Protecting the Fragile from the Cartoons of a Liberal Humanist

Joe Conason (with whom I have dined), essentially a Democratic Party operative, has entered the fray over Dr. Seuss in an essay at The National Memo. He admits what happened: “The Seuss estate, which oversees the 60 books and other properties he left to posterity, decided to pull a half-dozen of them because their content includes dated and offensive stereotypes.”

A cartoon from Dr. Seuss’ 1937 book And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street now $250 on Amazon (five star rating)

A lot of folks in my newsfeed deny anything happened. They characterize what Conason speaks about as merely books going out of print. Hey, it happens. Nobody wants to buy those books anyway. No, the book were pulled because images in them were presumed by left woke standards of political correctness to be dangerous to groups of people the establishment has defined en mass as fragile people.

Infantilizing minorities is rampant practice on the woke left. I swear to you, an example of transforming entire racial and ethnic groups into the collective victims of trauma just popped up on my email server. “The mission of BIPOC R.I.S.E. (Reaching Intersectional Strengths through Engagement) is to provide BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, Latinx, Asian, and multicultural students) with academic, emotional, psychosocial, relational and professional support. This is achieved through engagement with academic, peer, community and professional mentors who desire to be in long-term, ongoing relationships with BIPOC students.”

This language transforms BIPOC into trauma victims in need of counseling and mentoring. I presume it’s the professionals in the “white establishment” who are to be their counselors and mentors. But isn’t the “white establishment” also the perpetrator according to Critical Race Theory? Focus on the language here: “emotional,” “psychosocial,” “professional support.” Every person in the BIPOC categories is presumed to suffer from emotional and psychological trauma. The term “relational” conveys that there are relations, presumed to be broken, in need repair. The victims of those broken relations must certainly be protected from the careless unprophetic cartooning of a well-meaning but unreflecting Dr. Seuss. They’re too fragile. They’re too delicate.

Describing Theodore Geisel (Dr. Seuss was his pen name) as a “liberal humanist,” Conason, like his woke progressive brethren, seems unaware of what liberal and humanist mean with respect to freedom of ideas and the significance of history. At best, the feign it. “When you remember that his first book was published more than 80 years ago, that dissonance seems almost inevitable,” writes Conason. Like Mark Twain’s work? There’s dissonance there. Kids read Twain. “The estate’s decision, a sensible response to changing standards, was plainly designed to protect both the Seuss brand and the memory of Theodor Seuss Geisel as a liberal humanist.” Not to mention all the patients woke progresses are in charge of counseling, many of whom are actually doctors (of education and philosophy).

Conason predictably flips things Orwellingly: cancelling Dr. Seuss “is the opposite of ‘canceling’ Dr. Seuss,” adding, “anyone who wants to read the old titles can still find them.” Try finding a high-quality copy of Disney’s Song of the South (grab Dumbo and Peter Pan uncensored while you will still can).

What Conason and the “sensible response to changing standards” crowd are up to is biographical and historical revisionism. Conason finds Winston acting in the best interests of the proles of Airstrip One. The Ministry of Truth, having deemed they know such things, needs to send wrong thoughts down the memory hole for their own good. Seuss cannot be seen as a man of history really. There is no history except that which advances the power of the present for the sake of its future. Geisel’s work is scheduled for cleansing in light of contemporary standards proclaimed by those in power to be universal.

Marx and Engels suggested to their audience that when they hear the word “morality” they ought to think “bourgeois morality.” Woke leftism means to redefine standards according to the terms of current-day political correctness pitched as organically emergent but actually constructed by a particular point of view that holds liberalism humanism is low regard. Political correctness is in fact the work of the “radical left” that Conason means to deny, albeit I would hardly describe this left as “radical” (more like reactionary).

Conason can’t resist loving on Democrats: “The irony is that Dr. Seuss was himself a lifelong Democrat whose advocacy of liberal causes dated back to the New Deal, when he drew scores of blistering cartoons for the left-leaning daily New York newspaper PM, usually on the subject of Republican perfidy.” I can see irony, but I don’t think it is the irony Conason intends.

Or hating on Trump. Conason implies that Trump and his movement—“Trumpism,” he and his ilk fancy it—represent fascism and racism. Hence the reason to get “ism” and “ist” into the discourse. Geisel “despised Hitler, Mussolini, Charles Lindbergh, and the original ‘America First’ movement; he deplored racism and anti-Semitism; and he served patriotically in the war against fascism. He would have low regard for the Trumpists who are now misusing his good name.”

There may be racist and anti-Semites among those who voted for Trump, just as there are racists and anti-Semites among Democrats and progressives. But so-called Trumpism is neither racist nor anti-Semitic. It’s a patriotic populist-nationalist movement against the corporatism and globalism that is laying down the Newspeak and undermining the livelihoods of working class Americans.

Unlike Conason, I won’t presume to speak for Geisel, but if he would have had low regard for Trumpists for the reasons Conason suggests, then it would only mean that Geisel, like a lot of people, didn’t understand politics as well as he could or should have. I do, however, wonder whether Geisel would have been troubled by the insinuation that at least six of his works were racist and harmful to the fragile victims of woke progressivism.

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Andrew Austin

Andrew Austin is on the faculty of Democracy and Justice Studies and Sociology at the University of Wisconsin—Green Bay. He has published numerous articles, essays, and reviews in books, encyclopedia, journals, and newspapers.

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