'Dad, what is an Originalist?' - The New York Times

Children’s bookstores are full of titles celebrating Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the late Supreme Court Justice. Why not Amy Coney Barrett? I...


Children’s bookstores are full of titles celebrating Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the late Supreme Court Justice. Why not Amy Coney Barrett?

It’s a question that bothers Bethany Mandel, the publisher of a new series of children’s books aimed at conservative families. The series, titled “Heroes of Liberty,” features a roster of right-wing luminaries that so far includes Alexander Hamilton, Ronald Reagan, Thomas Sowell, John Wayne and, indeed, Judge Barrett. Margaret Thatcher will be next.

On Twitter and in her opinion columns, Mandel is a conservative brandon and fierce critic of what she sees as liberal policies such as mask mandates for children. But the books, she insists, are not ideological.

“For me, it’s, ‘Who do I want my kids to read about? ‘” Mandel said in an interview.

The books are the latest sign of how America Red and America Blue are becoming separate cultural ecosystems. TV channels at Coffee, chicken sandwiches at automobilesAmericans increasingly want the products they buy, the clothes they wear, and the media they consume to be imbued with their political preferences and values.

Growing up, Mandel said, “I hated American history.” As a child, she was more likely to read “The Chronicles of Narnia” or “The Baby-Sitters Club” series than the biographies of, say, Winston Churchill.

Now, she says, there are too many left-leaning titles flooding the shelves, and too few options for parents like her, who prefer their children to learn “the values ​​that made America great.” .

The new series arrives in the midst of a conservative backlash against books focusing on race and sexual or gender identity playing out across the country and in political campaigns. Republicans say these books are invade public schools and libraries without their consent. And while Democrats often point to work they find problematic, liberals slam what they see as a retrograde effort by right-wing groups to censor viewpoints conservatives don’t like.

Republicans in Congress rallied around a “Parents’ Bill of Rights” it would give parents a federal right “to know what their minor child is learning in school, including but not limited to curricula, books, and other educational materials.”

And while it remains to be seen whether this agenda captures the imagination of voters nationwide, the timing of the new series seems to correspond with a time when many on the right are unhappy with what they see as hegemony. culture of the left.

Mandel, a convert to Orthodox Judaism who is homeschooling her five children, said she was disturbed when one of her children came across “The Breakaways,” a graphic novel about a college football team that includes a character who undergoes a gender transition.

“It freaked me out a bit,” she said. “I no longer feel like I can go to the library and ask my kids to choose a book.”

It’s not that Mandel has a problem with LGBTQ identities, she insisted. It’s that she wants to discuss human sexuality with her children on her own terms – and thinks there are millions of other parents who feel the same way.

“I don’t want other people dictating these conversations and how they happen,” she said. “You want this to happen on your knees.”

Books are not always subtle. Sometimes they may look like an essay by a Heritage Foundation researcher.

“Ronald Reagan believed in God, family and patriotism,” reads the final passage of Reagan’s book. “And he thought America would stay strong as long as his government avoided the mistakes of communism. He should never try to do for people what they should do for themselves. Nor should he run their lives for them.

Barrett’s book, Mandel said, was primarily intended to celebrate the idea that a woman could have seven children and rise to the top of her profession, without it reading like conservative propaganda.

This is not an easy feat to achieve. One passage seeks to explain Barrett’s connection to Antonin Scalia, the arch-conservative Supreme Court justice known for his strict interpretation of the Constitution.

“Amy was very fond of Judge Scalia,” the book reads. “She loved his big rolling laugh and his sense of humor. She also admired him because she too was an originalist.

The messy realities of the characters’ lives can also sometimes pose a challenge for a series aimed at parents who don’t want to have to “pre-read” books before buying them.

How, for example, to manage Hamilton’s birth out of wedlock? “It was really tricky,” Mandel said. “There was a lot of debate about it and we ultimately decided not to touch it.”

Some of his ideas have yet to be approved by the publishing committee, which includes Yoni Greenwald, a Miami businessman, and Rotem Sella, an Israeli publisher. Anne Frank, Brigham Young and Mother Teresa are among Mandel’s potential future subjects.

“They’re all on the table and the possibilities,” she said.

It was also difficult at first, she said, to find illustrators willing to risk possible “cancellation” by their liberal peers. “You can’t give the crowd an inch,” Mandel said.

Would she make a children’s book about Trump?

She gave a quick answer: No.

It turns out that Mandel is a big fan of a popular series of children’s books by Brad Meltzer, a novelist whose first hit was a thriller about Supreme Court clerks. They compared notes on Twitter. And while their projects are drastically different, their origin stories are surprisingly similar.

In an interview, Meltzer said he was inspired to create the “Ordinary People Change the World” series, because he was tired of his own kids “watching reality TV stars and thinking, ‘ He’s a “hero.”

His children’s books are apolitical and are built around the themes or values ​​that each subject represents. He chooses widely admired personalities from history: Amelia Earhart, Abraham Lincoln, Neil Armstrong, Rosa Parks.

“Heroes are mirrors,” Meltzer said. “You show me your hero and I’ll show you who you are.”

  • Shane Goldmacher analyzes Trump recent comments on the 2020 electionwriting that the remarks “removed any pretense that the events of January 6, 2021 were anything but the culmination of the former president’s determined drive to retain power.”

  • Republicans debate how hard they should stand up to President Biden’s next Supreme Court nominee, Carl Hulse writesaware that they have little power to prevent his choice from winning the approval of the Democratic-controlled Senate.

  • President Biden has promised to mail 500 million coronavirus tests to Americans before the federal government secures them, according to news reports. reporting by Noah Weiland, Katie Thomas and Jessica Silver-Greenberg.

IN THE MOMENT

The retirement of Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer has sparked a flurry of reports about who President Biden might choose to replace him.

At the top of the list of potential candidates is Ketanji Brown Jacksona former Breyer clerk who is now a judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit.

Our colleague Elizabeth Williamsonthe author of the forthcoming book”Sandy Hook: An American Tragedy and the Battle for Truthreminds us that Jackson was the federal judge who condemned the so-called Pizzagate shooter in 2017 to four years in prison.

For those who don’t remember the case: Edgar Maddison Welch, then a 29-year-old man from North Carolina, smuggled an assault rifle into a popular pizzeria in northwest Washington, DC, and l shot at a locked door. He had spent time on Internet forums populated by conspiracy theorists and was convinced that the restaurant, Comet Ping Pong, harbored and abused children in a secret dungeon.

Welch’s incursion terrorized restaurant patrons and “literally left a psychological wreck,” said Jackson, who was then a district court judge in Washington, DC. His remarks from the bench became a telling exposition of his view of the role of the criminal justice system.

Sentencing Welch that day, the judge said she was bewildered that anyone would take such violent action “based on an internet rumour.” But her rebuke to Welch was tempered with compassion for a deceived man who she was convinced genuinely believed was saving children, Williamson writes.

“I believe you thought you were helping to do the right thing,” Jackson told her, according to a transcript. “You weren’t a thief who broke into the restaurant looking for money or trying to please yourself personally. I know it and I took it into account.

“But the problem is, in our society, no matter how well intentioned, people are not allowed to take matters into their own hands. Acting violently even for good causes is not acceptable,” she said. declared.

In condemning Welch, Jackson expressed his intent to deter copycat violence in statements that, in retrospect, read as prescient.

“The fear now is that while no one has been physically harmed in this case, others concerned about other issues will take up arms with the intention of sacrificing lives to achieve what they believe. be a fair result.

“This type of justice system is totally incompatible with our constitutional system and our rule of law,” she told Welch, adding, “Your assault was an attack on the rule of law and not just on people. of the restaurant and this community.

“And what that means for this Court is that it must impose a sentence that deters similar potential future conduct. That risk is now significant.

Is there anything you think we’re missing? Something you want to see more? We would love to hear from you. Email us at onpolitics@nytimes.com.

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