The Atlantic, Ronald Brownstein, 8 July 2022: The Glaring Contradiction of Republicans’ Rhetoric of Freedom, subtitled, “Democratic governors are showing the national party how to challenge the red states’ rollback of rights.”
Republicans say freedoms for me, prohibitions for thee.
For decades Republicans have marketed themselves as the party of freedom.
Supposedly representing the party of smaller government, Republicans across red states have in recent months approved a wave of intrusive actions as they work to unravel the “rights revolution” of the past 60 years. These measures include authorizing vigilante lawsuits by private citizens against anyone involved in providing an abortion and state investigations of parents who approved medical transition treatment for their transgender children (both in Texas), as well as restrictions on how both teachers and private companies alike can talk about race and gender and how K–12 teachers can discuss sexual orientation (the “Don’t Say Gay” law, in Florida). DeSantis has penalized in various ways the Walt Disney Company, the Tampa Bay Rays baseball team, and the Special Olympics for objecting to his policies.
Many more examples. Getting to the core of the matter:
This year’s intensifying campaign debate over the definition of freedom recalls the philosopher Isaiah Berlin’s famous distinction between two types of liberty. Republicans have traditionally stressed what Berlin called “negative” liberty: the freedom to live without interference from government or others. Since the New Deal, Democrats have emphasized what Berlin called “positive” liberty, concerned with creating opportunities for individuals to fulfill their potential. That approach has infused Democratic proposals for generations—Social Security in the 1930s, Medicare and Medicaid in the 1960s, the derailed Build Back Better plan today—with a determination to use government to provide Americans with more opportunities.
Salon, Brett Bachman, 23 Jun 2021, updated 6 Jul 2022: DeSantis signs bill requiring survey of Florida students, professors on their political views, subtitled, “Colleges could lose funding if survey of ‘ideas and perspectives’ fails to satisfy state’s GOP-run legislature”
As I said, Orwellian. The state — well, at least Florida — wants to reward right-thinkers, with government funding, and punish wrong-thinkers who don’t toe the Republican line.
Apparently this is what voters want. The Florida governor is leading in polls for the Republican nomination for president in 2024.
Salon, Amanda Marcotte, 8 July 2022: Fox News’ Laura Ingraham escalates the GOP’s war on learning: “Time to defund government education”
Subtitle: “Along with Florida’s new law, the GOP end game comes in to view: To turn Americans into a bunch of ignoramuses.”
The better to be controlled.
New York Times, Elizabeth A. Harris and Alexandra Alter, 6 Jul 2022, updated 8 Jul 2022: With Rising Book Bans, Librarians Have Come Under Attack, subtitled, “Caustic fights over which books belong on the shelves have put librarians at the center of a bitter and widening culture war.”
Again, conservatives, especially Christian, don’t want their kids exposed to anything improper, anything outside their Biblical worldview. The rest of the world — all those other different kinds of people — may as well not exist. That’s why they don’t like public education.
Ironically, parents who home school their children to “groom” them into a Christian worldview accuse librarians of “grooming” children simply by having a variety of books on library shelves.
As highly visible and politicized book bans have exploded across the country, librarians — accustomed to being seen as dedicated public servants in their communities — have found themselves on the front lines of an acrimonious culture war, with their careers and their personal reputations at risk.
They have been labeled pedophiles on social media, called out by local politicians and reported to law enforcement officials. Some librarians have quit after being harassed online. Others have been fired for refusing to remove books from circulation.
Long article with many specific examples of librarians who have quit or been fired, and the books parents want to ban. (Mostly those about LGBTQ issues, or honest accounts of history.)
Finally a piece that takes a larger perspective, which is always what I aim for on this blog. Why the rancor in American politics? Why are the crazies winning?
OnlySky, Phil Zuckerman, 8 July 2022: Why Trump will ‘win’ again, subtitled, “And the USA will be no more”
Note the scare quotes around “win”. Zuckerman lays out reasons Trump or his equivalent will win in 2024, before stepping back to consider the big picture. Considering millennia of human history…
Democracy is an extreme newcomer to human affairs. It is fragile. It often fails. And it runs quite contrary to many deep-seated human desires, such as the need to be told what to do, the need to be told what to think, the need to be told how to live.
Such needs only increase as life becomes more precarious, economic systems become more mysterious, technology becomes more powerful, wealth becomes less equally distributed, the planet becomes hotter, and cultural changes occur with increasing rapidity. Humanity’s deep-seated need for a sense of structure and security that is often met by the grip of an authoritarian ruler was at the heart of Erich Fromm’s thesis in Escape From Freedom. In that classic work, Fromm argued that — despite people claiming to want and love freedom — the reality is that freedom is actually quite scary. It involves making choices and accepting consequences. It demands responsibility. It requires work. Thus, sometimes a lack of freedom is preferable. It is comforting. It is easy. It is why people join cults and follow gurus. It is why many people are religious. It is why many people follow authoritarian leaders. And it is why many people are now marching for Trump, quickly turning this “land of the free” into a dictatorship.
The past century, especially, has seen an increase in the pace of change, both technological and social. (This is what science fiction is about.) Human nature can’t always handle it. And so some people simply want someone to tell them what to do — as I’ve noted here several times. This works fine when the leader is from the community, from the same culture, telling people what to do as a rally against outsiders (the elites, the scientists). But it backfires when the advice about what to do comes from outsiders — the elites, the scientists, those who would challenge the traditions and presumptions of the community.
In the big *big* picture sense — I suspect that America, a vanguard for freedom and technological advance for centuries, is now facing the inevitable backlash, as the pace quickens. “Humankind cannot bear very much reality” (T.S. Eliot), or too much change too fast. The dead hands of tradition and religion are dragging us down. How are other countries handling this? Better than the US, especially in Europe, which has largely relaxed religion. And in countries like China, which has never had America’s ideal for individual freedoms in the first place. There is no cosmic destiny that American values will win. It’s been a grand experiment, America. The fate of the world seems destined for others.