Historian and retired teacher John Thompson is a close observer of the state’s bizarro GOP leaders. There is a small core of “traditional” GOP legislators, who have not lost touch with reality. But the loud and boisterous MAGA faction, led by Governor Kevin Stott, inhabit an alternate universe.

Thompson writes:

Both houses of the Oklahoma legislature, the Governor, and his State Superintendent are engaged in a Battle Royal. Politicos on all sides are asking whether it is merely surreal, or a performance art tactic to gain a political victory – or deflect attention from a political defeat. But there is virtual unanimity that it is bizarre; even in a state known for crazy politics, there seems to be a bipartisan agreement that this weirdness is unprecedented.

This week, Gov. Kevin Stitt said, “I cannot, in good faith, allow another year to go by without cutting taxes and reforming education.” His education plan features tax credits (vouchers), and an extremely regressive funding formula. Then, Stitt vetoed 20 Senate bills “with identical veto messages that said he ‘will continue to veto any and all legislation authored by senators who have not stood with the people of Oklahoma and supported this plan.’”

His vetoes included legislationintended to renew Oklahoma Education Television Authority’s (PBS’) authorization for another three years.” Stitt also questioned whether there was a reason for the OETA to survive. The Republican Senate Pro Tem’s office also criticized the veto of a bill which would have “allowed people receiving Temporary Assistance for Needy Families to own a vehicle worth more than $5,000, which is the current limit.” Other bills that had previously been routinely signed would extend agencies like the Board of Governors of the Licensed Architects, Landscape Architects and Registered Commercial Interior Designer, the Board of Chiropractic Examiners, and the State Board of Examiners of Psychologists.

Sen. Pro Tem Greg Treat responded, “Hopefully he’ll calm down and sober up,” and “look at this through the lens of policy, and not through the lens of emotion.” He also said Stitt’s vetoes were “appalling” and “beneath the dignity of the office.”

Then Treat “swiftly rejected” the nominations of Stitt’s secretary of commerce and the CEO of the Oklahoma Health Care Authority. The Republican leader explained:

If (Stitt) continues down this road of killing policy, we will be forced to exercise our constitutional authority, as well,” … “He has chosen to exercise his veto authority. We are choosing to exercise our confirmation authority.”

Then the Senate briefly excluded the governor and house members from a discussion on education bills. So, the Tulsa World reports, “House Republicans closed shop and left in something of a huff after their Senate GOP brethren told them they couldn’t come on the floor in that chamber for awhile Thursday afternoon.” Rep. House Majority Leader Jon Echols complained that senate Republicans had thus made, “the most juvenile move I’ve ever seen” during his 11 years in the Legislature.

That week, Stitt supporter, State Superintendent Ryan Walters, also ramped up his attacks on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) which he said“is Marxist at its core.” Walters stressed “that it is a top priority of this administration to ensure that every parent has full parent choice — that parents decide for their kids where their children attend school and are the ones making those decisions that most impact their children,” Walters said. “This has to get done this session.”

So, what is happening here? Will the Republicans get out of this battle unscathed, reaching a compromise between traditional conservatives and the MAGAs? Or will these performances result in an effort to push back against this chaotic politics of destruction?

It seems to me that Republicans who abhor this rightwing campaign against the norms and principles of our democracy have remained silent because they understood how powerful emotions of hatred and fear have been helping their party. The extremists want to turn back the clock to the pre-civil rights era of the 1950s. The traditional Republicans may or may not care that, back then, Oklahoma was one of the most corrupt and most racist states in America. They don’t seem worried that Christian Nationalists are now welcoming the return of that era’s corruption, violence, and racism.

But today’s Battle Royal-style theatrics reminds me of the cruel joke played on Ralph Ellison when he grew up in Oklahoma City. (If Stitt or Walters are aware of the Battle Royal, I doubt they would want it taught in school.) Ellison was ambiguous about the actual facts he faced that inspired the story of the brutal, surreal charade presented in his novel, The Invisible Man. He tells the story of ten young Black men who “are ushered into a boxing ring. Then they are all blindfolded and instructed to fight each other all at once until only one is left standing.”

This week’s ridiculous fight, a metaphorical Battle Royal that featured affluent Whites who were funded by the super-rich, should embarrass Republicans. It echoes the previous cruelty promoted by the Robber Barons and the Ku Klux Klan that survived until I was a child. Now it’s the billionaire privatizers who are funding a destructive 21st century propaganda campaign. This week, it resulted in conservatives and Trumpians blindly humiliating themselves as political fights are being transformed into performances demonstrating that they are angry and hateful enough to get reelected.

The silliness promoted by Stitt and the House has virtually nothing to do with improving education. For instance, the combatants are much more focused on not making the mistake that the narrator (based on Ellison) made when giving his post-fight speech. There is no way that these conservatives will offend the MAGAs by accidently using the words “social equality.”

Postscript: At the end of the week, compromises were being discussed. It looks like modest increases in school funding will be distributed more fairly. The vouchers for families making over $250,000 per year will be capped at $5,000 while homeschool tax “credits” will be capped at $1,000. But the governor remains committed to income and corporate tax cuts (as well as sales tax cuts.) So it looks like the chaos was intended to be performance art to advance the agenda of the rich. The elites are on track to get what they want. But the surreal week still degenerated into a Battle Royal where even influential White men humiliated themselves in order to advance their donors’ interests.

Then, Stitt condemned OETA, which has the highest viewership of any of the nation’s PBS stations, for shows like “Clifford the Big Red Dog,” and PBS NewsHour for interviewing parents of transgender children.

He said such shows “over sexualize” children. What next? A list of banned films? More dangerous TV programs? A police investigation of every state employee’s computer to search for porn?