said that immigrants from Muslim countries “degrade” America and dismissed the idea that Blacks in America are subject to widespread injustice.
When Shapiro announced his move and that of Daily Wire to Nashville, he received a hearty Twitter welcome from Gov. Bill Lee.
To be clear, there’s no question about the trio’s hard right wing politics, and that’s probably why they want to be in Tennessee. We have no income tax and a Republican trifecta, including a governor who refuses to treat the COVID-19 pandemic seriously and criminalizes First Amendment protests.
And then Tuesday, Shapiro, summa cum laude and all, stepped into two arenas about which he knows nothing. The first is Southeastern Conference football.
He used his podcast to criticize Sarah Fuller, the Vanderbilt University woman who made history Saturday as the first woman to play in a football game for one of the Power Five college conferences.
In an episode titled “The World Rejoices After a Woman Plays in a College Football Game,” Shapiro said: “I’m not sure why that is a major achievement for women . . . it wouldn’t be like she did a thing that a man did but not as well as a man and therefore it’s a major achievement? That’s not a major achievement.”
“The greatest kick of all time,” continued Shapiro. “She kicked it maybe 25 yards and it bounced like another five. Huge. Huge step for women. My wife does more for women and women’s empowerment than Sarah Fuller kicking a ball on a men’s football team.”
The second thing Shapiro and his fellow newcomers don’t understand? Southern pride, and I mean the kind that says we are the only ones who can talk about our own families. I’m a Vol for life, but I’ll be damned if someone who has lived here for two months is going to come in and talk smack about Vanderbilt, or Sarah Fuller, or for that matter, John Cooper, even though I don’t live in Nashville and Cooper isn’t my mayor.
I’m a native Tennessean and I usually push back when I hear another native say we don’t need transplants from other states. We do. Our state is much better for all the business, education and even political leaders who relocated from other areas of the country bringing fresh energy, perspective and ideas.
But as for Lahren, Owens and Shapiro — if you don’t like the way things are, go on back to California.