— It’s Monday, February 7, 2022. 

Today is the 525th anniversary of the Bonfire of the Vanities, the burning of Renaissance art and literature in Florence.

The mastermind – if that’s the appropriate word – was a Dominican monk named Girolamo Savonarola. He decried these works as immoral and gathered them in the Piazza della Signoria for destruction.

Does that seem familiar?

Recently, a cetriolo in Tennessee organized the burning of books such as the Harry Potter and Twilight series.

I was going to mention his name, but that’s part of the problem here. These people throw these tantrums to get recognition. The first part of the solution is to minimize that.

Book burning and banning probably occurs all year round. But this winter seems to be a particularly bad one.

People don’t burn books to keep warm.

A lot of this is sheer racism. It’s tied to Nikole Hannah-Jones’ amazing scholarship on “The 1619 Project” for The New York Times – offering the idea that American history begins with the arrival of slaves, not the Declaration of Independence.

It’s an idea, of course, which means you can accept it or object to it – and maybe offer comparable scholarship and argument regarding your position as a way to find enlightenment. 

The idea of thinking offends the hell out of bigots. They’ve leeched onto the project in their effort to combat the increased diversity of this country – saying that kids are not learning how good America is, all the while demonstrating the bad that exists.

This has led to other book banning moves. Virginia chose a Republican governor because he made an issue about how one student was offended by Toni Morrison’s classic novel on slavery, “Beloved.” In other places, state and local authorities have found ways to remove books on racial issues, sexual orientation and anti-Semitism in an effort to impose their nihilistic agenda.

One thing leads to another. A reason books like the Harry Potter series spark the ire of weakass jerks is that they spark the imagination of young readers (never mind that they promote the morality of the major religions more effectively).

— And imagination is the real evil to these people.

Our kids are great at imagining a better country. They’re sick of conventions they had nothing to do with and they’re finding their way to a world of options. 

The Republican suppression initiatives aren’t just about stopping Black and other people of color from voting. They’re aimed at stopping young people – particularly those on college campuses – as well, because the rising generation has a lot of different ideas about a better America and world.

Ideas many of them have gotten from art, literature, music and, yes, movies and television.

And that’s part of what this is all about. When reactionaries talk about “protecting children,” what they really mean is “stopping children” – stopping them from thinking, learning and creating, and improving our society.

I’d like to think the 21st century Savonarolas – and I’m sure a lot of them would be offended by being equated with some Italian – aren’t going to succeed. 

The Florentine arsonists might have destroyed some precious works of art and literature we’ll never know. But there are millions of books out there – and there’s a whole Internet to explore. Quashing inspirational ideas seems an impossible task.

And yet, sacks of pus like the guy in Tennessee and the governor of Texas are going to try. They’re counting on the frenzy they’re whipping up to get people to do irrational things. And because they’ve placed such a stake in arming these people to the teeth, they think bullets might help them achieve their dream.

Up to now, history has rewarded the Leonardos and the Michelangelos – Savonarola pissed off the pope with his crusade and was hanged less than a year and a-half later in the same piazza where he staged his bonfire.

I’d like to think this winter of ignorance will end as well. I’m looking forward to spring – in more ways than one.


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