Gabe Phifer, Mike Ferguson in the Morning
A recent online kerfuffle involving Republican candidate for MO governor Bill Eigel and State Senator Nick Schroer has highlighted one of my particular bugaboos regarding modern political rhetoric. On Monday night, a video was making the rounds showing Eigel and Schroer taking blowtorches to a pile of cardboard boxes that purportedly symbolized “leftist policies” and the “woke liberal agenda.” The Twitter Leftists who seem to live for chasing down Republican social media accounts immediately pounced, claiming the video to be an example of Nazi-esque book burning. Eigel responded by correcting the record that he was not burning books in the video, but (not to be out-trolled) stated “But let’s be clear, you bring those woke pornographic books to Missouri schools to try to brainwash our kids, and I’ll burn those too – on the front lawn of the governor’s mansion.” As you can imagine, this only inflamed (heh) the Blue Twitter mob, which resulted in a 24-hour (or so) suspension for Eigel on the platform.
As silly as this small internet conflict was, I had two serious points of contention that legitimately made me mad. First was the fact that I don’t yet have a flamethrower of my own. This must be remedied immediately. (Looking at you, Mrs. Phifer). Second was the abuse of the term “book burning” and any variation thereof. Like many phrases in our collective socio-political lexicon, “book burning” contains more meaning than the sum of its parts.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with burning books, per se. Burning something you own as a symbolic gesture against what that thing stands for can be very personal, as in the case of a friend who was a former New Age practitioner who converted to Christianity. He made a point of making a bonfire with all his various New Age paraphernalia, including books. Setting fire to political symbols as a part of a protest is also a well-worn exercise in free speech throughout American history. You’d think the people known for their “fiery but peaceful” demonstrations would be aware of this. There are libertarian-leaning conservatives that fought hard to maintain the right of unpatriotic hippies with whom they disagreed to set fire to their own American flags. Freedom can get messy, you see.
Of course, in modern political rhetorical battles, however, book burning is primarily a reference to the practice of tyrannical regimes seeking to destroy history, suppress dissent, and prevent public discourse operating outside of their control or approval. Kind of like what the US government did by coordinating with social media companies to control COVID conversations, but I digress. The book burning accusation has risen to prominence as a favorite of Leftists these days as a response to the conservative push-back against inappropriate materials appearing in schools and children’s sections of public libraries. It lives in the disingenuous space between the real conservative position – that sexually explicit and radical ideological materials shouldn’t be shared with 6-year-olds – and the invented dystopian fantasy world of the Left where the modern American Right is the vanguard of the Fourth Reich seeking to silence the voices of “marginalized” peoples. It’s stupid and I hate it.
With context, nuance, and darn near every ounce of common sense already consumed by the fire of partisan rancor, I don’t know why I still bristle at the kind of rhetoric that’s grown so common online these days, but I do. One thing that might make me feel a little better would be a turn at the flamethrower. Anyone have some good books to recommend?