While COVID-19 continues to kill Americans, conservatives are busy complaining about Dr. Seuss and the children’s toy formerly known as Mr. Potato Head. Earlier this month my colleague Emma Krab wrote a piece about this same issue. I seek to approach the topic from a different, more political angle.

What is commonly referred to as “cancel culture” is actually a mirage constructed in the minds of those unfamiliar with the concept that the rich and powerful should face consequences for their actions. Rather than focusing on actual issues such as climate change, the opioid crisis or even the ongoing pandemic, conservative pundits have opted to simply ignore the existential threats of our time in favor of manufacturing outrage over decisions made by businesses and private individuals. 

Most often, when the American right gets outraged over some high profile figure being canceled, what has actually happened is a number of people on Twitter have voiced their displeasure with some statement from the aforementioned public figure. Kevin Hart is still one of the richest comedians in human history, Mel Gibson is still making movies and J. K. Rowling is still publishing books. 

If someone is truly determined to read the canceled Dr. Seuss books, they can find them online. To make sure everything is in the clear legally, the Seuss estate should release them as free PDFs online. This outrage over even the slightest bit of change is nothing new. Conservatives, by definition, wish to conserve the existing order. What is new is the degree to which the conservatives of our time seem incapable of coping with even the slightest amount of change.

While Republican pundits whine and whinge about the gender of a toy spud, Kentucky Republicans are actively trying to cancel the concept of free speech. The Kentucky Senate recently advanced a new bill that would make it a crime to taunt and insult the cops. This display of bootlicking is a direct assault on our First Amendment right to mouth off to cops. If armed agents of the state aren't capable of hearing some mean words without resorting to violence, maybe they shouldn’t be armed agents of the state. There is, in fact, a case to be made that the power afforded to police by riot gear can actually lead to an escalation of force.

The typical Republican policy of cutting government spending is profoundly unpopular with Americans, so as a result, the party must resort to a combination of culture war rhetoric and dirty tricks. A majority of Americans —  63% —  think that the government is responsible for ensuring that all Americans have healthcare, with 36% of all respondents believing that it should be a national government program. 

For the party that prides itself on being the most patriotic — read: nationalist — Republicans have made the country into the laughingstock of the developed world. Online, our lack of government-guaranteed healthcare is routinely mocked alongside our country’s gun violence and obesity problem. A staunch refusal to do any sort of food regulation has caused more than a third of American adults to become obese. A lack of pharmaceutical industry regulation has utterly devastated this country by way of the opioid epidemic.

Rather than focus on these issues, which Republican governance has perpetuated and exacerbated, the GOP focuses on culture war drivel, meant to distract from the numerous issues that we face as a society. During Trump’s presidency, very little substance was actually accomplished. The Trump tax cuts, which helped billionaires far more than it did the working class, as well as a costly and unnecessary attempt to construct a border wall, have done material harm to America and its people. 

I understand that change can be scary, but it's how we improve the world. More or less everyone realizes that there are deep issues in the world —  that’s plain enough to see —  but those issues aren’t the gender of a toy potato.

The issues we as a society should be focusing on are those that affect the most vulnerable in our society —  namely, those in poverty. Rather than talking about what makes conservatives mad, let's talk about and actually accomplish substantive policy in matters such as greater access to affordable housing, universal healthcare, repairing the damage done to the environment and dealing with the opioid crisis in a way that will see those responsible for perpetuating a cycle of addiction brought to justice.

Nick Finan is a junior political science major. Reach him at nickfinan@dailynebraskan.com