Saturday, May 27, 2023
HOW WELL off is humanity? Which countries’ citizens are thriving and which are languishing? Where are people making progress and where are they sliding back? Often the answers to such questions come from examining their economies. GDP per person, however, can only show so much. More important is how prosperity translates into well-being. A dataset published on May 24th by the Social Progress Imperative, a non-profit organisation, aims to show that. It ranks 170 countries on how well they have provided for their citizens, using metrics other than wealth.
[I]t tracks 52 indicators and groups them into three categories, to which it gives equal weight: basic human needs (such as food and water), the foundations for long-term development (education and health care) and “opportunity” (including personal rights and freedoms).
The results still suggest a link between wealth and well-being: the richest countries are often the ones where citizens thrive. Conditions are worst in the poorest. But the data also show that countries that have made great progress in some areas, such as meeting basic needs, let their citizens down in others, especially in protecting and expanding their freedoms.
The SPI’s findings for 2022 put Norway top, with a score of 90.7. South Sudan came last. In general wealthy European countries are among the highest-ranked whereas countries in sub-Saharan Africa are the lowest.
In a separate analysis, the SPI shows how scores have changed between 1990 and 2020 . . . After rapid progress in the 1980s and 1990s, improvements in human welfare seem to have slowed. Progress in some regions, such as Latin America, has stalled. The United States, meanwhile, is going backwards.
The region that experienced the greatest increase in well-being is East Asia and the Pacific. Taken together, countries there improved their SPI score by an average of 18 points between 1990 and 2020. Much of that was driven by the rise of China’s middle class, which showed up in higher scores on indicators for health education and provision of basic needs.
South Asia has also seen significant progress. India’s SPI score, for example, increased by 16 points over the three decades. But it is tiny Bhutan, sandwiched between India and China, that advanced the most among the 170 countries. Its score jumped by 30 points as it greatly increased its provisions for meeting basic human needs.
Paired with data on GDP, the SPI rankings show that economic growth is important, but not the sole determinant for social progress . . . . China’s GDP per person increased 11-fold between 1990 and 2010; over the same period its SPI score increased by 45%. India achieved a similar jump in its score, from a slightly lower base, with a third of China’s economic growth.
America is another country where economic success is accompanied by deterioration in other areas. Despite having the richest citizens in the G7, a club of rich democracies, its SPI score, of 87.6, is the lowest in that group. Since 2016 America’s SPI score has gone steadily downwards even though its economy has grown faster than those of other rich countries. That is largely because of worse scores in the “opportunity” category, which includes measures of discrimination and access to advanced education. Worryingly, America’s performance reflects a trend: progress on personal rights is stalling around the world. Money, it seems, is not the root of all good.
Friday, May 26, 2023
The prospect that the U.S. government will default on its payments because Republicans refuse to raise the debt ceiling is now real and imminent. In fact, bonds issued by some corporations are yielding less than Treasuries, indicating that investors now consider, say, Microsoft a more reliable debtor than the federal government.
As disaster looms, it’s important to keep in mind that Republicans are the villains here: They’re the ones engaged in extortion.
The reason I say this is that progressives are feeling a lot of rage against the Biden administration for refusing to take action to avoid this crisis. And at least some people in or close to the administration seem more dedicated to rejecting proposed ways out of the trap than they are to solving the problem. There’s a definite Stockholm syndrome vibe, in which the hostages seem angrier at their would-be rescuers than they are at their kidnappers.
There are at least three ways the administration could, in principle, bypass the debt ceiling. The objections to these options purport to be technocratic or legal, or both, but when you dig a bit you realize that they’re really political.
The first possible strategy is simply to ignore the debt limit, declaring it unconstitutional. The 14th Amendment, which says that the validity of U.S. debt “shall not be questioned,” has been getting a lot of attention. But more broadly, the debt ceiling impasse has put the administration in a position where it must break some laws — either the laws that specify federal spending or the law limiting government borrowing. In such a position, the president must choose which laws to obey; why should the debt ceiling take priority?
I don’t find the case against the constitutional option persuasive. Some have said default wouldn’t violate the 14th Amendment, because the debt would still be valid — we just wouldn’t be honoring it. It’s also been argued that the merits of the case are largely irrelevant because of the Supreme Court’s partisanship. So it isn’t really about the law — it’s about the politics.
A second strategy would be to exploit a peculiar legal provision that allows the Treasury to mint platinum coins of any value it chooses. These coins could be deposited at the Federal Reserve, and the government could then draw cash from its account to continue paying its bills. . . . . the Fed could and would offset any effect on the money supply by selling off some of its huge portfolio of U.S. bonds. And because selling those bonds would reduce the earnings the Fed remits to the Treasury, it would have the same fiscal impact as direct bond sales. Essentially, it would be normal borrowing through a back door.
A third option would be to issue perpetual bonds — bonds that pay interest forever but no principal, and hence have no face value. Since the ceiling is defined in terms of the face value of U.S. debt, not its fluctuating market value, it’s hard to see how the ceiling can apply. This isn’t a radical idea — it has a long history, especially in Britain, but has also been used in the United States.
Crucially, all these options are completely innocuous from an economic point of view, amounting to nothing more than workarounds that would allow the government to continue spending duly authorized by Congress.
The arguments against these options all boil down to political guesses. Maybe a partisan Supreme Court will reject the constitutional option. Maybe it will find some way to reject the seemingly clear language authorizing the coin, or the Fed will refuse to accept the coin if minted. Maybe the Supremes will come up with a novel definition of the debt limit (hard to see it, but who knows) that rules out perpetual bonds. Or maybe the Biden administration will be punished by voters if it is seen — or portrayed by the news media — as doing something unorthodox and shifty.
But these are only guesses. . . . the Biden administration’s political judgment on the debt limit has been disastrously wrong every step of the way. Officials reportedly thought that by rejecting any workarounds, they would get centrists and business groups to intervene and force Republicans to raise the ceiling. It didn’t happen. They ignored warnings that insisting that there were no options would just embolden G.O.P. extremists; it did.
My guess is that if push comes to shove, even a partisan Supreme Court won’t be willing either to burn down the world economy or to order President Biden to break the law by disregarding existing spending legislation. Yes, that’s a risky bet — and unorthodox actions might still leave markets nervous. But there are no riskless options at this point.
I don’t expect it to take any of these actions until or unless the debt limit has actually been breached and the crisis is fully upon us. But I hope someone inside the Treasury is quietly preparing to do whatever it takes. If not, God help us all.
Thursday, May 25, 2023
The Florida governor announced his presidential campaign on Twitter Spaces, in an appearance meant to be a veritable launch hosted by an actual rocket man.
But within seconds, it was clear that Tallahassee had a problem. The feed broke, connections got cut off, the hosts seemed confused. It was inauspicious. It also was a black mark on the candidate’s supposed trademarks — expert organization and a comfort with the vanguard of modern media.
“It was bold. It turned out to be a mistake,” radio host Erick Erickson emailed supporters about the mishap. “It is recoverable. But it is a reminder that some things should be under full control of the candidate, particularly the launch day.”
The risk for DeSantis is the prospect of the botched rollout forming a narrative and cutting against the very argument he is making to Republican primary voters — that he is a competent alternative to the chaotic presidency of former President Donald Trump. . . . But on Wednesday, DeSantis — who fiercely values control — was the picture of disorder. . . . in corners of the conservative press, including outlets pining for an alternative to Trump, there was little willingness to sidestep the face plant. The National Review’s Philip Klein called it a “disaster.”
Frankly, the disaster could not happen to a more deserving individual and one can only hope DeSantis has a hard time escaping from the negative narrative. The debacle is emblematic of much of DeSantis' campaign to date which has sought to thrill and excite the ugliest elements of the Republican Party base but seems to have no vision of how his authoritarian, racist, homophobic and censorship filled agenda can shift to appeal to general election voters. A column in the New York Times looks at an issue which hopefully will smother DeSantis early on in his formal campaign. Here are excerpts:
If Ron DeSantis is supposed to be more electable than Donald Trump, why did he sign a ban on most abortions in Florida after six weeks of pregnancy? That’s manna for the Christian conservatives who matter in Republican primaries, but it’s a liability with the moderates and independents who matter after that point. It steps hard on DeSantis’s argument that he’s the version of Trump who can actually beat President Biden. It flattens that pitch into a sad little pancake.
If DeSantis is supposed to be Trump minus the unnecessary drama, why did he stumble into a prolonged and serially mortifying dust-up with Disney? Yes, the corporation publicly opposed his “Don’t Say Gay” bill, and that must have annoyed him. He’s easily annoyed. But the legislation was always going to pass anyway, and he indeed got what he substantively wanted, so there was no need to try to punish Disney and supercharge the conflict — except that he wanted to make a big, manly show of his contempt for the mighty Mouse. He wanted, well, drama. So there goes that rationale as well.
And if DeSantis, 44, is supposed to be tomorrow’s Trump, a youthful refurbishment of the 76-year-old former president, why does he seem so yesteryear? From his style of hair to his dearth of flair, from his emotional remove to his fugitive groove, there’s something jarringly anti-modern about the Florida governor.
On Wednesday he’s expected to rev his engine and make the official, anticlimactic announcement of his candidacy for the presidency. I just don’t get it. Oh, I get that he wants to be the boss of all bosses — that fits. But the marketing of DeSantis and the fact of DeSantis don’t square. Team DeSantis’s theory of the case and the case itself diverge. In many ways, he cancels himself out. His is a deeply, deeply puzzling campaign.
But do Republican voters want an alternative to Trump at all? The polls don’t say so. According to the current Real Clear Politics average of such surveys, Trump’s support is above 55 percent — which puts him more than 35 percentage points ahead of DeSantis. Mike Pence, in third place, is roughly another 15 percentage points behind DeSantis.
There’s an argument that Trump’s legal troubles will at some point catch up to him. . . [but] genius of his shameless shtick — that the system is rigged, that everyone who targets him is an unscrupulous political hack and that he’s a martyr, his torture a symbol of the contempt to which his supporters are also subjected — lies in its boundless application and timeless utility. It has worked for him to this point. Why would that stop anytime soon?
But if, between now and the Iowa caucuses, Republican voters do somehow develop an appetite for an entree less beefy and hammy than Trump, would DeSantis necessarily be that Filet-O-Fish? . . . Despite DeSantis’s braggartly talk about being the only credible presidential candidate beyond Biden and Trump, the number of contenders keeps expanding.
Most of these candidates are in a pickle similar to DeSantis’s. It’s what makes the whole contest so borderline incoherent. Implicitly and explicitly, they’re sending the message that Republicans would be better served by a nominee other than Trump, but they’re saying that to a party so entirely transformed by him and so wholly in thrall to his populist rants, autocratic impulses, rightward lunges and all-purpose rage that they’re loath to establish too much separation from him. They’re trying to beat him without alienating his enormous base of support by beating up on him. The circus of him has them walking tightropes of their own.
In trying to show the right wing of the Republican Party how aggressive and effective he can be, he has rendered himself nearly as scary to less conservative Americans as Trump is.
And as mean. The genius of Scott’s announcement was its emphasis on optimism instead of ire as a point of contrast with Trump, in the unlikely event that such a contrast is consequential. . . . . But DeSantis is all about grievance and retribution, and he’s oh so grim. He sent two planeloads of migrants to Martha’s Vineyard. He exults that Florida is “where woke goes to die.” How sunny! It’s the Trump negativity minus the Trump electricity.
His assertion that he wants to end Republicans’ “culture of losing” is an anagram for the accusation that Trump has prevented the party from winning, but I doubt the dig will resonate strongly with the Republican base. As Ramesh Ponnuru sagely observed in The Washington Post recently, Trump’s supposed toxicity is a longstanding part of his story and his brand.
The campaigns of DeSantis and the other would-be Trump slayers rest on the usual mix of outsize vanity, uncommon ambition and stubborn hopefulness in politicians who reach for the upper rungs.
But their bids rest on something else, too — something I share, something so many of us do, something that flies in the face of all we’ve seen and learned over the eight years since Trump came down that escalator, something we just can’t shake: the belief that a liar, narcissist and nihilist of his mammoth dimensions cannot possibly endure, and that the forces of reason and caution will at long last put an end to his perverse dominance.
DeSantis is betting on that without fully and boldly betting on that. It’s a hedged affair, reflecting the fact that it may be a doomed one.
Wednesday, May 24, 2023
Books about LGBTQ people are fast becoming the main target of a historic wave of school book challenges — and a large percentage of the complaints come from a minuscule number of hyperactive adults, a first-of-its-kind Washington Post analysis found.
A stated wish to shield children from sexual content is the main factor animating attempts to remove LGBTQ books, The Post found. The second-most common reason cited for pulling LGBTQ texts was an explicit desire to prevent children from reading about lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, nonbinary and queer lives.
The Post requested copies of all book challenges filed in the 2021-2022 school year with the 153 school districts that Tasslyn Magnusson, a researcher employed by free expression advocacy group PEN America, tracked as receiving formal requests to remove books last school year. In total, officials in more than 100 of those school systems, which are spread across 37 states, provided 1,065 complaints totaling 2,506 pages.
Nearly half of filings — 43 percent — targeted titles with LGBTQ characters or themes, while 36 percent targeted titles featuring characters of color or dealing with issues of race and racism. The top reason people challenged books was “sexual” content; 61 percent of challenges referenced this concern.
In nearly 20 percent of the challenges, petitioners wrote that they wanted texts pulled from shelves because the titles depict lesbian, gay, queer, bisexual, homosexual, transgender or nonbinary lives. Many challengers wrote that reading books about LGBTQ people could cause children to alter their sexuality or gender.
A small number of people were responsible for most of the book challenges, The Post found. Individuals who filed 10 or more complaints were responsible for two-thirds of all challenges. In some cases, these serial filers relied on a network of volunteers gathered together under the aegis of conservative parents’ groups such as Moms for Liberty.
The surge in anti-LGBTQ book challenges comes as Republican-dominated state legislatures are proposing and passing a record-breaking wave of laws and policies that restrict LGBTQ civil liberties, especially in the K-12 setting. . . . And seven states have adopted laws that threaten school librarians with years of imprisonment and tens of thousands of dollars in fines for giving children “obscene” or “harmful” books.
Library and free speech advocates warn that the rise in book challenges, especially those targeting LGBTQ texts, will imperil teachers’ ability to do their jobs, undermine the mental health of LGBTQ students and rob children of exposure to lives different from their own.
“These censorship attacks on books have real-life human impacts that are going to resonate for generations,” said John Chrastka, cofounder and executive director of library advocacy group EveryLibrary.
Opposition to LGBTQ books is not a new phenomenon in America. But the current wave is likely unprecedented in scope and scale, according to a Post analysis of data provided by the American Library Association, which has tracked book challenges by calendar year for more than two decades.
From the 2000s to the early 2010s, LGBTQ books were the targets of between less than 1 and 3 percent of book challenges filed in schools, according to ALA data. That number rose to 16 percent by 2018, 20 percent in 2020 and 45.5 percent in 2022, the most recent year for which data is available.
[M]any challengers were also uncomfortable with LGBTQ books for other reasons. In 37 percent of objections against LGBTQ titles, challengers wrote they believed the books should not remain in libraries specifically because they feature LGBTQ lives or stories.
The developments across the nation contain a message, said Sarah Kate Ellis, president and chief executive of LGBTQ rights group GLAAD: “Being gay or transgender is somehow something to avoid.” . . . Eight percent of the challenges lodged against LGBTQ books said they would “groom” children, priming them to adopt an LGBTQ identity and/or to become sexually deviant.
There is little research into the effects of LGBTQ literature on children, said Amy Egbert, a University of Connecticut assistant professor who studies youth mental health, partly because books about LGBTQ people have only recently become widely available. But “we do have a lot of data about other topics that doesn’t lead us to think that reading a book would make a child suddenly become gay,” she said. And, she said, there is a clear risk to removing LGBTQ books. “Any time a certain identity is stigmatized, that tends to lead to more discrimination, more bullying, increased mental health challenges,” Egbert said. “Everything we know suggests this is very harmful to LGBTQ kids.”
The majority of the 1,000-plus book challenges analyzed by The Post were filed by just 11 people. Each of these people brought 10 or more challenges against books in their school district; one man filed 92 challenges. Together, these serial filers constituted 6 percent of all book challengers — but were responsible for 60 percent of all filings.
Sixteen percent of all objections claimed that school books violated either state obscenity laws or legislation passed in the past three years restricting education on race, racism, sexuality and gender identity. Calling books “illegal” was the ninth-most common reason employed by book challengers.
This tactic was especially popular in Florida and Texas: Of the 153 complaints contending books were illegal, 56 percent were brought in Florida and 18 percent in Texas.
Of course, these people care nothing about the harm done to LGBT youth because inflicting harm is the whole point behind the effort.
Tuesday, May 23, 2023
Most great politicians have the skin of an elephant and the memory of a flea. After all, today’s adversary might be tomorrow’s ally.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has it the wrong way around. That means his quest for the Republican presidential nomination, which he is expected to announce this week, will be interesting. And, unless he evolves, it could be brief.
Polls still show DeSantis as having the best chance to defeat Donald Trump in the GOP race. But they also show his prospects rapidly heading in the wrong direction. RealClearPolitics found in its average of polls that in late February, DeSantis trailed Trump by just 13 percentage points. On Monday, however, Trump led DeSantis by 37 points, with much of the gap having grown in recent weeks.
This trend line is hardly encouraging for DeSantis’s theory of the case. His bet is that Republican voters want a nominee who has a proven track record of enacting conservative policies and who models Trump’s pugnacity but is not burdened with the former president’s mountain of baggage.
Using GOP control of the Florida legislature as though it were a campaign billboard, DeSantis has loosened the state’s gun laws; lowered the threshold for imposing the death penalty; expanded school vouchers; and imposed “anti-woke” restrictions on teachers and administrators at every level of public education, including in the state’s universities. He has made it illegal for doctors to provide gender-transition care for minors. To top it off, he signed a bill establishing a six-week abortion ban, which — if allowed to take effect by the Florida Supreme Court — would be one of the most draconian in the nation.
Ta-da! Yet his poll numbers keep going down, not up.
DeSantis is not helping himself with his obsessive crusade against the Walt Disney Co., which offended him last year by criticizing his “don’t say gay” law banning discussion of gender and sexuality in public schools. Trying to punish a company for statements that had no practical impact — except, perhaps, on DeSantis’s brittle ego — seems wildly at odds with traditional conservative values.
It also seems really stupid. Disney CEO Bob Iger announced last week that the company is canceling plans for a new $1 billion office campus near Walt Disney World that would have created 2,000 jobs. Earlier this year, Iger said at a shareholders’ meeting that Disney had long-term plans to invest $17 billion in the Disney World complex — which means that Iger has 16 billion more cards to play in this poker game. How many does DeSantis have?
The Disney thing would just be a loopy sideshow if it didn’t highlight traits that could hold DeSantis back as a presidential candidate — and that would be dangerous for the nation and the world if, heaven forbid, he ever became president: paper-thin skin, a propensity to hold grudges and a tendency to go way too far.
The abortion legislation is a prime example. . . . . DeSantis could have left the issue alone. But he apparently determined that no potential competitor should outflank him on abortion, so he demanded that the legislature give him a six-week ban. Lawmakers complied last month. But it is clear from polls and election results that setting the deadline for terminating a pregnancy at a point before many women even know they are pregnant goes far beyond what even many “pro-life” Americans are prepared to mandate.
DeSantis argued that he should be the nominee “based on all the data in the swing states, which is not great for the former president and probably insurmountable because people aren’t going to change their view of him.”
But how does he imagine his six-week abortion ban, his law letting Floridians carry concealed firearms without a permit, his attempts to squelch free speech on college campuses, and his death-match against the Magic Kingdom will play in those swing states? Why would suburban women who voted for Joe Biden in 2020 vote for Ron DeSantis in 2024?
Great politicians learn from their mistakes and course correct as necessary. DeSantis seems not to understand that going full-speed ahead is a bad idea if you’re approaching a cliff.
Things can change quickly in politics, but it appears that DeSantis will be hard put to escape the extremist agenda he has forced on Floridians if he survives the GOP primary against a man who has a cult following rather than a traditional political base.
Monday, May 22, 2023
Here’s what must not happen: Our country’s least advantaged citizens should not be forced to pay the largest price to prevent an economic catastrophe. Making the poor poorer should never happen; it certainly shouldn’t happen on a Democratic president’s watch.
That issue is at the heart of this needless and destructive battle. House Republicans decided to hold the economy hostage to slash assistance for low-income Americans while protecting tax cuts for the wealthy.
That’s a factual statement, not a partisan complaint.
McCarthy (R-Calif.) is not only refusing to put any of the Trump-era tax cuts for the best-off and corporations on the table; he also wants to make them permanent, adding $3.5 trillion to the deficit over a decade. So much for “deficit reduction” as the central purpose of this exercise.
Meanwhile, the GOP’s desire to concentrate cuts on what is blandly called “domestic discretionary spending” would force the heaviest reductions on programs that help the least well-off, such as Head Start and assistance for food, child care and housing. Republicans mercifully say they want to protect veterans’ programs, but that only forces deeper reductions elsewhere.
A revealing example: The House appropriations bill for agriculture released last week guts the 2021 pandemic-era increase to benefits for fruits and vegetables under the Women, Infants and Children program, which the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) reported affect “nearly 1.5 million pregnant, postpartum, or breastfeeding participants and roughly 3.5 million children aged 1 through 4.”
Fewer fruits and vegetables for pregnant women? From a party that says it is “pro-life”? The title of Adam Serwer’s book comes to mind: “The Cruelty Is the Point.”
Then there is the GOP’s insistence on “work requirements” for recipients of various government assistance programs. These would not help anyone get jobs but would tie up working people eligible for assistance in bureaucratic red tape.
“Despite rhetoric rooted in racist stereotypes, most people who can work do work,” said CBPP President Sharon Parrott. People turn to core government programs, she told me, “because their jobs don’t pay enough to make ends meet or they are out of work, often temporarily. If we want to help people succeed in jobs and have the freedom to thrive, we should invest in high quality job training and child care, not take away basic assistance they count on.”
This speaks to the difficulty of building majorities in the House and Senate for any accord McCarthy and Biden might reach. Because his party’s right wing will oppose anything short of its maximum demands, McCarthy cannot deliver a majority for a deal without large numbers of Democratic votes. They will be hard to get for a proposal remotely as draconian as his ultras want, one reason progressives are pushing Biden to bypass the debt ceiling by invoking the 14th Amendment’s requirement that the government honor its obligations.
McCarthy also has to wonder if coming to terms with Biden would prompt a challenge to his leadership from hard-liners. He no doubt hoped that Friday’s brief Republican walkout from the talks would persuade his right flank that he’s taking a hard line.
Biden’s lieutenants and his allies in Congress insist that they are not repeating the errors of President Barack Obama’s debt ceiling strategy in 2011. They say they have already pushed Republicans back from some of their more extreme demands, forced them to make public the sweep of the cuts they originally sought, and are trying to avoid binding future Congresses to budget decisions won through extortion. And they expect to save Biden’s signature programs on clean energy and student debt.
But this sorry episode, made possible by an irrational debt ceiling law that ought to have been repealed long ago, should never have happened. The fact that Americans with the lowest incomes are political pawns in this exercise is a moral stain on our country.
Sadly, today's GOP is the party of immorality.
Sunday, May 21, 2023
As you have probably seen by now, Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida has signed another bill that limits classroom instruction on racism and racial inequality. This one applies to colleges and universities, banning so-called divisive concepts from general education courses. I mentioned all this in my Friday column, tying it to the broader Republican effort to give public institutions the freedom to censor.
As it happens, I’m reading the historian Donald Yacovone’s most recent book, “Teaching White Supremacy: America’s Democratic Ordeal and the Forging of Our National Identity,” on the relationship between history education and the construction of white supremacist ideologies in the 19th and 20th centuries. It’s an interesting book, filled with compelling information about the racism that has shaped the teaching of American history. . . . . in one section on Southern textbook writers and the demand for pro-slavery pedagogy, Yacovone relays a voice that might sound awfully familiar to modern ears.
As Yacovone explains, pre-Civil War textbook production was dominated by writers from New England. Some southerners had, by the 1850s, become “increasingly frustrated with the ‘Yankee-centric’ quality of the historical narratives.” They wanted texts “specifically designed for Southern students and readers.” In particular, Southern critics wanted textbooks that gave what they considered a fair and favorable view to the “subject of the weightiest import to us of the South … I mean the institution of Negro slavery,” as one critic put it.
Part of the reason for Southern elite frustration, and the reason they wanted history textbooks tailored to their views, was the rise of pro-slavery ideology among slaveholders whose lives and livelihoods were tied to the institution. It helped as well that slavery had become — against the expectations of many Americans, including the nation’s founders — incredibly lucrative in the first decades of the 19th century. By the time Yacovone begins his narrative, Southern slaveholders had moved from the regretful acceptance of slavery that characterized earlier generations of slaveholding elites to an embrace of slavery as a “positive good” . . . .
It was in this context that J.W. Morgan, a Virginian contributor to the southern journal De Bow’s Review, excoriated northern history textbooks and called for censorship of anything that hinted of antislavery belief. Here’s Yacovone summarizing Morgan’s argument:
Books that did not praise the “doctrines” that ‘we now believe’ should be banned and never come “within the range of juvenile reading.” . . . . Even spelling books could not be trusted, as they contained covert condemnations of “our peculiar institutions.”
What I find striking about this is not just that it is a prime example of the hostility to free expression that marked the slaveholding South — southern elites instituted gag rules in Congress and prevented the circulation of antislavery materials through the mail in their states — but that Morgan is as concerned with the effect of abolitionist arguments on the “minds of youth” as he is with their effect on enslaved Americans themselves.
It was vital, to Morgan, that the slaveholding South reproduce its beliefs and ideologies in the next generation. Education was the tool, and anything that emphasized the equality of all people and challenged existing hierarchies as unnatural and unjust was the threat.
Truly, some things have not changed a century and a half latter. The far right manufactured "parents' rights" movement that Youngkin used successfully, is really nothing more than a dusted off version of the white supremacists of old.