Think It Can’t Happen Here?

Published: September 9, 2022

By Jim Lichtman
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     “If there’s one American belief I hold above all others, it’s that those who would set themselves up in judgment on matters of what is ‘right’ and what is ‘best’ should be given no rest; that they should have to defend their behavior most stringently. … As a nation, we’ve been through too many fights to preserve our rights of free thought to let them go just because some prude with a highlighter doesn’t approve of them.” —Stephen King, American author, from The Bangor Daily News, 1992

Bottom photo: Tyler Salinas; Mt. Juliet, Tennessee, February 2022

When I first came across these photos, I was skeptical until I confirmed the story from a long list of media sources.

On February 2 this year, in Mt. Juliet, Tennessee, conspiracy-zealot, pro-Trump supporter, and Christian pastor, Greg Locke, organized a book-burning event. Among the books tossed into the flames, Harry Potter and Twilight.

According to Tyler Salinas, a photographer at the event, a protestor threw a bible on the pyre and held up a copy of Darwin’s On the Origin of the Species, and Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, a story about a dehumanizing future where fear of new ideas led to book-burning by firemen. All three books have been banned at one time or another.

Earlier this year, the American Library Association reported that “book challenges top 700 – the most since 2000.” The ALA defines a challenge as “an attempt to remove or restrict materials, based upon the objections of a person or group. A banning is the removal of those materials.”

Schools in Tennessee removed more than 300 books after state legislators proposed banning books whose subjects included LGBTQ and labeled “Black Lives Matter.”

USA Today reported that “a Texas school district pulled all books from library shelves and classrooms that were challenged by parents, lawmakers and other community members in the last year — including the Bible. Keller Independent School District removed 41 books while they undergo a review.”

Vinton Public Library in Iowa “briefly closed its doors and was without a director following a string of resignations and criticism over the hiring of LGBTQ employees and certain books in the library.”

Sadly, many today have forgotten how to think and analyze. We buy products in grocery stores because that’s what we’ve been taught to buy on television. We buy political leaders in much the same way today, but by different means.

Social media—a place to connect with family and friends where we share stories and photos—has been used as a conduit for deceit. And when an outsized real estate mogul who lied his way into the White House preyed upon the fears and insecurities of a group of Americans, truth succumbed to conspiracy, rumor, and innuendo.

Almost overnight, trust and confidence in American democracy began to diminish. Almost overnight, cynicism began to catch fire. Because one man didn’t get his way or what he wanted, many believed our government—a process that worked, despite setbacks, for more than 200 years—was a corrupt weapon intent on keeping millions from their pursuit of happiness.

Donald Trump shamelessly admits to not reading, especially the history of his own country, a place that created the very means whereby his immigrant family could go from owning nothing to something.

Reading is where we learn about old ideas and new ones. It’s about past history and the possibilities of our future. It’s where we not only learn to think but engage with others and learn more. Knowledge is where we grow and hopefully obtain wisdom along the way. Books are the gateway to that knowledge.

When we ban books, we ban thinking, critical thinking; the ability to examine, reason, argue, and debate ideas and actions. With the help of parents, teachers and books, we learn about the qualities we aspire to: honesty, respect, responsibility, and integrity, all of which are not only necessary for personal growth but a healthy society. Without the knowledge from books, a country and its people stop growing.

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