We’re Being Governed By Unserious People

There are so many problems with the debt deal that it’s hard to know exactly where to start.

There’s the fact that it feels a lot like the 2011 deal that stuck us with the 2013 sequester, which was absolute trash for the budget and the country.

There’s the fact that it shouldn’t even have been negotiated because default isn’t an acceptable outcome and the debt ceiling isn’t even real.

But as the tentative package makes its way to the GOP-controlled House of Representatives, the worst fact might be how blatantly unserious all of these efforts were.

Already, Republican legislators are rejecting the deal, with nearly two dozen members insisting that the existing concessions barely fill out their ransom demands. Surprise, surprise: the same people who thought it was a good idea to take the global economy hostage aren’t satisfied by a largely bloodless escape. There are further grumblings that the deal as negotiated might cost McCarthy his hard-fought Speakership, as extreme members of his caucus begin plotting an effort to challenge what they perceive as an insufficiently combative approach to setting the US economy on fire. Apparently, negotiation is only worth it if someone gets hurt, preferably the American people.

Which just proves that the negotiators–the Biden Administration et al–are also unserious people, to spend so much time offering good faith to those who are clowns at best and legislative terrorists at worst. They’ve wasted all of our time ignoring the absurdity of the circumstances, spending months saying that they would not bargain with the full faith and credit of the United States, only to proudly declare this weekend that they did just that. Again and again, they frittered away leverage and alternatives, dismissing escape hatches, while utterly embarrassing themselves by doing exactly what they promised they wouldn’t. Furthermore, the only thing they actually achieved was getting the debt ceiling raised. Everything else in the deal is harmful both to their agenda and the country at large. Now they will depend on Democratic votes in both houses to pass Republican policy that none of them wanted in the first place because Biden demands a bipartisan cherry on top of this shit sundae.

Meanwhile, the practical considerations of the deal are almost universally awful. The cuts to federal discretionary spending are going to hobble function for many agencies; the additional work requirements for food assistance will leave millions underfed, especially with the loss of COVID supports, and the loss of IRS funding will continue to undermine tax collection efforts that keep billions or trillions out of federal coffers from the people most able to afford paying. All with the promise that, should Biden win in 2024, we are left to do all of this again in two years if Democrats fail to hold both legislative chambers.

This is not a serious way to run a nation.

There is no small part of me that wants this unserious deal to meet an unserious end. This isn’t because I’m rooting for default—most definitely the opposite—but because bad governance rarely leads to good outcomes. The debt ceiling is already a fossil, an absurdity, an imaginary obligation. But since we’re stuck with it, our system should treat it as an important and automatic feature of basic government. It shouldn’t be up for debate. It shouldn’t be a point of negotiation. And it definitely shouldn’t be taken as a hostage! And if certain people insist upon being foolish about it, the blowback should be on them, not on us.

Because serious people know that our future isn’t a toy.

The Debt Ceiling Power Move No One Is Using

As our looming debt ceiling precipice draws ever closer, Joe Biden is desperate for a deal. The president has already done everything possible to make these negotiations go smoothly: cutting short his overseas trip; holding daily meetings with key players; refusing to undermine discussions in the press. Yet despite all of his efforts, Biden—and the party he leads—is still losing.

There could be many reasons for this, from the absurd flexibility his administration has given Congressional Republicans to those same Republicans’ chaotic intransigence to the Washington press corps treating the whole thing as a game. But these are all excuses compared to the core truth: the only way to win the debt ceiling showdown is not to play.

The debt ceiling is a mechanism slightly older than flapper skirts, initially designed to let Congress pay more than allotted for a little conflict we now know as WWI. In more than a century since, it has gone up mostly without issue or conflict because denying payment for money you’ve already spent is frowned upon by both credit card companies and taxpayers. “Clean” debt ceiling raises, which lift the borrowing limit without threats or coercion, are a normal, even expected, part of government. The temper tantrum that the GOP is throwing — refusing to lift the debt ceiling unless they receive unpopular, ineffective, and draconian restructuring of government spending — has only happened once before. You will be unsurprised to hear that this one other radical departure from good governance occurred under Biden’s old boss, Obama.

The result was a pretty awful austerity plan that increased income inequality and damaged the economy for years. Which explains why many Democrats have argued that Biden shouldn’t take the bait of “negotiating” with legislative terrorists. An even broader and louder swath of left-leaning commentators even suggested doing away with the debt ceiling altogether when Democrats still held a trifecta in Washington.

Of course, Democrats are allergic to good ideas, so here we are: a nation with a nonsensical debt ceiling, held hostage by a bunch of sadistic clowns, whose bargaining position of absolute fiscal calamity is being treated with the utmost seriousness by a man who sees bipartisanship as an accomplishment unto itself.

It’s going about as well as you’d expect.

Republican demands either require the death of the federal government as a functional administrative state, or the implosion of the global economy with the United States serving as its irradiated core. Democrats in both chambers are (reasonably) balking at the terms, asking with increasing intensity that Biden avoid the whole situation. And the President is going down to the wire while trying to split the difference.

Besides premium bonds and trillion-dollar coins, a frequently suggested resolution is the use of the 14th Amendment, which guarantees not only birthright citizenship and equal protection but also the validity of U.S. sovereign debt. Biden and his representatives have been publicly leery of this option because it requires the judiciary to believe in laws instead of its own power, and we know how that’s gone recently.

Nonetheless, using a particular addition to the Constitution might be the path of least resistance. The amendment itself doesn’t have to be invoked; Biden can just say that he is continuing to pay our national obligations as he is Constitutionally required to do. If anyone asks how he’s able to ignore Congress and the debt ceiling, he can just say that he’s carrying out his Article 2, Section 3 responsibilities, and that the 14th Amendment predates and overrides the debt ceiling.

The next question would be who has standing to challenge this interpretation in court, and then whether the court in question even wants to accept the responsibility for default.

It’s a high-risk, high-reward strategy, with the risk being that courts reject the argument and the reward being the end of the debt ceiling and the destruction of political enemies. The former requires Republicans to actively sue for default and a Republican judiciary to actively rule for default, which is likely to make them as popular as hemorrhoids among every faction of the country — including the all-important donor class. The latter removes the hostage of the U.S. and its place in the global economy from the clutches of any future hostage takers and may even prompt some small reflection on how we got to a major party rooting for economic cataclysm.

No matter what, there won’t be a neat ending to these debt ceiling talks. Congressional Republicans have perverse incentives to drive us over the brink, and Democrats missed their opportunity to neutralize the threat. But Biden’s drive to bridge this gap seems to be making it worse. It might turn out that the best option to fix everything is to do nothing.

CNN Brought Trump Back

Because I value my mental health and emotional wellbeing, I did not watch the CNN Town Hall for Donald Trump live on Wednesday. Of course, that means nothing in our interconnected, instant media universe, so I saw plenty of clips and recaps on social media. It went about as well as anyone who remembers January 6th could reasonably expect.

Donald Trump is a lying, cheating, civilly-liable sexual abuser who sincerely attempted to overthrow the government of the United States with little more than rhetoric and a cult of personality. In theory, he should be incarcerated pending trial for any number of crimes against the republic (or women), but while he remains maddeningly free, he should definitely not be given national or international platforms to do exactly what he attempted last time he had power. And if someone is going to be ridiculous enough to think it’s a good idea, they probably should put him in front of a hostile or skeptical audience and keep a seasoned anchor in charge of reining him in.

So naturally CNN filled the space with Trump-loving flunkies and set relatively untested Daily Caller alum, Kaitlan Collins, as his adversary. Quite predictably, a bad idea got even worse in execution.

Trump reiterated that his Vice President should have used fake powers to overturn the election, further defamed E. Jean Carroll after her successful civil case against him, attacked a judge (again), said outrageously false things about later abortion, rallied the crowd to attack the interviewer, and endorsed defaulting on the debt ceiling (because what’s a little global economic cataclysm between friends)? The entire experience was an hour-long Trump infomercial—and he didn’t even pay for it.

It was a fatal error for CNN to broadcast him, but even worse to host him without any effort to mitigate the very known and very obvious harms that are part of the Trump package. Sure, he’s appeared on state television Fox News before, but CNN is supposed to be serious, thoughtful, grown-up news. It’s still riding a (mostly undeserved) reputation for journalism from years of being where you’d turn for meaningful takes on important information. By giving the twice-impeached leader of an autogolpe space on the supposedly serious place for news, CNN gave him something that he could never get with a hundred primetime specials on conservative Pravda: mainstream validation.

CNN chief Chris Licht defended the move as representation for the large swath of Americans who agree with the likely-felonious former president. The obvious response to such an absurd argument is to point out that there are plenty of platforms for those people to vent their views, that just because people believe something doesn’t make it true, and because of the previous two points, not every perspective deserves internationally-broadcast live airtime. Especially if that perspective is associated with an attempted coup of representative government

Trump might have been able to rant and rage across the conservative media universe without pushback, censure, or common sense, but to do so on CNN gives him and his views legitimacy he can’t buy. In just over an hour, the premiere cable news network gave ignominy the same stage as honor, lies the same weight as truth, and autocracy—with all the violence, oppression, and corruption it represents—the same respect due to republics.

There’s no telling what happens next, now that Trump has been laundered back into the mainstream. But CNN will always be responsible for reigniting the Trump Era, and all the consequences that come with it. Here’s hoping the newest version ends more easily and safely than the first.

Conservatives Would Love To Make Marriage A Cage

One of the worst people we know, conservative commentator Steven Crowder, is getting a divorce. Theoretically, this should be good news, not only for Crowder’s soon-to-be-ex wife, but all of womankind given that his behavior shines a bright, unmistakable light on why he should stay single the rest of his life.

As soon as he learned of his wife’s totally justified and legal escape, Crowder began rallying the chuds against no-fault divorce. Because why acknowledge that marriage is a partnership of mutual interests between two people when you can just be a man chaining a woman in a basement like the founders intended? Unfortunately for us, conservative reactionaries can’t help making their problems our problems.

Speaking on his show, the far-right podcaster recently lamented that his former wife “decided that she didn’t want to be married anymore and in the state of Texas, that is completely permitted” while complaining that she “simply wanted out and the law says that that’s how it works.” Crowder went on to specifically blast no-fault divorce, a seminal feminist victory which he complains “means that in many of these states if a woman cheats on you, she leaves, she takes half. So it’s not no-fault, it’s the fault of the man.” He ends with his policy proposal, demanding that “there need to be changes to marital laws … I’m talking about divorce laws, talking about alimony laws, talking about child support laws.”

Steven Crowder’s endorsement of no-fault divorce, of course, adds yet another anti-woman policy on top of the hideous GOP agenda. Not that they were hurting for ideas

No-fault divorce has been a staple of the last half-century and a major feminist victory, allowing millions of beleaguered partners to escape ill-fated marriages without having to demonstrate specific harm or beg for permission from their spouse. It’s not a surprise that Crowder, who was caught on camera verbally abusing his pregnant wife while smoking a cigar, would cry and shout for a return to the “traditional value” of keeping women hostage in marriage no matter what harms are inflicted. It tracks perfectly that he’d whine prolifically about his wife being an autonomous human with her own desires. The problem is that perspectives on the wingnut welfare circuit have the disquieting tendency to find their way into Republican-run statehouses.

Already in last year’s midterms, J.D. Vance suggested an end to no-fault divorce on the campaign trail to his Senate seat. With ground-level activism from literally the worst humans also pushing that direction, it’s only a matter of time before we see bills being introduced. So let’s talk counter-strategy.

Like the rollback of Roe, any effort to unravel no-fault divorce is likely to ignite a feminist backlash. But the disquiet and disagreement will also spread further, with people who weren’t considering the law or only perceiving it in the abstract becoming animated as the policy shifts from theory to reality. Rather than wait for the Republicans to fuck around, we can hasten the “find out” by flipping an old talking point: “Government is coming for your relationships.”

Packaging these policies together as an assault on autonomy doesn’t just correctly characterize the costs of GOP governance, but connects constituencies that normally wouldn’t ally with each other. The more people who see Republican rule as a threat to their well-being, the easier it will be to push back against their efforts.

Yes, it means partnering with people who were oblivious or even hostile before Republicans began threatening them specifically. But it also activates people who thought all of this political noise had nothing to do with them. No-fault divorce means the right to end a marriage on our own terms, to create and sustain partnerships for our own sakes, and to know that when we pick a spouse, we’re choosing them—not being chained to them.

Being able to make that argument in terms that resonate far and wide is the ounce of political prevention that spares us a pound of cure. (Also the impact on the reality TV marriage market will be catastrophic. Can you imagine a season of “The Bachelor” or “Love Is Blind” without no-fault divorce?)

So even though it’s small right now, it’s worth paying attention to what the rabid right wing is setting its sights on next. Because we know after Dobbs — and everyone else does too—that when conservatives aim for a fundamental right, they’re not bluffing. By staying ready, neither are we.

What Are Clarence Thomas’s Doting Billionaires Really Buying?

Since ProPublica published an article about the “friendship” between a sitting Supreme Court Justice and a real estate billionaire, most of the attention has been focused on Harlan Crow, the Nazi-memorabilia collecting nepo baby who loves lavishing exorbitant gifts on government officials. 

While there’s certainly nothing wrong with looking deeper at the oligarch buying influence in our government, let’s not get distracted from the bigger theat: what Clarence Thomas is selling.

In 30 years on the highest court, Clarence Thomas hasn’t shown a lick of integrity, decency, engagement, or honor. For that exact reason, it can be hard to imagine what exactly Crow is getting for every statue he commissions to delight Clarence Thomas. The justice isn’t changing his rulings for the money or honoraria. He’s not treating cases differently, or trying to sway fellow jurists towards conclusions they would otherwise ignore. To the degree that he has any power or access, it’s hardly unique among the reliably conservative block on the court.

Looking at what passes for reasoning, one might call Thomas mediocre in effectiveness when compared to his colleagues. But that’s irrelevant to his buyers. In lieu of selling his (noticeably absent) soul, Clarence Thomas is selling his submission.

Beyond his ideological devotion to the reactionary right wing, Thomas accepts the luxurious treatment as a promise never to stray or rebel. The trips and gifts are simply in-kind payments for loyalty. It’s Crow’s way of saying — and Thomas’s way of replying — that their interests are permanently and meaningfully intertwined.

As if we needed more proof that billionaires aren’t like the rest of us: While we tend to get dogs or cats as pets, they buy Supreme Court justices.

And maybe if Thomas’s work didn’t deal in the rule of law and consent of the governed, he could contentedly bask in the sun and eat sumptuous meals and fall asleep in mildly inconvenient places in Harlan Crow’s various mansions. Maybe if Thomas weren’t tasked with public service in defense of the Constitution, it would be fine for him to fly on chartered jets and travel on expensive yachts as one citizen being friends with another.

But it is about the law. He is an officer of the court. And it’s not acceptable for him to sell his service. 

In a democracy, the federal courts and their members belong to all of us, not merely the ones who can afford custom-made statues of dictators and signed copies of Mein Kampf. The judicial oath that all justices take requires adherents to swear that they will administer fairly to the rich and the poor alike. While we can all recognize that hasn’t always been the reality, it becomes virtually impossible when the rich are handing out all-expenses-paid vacations across tropical archipelagos. 

So while it’s not like Clarence Thomas has been a model of judicial restraint and ethical prudence his entire time on the bench, it’s a legitimately unacceptable state of affairs to let him continue issuing decisions now that we know for certain Harlan Crow is serving him big, fat checks and buying his properties to do so. Not just because it’s obviously absurd to have billionaires paying for verdicts. Not just because Thomas is openly corrupt in accepting these bribes as rewards for his obedience.

But because any “justice” that comes with a price tag is worthless.

The Week In Politics Held A Big Lesson. Will We Listen?

I don’t smoke and won’t recommend it, but damn, after yesterday, I feel like I need a cigarette.

Like many of you reading, I am sated with satisfaction, having watched Donald Trump finally get arraigned for some of his (numerous, myriad) crimes. Just hours later, progressive Brandon Johnson beat opponent Paul Vallas in Chicago and liberal Janet Protasiewicz successfully flipped the Wisconsin Supreme Court back to sanity.

But before I become too complacent with all of this contentment, it’s worth noting that none of this would have been possible without people willing to push the envelope.

In each of the electoral contests, conventional wisdom said to tack to the “middle” and avoid being overtly liberal. This has been the political instinct for more than 50 years, since Nixon’s “silent majority” beat the holy hell out of Democrats in 1968 and 1972. But both Brandon Johnson and Janet Protasiewicz campaigned openly on their progressive principles: minimizing the role of police and expanding the power of public education in Chicago for Johnson, and supporting labor rights, fair districting, and bodily autonomy in Wisconsin for Protasiewicz.

In the Second City, Johnson had to contend with an aggressively pro-police media narrative and the broad assumption that armed officers mean safety in a city that has struggled with the consequences of illegal guns. Protasiewicz faced attacks on her fairness as a judge and her alignment with the state’s liberals from the massive suppression machine built to silence the majority of citizens by allotting a supermajority of seats to a minority of voters.

Both candidates were told in no uncertain terms that messages like theirs were out of bounds, unappealing, and dangerous. They were warned they were alienating voters and opening themselves up to be called extremists. They were warned how much it would cost them to advocate the way they did.

And then they took on the political machines and won.

Because it turns out that there are a lot of us questioning the usefulness of the status quo, and we want representatives who will do the same thing. It’s not enough to say and do what’s been done before; many of us are ready for something new. And we’re looking to support people courageous and radical enough to pursue it because they believe it’s worth it.

Like, say, indicting a former president.

Despite the crimes of Watergate unfolding within living memory, Gerald Ford’s pardon of Dick Nixon means that Donald Trump is the first former president to be brought up on charges (may these be the first of many). It’s been said by about a thousand talking heads at this point, but this is a pretty extraordinary departure from normal protocol, which generally looks “forward, not back” at the misdeeds of a chief executive. For a long time, it felt like the chances of accountability for any of the very blatant and obvious crimes Trump committed would be slim to none.

It’s only because Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg took the opportunity to pursue the case that his predecessor dropped that we have the sweet, sweet experience of watching Trump submit to the rule of law — such as it is. The 34 felony counts of falsifying business records aren’t the strongest or sexiest of the potential cases against him, but they are the only ones that rely on the actions of pre-presidency Trump, denying him the shield of “executive privilege” that he’s used to evade responsibility. But beyond the strength of the case itself, it’s daring to say that no one is above the law in practice rather than posturing.

So regardless of the doubts, the narratives, the threats and all of the naysayers who promote them: radicalism works. Once we work for it, make space for it, and accept it, we can use new ideas to break the old rules. All we need are people willing to ask us.

Whew—yeah, that hits.

Judy Heumann Was An Activist Of Our Lifetime. Why Haven’t More People Heard Of Her?

This past Saturday, we lost Judy Heumann.

Judy was a true force of nature, a revolutionary, someone who changed the world…and yet her name rarely appears in history books. When she passed, there were no news alerts from any of the major media outlets. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of you reading this right now don’t even know who I’m talking about.

After all, even I can admit that I knew neither her name, her accomplishments, nor her legacy, until 2020.


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Judy Heumann was a disability rights activist who was recognized internationally as a leader in the disability rights community, often regarded as the “mother of the disability rights movement.” Her story began in 1949, when 18-month-old Judy contracted polio and began to use a wheelchair to get around the world. At five years old, she was denied the right to attend public school because the district deemed her a “fire hazard.” She had to advocate for herself to get an education, and did so again as an adult to become an educator when she successfully sued the New York City Board of Education for her teaching license. It was originally denied to her out of concern she would not be able to escort students out in the event of a fire.

Judy Heumann ultimately became the first wheelchair user to teach in the city. In fact, Judy was often the first disabled person in every role she would take on throughout her life.

She spent many impactful summers at Camp Jened, a camp for children with disabilities. The camp, as documented in the Obama-produced documentary Crip Camp (which I can’t recommend enough), created an environment where she and fellow future disability rights activists questioned why the world wasn’t accessible and envisioned a world that was designed for them.
These conversations encouraged the campers — Judy included — to become more politically active. In 1970, Judy co-founded Disabled In Action, an organization that focused on securing the protection of people with disabilities under civil rights laws through political protest. She proved just how effective she and the entire community could be by stopping traffic on Madison Avenue in a sit-in to protest President Nixon’s veto of what would become the Rehabilitation Act in 1972.

You read that correctly. She SHUT DOWN Madison Avenue. She did that.

Image credit: Tari Hartman Squire

While the Rehabilitation Act did become law, a few years later, the country still needed regulations that would define who was disabled, what would be considered acts of discrimination, how the law would be enforced.  The government was taking its sweet time. Mind you, this legislation was one of the FIRST federal civil rights laws protecting people with disabilities, and yet, years after it was passed, it still could not be properly enforced. This meant that those with disabilities were still not protected, regardless of the laws in place. When it was leaked that the Carter administration was leaning towards changing the language, essentially gutting the regulations into something that was similar to “separate but equal,” the disability community took action.

To no one’s surprise, Judy Heumann was at the forefront. She was one of the organizers of the San Francisco 504 Sit-In which, as of this writing, is the longest occupation of a federal building in US history. This protest, along with others staged across the country, not only led to the regulations being signed without any weakening language having been added, but also demonstrated just how powerful the disabled community is. It showed that we are not, as the media loves to portray us, weak, incapable, defenseless, or dependent.


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Furthering her legacy, Judy went on to serve in the Clinton administration as the Assistant Secretary for the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services in the Department of Education and the World Bank’s first Adviser on Disability and Development. In 2010, she was appointed by President Obama as the first Special Advisor for International Disability Rights at the U.S. Department of State. Afterwards, she went on to work at the Ford Foundation as a Senior Fellow, wrote a memoir entitled Being Heumann: An Unrepentant Memoir of a Disability Rights Activist, and hosted a bi-weekly podcast called The Heumann Perspective where she talked with leaders in and allies of the disability community.


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I was honored to interview Judy back in April of 2022 on my podcast, Always Looking Up to celebrate the 45th anniversary of the 504 Sit-Ins. It’s not every day that you get to talk to the person in whose footsteps you are trying to follow. The person who continually empowers you to be a better advocate, a better ally, and a better person. We discussed the current state of accessibility, how to incorporate the history of the disability civil rights movement into education and advocacy, and what it means to say “I’m disabled.”

Towards the end of the episode I asked her, as I do with every guest, who she looked up to. Her answer, “I look up to people who are bold and daring. People who take risks. People who are willing to step forward and try to do things differently…people who have risked many parts of themselves by speaking up and out not only for themselves, but for others, by encouraging other people to create a vision of where we want to move towards”.

Her story is one that should be told, celebrated, and remembered. Unfortunately, it is often overlooked. She changed the world, not just for people with disabilities, but for everyone. She refused to back down, refused to settle, and refused to accept society’s belief that being disabled meant that you were less-than. It is up to us, not just the disabled community, but all of us and future generations to carry on her legacy.


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We witnessed what happens when everyone comes together in support of a larger movement with Black Lives Matter and #MeToo. It is time to do that for the disability rights movement. It is up to all of us to be the people to whom Judy looked up. To be people who are bold, daring, and risk-takers. People who are willing to step up, do things differently, and change the world.

Jillian Curwin is a lifelong activist in the little person and disabled communities. She is the founder and owner of Always Looking Up, a personal website and podcast that brings awareness to living life as a little person in an average-height world. Professionally, she has used her experience as a little person to contribute to agency diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives. On her platforms, where height is just a number, not a limit, she discusses adaptive and accessible fashion, disability representation, and the impact of civil rights on the disabled community. Past guests on her podcasts include Judy Heumann, international disability rights activist, Rebecca Cokley, program officer at the Ford Foundation, Jim LeBrecht and Nicole Newnham, the co-directors and co-producers of Crip Camp, and Maria Town, President and CEO of the American Association of People with Disabilities.

What You Need To Understand About Ron Desantis’ Censorship Spree

If you’ve followed politics at all recently, then you’ve heard of Ron Desantis’s heinous Stop WOKE Act. And if you haven’t (lucky you), it’s the Florida governor’s effort to eliminate any exploration, discourse, or understanding of racial history and dynamics in Florida public institutions. The results so far have been the emptying of shelves at public schools, the firing or harassment of teachers, and the wholesale elimination of diversity initiatives, from DEI work to Black history courses.

If those results sound disturbingly dystopian to you, well, you’re in good company. The first and natural comparison to this anti-diversity edict is Nazi Germany, where book bonfires were a common occurrence. The biggest bad guys of the 20th century censored or destroyed any information that challenged the philosophy of the regime, including works that demonstrated the falsehood of racial superiority or questioned the strictures of gender.

But while it is very tempting (and easy) to compare Ron DeSantis to the Nazis, we have plenty of closer-to-home examples that pack the same punch. 

Yes, ok, I am going to talk about slavery and the Civil War again. If you feel annoyed, just remember that DeSantis wouldn’t even want you to hear this.

Before slaveholders set the country on fire with their temper tantrums, those same men spent decades denying reality and anyone who pointed it out. In the late 1830s, southern states made it illegal to share abolitionist material after some edgy activists sent a bunch of pamphlets to planters, excoriating their systemic abuse of enslaved laborers. The response was super level-headed and reasonable, with mobs stealing and torching mail in Charleston, states aggressively enforcing awful penalties for teaching literacy to enslaved people, and calls from the President (Andrew Jackson, of course) to publish the names of anyone who willingly accepted abolitionist material in the South so they could be collectively punished.

Celebrated Yale grad and South Carolina Senator, John C. Calhoun introduced legislation to ban antislavery materials from the federal mail system and to prevent Congress from discussing abolition at all. His efforts wouldn’t be enshrined in law, but would lead to a rules-based “gag rule” in the House and Senate that would prevent debate over anti-slavery petitions for eight years in the lower chamber and 14 in the upper house.

All of this suppression relied – like the Stop WOKE Act – on the supposition that the free flow of this information would weaken support for oppression. Calhoun was particularly animated on this, believing that widespread discussion or documentation of slavery’s ills—even exclusively among white people—would ultimately lead to the demise of the “peculiar institution.” And to be fair to one of the worst humans this country has ever produced: He was right.

It turns out that discussion and dissemination of antislavery materials educated people about the horrors of the practice. But even more than that, the efforts to stifle discussion about it — whether it was the banning and burning of Uncle Tom’s Cabin after its 1852 publication or the marathon vote to prevent John Sherman from being Speaker after he offhandedly endorsed a book detailing the damage of slavery on poor whites’ economic possibilities — made opponents look completely hateful. 

To protect their power, southern slaveholders and sympathizers wanted the whole country to play by their rules. Not only did they want their portion of society kept ignorant and happy with the status quo, they wanted everybody to agree with them, celebrate them, and expand slavery—or STFU.

This is the real danger of Ron DeSantis’s strategy: It isn’t limited to Florida. Instead, he’s offering a blueprint for anti-diversity efforts across the country, and a preview of what it would mean to have him in the Oval Office. 

So while he’s picking up a strategy with its roots in some of the worst atrocities in history on both sides of the Atlantic, the creeping consequences will have an uniquely American flavor. We don’t need to bring up Nazis to count the costs of this censorship. Ron DeSantis doesn’t want you to know it, but we’ve had discussions like this right here in the good ole U.S. of A, and the losing side—the wrong side—is the one he and his ilk are standing on.