Laugh? Or Cry??

To pick up a newspaper today is to enter wacko world, where right-wingers’ fears (those “Others” are voting! That means the election is rigged!!) and their obsessions with sex (it’s dirty! protect the children!) are bursting out all over.

I recently stumbled across this report from the Daily Beast, and you really need to read it to believe it. An essay from The Guardian by Arwa Mahdawi captured my reaction:

The latest absurd example of conservative cancel culture comes to us courtesy of Moms for Liberty, a rightwing advocacy group who are trying to dictate what books Tennessee public school kids can read. I don’t know if any of these moms own a dictionary, but they might want to look up the definition of “liberty”. And then they might want to change their name to Moms for Thought Control.

The moms have been very methodical: they’ve sent the Tennessee Department of Education a detailed spreadsheet outlining their complaints about the books being foisted on their children. It makes for unintentionally hilarious reading. A book about Galileo is “anti-church.” A book about seahorses contains too many details about the mating rituals of seahorses. A book about Native Americans is “divisive” and “paints white people in negative light.” A book about Ruby Bridges, the first Black child to integrate an all-white public elementary school, is “divisive.” (Racists love using the word “divisive”, have you noticed? How dare you bring up slavery and segregation! You’re being divisive!) A book about Greek mythology is a little too “graphic and scary”. A book about Martin Luther King contains “photographs of political violence”. The whole thing reads like the unhinged ravings of a book club from hell.

It’s hard not to laugh at this exercise of attempted “cancellation”–especially since one of the many accusations leveled at liberals is that it is the Left that has developed “cancellation culture.” But ultimately, it isn’t funny. It actually is representative of what passes for today’s right wing philosophy.

As Mahdawi points out, this attempts to dictate (okay, censor) the Tennessee curriculum is part of the Right’s frantic effort to rewrite American history. You can see that obsession in the sudden discovery of and opposition to Critical Race Theory (which none of its opponents can define. To them it just means anything that is less than complimentary about white people). Mahdawi notes that at least eight Republican states (including Tennessee) have introduced laws restricting how race can be taught in public schools this year and nearly 20 additional states have introduced or plan to introduce similar legislation

Far from being a kooky fringe group, Moms for Liberty are part of a very well-coordinated culture war. Whether it’s abortion or CRT, the playbook is always the same. The rightwing media whips up outrage; deliberately vague laws are passed off the back of that outrage; advocacy groups diligently weaponize these laws at a local level. “We are seeing what appear to be coordinated efforts to challenge books, not purely based on the content of the individual book, but based on the fact that they teach history from a particular viewpoint,” an executive from the National Coalition Against Censorship, told The Daily Beast. “We’re also seeing entire lists of books being challenged, as opposed to individual titles.”

So what’s the moral to this story? Essentially, it’s that you shouldn’t underestimate the right. It’s very easy to laugh at a bunch of rightwing moms clutching their pearls over sexy seahorses – but there’s nothing funny about the systemic, organised way in which conservatives are trying to rewrite history and restrict freedom of speech.

The real threat comes from the tendency of rational folks to dismiss these efforts–to chuckle, shake our heads and ignore it, because “it can’t happen here.” Depending upon your definition of “it,” it can happen here–as we learn more about the Trump effort to overturn the election, we learn how close that effort came and how much lasting damage it did to America’s democratic norms. We may not be quite ready to sew Hester Prynne’s “A” on women’s shirts, but we keep edging closer, and there are active movements to deny LGBTQ citizens a lot more than bakery products, among other efforts to return us to the 1950s. Or before.

These people may be nuts, but in the absence of a robust and determined protection of our rights, lunatics can be very effective.


  1. Professor-as my wife (an educator a friend of Ruby Bridges) and I read this, we did laugh and cry. Steve Bannon (do you remember him?) makes no bones about it. His goal to take control schools in America. That scares the hell out of us.

  2. Trump didn’t even come close to overthrowing the election. Regardless of the claims they stated. Paper ballots are the best way for secure elections.
    We have become divisive in our culture and its important for parents to teach race in a historically correct way. CRT is so controversial even black liberal friends oppose it.
    Im not concerned about parents having control. Im more concerned about losing our freedoms. Im more concerned about the pressure race relations is being put on our teens, many of which are suicidal due to the extraordinary pressures put upon them. Whether a child is white or black they need to be taught how to find good things as well as bad about themselves or their culture.
    If we are to teach critically, we need to teach kids to look at different doctrines as seniors or freshman level students and look at them objectively from the outside.

  3. Well, the nutballs in TX and FL won’t be outdone by TN’s moms. I guess reading about sexy seahorses creates liberally-minded children? The next thing you know, they’ll be renaming body parts, so their kids won’t know what a vagina is and where’s it’s located.

    Sadly, we have AG’s doing much the same thing with anything they see as unjust. For example, Todd Rokita signed a letter with 14 states sent to the EPA protesting their modeling emission-control policies after CA state of the art research on car emissions. It reads like a college report complete with references on state’s rights.

    It’s as if they just woke up to what happened in the 60s through the 90s and want to erase it from the history books. But, on the other hand, maybe they are just upset with the revolutionary stages of society.

    Are there documentaries these people are watching? Maybe this is part of the Moonies Cult theology creeping back in the right-wing lunacy. On the other hand, these are the same people refusing vaccinations from a deadly virus, so maybe it’s part of a death cult.

    I came across a post of all the container ships hanging around in the oceans waiting to offload their goods. People were slamming Biden and the government for ruining America, claiming we would starve to death with all the food sitting in those container ships.

    Not one person pointed to the fact our food doesn’t come from China. They even claimed that Biden was canceling Christmas by holding up ships. I canceled their cancel culture. I can’t help them anymore. I get called Satan for trying. Quite frankly, these people shouldn’t be allowed to reproduce because their offspring will have to watch a YouTube video on how to wash their hands.

  4. Yes. The wretched disgust just never stops with the ever-so-righteous morons passing themselves off as conservatives. These ignorant fools are scared to death of everything. They’ve been frightened since the day they went to their first Sunday school class, and the evangelical/conservative/white/racist churches continue to ruin minds… all in the name of Jesus who was NOTHING like what these “people” are and said NOTHING about any of the things they rant about.

    The white guilt they carry is profound. “Bury the truth so I don’t have to feel guilty of being a white, Christian bigot. I’m safe among my fellow bigots, and my children cannot be allowed to be anything but yet another generation of white, Christian bigots. The church propaganda works on these pathetic folks.

    Is anyone in those idiot groups reminding everyone of how great America is? Lightning bolts could be on the way.

  5. The question is when will the sane people get tired of dealing with the petulant children on the right? The monsters apparently are not just under the bed, they’re everywhere. I wonder how they would react to Grimm’s Fairy Tales being read in classrooms. Fairy tales seem to describe the world they live in, with the trolls, witches, and wolves being Democrats, of course.

  6. South Dakota’s deranged magat guv claims the state school board is a bunch of far leftist goons trying to make whites look bad. Noem Nothing wants the schools to drop any mention of bad things whitey perpetrated on Natives from school curriculum.

    She also fired for drumpf campaign director Corey Lewdandoiwski, from her campaign, for his blatant attempts to rub up against wealthy donor’s wife, uninvited.

    I believe the whole attack on education is a koch bro effort to write white history favorably and ignore racial problems.

  7. I have noticed that there is nothing in our schools’ curriculum about healthy parenting of children. I am certain that at some point in our childrens’ education they need to learn about the ugly parts of American history and bigotry towards people of color, different faith traditions, sexual orientations and gender identities.

    The question is at what age do we teach our children about these things and how best to teach them. What sort of language is appropriate to use to teach them? How long should we protect them from the history of violence in our nation so that they are not traumatized by it? How do we give them a balanced perspective of our nation’s history?

    These women of liberty would be wiser to join mothers against gun violence or drunk driving instead of trying to control the books that libraries have. They would be wiser to look at what kind of food is provided in school lunches. Many children are being exposed to violence on the street where they live and as a result, badly traumatized. And too many children are sexually, emotionaly, and/or physically abused by their caretakers( that includes their parents). Some become victims of child sex trafficking. Of course, they probably think that this violence and abuse only occurs in neighborhoods where people of color and immigrants live. And I am certain that those children would not be traumatized learning about how sea horses propagate nor reading about gay people.

    These women have prioritized banning books over helping the children who really need to be rescued and kept safe.

  8. Locally here in central Indiana we had our own version of a school board trying to deal with unruly people.

    The Carmel Clay Schools board of trustees recessed its Sept. 27 meeting for more than 40 minutes after members of the audience began speaking over board members during discussion of the consent agenda.

    Once board members returned to the dais, they quickly voted on action items on the agenda, including a two-year teacher contract, as members of the audience continued to speak over them.

    CCS Supt. Michael Beresford said after the meeting that board members felt it was important to continue through the agenda, however chaotic, to vote on a new two-year contract for teachers and to approve other financial matters.

    “It’s just extremely sad that a group of adults would behave in this kind of manner. We had student journalists in the back of the room videotaping adults behaving in a way we would never allow in school,” he said. “One of the policies on the docket today was (regarding) civility and decorum. Boy, did we ever prove that we need that policy.”

    These people that want to ban the books, etc., want that Norman Rockwell or Mayberry History of America taught. I am surprised they do not want to ban Darwin too.

  9. Monotonous Languor: Yes, and I just received news that the school board will be taking their meetings online for the foreseeable future. Good for them!

    And they DO want to ban Darwin.

  10. “Conservative
    1. a person who is averse to change and holds traditional values.
    true blue

    2. a person favoring free enterprise, private ownership, and socially traditional ideas.”

    The quote above is from whatever source Google gets definitions for the noun “conservative”.

    Of course, one form of traditional ideas in America comes from the Puritans who we credit as being the first European Americans.

    Since then there has been a cultural war fought here between the liberal concepts of freedom for all and the conservative concepts of the imposition of cultural limits on public behavior which implies freedom only within limits established by leaders.

    It seems that what motivated the Puritans to come here is that in Europe they were not considered the aristocracy in Europe making rules so they were looking for a fresh start somewhere they could be in charge of others and impose their piety on everyone.

    Notably, the single concept that they excluded from their rulemaking was for ownership of the means of production for which they were against rules by anyone.

    Today’s conservatives in the US are returning to their puritanical roots as a reaction to the realization that as a country we have finally come close to fulfilling the liberal democratic aspirations of the Constitution which I have never heard better expressed than by Lincoln: “Government of the people, by the people, for the people.”

    There’s nothing new in the world. The same old debate just keeps returning to the forefront. The debate between freedom requiring individual human judgment for behavior versus the hierarchical order of a world of those who rule and those who must follow.

    What’s interesting is that the rise of Fascism in Europe came about from these same roots which led to not freedom but a change in who makes the rules and how.

  11. It’s unwise to control what books children get to read. If they read wherever their interests lead they ask questions and the parents have a chance to engage and persuade as they see fit. Forbidden reading stirs up interest.

  12. Ooh, how interesting – one of the “Moms” items for sale is “How to Read the Constitution” – I wonder.
    I realize to be one of them, you have to learn the “true” version beginning with:
    “We the god-fearing, white, Christian, Real American people of the United States…..”

    They probably explain how the Commies hid the true meaning.

    Ah, for the days of my youth, when the Scopes Trial and banning “Cather in the Rye” were part of history (that last one, recent). The relic of the past was the Maryland State Board of Censors, who got paid to watch porn movies and be scandalized (but watch them one more time).

    Oh, and CRT meant Cathode Ray Tube (for your TV — later, your computer monitor).

Comments are closed.