An irony of Buckley’s prominent position as town crier for the hard right is that he was a highly educated paragon of the Eastern establishment elite and the very definition of an intellectual. Despite that, his adherents adopted anti-intellectualism and skepticism of knowledge in general and science in particular. These characteristics resonate even more strongly among today’s Republicans.
What Bill Buckley launched was reinforced over the years by a series of Republican luminaries such as Dan Quayle, George W. Bush, Sarah Palin, the Tea Party movement, most powerfully by Donald Trump, and currently by the House Republican Freedom Caucus and Florida Governor (and Yale and Harvard educated) Ron DeSantis.
The disastrous Kansas experiment of the early 2000s should give these folks pause if they truly care about their own children’s education. When religious conservatives took control of the Kansas State Board of Education in 2005, they directed that creationism (Intelligent Design) be taught in the state’s public schools as a science. While not completely eliminating evolution from the curriculum, the Board directed that it be presented it as a greatly challenged and disputed theory. One consequence was that Kansas high school students experienced great difficulty getting accepted into many colleges and universities across the country, including Kansas. Some who were admitted found themselves taking required remedial courses in biology, chemistry, or physics. This, plus a tsunami of criticism from both parents, students and state and national scientific and other organizations, prompted the Board to withdraw its edict several years later.
Governor DeSantis’s continuing offensive against the teaching of anything the hard right finds disagreeable or uncomfortable is not only adversely affecting both K-12 and college education in Florida, but is also prompting students and their parents to reconsider where they want to live and attend school. New College of Florida students last week held an alternative graduation ceremony in protest against the official ceremony and its keynoter, a DeSantis flunky. The University of Florida is viewed by an increasing number of Floridians and other Americans as the University of Floriduh.
Other red state governors and legislatures are taking a page from DeSantis’s “Book of No” and adopting his anti-education stance for their bailiwicks. Like DeSantis, they are also promoting the banning of books that conservative extremists find offensive because they talk about topics such as race, gender, LGBTQ matters, and even the Holocaust. Because these issues make them uncomfortable, they want to prohibit everyone reading them.
DeSantis’s enabling of parents objecting to certain books has found its reductio ad absurdum in in a Miami-Dade County school library restricting access to Amanda Gorman’s inauguration poem, The Hill We Climb, because one parent objected to it. She alleged it contains “indirect hate messages.” This particular mother (a) admits that she has not read the poem in its entirety, (b) wrongly identified Oprah Winfrey as the “author/publisher,” and (c) posted an image of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a bogus 19th century screed dripping with fanatical anti-Semitism, on Facebook.
Political control through nefarious schemes such as voter suppression and extreme gerrymandering are apparently not enough. Now Republicans also want to exert mind control. This is unfondly reminiscent of the tactics employed by the German Nazis and Soviet Communists in the last century. They started with history and the social sciences, then moved on to the sciences. The Nazis even banned the teaching of quantum physics as “Jewish physics” which, along with terminating Jewish physicists (30 percent of the German physics community) from their jobs, plunged Hitler’s atomic bomb development program into the toilet. The USSR banned Mendelian genetics in favor of the perverted “science” of Stalin's favorite, Trofim Lysenko, whose nutty ideas were applied to Soviet agriculture with disastrous consequences.
Promoting ignorance is a major goal of the current Republican Party. Their political success depends on it. Dumbing down the population is now a conscious Republican electoral strategy. Keep the people uneducated so that they will vote Republican against their own self-interest.
Set aside Republican accusations that Democrats are advocates of the “nanny state.” What red state leaders are doing is instituting the nanny state writ large.
If you want your kids to be educated, keep them away from red states.
P.S. There is, however, one exception to my diatribe against book banning: consider boycotting James Comey’s new mystery, “Central Park West.” The man who did more than any other American to afflict the world with Donald Trump should not be rewarded for his arrogance and perfidy.
May 26, 2023