Defunding public libraries: Republicans' war on reading goes nuclear

In a sign of how unhinged the Republican war on books has gotten, Texas conservatives have decided fart jokes are "pornography." In a text message exchange between two book-banning advocates in Llano, Texas, one wrote that it would be better to "close the library" than "put the porn back into the kid's section!" Among the books that her group deems "porn": "Larry the Farting Leprechaun," "My Butt is So Noisy!" and "Gary the Goose and His Gas on the Loose." Other materials that conservatives in Llano determined were sexually explicit materials meant to arouse libidinous desires include "They Called Themselves the K.K.K.: The Birth of an American Terrorist Group" by history writer Susan Campbell Bartoletti and Tillie Walden's Eisner Award-winning graphic memoir about ice skating, "Spinning." All this does make one want to learn more about the masturbatory habits of Texas Republicans, but sadly, the more pressing issue at hand is that this "porn" designation for these books is being used as a pretext by those who wish to shut down the library altogether.

For months, the nationwide frenzy of book banning that has infected the GOP has been inflicted with special vengeance on this small town about an hour and a half's drive from Austin. It started when county officials in Llano, jumping on the GOP book-banning bandwagon, drew up a list of books to remove from the library. A librarian who refused to comply was fired. Many of the books were targeted for fart jokes, but other targets included books that were anti-racist or pro-LGBTQ, as well as "In the Night Kitchen" by Maurice Sendak, which is commonly targeted by the religious right because it has an innocent drawing of a kid's naked butt. Local residents successfully sued, forcing the books back onto the shelves, where they were all immediately checked out

All this reading simply cannot be tolerated by today's GOP.

You're unlikely to join up with QAnon or become radicalized by incels at the library. The internet, however, is very good at turning otherwise normal people into blithering idiots who love Trump and hate democracy. 

On Thursday, the Llano County commissioners have scheduled a special meeting to discuss shutting down the library entirely. But, as Vice News reported, "text messages entered as evidence in the case show that the vice chair of the library advisory board from February 2 indicated that closing the library system may have been the defendant's plan all along if the judge's decision didn't go their way."

Republicans behind the book-banning typically deny that they have a larger agenda against education or literacy, instead claiming their goals are limited to keeping a small number of books out of people's hands. But there's good reason to think there's a much larger goal afoot, of stigmatizing the very idea of reading and education. In Florida, the restrictions on books are so severe that many teachers were forced to deny kids access to any books, lest they run afoul of the censorship law. 


Sorry, Twitter, but Florida's war on books is no joke. Ron DeSantis wants to keep kids from reading

Now the anti-reading mania is morphing into a campaign to defund libraries.

On Tuesday, the Republican-controlled state house in Missouri passed a budget that completely defunds all libraries in the state. Again, the pretext invoked is the false claim that librarians are somehow "grooming" children with pornographic material. In reality, the books being targeted are, unsurprisingly, those with themes about self-acceptance, anti-racism, and gay rights. 

The truth is, the "grooming" accusation is a particularly brittle fig leaf, and not just because the books in question are clearly not pornographic. The war on libraries is part of a larger GOP assault on the very concept of public provision of education in any form. Part of the reason is a larger right-wing skepticism of the concept of a "common good." In 2019 for the New York Times, journalist Monica Potts wrote about how her small community of Van Buren County, Arkansas had gone to war over the existence of the library. This was before the current book-banning craze, and so the anti-library forces in her community were more upfront about why they wanted the library gone: Because Republicans believed that it was a "waste of taxpayers' money" to provide that resource. In her interviews with residents, Potts discovered a deep hostility among conservatives to the very idea of learning and education, and a desire "to keep people with educations out." 

"Call me narrow-minded but I've never understood why a librarian needs a four-year degree," one resident told her.

"The people who didn't frequent the library argued that the community didn't really need it anymore, anyway," Potts writes. "After all, if you have internet, you can get whatever you want in a day."

One can immediately understand, in the age of Donald Trump, how turning people away from books and towards the internet benefits the anti-democratic desires of the GOP. Books range in quality, of course — they let Ann Coulter write them, after all — but overall, there's a stronger chance of someone developing qualities of thoughtfulness and empathy if they actually read books. The internet has a lot of great stuff on it — you are reading this article there! — but it's also notoriously good at turning people's minds to mush. You're unlikely to join up with QAnon or become radicalized by incels at the library. The internet, however, is very good at turning otherwise normal people into blithering idiots who love Trump and hate democracy. 

The end goal of "school choice" politics is crushing the concept of critical thinking, which tends to undermine the authoritarian grip on power.

As I've written about before, the philosopher Umberto Eco was writing in the 90s about how fascists have always cultivated a "distrust of the intellectual world. To the fascist, "thinking is a form of emasculation." Rationality and science, in this worldview, lead to "depravity." The paper-thin "porn" pretext has always been about this larger hostility to the very concept of thinking, studying, and reading. 


Republicans' war on education is the most crucial part of their push for fascism

Libraries are the latest battlefield, but the real white whale for the GOP is the destruction of public education.

This month offered another reminder of that when Republican Gov. Greg Abbott and his supporters in the Texas legislature made a play to defund public schools in the Lone Star state under the guise of "school choice." As David Brockman of the Texas Observer wrote, the proposal to offer parents "vouchers" to remove kids from public school and enroll them in private school is about sucking so much money out of public schools that they collapse. But equally important, he writes, is what Republicans wish to replace public education with.

Schools that receive vouchers "are not required to satisfy the same requirements public schools must meet." Basically, it's a scheme to replace real education with religious indoctrination, often without worrying about if kids are even gaining basic literacy and math skills, let alone critical thinking skills. The end goal of "school choice" politics is crushing the concept of critical thinking, which tends to undermine the authoritarian grip on power. Taken together — the GOP's war on books and libraries — a picture emerges of what the Republican Party wants Americans to be: mindless, illiterate and compliant. 

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about the GOP's battle against books



Amanda Marcotte is a senior politics writer at Salon and the author of "Troll Nation: How The Right Became Trump-Worshipping Monsters Set On Rat-F*cking Liberals, America, and Truth Itself." Follow her on Twitter @AmandaMarcotte and sign up for her biweekly politics newsletter, Standing Room Only.

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