The hysteria of the right

Published February 2, 2023

By Thomas Mills

A conservative activist I follow on Twitter named Bethany Mandell announced this week that she’s releasing a book in which she and her co-author “dig into the many fronts on the woke war on our children.” In a series of Tweets, she declared that the left is “taking over everything, from elementary to medical schools. Those of us who want to raise resilient children have to build a wall between them and the world.”

The imaginary left is taking over or destroying society. In response, the right has to, in her words, build a wall that separates their children from broader society. It’s an argument I’ve been hearing my whole life and it’s wrong on so many points. Instead of protecting their children, they’re making them insular and narrow-minded, the building blocks of conservatism. 

But the whole premise is wrong. The left is not trying to take over public institutions today. The right is. Down in Florida, Ron Desantis just appointed a board of trustees at the New College of Florida, a public liberal arts school, that fired the president and is ending diversity programs. One of the new board members introduced a proposal that would allow the board to fire tenured professors. 

Here in North Carolina, the UNC Board of Trustees announced that it’s imposing a new school of public and civic life on the university. They did so without input from the faculty or a request from the chancellor. They’re trying to create safe spaces for conservative students. What a bunch of snowflakes. Maybe their acceptance letters should come with trigger warnings. 

In public schools, Florida is banning books that conservatives find offensive. The right is all about protecting free speech as long it’s not speech that doesn’t offends their delicate sensibilities. They’re not only taking over institutions, they’re imposing censorship and that’s un-American as far as I’m concerned.

And now, North Carolina is trying to implement its own “Don’t say gay” law. The bill would require school officials to report to parents any student who is questioning their sexuality. The GOP is doing all it can to stuff LGBT+ students back into the closet that’s been blown open over the past two decades. Instead of trying to help these students better understand themselves, Republicans want to ban them. 

To hear them tell it in their hair-on-fire alarmism, the left is united in providing, or even encouraging, kids who are questioning their gender identity with irreversible transitioning treatment. The schools and the medical establishment are engaged in a conspiracy to undermine the family and create an army of transgender youth to take over society and recruit the kids of conservatives to their cause.  Before you know it, kids are going to quit having sex because they can’t figure out who is what. What would we do then?

In reality, there’s little consensus among progressives, liberals, or the broader left, much less the medical establishment or public schools, on how to address children who have identified as nonbinary. Their main point of agreement is to treat them with dignity and compassion, not with the scorn of the right. Few people believe that children should have hormones or surgeries on demand, but they also don’t want to deny treatments that could prevent suicide or offer a better life. They acknowledge that issues of sexual identity are complex when children are involved and that the world is more gray than black and white. We still have a lot to learn and conservatives aren’t interested in learning much.

We’ve been through all of this before and conservatives will lose in the long run. The same sentiments built the segregationist academies after public schools were integrated. A lot of conservatives in the South today are products of that misguided experiment. They grew up in homogenous environments, distrustful of people who looked or thought differently from them and they’re still trying to exclude them from society. Fortunately, many grew out of their insular worlds and joined the rest of us.

The conservative attacks on the LGBT+ community and public education are rooted in a fear of change and people they consider different. They’re resegregating our schools through voucher programs and charter schools with little thought toward education or outcomes. The goal in many cases is to give parents the ability to retreat into homogenous communities and shield their children from an increasingly diversifying society. 

The walls that Mandell and her fellow activists are building are really prisons, keeping minds narrow and experience limited. They hope to keep out the ills of the world and shield their children from the realities they will face as adults. They blame liberals for ruining their neatly ordered society because they can’t accept that change is the natural order of the world. They’re like the parents who banned their children from listening to rock-n-roll. Sent their kids to segregationist academies. Declared that socialized medicine would destroy health care. Determined that video games, movies, and television would pervert our culture while simultaneously dramatically increasing access to guns. In a few years, they, too, will be passe’. Their legacy will be the next generation of narrow-minded conservatives.