Book burning isn’t just for Nazis

A school board member in Virginia who demanded that books which offended him be burned immediately admitted he never even read them nor intended to.  The other members of the Spotsylvania County board weren’t ready to strike the match but unanimously voted to ban anything they considered – but couldn’t define—as sexually explicit.

Wait until they find the book most widely available to children of all ages deals with sex, rape, torture, incest, murder, adultery, slavery, bestiality and violence throughout. Both editions, Old and New.

Book banning and burning are as old as time, but they’re getting a new life thanks to the MAGA movement, and it threatens to become more intense as we move into the 2022 culture wars being waged in the guise of an election campaign.

This year’s Virginia governor’s race was a burning example.  Republican candidate (and winner) Glenn Youngkin gave his tacit endorsement to book burning when he ran a campaign aid featuring a mother who wanted Toni Morrison’s Pulitzer Prize-winning “Beloved” removed from her son’s school library. He even spoke in favor of allowing students to refuse reading assignments their parents considered too explicit.

The conservative governor-elect also vowed to ban the teaching of critical race theory in Virginia schools on his first day in office. It was meaningless demagoguery since CRT is not in the curriculum anyway. In declaring war on teaching the subject, conservatives across the country are trying to convince voters that even talking about racism is racist, and they of course can’t be racist. Not in their lily-white hearts.

Youngkin’s success is largely attributed to his focus on cultural issues like race and sex, using buzzwords like “take back our schools.”  He also embraced the MAGA agenda without being seen in the presence of the former president himself. Republican campaign pros argue that keeping the former guy at arm’s length while attacking school curricula will be the key to bringing back white female voters who went for Biden last year.

The Old Dominion gave us “massive resistance” to desegregation apparently now is flirting with “massive resistance” to books. Youngkin and Virginia aren’t alone.  Other Republican governors are raising similar alarms as they seek political strategies for the post-Trump ear – while using Trumpist demagoguery to bolster their own standing.  South Carolina’s Gov. Henry McMaster is threatening to send the police to seize offensive books.  Maybe even arrest school librarians?

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott wants libraries in his state’s schools investigated for books containing “pornography and other obscene content.” If librarians are guilty of “criminal activity” by shelving his banned books, he is demanding “prosecution to the fullest extent of the law.” And they better not be wearing masks in those schools.

Instead of books about race, LGBQT and sexism, the GOP cultural warriors are demanding more “patriotic education.”  One Texas school district is now telling teachers if they have books about the Holocaust they must be balanced with book presenting an “opposing perspective.”

Libraries deal with demands to ban books all the time; what seems to have changed is the frequency and volume at higher political levels. Time Magazine reports “Since September, school libraries in at least seven states have removed books challenged by community members.” It will grow worse as the 2022 political season heats up.

Anyone looking for the match striker could start with the leader of the anti-intellectual MAGA movement, a man who claims to have written 19 books but, according to his ghostwriters and others, probably not only never wrote them, but didn’t even read them. “He doesn’t read books and he doesn’t write them,” said one ghost. Even his CIA security briefer said, “He doesn’t really read anything,”  The only confirmed writing he did in any of those books is his autograph.

In the MAGA world, a light unto the nations means a pile of burning books.

It is happening in New Hampshire, Wisconsin, Kansas and other states where Republican control at least one branch of the state government.

One conservative group in New Hampshire offered a $500 bounty on any public-school teacher caught violating the state law against discussing systemic racism.  It was the bounty, not the law, that the governor found offensive.

Book banning will be a prominent theme of the MAGA cultural wars as the GOP tries to regain control of Congress.  Not all conservatives want to ban and burn books, but far too many silently ignore those who do, making themselves accomplices.

Sex and race are the topics that most energize and infuriate the cultural warriors.  That’s a lot easier than explaining why they almost unanimously opposed infrastructure legislation (but still took credit for it afterwards), voting rights, vaccinations, campaign finance reform, childcare, elder care, universal broadband, cutting drug prices, protecting the environment and other important issues this year.

After the book burners purify the school library shelves and jail the librarians, what will they do when they find out all those books and pictures are still available on the Internet?

Will they want to burn our Kindles, iPads and laptops next?

Waging cultural warfare is a popular and effective way to deflect from the real problems, as Youngkin’s successful campaign indicated.

Why worry about those when you can bask in the glow of burning books?

About the Author
Douglas M. Bloomfield is a syndicated columnist, Washington lobbyist and consultant. He spent nine years as the legislative director and chief lobbyist for AIPAC.