Discover more from The Bulwark
The Escalating War on Reading
Plus: The hostage crisis on Capitol Hill
Quick note: No Morning Shots tomorrow, since we’ll be on the road to the Texas Tribune Festival. See you there?
Of course he does. McCarthy caves— Punchbowl
Of course he does, Part 2: Trump Throws Wrench Into Negotiations By Demanding the House 'Defund' Jack Smith - Mediaite
The WSJ has questions: Why Is Donald Trump Afraid to Debate? - WSJ
The view from under the bus: Trump, who paved way for Roe repeal, faces abortion blowback from right - The Washington Post
Cheney's account will be published a month before GOP caucuses in Iowa, where former President Trump is the formidable favorite — and three months before the scheduled D.C. trial date for Trump on federal charges of trying to overturn the 2020 election.
What they're saying: Cheney's publisher calls the 384-page book a "gripping first-hand account from inside the halls of Congress as Donald Trump and his enablers betrayed the American people and the Constitution ... by the House Republican leader who dared to stand up to it."
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Manu Raju: The Hostage Crisis on Capitol Hill
House Republicans are bickering and calling each other names, while the Matt Gaetz caucus threatens to hold the country hostage with a government shutdown. Meanwhile, Senate Republicans think the dress code change is the most important story of the week. CNN’s Manu Raju joined me on Wednesday’s wide-ranging podcast.
And stay tuned for a new episode of The Trump Trials later today, which opens with a PSA about Ted Cruz’s side-gig.
The War on Books
Earlier this week, the American Library Association released a list of more than 1,900 library book titles that have been targeted for censorship so far in 2023.
“The irony is that you had some censors who said that those who didn’t want books pulled from schools could just go to the public libraries,” says Deborah Caldwell-Stone, who directs the association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom.
This morning, the folks from PEN America are out with an even more comprehensive look at the jihad against reading:
The number of public school book bans across the country increased by 33 percent in the 2022-23 school year compared to the 2021-22 school year, according to a new PEN America report. “Banned in the USA: The Mounting Pressure to Censor” highlights the disproportionate number of bans occurring in Florida — where over 40 percent of all book bans took place in the 2022-23 school year — and shows how state legislation and coordinated pressure campaigns from local groups and individuals have driven mass restrictions on access to literature.
Since PEN America started tracking public school book bans in July 2021, the organization has recorded nearly 6,000 instances of banned books. This includes 3,362 book bans affecting 1,557 unique titles during the 2022-23 school year, impacting the work of 1,480 authors, illustrators, and translators.
There are multiple drivers of these trends. Over the past school year, vaguely-worded state legislation and local and national advocacy groups have converged, pressuring districts to remove more books from student access. Fear of penalties, legal liabilities, and criminal punishments are escalating book bans to new heights.
Leading the way? Florida, which has surpassed Texas as the book-banning center of the U.S.. But it’s getting worse. PEN American notes that “Laws and tactics that emerged in the Sunshine State are also being replicated elsewhere. The language of the so-called ‘Don’t Say Gay’ law that originated in Florida has been mimicked in Iowa, where vagueness and lack of state guidance similarly led school districts to ban books. Book Looks, a website created by a Moms for Liberty member from Florida to encourage book censorship, has been used widely to ban books, from Pennsylvania to Virginia.”
“More kids are losing access to books, more libraries are taking authors off the shelves, and opponents of free expression are pushing harder than ever to exert their power over students as a whole,” said Suzanne Nossel, Chief Executive Officer of PEN America. “Those who are bent on the suppression of stories and ideas are turning our schools into battlegrounds, compounding post-pandemic learning loss, driving teachers out of the classroom and denying the joy of reading to our kids. By depriving a rising generation of the freedom to read, these bans are eating away at the foundations of our democracy.”
Among PEN’s major findings:
Book bans in public K–12 schools continue to intensify. In the 2022–23 school year, PEN America recorded 3,362 instances of books banned, an increase of 33 percent from the 2021–22 school year.
Over 40 percent of all book bans occurred in school districts in Florida. Across 33 school districts, PEN America recorded 1,406 book ban cases in Florida, followed by 625 bans in Texas, 333 bans in Missouri, 281 bans in Utah, and 186 bans in Pennsylvania.
Hyperbolic and misleading rhetoric about “porn in schools” and “sexually explicit,” “harmful,” and “age inappropriate” materials led to the removal of thousands of books covering a range of topics and themes for young audiences. Overwhelmingly, book bans target books on race or racism or featuring characters of color, as well as books with LGBTQ+ characters. And this year, banned books also include books on physical abuse, health and well-being, and themes of grief and death. Notably, most instances of book bans affect young adult books, middle grade books, chapter books, or picture books—books specifically written and selected for younger audiences.
Punitive state laws, coupled with pressure from vocal citizens and local and national groups, have created difficult dilemmas for school districts, forcing them to either restrict access to books or risk penalties for educators and librarians. Eighty-seven percent of all book bans were recorded in school districts with a nearby chapter or local affiliate of a national advocacy group known to advocate for book censorship. Sixty-three percent of all book bans occurred in eight states with legislation that has either directly facilitated book bans or created the conditions for local groups to pressure and intimidate educators and librarians into removing books.
1. An impeachment-and-shutdown show will fuel the crisis in US democracy
Charlie Sykes, of the Bulwark website and a former conservative radio host based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, said: “We’ve dumbed down our crises. Remember when impeachment used to be this cataclysmic thing? Now impeachments are the new censure, and government shutdowns are the new filibuster. There’s a certain numbing effect there.
“On the other hand, it is interesting watching House Republicans moving ahead with this performative impeachment of Joe Biden as they also prepare to shut down the government. This makes it more difficult for them to convince the American electorate to give them more power, to trust them, to be a responsible governing party.”
Sykes added: “This is one of those moments where I think Republicans need to be careful what they wish for, because doing those two things separately might pay some dividends, but doing them together might be a perfect storm of political malpractice.”
2. The Pro-Life Case for Choice
On Tuesday night, Sean Hannity enlisted Haley to coach the party on abortion. “What is your message to Republicans around the country, especially if they want to win in swing states?” he asked. The next morning on Fox & Friends, Ainsley Earhardt invited Haley to describe her position in more detail. “You gave a fabulous answer . . . that can attract the independents, that can even attract the Democrats,” said Earhardt, teeing her up.
What is Haley’s secret recipe? She says no woman should be jailed for getting an abortion. She says we should take the issue out of Washington, respect each woman’s personal experience, and let the people closest to the issue decide.
She’s right about these principles. And there’s a simple policy that would honor them. It’s called freedom of choice.
3. Death, Lies, and Video Files
ON SEPTEMBER 6, A MISSILE HIT a busy market in Kostyantynivka, a Ukrainian-controlled town not far from Russian-controlled territory. According to Ukraine’s interior ministry, at least seventeen people were killed, including a child, and more than thirty others were injured.
The origins of the missile remain unclear, even two weeks later. This week, the New York Times released a thoroughly reported story (it carries six bylines) presenting evidence that the missile was “a tragic mishap”—that it was launched by Ukrainian air defense forces. But Ukrainian authorities have disputed the Times report, claiming that fragments of the rocket indicate it was Russian in origin.
At times, the intense debate about the missile’s origin has veered into the territory of conspiracy theorizing. I want to focus on a specific part of that fight—an episode that reveals how the digital practices now routinely used by Western news outlets can inadvertently drive controversy, stoke conspiracy theories, and serve the purposes of illiberal propagandists like Vladimir Putin. The story that follows is a cautionary tale for the world we now inhabit.