My first reaction to the growing conservative campaign to ban or remove books from libraries is that they – sigh – drastically overestimate the number of kids who even know where the library is. This is not to dismiss the repressive, mean-spirited, anti-American, homophobic, transphobic, racist nature of the campaign. That’s troubling indeed. But the idea that young folks are being shielded from the truth is laughable.
It is trite, of course, but true that prohibition builds appetite. To adolescents, forbidden fruit is tasty stuff, and they need no library – or even a book – to find it. Goons like Ron DeSantis want to “protect” them from stories about two mommies. Meanwhile, the kids can find two mommies in flagrante delicto with a click of a mouse. I don’t applaud this, but simply note the obvious.
Similarly, DeSantis et al try to whitewash history, banning AP classes and outlawing “divisive concepts.” Proposed legislation in New Hampshire and elsewhere would criminalize teaching the truth. Do these ideological zealots have any awareness of the reality for today’s young people? The truth of present day racism is explicit and implicit in popular culture. Teenagers are not listening to Pat Boone or watching Leave It To Beaver. Even my young grandchildren can sing or chant along with Hip Hop songs about police violence and virulent racism.
My 6th grade granddaughter has friends who identify as trans or gender fluid. It is a non-issue. The ubiquity of TikTok brings gender non-conformity and issues of race into every household. According to Pew Research, 95% of teens have smartphones. They are not listening to podcasts from the Federalist Society.
I have no way of knowing what conservative “leaders”like DeSantis really believe. I suspect that the answer is “nothing.” He and others engage in these cultures wars to appeal to the shrinking slice of primarily white voters who want to “own the libs” and return America to the 1950s, or perhaps 1850s, before those pesky slaves stirred up trouble.
The sexual and gender stuff is reminiscent of the Victorian era, when sex was repressed and simultaneously proliferated. Now, as then, pretending that various expressions of gender and sexuality don’t exist, or are immoral, changes nothing at all.
I note these things to make a larger point. All of these “culture war” strategies are like burning down houses to save the neighborhood. To satisfy the bigoted and ignorant “base” that supports a desperately pathological cretin like Donald Trump, they are alienating the vast majority of future voters who find their actions reprehensible. Mark my word. They will reap what they sow.
A lovely foreshadowing of this future is happening in Montana. This week’s New York Times reported on a lawsuit, Held v. Montana, filed by 16 young people in Montana, charging that the state has reneged on its constitutional guarantee of “the right to a clean and healthful environment.” At the time of original filing, the youngest plaintiff was 2 years-old, bold-facing the purpose of preserving the environment for present and future generations.
They claim, with abundant evidence, that Montana’s support of the fossil fuel industry is dramatically, perhaps irreversibly, spoiling the waters where they fish, the environment where they hunt and the air they breathe. As the Times reports, “. . . by virtue of those few words, they argue, Montana’s extensive support for fossil fuels like coal, oil and gas is unconstitutional because the resulting pollution is dangerously heating the planet and has robbed them of a healthy environment.” New York and Pennsylvania have similar constitutional guarantees and a group called Green Amendments for the Generations is trying to encode environmental guarantees in every state constitution.
There are similar cases in other states, but Held v. Montana will be the first to go to trial – on June 12. The prospect of today’s youth bringing the government/fossil fuel cabal to its knees is thrilling.
There are certainly dire threats to our democracy, our environment and our freedoms that we must resist with our voices and our votes. But all we have to do is hold the ground until the wave of youth justice washes the bums away.