GOP’s Banning of Books and Attack on Teachers Expose the Party’s Rising Fascism

Shortly before Virginia’s gubernatorial election on November 2, the Republican candidate, Glenn Youngkin, circulated an ad in which a white woman calls for Virginia public schools to ban classroom discussions of Toni Morrison’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Beloved.

Pandering to racist fears and white racial anxiety, Youngkin also stated he would ban from schools what the right wing is inaccurately describing as “critical race theory,” a term which actually refers to a body of legal scholarshipYoungkin used the term as a catchall to describe any discussion about systemic racism in America. Democrat Terry McAuliffe was defeated by Youngkin with 50.6 percent of votes.

Youngkin’s attack on Virginia teachers’ ability to discuss structural racism are just one example of the GOP’s ongoing attack on public and higher education — an attack that is closely aligned to a fascist politics that despises anyone who holds power accountable and sees as an enemy anyone who fosters liberating forms of social change or attempts to resist the right wing’s politics of falsehoods and erasure.

The Republican Party explains that educational practices that inform or empower citizens and address the systemic problems that undermine democracy are a threat to their politics and a threat for its policies. deserving object of disdain.

The Republican Party’s view of “patriotic education” draws directly from the playbook of previous dictatorships with their hatred of reason, truth, science, evidence and the willingness to use language as a source of dehumanization and violence. This language works in the interests and production of fear, while creating despair. This is apartheid pedagogy, which embraces the cultof manufactured ignorance, freezes moral imagination, erases unsettling historical memories, and works to discredit any dissent among individuals or institutions that draw attention to social problems.

The modern civil war against suppressed histories and forms of racism is represented by the attacks on them. This is a war on reason and racial injustice that reproduces through the production of. as Toni Morrison herself notes, “cultivated ignorance, enforced silence, and metastasizing lies.”

The Republican Party, which feeds on the ghosts and relics of an authoritarian past, has been rid of matters of conscience. Its disregard for justice and civic responsibility is also evident by its defense of January 6’s attack on the U.S. Capitol, refusal to accept Joe Biden’s election as president, and its immersion into a culture that lies.

The spirit of the Confederacy is obvious in the GOP’s voter suppression laws and its support of white nationalism and white supremacy. The spirit of U.S.authoritarianism is also alive in the Republican Party’s efforts to capture the machinery of state power in order to invalidate state elections along with attempts to suppress the votes of people of color. These actions are terrifyingly similar to the attacks on Black voters during Reconstruction.

The legacy of Jim Crow and an updated version of the Southern Strategy are the driving forces in the Republican Party’s attempts to remove from public and higher education, if not history itself, any reference to slavery, racism and the teaching of other unpleasant truths. This is where white racial terrors are activated. They act as a coma for the public to participate in increasing acts of surveillance, censorship and other practices that degrade the moral imagination, sense of justice, and civic imagination.

The current policing of education in the United States cannot be abstracted from a larger strategy to identify the institutions and individuals who “make trouble” by uncovering the truth, resisting the warmongers, and exposing the violence at work by those politicians who invite the public “to become vigilantes, bounty hunters and snitches.” Drawing on the work of Russell Banks, I believe that the currentattacks on educators who teach about the history and contemporary realities of racism are part of a broader attempt to silence those “committed to a life of opposition, of speaking truth to power, of challenging and overthrowing received wisdom and disregarding the official version of everything.”

Authoritarianism, education and authoritarianism now co-exist as the Republican Party mobilizes education in many states to support white supremacy and pedagogical repression. They also support curricula that adhere to unbridled antiintellectualism as well as a brutal policy racial inclusion. Republican legislators are using the law to transform public education into white nationalist factories, spaces of indoctrination, and conformity. Republican state legislators have created policies that erase and whitewash history and attack any reference of race, diversity, or equity. They also deskill teachers and undermine their efforts to control their teaching, knowledge, and curriculum.

The Republican Party is frightened that young people could learn about the history and struggles of those who resisted oppression for long periods. Science, racism, truth and climate change are all now considered to be a political of terminal exclusion or social abandonment. Attacking discussions of racism in public schools and higher education, they have made clear that “the ancient lie of white supremacy remains lethal.” History now repeats itself with a vengeance given that the Republican Party has a long legacy of pandering to racial resentment and white supremacy. This is a legacy that extends from Richard Nixon’s war on Black people and Ronald Reagan’s racist use of the myth of the welfare queen to Donald Trump’s birther arguments and the demonization of Mexicans, Muslims, Black journalists and athletes, and Haiti and African nations as “shithole” countries.

As part of the ongoing culture wars, various Republican governors have banned the teaching of what they are inaccurately deeming “critical race theory” in public schools and have also threatened to cut back state funding for public universities that introduce anti-racist issues to students, including a great deal of the founding literature of Black Studies and other sources that provoke discussions that offer a remedy to racial injustice. These attacks are centered on a totalizing attack against critical thinking, informed judgements, truth, and the core values that underpin a critical view of citizenship.

Henry Louis Gates Jr. eloquently arguedThe freedom to write and bear testimony, the freedom of learning that liberation and civic literacy are interconnected, and the freedoms to teach and learn are all at stake in a culture under the control of the new authoritarians. It is not hard to understand why Rep. Matt Krause (R.-Fort Worth), the chairman of the House General Investigating Committee required that Texas school districts submit a list of more than 800 books used in classrooms or libraries.

These books, not surprisingly, address important social issues. Krause also asked schools to tell Krause if they had any information about his chosen list of books. make students“feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress because of their race or sex.” Karen Attiah notes that, “looking at Krause’s list, it’s hard not to conjure up images of totalitarian regimes and violent groups that have gone after books throughout history, from Nazi attacks on works considered ‘un-German’ in 1933 to al-Qaeda destroying precious manuscripts in Timbuktu. A gander at Krause’s list reveals an almost exclusive focus on race and racism, sex and sexuality, LGBT issues, abortion and — gasp — even puberty.”

It gets worse. Wisconsin Republican legislators want to banish certain wordssuch as “white supremacy,” “structural bias,” “structural racism,” “whiteness,” “multiculturalism” and “systemic racism.” For the Republican Party, words are dangerous, especially those that encourage critical interpretations, expand human agency, and produce sentences that open the possibilities for self-determination and a more democratic social order. Banning words and books is a pedagogy that teaches unlearning and disappearance. This includes empathy for others’ suffering, compassion, solidarity, and the courage to confront injustices. Banning books and words makes ignorance toxic and makes justice irrelevant. Banning words and books is equivalent to a totalitarian dictatorship that illiterates and uses politics of elimination. It also erases the genocidal violence that such practices have produced in the past, and normalizes the possibility for them appearing again in future.

Republicans view books and words that give oppressed people the chance to be self-representative and narrate their own stories as unpatriotic. Words that unfold in books that speak to a critical engagement with history, engage the possibilities at work in the unfolding of thehuman condition, and “bear witness to the full range of our humanity” are increasingly subject to an updated form of repression that prefigures authoritarian models of governance.

The Republican Party and its acolytes are now examining words that reach the very limits of human intelligence, offering an emancipated notions of individual and public agency. They also support white supremacy and a politics based on disposability. Language functions to suppress any senses or values of racial justice and moral decency. It is dependent on a politics that erasures and manufactures ignorance and wage a major assault against reason and justice. Furthermore, it makes it lethal by paving way for a rebranded version of fascism. Memory is entrapped in a present that is bound to a form historical amnesia as part of its attack and whitewashing history. Under such circumstances, words, language and thought itself are being erased or misrepresented so as to operate in an educational climate marked by what Richard Rodriguez once called “an astonishing vacancy.”

A number of dystopian novels depict fears about the expulsion of books and present alarming examples for future authoritarian societies. Such lessons appear lost on a sizeable portion of the general public for whom the current historical moment imitates the horrifying fictional narratives explored in dystopian novels such as Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 and George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, where books are outlawed or relegated to memory holes connected to incinerators used to destroy them.

American authoritarianism remains alive and well. The Republican Party, along with its allies, are waging an aggressive attack on any institution or policy that supports democracy. Republican J.D. makes a startling statement that is reminiscent of the past horrors of history, the war on critical intellectuals and journalists, and it’s a statement that is in direct contrast to the previous wars against journalists and academics. Vance, who is running for the Senate in Ohio, stated that, “The Professors are the Enemy.”

This contempt for academics is evident in the ways that the neoliberal university has stripped their rights over their working conditions. It also shows its total disregard for their roles as citizen scholars and public intellectuals. This was evident when the University of Florida banned four university professors from giving expert testimony in lawsuits challenging Florida Gov.’s state policies. Ron DeSantis.

This blatant act of censorship was possibly a sign of what was to come. The University of Florida administration decided to look to the Republican governor for guidance on how to regulate university speech as well as the public activities of its faculty. Robert C. Post is a Yale law professor. pointed out.

The university is not there to protect the governor. It exists to serve the public. It is an independent institution serving the public interest. Nothing could be more important than a professor speaking truthfully to the public, under oath.

Fortunately, this blatant assault on freedom of expression and academic liberty was stopped by a growing public and legal outrage.

The dark shadows of American history are once more flooding the country. Historical memory serves us well in making clear that the banishing of words, ideas and books is the precondition for the horrors that produced the fascist politics of the 1930s in Europe and later in the 1970s and ‘80s in authoritarian regimes in Latin America. Republican J.D. Vance’s attack on academics mirrors a statement made by Gen. Millán Astray, a firm supporter of Francisco Franco, who on October 12, 1936, while attending a speech given by the Dean of Salamanca University in Spain, shouted, “Long live death … death to the intellectuals!! Down with Intelligence.” This grotesque utterance occurred in the midst of a civil war in which intellectuals were tortured, murdered and sent into exile. It has become an organizing principle for the Republican Party because of the terror it evokes and legitimizes.

Historical precedents show that the banning of books is not only a historical decision but also speaks to the dangerous authoritarian spirit driving Republican Party politics. Over 40,000 people gathered in Berlin’s Opernplatz on the evening of May 10, 1933. At the urging of Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels, more than 25,000 books labeled as “un-German” were burned. Book burnings were held in various universities throughout Germany shortly afterward. The purpose of the book burnings was to “cleanse” Germany of the literature of “racial impurity” and dissent and “purify” the German spirit. There was more at work here than what the novelist Andrew Motion called a monumental “manifestation of intolerance”; there was also a forecasting of the killings, mass murders, disappearances, and genocide that would follow this symbolic act of racial hatred and purification.

Book burning in Berlin, Germany, 1933.
Book burning in Berlin (Germany), 1933.

The banning of books in the United States, which bears a dangerous resemblance to the Nazi book burning, represents a startling vision of the Republican Party’s disdain for democracy and its willingness to resurrect totalitarian practices linked to earlier periods of censorship, repression, terror and state violence. Heinrich Heine, a great 19th-century German poet, is the one to blame in this case. observed rightly, “Where they burn books, they will, in the end, also burn people.” The banning of books and the dehumanizing of the writers who produce them is one step away from habituating the wider public into accepting the transition from censorship to more overt criminal acts on the part of the state. Irish journalist Fintan O’Toole perfectly captures the implications such actions have for developing into a full-fledged form of authoritarianism. He writes:

The American people are being conditioned to accept cruelty on a large scale as a society. Americans are being taught to disregard the lives of others and not to consider them human beings. Once that line has been crossed … then we know where that all leads, what the ultimate destination is. It is clear. We know what happens when large numbers of people are dehumanized by a government or its leaders.

The Republican Party is not calling for the burning of books or the imprisonment of authors they target as “un-American,” (at least not yet) but the spirit that animates their calls for censorship, historical cleansing, so-called racial purity, disposability and politics is alarming and a precondition for something much worse. The Nazi assertion and threat proclaiming, “The state has been conquered but not the universities” could very well be viewed as a central feature of the Republican Party’s war on critical race theory, the banning of books and its all-out war on higher education as a democratic public sphere.

The attacks on critical thinking in the United States are at center of a growing civil war in which the terrifying phantoms from the past have been re-energized, and now threaten to return. The spectacle of the MAGA hats and the criminal attack on the Capitol is only part of a reactionary cultural policy that is being funded by corporate interests. This is legitimized by powerful social-media platforms, conservative foundations, as well as other cultural apparatuses. Its end is the death and destruction of democracy.

At the current moment in the United States, manufactured fear is now coupled with the mass production of ignorance and the surging political power of U.S.-bredauthoritarianism. These forces work together to destroy higher education. Higher education is one of few public spaces where truth and justice can still be taught. Resistance can also be developed against the looming danger that normalizing white supremacy and an updated version of American fascism.

Teachers and other educators would be wise to pay attention. Toni Morrison’s warning, so prophetically accurate at the present moment: “If the university does not take seriously and rigorously its role as a guardian of wider civic freedoms, as interrogator of more and more complex ethical problems, as servant and preserver of deeper democratic practices, then some other regime or menage of regimes will do it for us, in spite of us, and without us.”

Faculty, students, and other people who are serious about democracy must work together to ensure that higher education takes on the responsibility for addressing the authoritarian cracks in American society. Critical education helps us remember that justice and what it means to be human are interconnected. It cannot be separated from a politics based on solidarity. The United States is experiencing a lack of justice. This suggests that educators and others who are unwilling to live in a fascist society need to rethink what education means and how it can be used as an instrument of empowerment and resistance. Fascist mythologies must be dismantled, as well as racist social practices and misogynist government structures. It is imperative that new power structures are created. Education must be reclaimed as a civic practice and not a series commercial exchanges. Only then can higher education function as a democratic public realm that takes seriously the idea that democracy requires an informed citizenry. Higher education is the only way to do this.

Repressive forms in political education are omnipresent in everyday life and lead to a shift of consciousness and a crisis for civic imagination. This is partly due to the attack on democratic modes and public understanding in a variety cultural apparatuses, from public and higher education to digital media. The rise in racial hysteria is now commonplace and must be challenged at all cultural sites where it appears. The pedagogical apparatuses that shape culture have become repressive and dangerous and must be exposed, resisted, and overcome. They pose a threat to democracy and should be recognized. This is part of the role that higher education must address.

As Toni Morrison has observed, colleges and universities need to embrace“powerful visionary thinking about how the life of the moral mind and a free and flourishing spirit can operate in a context” of tyranny. This means creating liberating teaching methods that address the dangers of white supremacy, white nationalism, and fascist politics. It means that students are educated and faculty are provided with the resources, time and space to form widespread resistance in concert with other groups outside of the university in order to combat the authoritarian attacks that amount to a new civil War.

The fight for education is too important to ignore or lose. The stakes are not just about history, knowledge, values, but also about truth, justice, power, and the social conditions that allow democratic modes for agency, identity, and dignity to be possible. An impending threat from fascism makes it almost impossible to imagine the danger that democracy faces in the United States. Given the seriousness of this impendingdanger, historian Robin D. G. Kelley rightly observes, “We have no choice but to fight.”​

Recognizing that capitalism and democracy are diametrically opposed is one way to enter such a struggle. If capitalism is allowed to continue, the current racist attacks on higher educational institutions will not be successful long-term. Critical educators must do all they can to create popular education and a culture politics that challenges the corporatization university. They must also develop an anti-capitalist consciousness to ensure equality, freedom, justice, and social change. Given the inequalities in wealth, income, and power, predatory capitalism is not compatible with democracy. David Harvey is correct in asserting that,“The fundamental problems are actually so deep right now that there is no way that we are going to go anywhere without a very strong anti-capitalist movement.”What needs to be addressed is that the most powerful big lie in the United States is not that Trump won the 2020 election, but the normalized claim that capitalism and democracy are synonymous.

A radical democracy is a struggle that requires a new language to enable people to think in terms larger solidarities, which are necessary for overcoming a fractured politics. This should be a language that touches people’s lives, provides a comprehensive understanding of politics, offers a concrete program for social change and lays the foundation for a broad-based movement that will unite around a society steeped in the principles of democratic socialism.

Under neoliberal capitalism, democracy and education have been distorted and have drifted to a space that mirrors the ineffable terrors and past. Higher education must be able to answer the question of its role in democracy in a period of increasing authoritarianism.

As Hannah Arendt once put it in her seminal essay, “The Crisis in Education”:“Education is the point at which we decide whether we love the world enough to assume responsibility for it and by the same token save it from that ruin which, except for renewal, except for the coming of the new and young, would be inevitable. And education, too, is where we decide whether we love our children enough not to expel them from our world and leave them to their own devices, nor to strike from their hands their chance of undertaking something new, something unforeseen by us, but to prepare them in advance for the task of renewing a common world.”

The struggle over education should be seen as part and parcel of the larger struggle for democracy. As Primo Levy warned us, “Every age has its own fascism.” His words are more prophetic than ever given the current collapse of conscience and the willingness, if not glee, of the Republican Party to embrace an American-style fascism.

As Amartya Sen once argued, it is time “to think big about society” — to move beyond the despair, isolation, theoretical abysses and political silos that stand in the way of developing a strong anti-capitalist movement. The United States is in danger and must be confronted with the greatest resistance by workers, students, teachers, feminists, and other people who believe that education should be central to politics.