Nevada Republicans defy the space-time continuum

Analysis of data collected by NASA’s Kepler space observatory and published last week concludes there are billions of potentially habitable planets out there, and that’s just in our galaxy. The discovery prompts countless scientific and philosophical questions. For instance, which planet are Nevada Republicans from?

In recent weeks:

• A Republican legislative leader openly hoped young people and minorities won’t vote in next year’s election, because the fewer of them the better for his party.

• A group of GOP leaders in Washoe County went on the radio to mansplain that men “have to be the dominant force in society” and “you can’t have a society run by women.”

• And of course we learned that rural Nevada Assemblyman Jim Wheeler would vote to reestablish slavery if that’s what his constituents wanted.

On second thought, the planetary origin of Nevada Republicans isn’t the question. They don’t hail from outer space. Rather, they’ve somehow managed to travel forward from more ignorant and barbarous times, a seemingly impossible trick made even more unfathomable because not only have they managed to survive in an age and a society where mainstream values are markedly more enlightened than theirs, but they achieved positions in that society’s political and policy officialdom.

Impressive, no?

Well, no, especially if you’re a Nevada Republican whose career aspirations are a tad more lofty than merely basking in the adoring glow of Tea Party reactionaries.

Accordingly, Nevada’s Republican blasts from the past, especially Wheeler’s nationally reported channeling of antebellum sentiment, prompted varying degrees of intra-party blowback. Wheeler’s comments were “deeply offensive and have no place in our society,” said Gov. Brian Sandoval (R-Nothing in Particular).

GOP Senate leader Michael Roberson, who if he isn’t already probably should be the one Nevada Republican Harry Reid should fear most in 2016, called on Wheeler to resign. Sen. Dean Heller’s staff dutifully put the words “insensitive” and “wrong” in Dean Heller’s mouth, all pro forma like.

Not to question the relative sincerity of all that Republican-on-Republican condemnation, but it is easier for party poobahs to admonish a fellow Republican when the Republican being admonished is a profoundly irrelevant nobody. Prior to pining for a bygone era of moonlight, magnolias and the constitutionally authorized right to own human beings, Wheeler’s political profile amounted to little more than an entry on the mining lobby’s list of elected officials, under the category “Will do or say whatever we tell him.” Expressing a willingness to vote for slavery is easily the most and probably the only interesting thing Jim Wheeler has ever done or ever will do as an elected official.

Meantime, Wheeler and his apologists (yes, there are some) complain that his remarks were twisted by the horrible liberal media and need to be placed in a broader context.

Fine. This little corner of the horrible liberal media will try to oblige.

Perhaps as many as 30 million people worldwide are trapped in forms of modern slavery, according to The Walk Free Foundation’s inaugural Global Slavery Index published last month. Unlike the slave society in antebellum America, modern slavery isn’t openly championed by slaveholders nor formally institutionalized in constitutions of nations where slavery is practiced. It is practiced, by the way, in virtually every nation on earth, though the nations with the most slaves, in sheer numbers, are India, China, Pakistan and Nigeria.

The Walk Free Foundation, Free the Slaves, The Polaris Project and other anti-slavery groups identify many forms of slavery. Human trafficking for sex is the modern slavery most people think about, if they think about it at all. It is also the most prevalent (though not only) form of contemporary slavery in Nevada. Sandoval signed a couple of bills intended to crack down on human trafficking earlier this year after they sailed through the Legislature.

Even Wheeler voted for them.

Millions of people worldwide, including and in some cases especially children, are enslaved working in fields, factories, domestic service and other forms of forced labor apart from the sex trade. The vast majority of 19th century Americans owned no slaves and many despised the institution of slavery, yet profits from slave-labor contributed heavily to the nation’s financial and industrial growth, and not just in the South. Coffee, tea, textiles, chocolate – today we effectively support slavery economically by, you know, shopping.

So if Wheeler’s constituents ever do demand that he vote for slavery, he can tell them there’s no need; we’ve already got it (and no, it’s not Obamacare).

Habitable planets among the stars pose a much cheerier prospect to ponder. Yes, barriers to communicating with, let alone visiting, a civilization on another world may prove insurmountable. But at least one leading “exoplanet” expert, MIT’s Sara Seager, contends that thanks to ever-more powerful technology, we could – could, mind you– find observable signs of life elsewhere in the galaxy within a decade.

Hard to know which is more tantalizing: The discovery of extraterrestrial life, or how change-adverse Republicans will react to it? Meantime, while we eagerly await evidence of life, intelligent or otherwise, on another planet, there’s plenty of work to do on this one.

HUGH JACKSON’S column runs every other week.