Why women's freedom threatens men

Will America's future be one of democracy and women's control over their own bodies or one of authoritarianism and forced pregnancy? The two issues most motivating Americans to vote for Democrats in the rapidly approaching midterm elections are far more intertwined than is generally recognized.

This article first appeared in Salon.

At a time when right-wing extremists are hellbent on making American states — or, as many intend the whole nation — into the fictional Republic of Gilead, it is appropriate to turn to Margaret Atwood. "Tyrants and dictators like Adolf Hitler and Nicolae Ceausescu have often dictated the terms of fertility and criminalized those who did not comply," she pointed out in 2017. "It's no accident that Napoleon banned abortion. He said exactly what he wanted offspring for — cannon fodder. Lovely!"

Speaking of authoritarian regimes, Atwood said in 2020, "What it comes down to is that they assert their right to control reproduction, and they assert their right over people's bodies. All totalitarianisms, no matter what they say their aims are, no matter what's on the flag, they all have in common the rollback of women's rights."

Historian Ruth Ben-Ghiat, who has conducted a transnational and transhistorical study of authoritarian regimes, makes the same point. "Control over female bodies," she writes in her 2020 book, "Strongmen: Mussolini to the Present," is invariably among the goals of the insecure males who call themselves by that name.

To understand, and try to overcome, both the treatment of women as property and the basis of authoritarianism, we must dive into the deep history of humanity. When we do so, we find that those two evils emanate from the same source.

It is more than mere coincidence that the desperate, redoubled quest to outlaw abortion gained traction during an era in which women have achieved a greater degree of autonomy in other areas. The underlying question is not whether a fetus is a person. Rather, it is whether a woman is a person, or simply property.

That oldest and most consequential question in human history is the deep font of the struggle to control women's bodies, which is why it is so crucial to the self-doubting men who turn toward authoritarians.

The original sin

It is often and correctly said that enslavement is the original sin of America. Less recognized is another foundational condition shaping much of recorded history and our lives today: Sexism is the original sin of humanity.

Misogyny is the gateway drug to all other hatreds, all other relationships of dominance and subordination. The belief that men are superior to women is the model on which all other vertical divisions — race, class, nationality, master/slave, religious hierarchies and so on — have been constructed. The subordinate position in these relationships is always depicted as corresponding to women.

Consider the 1975 Alice Cooper song "Only Women Bleed," which — believe it or not — hints at the origin of what is at stake in the struggle over a woman's right to control her own body. The foundation of the conviction for thousands of years that "he got the power" and "she got the need" is the erroneous idea that men have the "seed" and women's purpose and need is to "take" that seed.

The seedtime of sexism

A very deep history lies beneath this subject. To understand it, we need to go back to what can accurately be termed the seedtime of sexism.

Creative power had presumably been seen as female in most societies over the vast eons in which our distant ancestors lived as hunter/gatherers, dependent on plant and animal food produced by nature. Terminology like "Mother Nature" and "Mother Earth" are remnants of that belief. Men appeared to have little or no role in reproduction. Here's a striking example of that way of thinking: Nearly a century ago, anthropologist Phyllis Kaberry tried to explain the role that men have in creating babies to a group of indigenous women in Australia. One responded that she had proof that men have nothing to do with making new life: Her husband had died many months before she gave birth. Another woman summed it up succinctly, "Him nothing!"

In addition to being seen as the possessors of the power to create life, women in most hunter/gatherer societies were also co-providers through the collection of plant food. Those roles appear to have resulted in women having a rough level of equality with men in many of those societies. The development of agriculture, in all likelihood by women, more than 10,000 years ago began a mega-revolution that radically altered human life.

Agriculture led to both animals and women being domesticated. Increased food supply made population growth possible. Women spent more of their lives bearing and raising children. When the plow was introduced — in some areas roughly 6,000 years ago — and men began planting seeds in the rutted ground, a seeming correspondence was noticed. The furrowed soil resembled a woman's vulva, and it occurred to men that planting seeds in a groove in Mother Earth seems analogous to a man "planting" what came to be called semen (Latin for seed) in the groove between the labia of a woman.

This correlation came to be taken as an operational equivalence, and it overturned the understanding of which sex has creative power as readily as a plow overturns soft, moist soil. "Who will plow my vulva?/ Who will plow my high field?/ Who will plow my wet ground?" asks Inanna in "The Courtship of Inanna and Dumuzi," a Mesopotamian poem from around 1750 BCE. Men were elevated to the all-powerful creators — authors — of new life and so those with authority. Women were reduced from being thought to possess sole power to create new life to the counterpart of dirt — a place for men to plant their seeds. The common reference that continues to this day to women who do not conceive as "barren" is a reflection of the belief that they are soil.

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Both human gametes are microscopic, and the sperm is even smaller than the egg. Semen, however, is visible and it is obviously the case that a woman becomes pregnant only after it is "planted" in her. Yet, for those who thought much about the view that semen is the seed of a new life there were a few difficulties that needed to be explained away. One is that women also produce a visible fluid, and its discharge ceases during pregnancy. Wouldn't that indicate that menstrual fluid also contains something necessary to the creation of new life? The other is that offspring sometimes resemble their mother. How can that be if the woman provides nothing to the new life except a place, analogous to soil, where the generation can occur?

In his 4th century BCE explication on female inferiority in "Generation of Animals," Aristotle sought to answer those questions. In a convoluted argument, he achieved his objective of propping up the belief that men are the sole authors of life. Hippocrates had previously hypothesized that each sex provides life-giving material. Aristotle rejected that idea by taking it as axiomatic that "it is impossible that any creature should produce two seminal secretions at once." So it followed, he claimed, "that the female does not contribute any semen [seed] to generation."

Menstrual fluid, Aristotle suggested, was a weak, powerless concoction that merely provided the lifeless material to which semen gives life. A woman, he declared, is merely "an infertile male" who "lacks the power to concoct [seed]." The female "is as it were a deformed male" and menstrual fluid is an impure form of semen lacking "one constituent … the principle of Soul." This argument seemingly solved the problems Aristotle had set out to address. A woman cannot produce new life, but if she provides the matter that will become a child when it is given life by a man, then of course it could resemble her. If the material given life by a man is necessary, that seemed to explain why menstrual discharge ceases during pregnancy.

The reversal of reproductive power based on the Seed Metaphor (so central in human history that it merits capitalization) can be found in numerous ancient texts. A few examples:

  • In Genesis 13, God tells Abram, "I will make your seed like the dust of the earth."
  • "The mother is no parent of that which is called her child, but only nurse of the new-planted seed that grows," Aeschylus has Apollo proclaim in "Eumenides" (circa 458 BCE). "The parent is he who mounts."
  • In Sophocles' "Antigone" (circa 442 BCE), when an astonished Ismene says to Creon, "What? You'd kill your own son's bride?" the king calmly responds, "Absolutely: There are other fields for him to plow."
  • "Your wives are a place of sowing of seed for you," verse 223 of the second surah of the Quran instructs men, "so come to your place of cultivation however you wish."

The evil effects of taking this metaphor literally have been monumental on a scale similar to those that flowed from accepting the story in the second and third chapters of Genesis as literally true. In both cases, those consequences centered on seeing women as inherently inferior.

Considering women as the functional equivalent of tilth — prepared soil ready to be seeded — reclassified them as property: real estate in which men grow their crops of children. Property owners have rights; property (implying that which is properly, or rightfully, owned) does not.

Viewed in the light of the Seed Metaphor, planter was an especially appropriate term for American enslavers. Many of them were planters of their "seeds" in enslaved women, using them as fields in which to grow a cash crop: more enslaved human beings. "I consider a woman who brings a child every two years as more profitable than the best man of the farm," Thomas Jefferson wrote in 1820 of the value of enslaved women. "What she produces is an addition to the capital, while his labors disappear in mere consumption."

The long and pernicious afterlife of the conception misconception

The improvement of the microscope in the 17th century and beyond made possible the identification of two components in sexual reproduction, but the functions of sperm and egg were still unclear. The ovum was seen through a microscope in 1827. But the fact that the woman produced ova did not necessarily mean she was a source of life. The egg could readily be seen as the container of the matter to which Aristotle had contended the man's seed gives life and soul. Indeed, after sperm had been seen under microscopes, the already existing idea of preformism, which held that organisms grow from preexisting tiny versions of themselves, crystalized into the concept that the homunculus — the "little man" — was inside the sperm.

It was not until the 1870s that it began to become clear that a new life resulted from the combination of life-giving material from both parents. It is therefore ludicrous to claim that the "traditional" Christian view was that life begins at conception, since through the first nearly two millennia of the Christian Era, no one clearly understood when or how conception took place.

Although educated people have known for well over a century that the Seed Metaphor is inaccurate, it goes on like a zombie, eating the brains of people across modern cultures much as it did in the past, insidiously germinating the poisonous misconception that women are and ought to be property for the use of men.

The message to women is unmistakable: Your only purpose is to carry his seed. That is the dominating, degrading and debilitating — authoritative, in a word — lesson that has been taught to women for thousands of years. And it is the cracking foundation beneath the authority that Roman Catholic bishops, evangelical pastors and other insecure men fear is being "usurped."

Authoritarianism is an extreme manifestation of the power relationship based on the never-to-be-questioned inequality between men and women. That is the motive force in the rise of authoritarian rulers and would-be rulers around the world, from Russia to Hungary to Turkey to Brazil to the Philippines to the United States. A man claiming unlimited power over others asserts that he is in the position of a god, the Author to whom all others are subordinate. Authoritarians are males terrified that they aren't "real men."

Ironically, the weak men who are so attracted to these "strongmen," apparently believing that some of the authoritarian leader's supposed virility will be infused in them if they submit — offer themselves — to him, are unconsciously putting themselves in what they classify as the woman's place: subordinate, powerless, submissive, obedient, serving, groveling before "The Man." They act like Ilsa in "Casablanca" when she says to Rick, "Oh, I don't know what's right any longer. You'll have to think for both of us, for all of us." Please, Dear Leader, tell me what I must think and do. Picture Mike Pence and other members of Donald Trump's entourage telling him that serving him was the greatest honor they could imagine. They were presenting themselves for "The Man" to plant his putative manhood in them.

Authoritarianism, forced pregnancy, and the "great replacement"

This deep history explains why the issue in Dobbs v. Jackson is seen by many anxious males as monumental. If male dominance is to be maintained, women's reproductive freedom must be curtailed. It isn't really about choice, as such, but about denying women the right to make the choice. Ancient Romans, for example, were "pro-choice," but the choice was solely that of the man. His supposed creations were his, not hers. Farmland has no say in whether crops planted in it will be allowed to grow or be pulled out or plowed under. The patria potestas, the authority of the father, was absolute.

Thou shalt not pull up what man has planted. That sentence sums up the position of many churches today — and, alas, the radical right-wing majority on the Supreme Court.

In the decades since women began moving toward equality, male supremacists have intensified their efforts to put them back "in their place," accurately described by Atwood in "The Handmaid's Tale" as "two-legged wombs, that's all: sacred vessels, ambulatory chalices." As George Carlin put it in a 1996 routine, "Pro-Life Is Anti-Woman," those who oppose women's control over their own bodies "believe a woman's primary role is to function as a brood mare for the state."

After Kansas voters overwhelmingly rejected removing abortion protection from the state constitution, one postmortem used Seed Metaphor terminology to describe the position of forced-pregnancy advocates. They want "to treat a woman's body like it's a high-yielding 160 acres of Kansas farmland," Priti Gulati Cox wrote. Presumably without being aware that she was doing so, she pointed out that those who sought to deny women's ownership of their bodies are applying Thomas Jefferson's 1820 argument on the value of enslaved women: "The higher the yield, the higher their value."

The connection between authoritarian regimes and the use of women as fields in which to grow new members of the favored race is undeniable. "Cradles are empty and cemeteries are expanding," Benito Mussolini warned in 1927, language often echoed by the American right today. "The entire white race, the Western race, could be submerged by other races of color that multiply with a rhythm unknown to our own." One of Mussolini's programs was called the "Battle for Babies." It presented awards to prolific women for being such rich, productive soil (if not quite in those terms), while banning abortion and contraception. If that sounds familiar to Americans in 2022, it should. On July 21, 96 percent of Republican members of the House of Representatives voted against legislation to protect access to birth control.

American right-wing extremists have chosen the racist and misogynist Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán as their model. He and others on the radical right in Europe and the United States have taken up fear-mongering about the "great replacement" of white Christians by others (whether identified or not). In July, Orbán gave a speech in which he declared, "We mix within Europe, but we don't want to be a mixed race." One of his own top aides characterized it as "a purely Nazi diatribe worthy of Joseph Goebbels." Yet the American radical right's admiration for Orbán remains undiminished. The Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC) still welcomed him to speak at their gathering in Texas in early August.

This is easily overlooked, but much of the replacement fear authoritarians fire up among insecure men is not only that they will be replaced by people of other skin colors, cultures or religious faiths, but also that they will be replaced by the original "other": women.

CPAC also held a 2022 meeting in Budapest. On May 19, Matt Schlapp, chairman of the American Conservative Union, said there that one way to reduce the supposed "replacement" of white people in the United States was to grow our own population by outlawing abortion. This is an interesting twist on the use of enslaved Black women as soil to grow more people who would be classified as Black and owned by the seed planters. Now white supremacists want to use white women to grow crops of "free" white children. The color of the "soil" has changed, but the treatment of women as owned real estate remains a constant.

Forced pregnancy fits into the "great replacement" hysteria not only on the premise that it will increase the white population, but also in that again classifying women primarily as soil will remove many of them from the workforce as competitors with men. On the day the Dobbs decision was announced, a Republican candidate for lieutenant governor of Minnesota explicitly argued that abortion leads to women having careers.

"Our culture," Matt Birk pronounced, "loudly but also stealthily, promotes abortion. Telling women they should look a certain way, have careers, all these things." Forced pregnancy, in this worldview can help put women back in their proper place: serving and servicing men, not replacing them: Kinder, Küche, Kirche (children, kitchen, church) as the Nazis defined women's roles. And, of course, opening their furrows for men to plant the seeds that will produce more and more white babies.

"Question Authority"

The 1960s slogan "Question Authority" is key to the attainment of equality by women, and nothing questions male authority as much as women having the power to control their own bodies. Preventing women from deciding whether to continue a pregnancy is the sine qua non of the regime of male dominance and female subordination. Acceptance of that right recognizes that women and men are the co-authors of new life and have equal "authority." Equality of the sexes is the foundation of an equal society. As long as women are seen as inferior, authoritarianism remains a danger.

The war on women's choice is Armageddon for insecure men because if women have control over their own bodies, they are their own bodies — that is, they are equal human beings, not property owned by men.

That way lies the unraveling of male dominance and so it is on the issue they call "pro-life" (in truth, forced pregnancy), where self-doubting men who are terrified of equality with women have dug in for their last stand. Because the concept that men are superior to women is the foundation for all other claims that one classification of people is superior to another, to question male authority endangers the whole edifice of inequality that has been raised upon it.

Deuteronomy 22:29 declares that a woman must marry her rapist. Italian law had this requirementmatrimonio Riparatore, "rehabilitating marriage," to restore a raped woman's reputation — well into the second half of the 20th century. After the Dobbs decision, in many states a woman — or even a 10-year-old girl — may be required to carry and deliver the child of her rapist. The message to women in the abortion laws passed in several states over the past few years is essentially the same as that in Deuteronomy: When you're fucked, you're fucked. Anxious, fragile men are determined to keep it that way.

Women and secure men must work together to establish, once and for all, that women are not real estate, but equal human beings. One place to start is by mobilizing to ensure that those who are unequivocal in their affirmation that women are free human beings have the political power to pass a federal law protecting women's bodies from government control. Women being slaves of the state is what authoritarianism looks like. To surrender women's freedom is to surrender all our freedoms.

Who's a 'conservative? Not these folks — the word has become meaningless

The present political chaos is connected with the decay of language.
— George Orwell (1946)

Words have meanings. Words have power. Words influence the way people think and act. Words must be used with precision if the people who read them are not to be misled.

This article first appeared in Salon.

No honest journalist would disagree with any of those four sentences.

Yet one of the reasons why the American experiment in democracy, equality, freedom and diversity is in grave danger is that certain words have been stripped of their meanings — and in some cases have been used in direct opposition to their actual meanings — and are reflexively, almost automatically, repeated in the mainstream media.

At least some journalists, at some point in their education, read George Orwell's 1946 essay, "Politics and the English Language." It's time for them to read it again, and pay closer attention this time.

"To think clearly," Orwell writes, "is a necessary first step towards political regeneration." Clear thinking requires the careful use of words. Language should be "an instrument for expressing and not for concealing or preventing thought," but as we all know. in politics words "are often used in a consciously dishonest way." Republican pollster and consultant Frank Luntz gave us such intentionally misleading terminology as "pro-life" and "death tax." The wholesale adoption of the former by the mainstream media has contributed significantly to the denial of women's control of their own bodies that we now confront.

What has been even more damaging, however, is the constant repetition of other misleading words, including "populist," "conspiracy theory," "Republican" and, most important of all, "conservative." People in the media mechanically repeat these with no apparent thought to their meanings or their effects on people reading or hearing them. As Orwell says, "bad usage can spread by tradition and imitation, even among people who should and do know better." Journalists and pundits may often be "almost unconscious of what [they are] saying, as one is when one utters the responses in church."

A great deal of political language is, as Orwell puts it, "designed to make lies sound truthful," and it is unfortunately often easier to turn to that "catalogue of swindles and perversions" than to consider what a word means before repeating it.

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Merriam-Webster defines "populist" as "a believer in the rights, wisdom or virtues of the common people." Affixing the label to Donald Trump and the politicians who adhere to him, who believe nothing of the sort, helps them to deceive those common people.

Embedded in "conspiracy theory" is the word "theory," which in scientific usage refers to an explanation that has been repeatedly tested against evidence without contradiction. While it's true that in common usage, "theory" has a more general meaning, to suggest that there is a cabal of Satanic cannibal pedophiles who drink the blood of children, headed by Hillary Clinton and various other famous people, and from which Donald Trump will save us, does not qualify as a theory in any sense of the word. Yet the media persistently refers to such patently absurd delusions as "theories," inadvertently carrying them into the realm of potentially serious discourse.

"Republican" is of course still the name used by the antidemocratic, anti-republican and authoritarian forces that have taken control of that political party. Those forces refer to the Trump movement that may still believe in a republican form of government as RINOs (or Republicans in Name Only) when that label better applies to them.

But by far the most dangerous manifestation of the media's ingrained tendency to aid and abet the enemies of democracy through the careless use of language, intentionally or otherwise, is the ubiquitous use of the word "conservative" to describe extreme right-wing radicals and their beliefs, which only seek to conserve white supremacy — and more specifically the class or caste supremacy of a small minority of wealthy and nominally Christian white men — and the bloated fortunes of the super-rich.

As historian Nancy MacLean shows in her 2017 "Democracy in Chains," many of those behind the scenes in the far-right movement that has been building for the past 40 years or more do not see themselves as "conservative" in any sense. They were and are radical right-wing revolutionaries. They embraced the term "conservative" as a marketing label, largely in order to conceal their true intentions from a public that would almost certainly reject those goals.

There are indeed still conservatives on the American political landscape, like them or not: George Will, Bill Kristol, Liz Cheney, Mitt Romney, George W. Bush. But Ron DeSantis and Greg Abbott, as their recent words and deeds make clear, are not conservatives. Shape-shifting MAGA sycophants like Blake Masters, Kari Lake, J.D. Vance and Mehmet Oz are not conservatives. Openly insurrectionist members of Congress like Paul Gosar, Marjorie Taylor Greene and Lauren Boebert are not conservatives. Spineless House Republican leaders Kevin McCarthy and Elise Stefanik are not conservatives. The Proud Boys, Oath Keepers and other right-wing militias are not conservatives. Authoritarian-worshiping Fox News personality Tucker Carlson is not a conservative.

These far-right extremists that media habitually call "conservatives" are conservatives in name only. Start calling them something that actually describes who they are and what they stand for.

"The invasion of one's mind by ready-made phrases," Orwell pointed out, "can only be prevented if one is constantly on guard against them." It is essential to think about "what impression one's words are likely to make on another person."

Here's a useful reminder: "Conservatives" are by definition not "extremists." Using the former name to describe the latter group only makes it more likely that otherwise normal and sensible people will support them and vote for them. It may be too late to prevent that, but it is never too late to start using words more accurately.

"The worst thing one can do with words," Orwell writes, "is to surrender to them." In this case, that surrender can also mean the surrender of American democracy. One of the most effective actions that those who use words for a living can take in this moment of dire peril is to call the self-described "conservatives" what they are: radical extremists, who seek the destruction of what we value most about America.

Right-wing fake history is nothing new

It is often said that history is a story told by the winners. It might be more accurate to say that those who tell their story as history and get others to believe it thereby make themselves the winners. That happened on a grand scale in the United States from the late 19th century into the 1960s. That fact is essential for us to understand as right-wing extremists again seek to dictate that a fraudulent version of the American past be taught in schools.

This article first appeared in Salon.

Within a few decades after the Civil War, it came to be the losers' stories of "a land of Cavaliers and cotton fields," moonlight and magnolias, kindly masters and happy slaves, a glorious "Lost Cause" and a horrible period of "Black Reconstruction" that were widely accepted as accurate history. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the nation was reunited on the basis of a tacit armistice in which the South accepted that the Union was indissoluble and white Americans outside the South accepted the Southern doctrine that people of African ancestry were innately inferior. That acceptance was facilitated by the popularity of the pseudoscience of social Darwinism and a fabricated story that Reconstruction had been a monstrous time of rule by ignorant black people, rather than the largely successful period of progressive and democratic reform that it actually was.

This inverted history had an enormous impact on the lives of at least three generations of Americans that, though diminished, continues down to the present. The most consequential telling of it is found in D.W. Griffith's 1915 film, "Birth of a Nation," a landmark work both of cinema and white supremacist propaganda. The movie represents enslavers as benevolent caretakers for a lower life form. Enslaved people are shown singing and dancing during the "two-hour interval given for dinner." Reconstruction is painted as a time in which the "natural order" of white superiority was turned upside down. Griffith presents a frightening picture of "crazed negroes," with the necessary restraints of slavery removed, making "helpless whites" their "victims." One of the title cards in the silent movie depicts the restoring of white man's rule as a glorious event and describes it as "the former enemies of North and South are united again in common defence of their Aryan birthright."

The view that Reconstruction was a period of terrifying "black domination," and Restoration the rightful reaffirmation of the United States as "a white man's country," was prevalent throughout the nation from the 1890s into the early 1960s. Pushed by followers of early 20th-century Columbia University historian William Dunning, this interpretation was routinely taught in schools. It was also reflected in popular culture, notably in Margaret Mitchell's hugely successful 1936 novel "Gone With the Wind" and its 1939 film adaptation.

* * *

The 1950s — the time when Republicans today say America was "great" — lasted well into the early 1960s. Though it is often referred to as an "age of innocence," in fact it was an age of ignorance of guilt. Restoring that ignorance is a major component of the authoritarians' plan to "Take America Back."

The view that Reconstruction was a period of terrifying "black domination," and Restoration the rightful reaffirmation of the United States as "a white man's country," was prevalent from the 1890s into the early 1960s.

In 1964, songwriter and folk singer Tom Paxton recorded "What Did You Learn in School Today?" It is a biting satirical attack on the misinformation that was still being taught about the American past. The son in the song responds to his father's question by saying he learned that everyone in the United States is free, our country is always right and just, the police are always our friends, the wars America fights are always good and so on. Paxton's lyrics again seem tailor-made for the "guilt-free" mythology that Republicans today are seeking to impose on school curricula while calling it history.

It was in 1964 that the dam holding back the truth about the American past cracked. "A Shadow Stretched Across Our History for a Hundred Years," read a New York Times Book Review headline on Sept. 13, 1964. That shadow, cast by the acceptance of the losers' false history, which continued its pernicious effects through the Jim Crow era of segregation, was finally being lifted. Newer scholarship — and some older but largely ignored works, notably W.E.B. Du Bois' 1936 "Black Reconstruction in America" — that presented a very different view of Reconstruction was brought to a wider public attention.

Even more important in overturning the whitewashed history that had held sway for so long was the impact of the civil rights movement in awakening many Americans, particularly the young, to the fact that they had been spoon-fed a distorted version of the nation's past.

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Particularly significant in that regard were the Freedom Schools set up during the 1964 Mississippi Freedom Summer Project. "Education in Mississippi is an institution which must be reconstructed from the bottom up," said Charles Cobb, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee field secretary who pushed the idea of Freedom Schools. The prospectus that was sent to volunteers who would teach in the schools, "Notes on Teaching in Mississippi," explained that Black students "have been denied free expression and free thought. Most of all ... they have been denied the right to question." Students were encouraged to bring their own experiences with the institutions and practices of Mississippi into the discussion.

Among the innovations of the Freedom Schools was the teaching of African American history. It was a revelation to many of the students that people like them had a history. The rise of Black history, as well as other areas of ethnic history and women's history, as the '60s blossomed was in part the result of what began in the Mississippi Freedom Schools in the summer of 1964.

* * *

Today's right-wing extremists seek to "Take Back America" in two senses: back from those who are not white or not male and back to the time when straight white males were in charge. An essential part of their overall quest to effect a second "Restoration" of white man's rule is an attempt to restore the ignorance of American history that had prevailed before 1964.

States under right-wing control have been passing laws restricting what may be taught in their schools, especially about racism. The Republican-controlled Texas state legislature enacted a law in 2021 specifying what should — and should not — be taught to students about their nation's and state's past. Excluded were the 15th Amendment, which prohibits the federal government and states from denying or abridging the right to vote "on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude," the 1965 Voting Rights Act, "the history of Native Americans" and documents on the separation of church and state and the women's, Chicano and labor movements. Existing standards calling for teaching about the ways in which white supremacy, slavery, eugenics and the Ku Klux Klan are "morally wrong" were removed. The law is unmistakably a formula for again making Texas, where non-Hispanic whites are already a minority, what it was before 1964: a white man's state.

At its state convention in June of this year, the Texas Republican Party adopted a platform requiring that lies be taught as history and insisting that the traitors who led the Enslavers' Rebellion (aka the Civil War) be venerated.

Not to be outdone in the Orwellian project of reconstructing the past to promote nefarious objectives in the present, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis had the state Department of Education hold training sessions for teachers this summer, as part of a "civics excellence" program. Teachers who attended reported that they were instructed to teach students that American slavery wasn't really that bad, that the Founders didn't want the separation of church and state, that the United States was founded as a Christian nation, and other flat-out lies.

* * *

Mississippi racists in 1964 feared that knowing the truth would set people free. Across red-state America in 2022, zealous right-wingers who share that fear are conducting search-and-destroy missions against books and teachers that dare to tell the truth about the nation's past.

At the Freedom School in Canton, Mississippi, a small city just north of Jackson, an incident in July 1964 perfectly symbolized the views and purposes of opponents of truth and freedom, both then and now. Local white people broke into the building housing the school and its small library collection and urinated on the books.

Directives to Florida teachers ordering that books about LGBTQ people be put "in the closet" speaks volumes about where the red-state suppression of truth and free inquiry is going.

Freedom Schools were the antidote to unfree schools in 1964. In 2022, making schools and history unfree is intended to reinstate the ignorance of the past that prevailed six decades ago. A July story in the Washington Post reported on directives to schools and teachers in Florida to take all books on a list of those not "in compliance" with state laws and hide them "in a classroom closet" or elsewhere where students cannot see them. That's a step above urinating on books, but still outrageous. (Some of the books on the no-read lists are about LGBTQ+ people; ordering them put "in the closet" speaks volumes about where red-state suppression of truth and free inquiry is going.)

There is much about the history of the United States in which we can rightly take pride. But to pretend that there are not also dark and difficult truths in our past constitutes a Big Lie that serves the interests only of those who want to destroy the American experiment.

Among the reasons why the times they were a-changin' in 1964 and "the losers now will be later to win," as Bob Dylan said in a song released that January, was the displacement of a whitewashed version of the American past with a more truthful one. The authoritarians who seek to undermine democracy and freedom today understand that their success depends not only on disseminating fake news, but also on sowing "fake olds." The rest of us must understand that, too.

Seven days in July: America's moment of political climate change

This summer we are experiencing the effects of global climate change at an accelerating pace, but the political climate can change more rapidly still.

Three weeks ago, I wrote here about "Seven Days in June," a right-wing coup carried out without violence, but with considerable malice aforethought by the Supreme Court in the final week of its term. At that point, and for some days thereafter, most political observers still foresaw a Republican midterm landslide in the House this November, and many believed the GOP might also win a majority in the Senate. That changed dramatically in the last week of July.

Hints of a political climate change began almost immediately after the court's coup. The brazen reversal of women's right to control their own bodies produced a significant turn toward the Democrats. The average of six generic congressional polls taken before and after the court's Dobbs decision — which struck down the 49-year-old precedent of Roe v. Wade — found a gain of three points for the Democrats. Then, gleeful right-wing zealots in several states declared, in effect, Yes, we do favor forcing 10-year-old rape victims and women whose lives are endangered by a pregnancy to carry fetuses to term—and we're proud of it! The turn away from Republicans began to pick up more steam. A Suffolk University/USA Today poll conducted between July 22 and 25 found that abortion had risen to the second most important issue to registered voters.

The Seven Days in July began with the July 21 primetime hearing of the House Jan. 6 select committee, by far the most devastating yet for the former guy and his followers. Seeing what Donald Trump did and didn't do while an insurrection in his name was ongoing, which he refused to condemn, had a major impact. Two leading Murdoch-owned papers, the Wall Street Journal and New York Post, denounced Trump's behavior. A CNN poll released on July 24 found that 79 percent of Americans now believe that Trump acted "illegally or unethically" in his "efforts to remain president for another term after the 2020 presidential election." Trump's former advisers are tripping over each other as they jump ship and offer to testify — and it now seems likely, or at least plausible, that the Justice Department is building a case against the former occupant of the White House.

In a rambling talk at the Turning Point USA conference in Tampa on the evening of July 23, Trump said he "kinda liked" it that the head of the Taliban had called him "Your Excellency." At the same rightwing conference, Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., launched into a repulsive misogynistic rant against women he doesn't find attractive. Then Gaetz, who is reportedly under investigation for child sex trafficking, joined with 19 other Republicans to vote against reauthorizing an anti-sex trafficking law.

Meanwhile, House Republicans were also voting by huge margins against federal legislation that would protect women's right to control their bodies and the doctors who provide care for them (99% of Republicans voted no), the right to use contraception (96%), and same sex marriage (77%), and even against a bill that would guarantee a woman's right to cross state lines to obtain health care (97%). In each case, Republicans were planting their flag in opposition to rights that are overwhelmingly popular among Americans.

On Wednesday, things really took a turn for the worse for Republicans. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell had said he would not allow a vote on the CHIPS Bill, to fund a massive program for computer chips to be manufactured in the U.S., until he was assured that Democrats would not use reconciliation to push through legislation on such issues as climate change, prescription drug prices, corporate taxation and so on. Thinking that Sen. Joe Manchin, the recalcitrant West Virginia Democrat, had ended that possibility, McConnell allowed Republicans (including himself) to vote for the CHIPS bill. Shortly after it passed, Manchin and Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announced that they had reached a deal on a remarkably progressive reconciliation bill that will do far more to fight climate change than anything previously enacted by Congress ("I struggle to find enough superlatives to describe this deal," said Sam Ricketts, co-founder of Evergreen Action), impose a 15% minimum tax on large corporations, reduce prescription drug prices, extend Affordable Care Act subsidies and much more.

To top it off, the Democrats, who have been notoriously horrible at messaging and naming, are calling the package the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022, meaning that almost all Republicans will go on record not only having voted against the popular components of the bill, but (at least nominally) against reducing inflation. It was stunning. As an Atlantic headline put it, "Democrats in … Array?"

McConnell had been McConnelled.

The Republican response was stupidity on steroids. They immediately took to acting like grade-school brats, reversing themselves to vote against veterans by killing the Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) bill they had previously supported. Not one to be out-undone by his Senate counterpart, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy whipped his members to reverse themselves and vote against the CHIPS bill.

Having already come out as opposed to women's rights, indifferent to rape, unwilling to protect access to contraception, and negative on a host of other popular positions, Republicans decided to stand foursquare against veterans, against the nation's heroes, against the economy, against America — and, in effect, for China.

At this point, the midterms seem to be moving away from a referendum on Joe Biden and toward being a referendum on the no-longer-Republican Party — an election about the soul of America, which would be enormously to the Democrats' advantage.

As Heather Cox Richardson concluded in her Thursday letter, she was tempted to agree with a tweet earlier that day from Ian Millhiser of Vox: "This was a good week for the United States of America and I may be coming down with a case of The Hope."