OPINION: More bite, less bark

Talk, talk, talk.

We’ve spent a lot of time talking ourselves right into 2024, which raises this question: Are we too much bark and not enough bite at a crossroads moment in our political history?

As the celebrants of an American patrimony now evolved into an American all-imoni — it’s not just white guys who should get an equal opportunity to work and live, but all of us — why can’t we ban a few books ourselves, like the other side has been doing?

Why can’t we together condemn in bright lights the loss of academic freedoms fashioned by the state’s 46th governor, Ron DeSantis, and such Republican cronies as New College President Richard Corcoran. Implanted by the governor and his appointed board one year ago, he was given a salary and perks of $1.3 million each year through 2028 — twice that of his predecessor.

And why can’t we organize and enlist churches and synagogues to begin home-school classes in prohibited public-school subjects?

And why not petition or sue, now, to exclude Donald Trump from the November presidential ballot in Florida?

To solicit answers with some authoritative meaning, I looked to my friend, Dr. Robert Hilliard, an author and professor emeritus of Emerson College. Among a great deal else, he taught me that the best sour pickles in the world come from Katz’s Deli on Manhattan’s east side, which lends him both authority and proof of good judgment. So I won’t hesitate to share his answers here.

He’s seen much of this before, as well, in the context of Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s America.

“An element of McCarthyism continued for years after the blacklist,” he recalls. “A gray list. The legacy of authoritarianism is long-lasting. It continues to vitiate democracy.”
Here’s what Dr. Hilliard said about all our progressive talk, now less than 40 weeks out from a potentially society-altering presidential election.

“Continuing discussions of the problems is repetitious and has decreasing value. Most important, the voters we want to reach are not being reached. We continue to preach to the choir.

“We need bold-action projects the media will cover, so undecided voters feel they are not alone — that they have an option other than authoritarianism.”

Bold-action projects put up in shining lights, aimed at the army of the ambivalent.

We can no longer disagree or even converse with Donald Trump himself — the second great icon of American Constitutional evisceration, 70 years after Joseph McCarthy. We can only reject him.

But we can reach those who remain ambivalent about Trump with bold-action projects.

“Action projects do not have to have instant success,” Dr. Hilliard pointed out. But let’s get into action anyway, he suggested. Let’s get noticed whether or not we reach an immediate goal — before the weeks spool out into spring and summer.

Here’s how we could do it, he said.

First, as proposed by Jeff Cull, a key member of Floridians for Democracy: Use Moms for Liberty tactics by employing new book-ban rules established in the DeSantis administration. The new rules allow bigots and zealots to have books removed from school libraries and classrooms with a simple complaint about a title from even one parent to a public school district. So, let’s file complaints about books widely accepted and used by everybody — necessary books, along with books that present non-critical histories of race and westward expansion, for example, or avoid issues of sex. Such books become unavailable to any student or in any classroom until they’ve been reviewed by a committee, a process that can sometimes take months.

But whether it takes months or not, the inevitable media coverage would suggest to the army of the ambivalent that Moms for Liberty is not a prevailing group, for one thing. And also, that their approach to controlling public education is patently ridiculous.

Another Dr. Hilliard suggestion: Ask active and retired academics in progressive organizations and in the regional accrediting organization to investigate the loss of academic freedoms in public universities and colleges, and “to make condemnation statements for the media.”

It could get the attention we need now. So could this: Organize churches to establish a home-schooling class in subjects banned in schools, countering the DeSantis dumbing down of Florida schoolchildren.

An idea proposed by Dr. Hilliard’s wife, JoAnn Reece Hilliard, has special merit: Petition and sue to keep Trump off the ballot in Florida. “It will fail,” Dr. Hilliard predicts, “but it will capture media attention and encourage Floridians who are giving up hope for democracy action here.”

Bold action.

Then, perhaps, each of us as individuals might consider one final bold action: Order some pickles from Katz’s Deli. The world will likely seem a bit more manageable.

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