Unable to cope with 70 years of progress, Republicans want to return Arizona to the 1950s

January 31, 2022 10:07 am

Promotional portrait of the cast of the television series, ‘Father Knows Best’. Clockwise from lower left: Billy Gray, Elinor Donahue, Robert Young, Jane Wyatt and Lauren Chapin. Photo by Screen Gems | Getty Images

Arizona Republicans are wistful for days gone past, and they’re determined to do everything they can to catapult the state backwards in pursuit of winding back the clock.

All the way back to the 1950s.


“We need to get back to 1958-style voting,” said Rep. John Fillmore, a Republican from Apache Junction.

He was speaking about blowing Arizona’s election laws back to the figurative Stone Age by barring the use of high-speed ballot tabulators to tally votes in favor of hand-counting millions of ballots — and the thousands of races they contain — every election.

But it’s the perfect distillation of the Republican agenda in 2022: We need to get back to 1958-style everything. Or at least the nostalgia-drenched version of the 1950s embodied in popular culture by “Father Knows Best” and “Leave it to Beaver.”

A time that was great for white Protestant men, when they weren’t threatened by societal advancements like civil rights and tolerance and compassion and understanding. A time when they could have what they wanted, simply because they wanted it.

And that came at the expense of others who were denied their dreams, denied the basic tenets of America — life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness — denied their very humanity. For those marginalized groups — people of color, LGBTQ, gender nonconforming and immigrants, to name a few — the 1950s weren’t anything to celebrate.

Arizona Republicans are so unable to cope with 70 or so years of social progress that they are looking for inventively demented ways to hurl us back to the halcyon days of the mid-20th Century.

– Jim Small

Yet here we sit, with Arizona Republicans so unable to cope with 70 or so years of social progress that they are looking for inventively demented ways to hurl us back to the halcyon days of the mid-20th Century. 

Take, for instance, the bill that would force every public school teacher to snitch on kids who confided in them. If you’ve ever met a teacher, you’ve met someone who is a safe harbor for a student — likely many students. A person who can be trusted. An authority figure who will hear them and who won’t judge them.

Kids tell their teachers all kinds of things they don’t want to tell their parents. And this bill is designed with one clear purpose in mind: to punish teachers if they don’t out gay and transgender students to their parents. The 2022 understanding of sex and gender will be replaced with the 1950s cruelty and erasure, shoving these kids — and their parents’ discomfort — back into the closet.

Then there are the measures that outlaw medically sound and compassionate care to comfort trans youth — the most pernicious of which would jail doctors for nearly two decades —  ensuring that children suffering from gender dysphoria are forced into a puberty that is utter agony. Everything we’ve learned about how gender-affirming care dramatically reduces suicides in trans children and teenagers would be tossed aside because of backwards religious beliefs rooted in Bronze Age morality. 

And, of course, what would a return to the 1950s be without some proposals that would make Joe McCarthy smile: banning books. So, gone would be all of the books that mention sex in any fashion much beyond “it exists,” which would apply to everything from actual sex education to “The Great Gatsby.” And because the 1950s mindset doesn’t include room for LGBTQ people, their mere existence would be deemed “sexually explicit,” and thus not fit for recognition or mention in Arizona schools.

Of course, if there’s one delicious irony in the confirmation that “Make America Great Again” is really just an attempt to “Make America the 1950s Again,” it’s that the fabled decade was when Americans eargerly embraced a true medical miracle: the polio vaccine, which caused cases to plummet from 58,000 in 1952 to 5,600 in 1957 to just 161 in 1961.

If only today’s Republicans were willing to channel that 1950s embrace of American ingenuity to deal with our ongoing pandemic instead of looking only to import the decade’s repression and cruelty.


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Jim Small
Jim Small

Jim Small is a native Arizonan and has covered state government, policy and politics since 2004, with a focus on investigative and in-depth policy reporting, first as a reporter for the Arizona Capitol Times, then as editor of the paper and its prestigious sister publications. He has also served as the editor and executive director of the Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting.