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The perverse vulgarity of book banning

January 8, 2023 at 12:00 a.m.

By Jim Hightower

Excuse me for using explicit language here, but it seems to me that today's most vulgar expression of right-wing extremist dogma is its unhealthy obsession with banning books. It's a political perversion that, ironically, its participants usually rationalize by claiming they are "battling vulgarity."

And, boy, are they hot to trot! Of course, pious book-banners have been around ever since books were first published, but there's a surge of them these days. That's because stripping books out of schools and public libraries has become a favorite way for right-wing politicos to stimulate their supporters' political passion for engaging in culture wars against their neighbors... and common sense.

Until recently, there were only a couple of hundred isolated book challenges a year in our entire country, and local school boards and city councils generally handled them properly -- without starting an uncivil war. But now, attempted book bans are erupting everywhere, orchestrated by a few extremist political groups and a flock of opportunistic Republican politicians.

PEN, a nonprofit watchdog that monitors these attacks on our freedom of expression, has documented 2,532 copycat campaigns across America in the past year to ban more than 1,600 works from our schools.

These self-appointed autocratic censors uniformly assert that they are defending "parental rights" and protecting their little ones from "sensitive materials" that dare discuss controversial topics like slavery and sexual identities.

Bovine excrement.

First, their naked censorship is just a power play to impose their hang-ups on you and your children; they're really only defending their own little group's nonexistent right to tell all other parents how to raise their kids. Indeed, in a nationwide poll this year, 71% of Americans oppose these partisan efforts to ban library books in the name of "protecting" young people.

Second, have these political nannies not heard of the internet? I can assure them that most of their own children and grandchildren have, and most of them already know about the truths these so-called adults are trying to censor.

Nothing is so foolish -- or wrong -- as trying to put blinders on young people's natural curiosity.

Sometimes, stupid political ideas beget even stupider political tactics.

For example, a faction of right-wing Republicans wants to stop public discussion and actions involving two ideas they hate. No. 1: Racism always has been and still is a systemic problem in American society; and No. 2: LGBTQ people are a normal and welcome part of... well, of us: America's richly diverse society.

Aside from the raw ignorance behind the GOP's denial of these realities, consider the boneheadedness of their current campaign to impose their bigotry on America. At least 50 extremist groups are roaming from city to city, funded by deep-pocket right-wingers like the Koch brothers' political network, to demand that books they don't like be removed from schools and libraries. Worse, their open assault on knowledge and our freedom to read includes the nasty tactic of demonizing and threatening librarians who resist their dictates. Librarians! As a group, these truly helpful people are a national treasure, serving the common good -- yet they're getting physical threats and being fired by these little right-wing mobs.

The good news is that their surreptitious attacks are being exposed, and local folks are rising up against the book-banners and partisan thugs spreading their ignorance and usurping people's freedom to learn. For example, when two high-school girls in Leander, Texas, asked to check out a few books from their library, they were stunned to learn that the school district had banned all the titles they requested. Students had not been informed of this censorship, much less consulted.

Rather than whine, the two feisty girls organized the Banned Book Club in their school, reading "prohibited" titles as a group, then meeting twice a month to discuss the books, including the ban.

To get more information and to fight this right-wing repression, contact American Library Association: ala.org.

Populist author, public speaker and radio commentator Jim Hightower writes "The Hightower Lowdown," a monthly newsletter chronicling the ongoing fights by America's ordinary people against rule by plutocratic elites. Sign up at HightowerLowdown.org.

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