Opinion | From abortion to education, Republicans want to turn back the clock to the 1950s – The Washington Post


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Whether we’re in good times or bad, crisis or quiescence, politicians of both parties always say we’re in a transformative moment, full of possibility for the future. But right now, only one party is really acting like it. Democrats are putting out fires, while Republicans are aggressively moving to create a new future, particularly at the state level.And what is their vision? It looks like a return to the 1950s, a dramatic rollback of social progress to a supposedly simpler time, with traditional hierarchies restored and unsettling changes undone.Republicans have never wanted for boldness, but what they’re doing now is an audacious escalation, as they move forward on goals that until recently they themselves might have considered too radical to advocate publicly.Story continues below advertisementFor a glimpse of what’s to come, consider a debate that took place last week in Michigan between three Republican candidates for state attorney general. They were asked their position on Griswold v. Connecticut, the landmark 1965 Supreme Court decision that struck down a state law outlawing contraception. The case established that a constitutional right to privacy exists; it became the foundation of the Roe v. Wade decision eight years later.All three candidates admitted they were unfamiliar with Griswold — one of the most important Supreme Court decisions of the 20th century. You’d have a hard time finding a first-year law student who has never heard of it, let alone someone who wants to be attorney general of an entire state.But ignorance is no bar to ambition. Once it was explained to them, all three candidates said they opposed Griswold as federal overreach; one explicitly cited “states’ rights,” the battle cry of opponents of the civil rights movement.Story continues below advertisementSo while they weren’t saying states should outlaw contraception, they were saying that states should be able to outlaw contraception.Pro-choice activists have warned for years that when conservatives achieve their goal of overturning Roe, they’ll come after Griswold next. These warnings have tended to be dismissed as exaggerated, despite the antiabortion movement’s clear antipathy to contraception.If and when the Supreme Court overturns Roe, abortion will be quickly banned in more than half the states. With that accomplished, what could Republicans do to restrict contraception where they’re in charge? The answer is that we just don’t know. But they’re realizing, with the way they’ve locked in power in so many places, that there are few limits on their fantasies of remaking society.Story continues below advertisementJust look at what’s happening in schools, where Republicans are trying to restrict speech and make teachers live in fear. The campaign to make White people terrified of the phantom of critical race theory has been such a success that they’re now going after all diversity efforts in schools and working to pass “Don’t say gay” laws to make teachers fear for their jobs if they stray from GOP-approved ideas about race and sexuality.If all the new laws banning “divisive concepts” are successful, history classes in red states could begin to resemble those of the 1950s, when students read from textbooks telling them how happy and well-treated slaves were.If you thought Red America and Blue America were already different, you haven’t seen anything yet. On abortion, on education, on voting rights, on labor rights, on guns, on government services and on many other issues, they’re going to move further and further apart.Story continues below advertisementThis is all playing out at the state level because that’s where Republicans have the most power. For the moment, their representatives in Washington are largely spectators and cheerleaders. But rest assured, those Washington Republicans, particularly the ones who would like to be president, are watching carefully. The next time they have power — for instance, if they take back Congress this November and the White House in 2024 — they’ll be able to take this reactionary agenda national.And it is deeply reactionary, creating the future by going back to the past. Much of the case Republicans make to voters these days is based on the idea that the modern world is alienating and infuriating, whether it’s people swearing on TV, America’s ever-increasing diversity, changing ideas about sexuality, or the fact that your kids listen to music you don’t like.We’re now in a moment of opportunity for conservatives. The election of every Democratic president produces a right-wing backlash, and usually one tinged with racial resentment; the one we’re living through now might seem not much different from what we saw under Barack Obama or Bill Clinton.Yet amid the current backlash, it’s hard to remember a time when the right was so utterly intoxicated with the possibilities for reaction. They themselves probably aren’t sure how far they should go in turning back the clock. But they haven’t found their limit yet.
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