Photo by Tom Hermans on Unsplash

With the 2022 political season right around the corner, it’s wholly predictable that it’s time for some kind of manufactured moral outrage by a Republican candidate to whip the troops in line.

This has been going on by both sides for years, as noted years ago by critic H.L. Mencken: “The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.”

This week, Gov. Henry McMaster called for an immediate investigation at all of the state’s public schools into whether they had “obscene and pornographic materials.” He also ordered state police to probe whether any state laws had been broken.

Seems some parents in Fort Mill complained about a book titled Gender Queer: A Memoir, written by award-winning new author Maia Kobabe. The State newspaper reported the book is an autobiography “about how Kobabe dealt with being nonbinary while growing up.” But according to McMaster, it includes “sexually explicit and pornographic depictions which easily meet or exceed the statutory definition of obscenity.” That’s remarkably similar to what conservatives in other states have been saying for more than a month as they railed to get the book banned. 

A reality check: By drawing attention to the book in the age of Amazon, the author probably now will sell more books here in little old South Carolina. Why? Because people — high school students, in particular — don’t like being told what to do. And if they can’t get a book in one place, they’ll find it some other place, including paying $16 to get it delivered.

A cynic might ask, “So what’s really going on here?” Let’s look at the political map. In a few months, the Republican Party will have its primary. On the ballot, again, will be McMaster, who counts on Christian conservatives as a big base of support. Meanwhile, it’s likely an Upstate challenger will emerge. So what’s a veteran candidate to do? Whip up a moral crisis to reacquaint Upstate voters with his moral fiber.

It’s not inconceivable McMaster’s political handlers have been lying in wait for just the right book, movie, speech, snub or slip of the tongue to use politically to energize base supporters. When they learned about Kobabe’s book being banned by a Virginia county school board and later challenged at schools in several states, they sprang. 

While McMaster and supporters might get all hot and bothered about the issue, it’s never a good idea to ban a book. Trying to get rid of printed words and cartoons doesn’t get rid of ideas. You might not like what someone says, but what if someone wants to get rid of the words you use and write? Wouldn’t you cry, “Freedom of speech?” 

Furthermore, banning a book or stomping on an idea you don’t like is in your frame of reference. It doesn’t take into account the perspective of others. The audience for the book isn’t the devout Christian in Greenville, but perhaps someone living in that home who is questioning God, religion, gender or something else.

Listen to what Kobabe wrote in an Oct. 29 opinion piece in The Washington Post:  “Queer youth are often forced to look outside their own homes, and outside the education system, to find information on who they are. Removing or restricting queer books in libraries and schools is like cutting a lifeline for queer youth, who might not yet even know what terms to ask Google to find out more about their own identities, bodies and health.”

Let’s engage in politics over real ideas that make real differences in people’s lives — better education, better health care, improved roads, a cleaner South Carolina, more jobs, less poverty. Let’s not keep riding the downward spiral of moral outrage, fear and divisiveness.

P.S. Gender Queer is a “#1 Best Seller” right now on Amazon. Go figure.

Andy Brack is publisher of Charleston City Paper. Have a comment? Send to: feedback@charlestoncitypaper.com.