Tag Archives: culture war

The Right Kind Of Culture War

When we come across references to “culture war,” most of us–whatever our political orientation– immediately think of issues raised by the political right. (I tend to envision the fundamentalist Christian Right.) However we picture the culture warriors, the battles being fought are almost always focused on so-called “family values” (women’s reproductive autonomy, homosexuality, etc.) and a “law and order patriotism” that is performative and superficial–a stubborn “my country right or wrong” approach. Plus, of course, a generous dollop of racism/White Supremacy.

Jennifer Rubin deconstructs those issues in a recent column for the Washington Post.

Republican cultural memes are galling. The GOP has made a national issue out of something that does not exist: teaching critical race theory in public schools. Republicans claim to be on the side of the police and the military, but members of the MAGA cohort have regularly scorned Capitol and D.C. police officers who defended them on Jan. 6, smeared the military as “woke,” and even called the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Mark A. Milley, a “pig” and “stupid.” Republicans claim to be “real” Americans but make traitors (e.g., Confederate generals, Ashli Babbitt) into martyrs.

But Rubin goes beyond a critique of these Rightwing tropes, arguing that a neglect to respond to Republican demagoguery and descent into anti-American authoritarianism equates to a failure to defend the ideal of multiracial democracy. She wants to see the rest of us move to reset and redefine America’s culture war.

Rubin wants Democrats, especially, to “flip the script”– to campaign on “democratic values,” and to point out that Republicans have become a party defending violent thugs and traitors.

Democrats defend the Constitution, which conservative “originalists” used to claim as their own, while Republicans support the man who sought to overturn the election (“just say the election was corrupt + leave the rest to me” he told the Justice Department, seeking pretext for his Jan. 6 gambit).

Her basic charge (which is accurate) is that Republicans who continue to echo Trump’s “big lie” or who voted not to certify election results, or who pretend that January 6th was not an insurrection, are  behaving in ways that are anti-American.

Whose side was my opponent on? Why wouldn’t he/she vote to investigate the worst domestic terrorist attack in decades? Republicans have never been shy about challenging Democrats’ patriotism, and here Democrats actually have grounds to call out Republicans for refusing to both defend the Constitution and respect the votes of their own constituents. Democrats should also challenge their opponents to pledge to accept election results even if they lose and denounce any threat of violence to overturn the will of voters.

In a paragraph that really resonated with me, Rubin also advocated for policies to shore up civic knowledge. She suggests the establishment of a “democracy corps” that would pay young people “to set up civics programs, teach media literacy, serve as poll workers and engage in other pro-democracy activities.” She urges Democrats running for state and local office to endorse mandates for civics instruction in grades K-12.  And she quite properly advises them to call out the racists and crackpots trying to get schoolteachers to stop teaching about the Ku Klux Klan and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

The bottom line–as Rubin obviously recognizes–is the danger in allowing the Right to define the terms of America’s culture wars. There’s an old saying among lawyers to the effect that “he who frames the issue wins the debate.” Those of us who reject the Right’s stance on its issues do so because we understand their positions to be contrary to what this country and its constitution are all about–in a word, we find the misogyny, racism, homophobia and the rest to be profoundly anti-American.

Rubin is absolutely right when she argues that we need to do more than just reject that anti-Americanism. We need to wage our own culture war on behalf of the democratic norms and equal civic status required by the  Americanism we embrace.

Those of us who recognize and accept the American Idea need to enlist–it’s a war worth fighting.

Today’s GOP Even Frightens David Brooks

David Brooks frustrates me. Sometimes, I disagree strongly with his “take” on the American condition (usually offered from what seems a self-consciously “elevated” vantage point), but sometimes, he hits the nail squarely on the head. I continue to read his columns in the New York Times for those latter instances, of which last Friday’s was one.

Titled “The GOP is Getting Even Worse,” Brooks commented on the cultural hysteria that has clearly gripped the Republicans’ (declining) base.

There are increasing signs that the Trumpian base is radicalizing. My Republican friends report vicious divisions in their churches and families. Republican politicians who don’t toe the Trump line are speaking of death threats and menacing verbal attacks.

It’s as if the Trump base felt some security when their man was at the top, and that’s now gone. Maybe Trump was the restraining force.

What’s happening can only be called a venomous panic attack. Since the election, large swathes of the Trumpian right have decided America is facing a crisis like never before and they are the small army of warriors fighting with Alamo-level desperation to ensure the survival of the country as they conceive it.

Survey research provides support for that observation. Brooks points to a poll taken in late January, in which respondents were asked whether politics is more about “enacting good public policy” or more about “ensuring the survival of the country as we know it. ” Fifty-one percent of Trump Republicans said survival; a mere 19 percent chose policy.

Another poll asked Americans which of two statements came closest to their view: “It’s a big, beautiful world, mostly full of good people, and we must find a way to embrace each other and not allow ourselves to become isolated” or “Our lives are threatened by terrorists, criminals and illegal immigrants, and our priority should be to protect ourselves.”

Those who read this blog can guess what’s coming: More than 75 percent of Biden voters chose “a big, beautiful world.” Two-thirds of Trump voters chose “our lives are threatened.”

Brooks is absolutely right when he writes that

Liberal democracy is based on a level of optimism, faith and a sense of security. It’s based on confidence in the humanistic project: that through conversation and encounter, we can deeply know each other across differences; that most people are seeking the good with different opinions about how to get there; that society is not a zero-sum war, but a conversation and a negotiation.

He is also right when he observes that the Republican response to Biden and his agenda has largely been anemic “because the base doesn’t care about mere legislation, just their own cultural standing.”

For years, the refrain from what Americans call “the Left” (and what is globally considered pretty middle-of-the-road) has been “why do so many people vote against their own best interests?” That question, however, rests on a faulty premise. Moderate and leftwing folks define “best interests” in largely economic terms. Voters would be “better off” financially or more likely to find employment if they voted differently. But today’s Republicans see their “best interests” in cultural and racial terms, not economic promises.

The overwhelmingly White Christian supporters of today’s GOP see a demographic shift that will eventually rob them of what is clearly most important to them–far more important than a good job or a fairer tax system or the rate of inflation. Their “interest” is in continued cultural and racial dominance–and as the research shows, many of them are willing to engage in violence, a la January 6th, to protect that dominance.

It’s scary.

Playing The Culture-War Card

In 2004, when John Kerry was running against George W. Bush, my youngest son was a Kerry volunteer. On Election Day, he worked at polls in Ohio, having (quite reasonably) concluded that Indiana was a lost cause. I still remember his description of the turnout in the precinct to which he’d been assigned; the culture war that year had targeted LGBTQ folks, and Mitch McConnell’s GOP had made support for a constitutional amendment prohibiting same-sex marriage a major Republican talking point.

My son said a number of voters came to the polls “dripping animus” and eager to “vote against the gays.”

Now, I have no idea where that polling place was, or how representative those voters were, but post-election analyses did suggest that anti-gay bigotry had driven increases in GOP turnout.

I thought about that election when I read a New York Times report to the effect that McConnell is going back to the culture war well in 2020

Senator Mitch McConnell is about to plunge the Senate into the nation’s culture wars with votes on bills to sharply restrict access to late-term abortions and threaten some doctors who perform them with criminal penalties, signaling that Republicans plan to make curbing a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy a central theme of their re-election campaigns this year.

After months of shunning legislative activity in favor of confirming President Trump’s judicial nominees — and a brief detour for the president’s impeachment trial — Mr. McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the majority leader, is expected to bring the bills up for votes on Tuesday. Both lack the necessary 60-vote supermajority to advance, and the Senate has voted previously to reject them.

But by putting them on the floor again, Mr. McConnell hopes to energize the social conservatives who helped elect Mr. Trump and whose enthusiasm will be needed to help Republicans hold on to the Senate this year, while forcing vulnerable Democrats to take uncomfortable votes on bills that frame abortion as infanticide. The rhetoric around the measures is hot; Mr. Trump, for instance, has pointed to one of the bills to falsely assert that Democrats favor “executing babies AFTER birth.”

The bills are–surprise!–deeply dishonest. But the content is irrelevant–McConnell isn’t trying to pass them. He’s playing the political game that has characterized his entire career–a game in which “winning” has nothing to do with responsible governance or the common good, but is solely about gaining and retaining political power.

There are good reasons for dubbing McConnell “the most evil man in America”–or, as one magazine headline put it “The Man Who Broke America.”

Since the 2018 midterms, the House has passed hundreds of bills–many of them bipartisan–addressing climate change, voting rights, background checks, paycheck fairness, the minimum wage and numerous other issues that affect American citizens. McConnell has refused to even hear any of them. In fact, he has not allowed any Senate legislative activity other than hearings on Trump’s right-wing (and frequently incompetent) judicial nominees.

Some of those House bills would pass; others wouldn’t. Some may be well-thought-out, others may not be. The only way that citizens can evaluate their merits is if the Senate conducts reasoned debates leading to those determinations.

McConnell doesn’t care. His decision to hold hearings on bills that everyone knows won’t pass–and would do nothing to improve the lives of Americans if they did–is intended only as political theater that he believes will generate passion among the culture warriors and thus increase turnout by the far fringes of his increasingly toxic party.

It’s shameless, morally depraved, and entirely typical.

As much as I want to see Donald Trump perp-walked out of the White House, his manifest stupidity and incompetence makes him less dangerous than Mitch McConnell, who is, unfortunately, very smart.

And more despicable than words can convey.

 

 

Thank God It’s A Short Session…..

Yesterday, I posted about one of the more odious bills being considered by Indiana’s legislature.

It’s just one example of why I always get an uneasy feeling when Indiana’s General Assembly is in session. Indiana’s legislators are an unpredictable mix; there are some thoughtful people who can genuinely be characterized as public servants, and then there are the others–religious zealots, wheeler-dealers, and a collection of rabid partisans for whom politics is a sport and their only loyalty is to their team.

This year, the legislature meets for its 60-day short session. (In Indiana, regular and short sessions alternate.) The fact that time to consider bills is limited, however, doesn’t prevent our culture warriors from introducing divisive and/or ridiculous proposals, which is one reason why Harrison Ullmann, the now-deceased editor of NUVO, our local alternative paper, always referred to Indiana’s General Assembly as “the World’s Worst Legislature.”

It isn’t just Rep. Soliday’s proposed gift to coal companies. A week or so ago, I posted about a bill authored by one Representative Curt Nisly–in addition to prohibiting all abortions, the bill presumed to forbid the courts to declare the measure unconstitutional or the executive branch to enforce any such court decisions if made. While I grant that the degree of constitutional ignorance displayed by that measure puts Nisly in a class of his own, plenty of other bills  demonstrate the often bizarre, corrupt and/or inhumane priorities of too many Indiana lawmakers.

In the “bizarre” category, the Northwest Indiana Times reports, tongue firmly in cheek:

The Indiana House is poised to vote Tuesday on what may be the most significant piece of pro-worker legislation since Republicans took majority control of the chamber in 2011.

It’s not an increase in the state’s $7.25 per hour minimum wage, unchanged since 2009. It’s not a requirement that businesses provide employees with their work schedules a week in advance. And it certainly won’t make it easier for workers to organize into unions and collectively bargain for wages and benefits.

Instead, House Bill 1143 would expressly prohibit an employer from requiring an employee, or a job candidate, to have an identification or tracking device implanted in their body as a condition of employment.

According to the Legislative Services Agency, there are currently no employers in the U.S. requiring such implantation. But hey–it might happen. You never know…

The ACLU of Indiana has a list of pending bills that threaten civil liberties, including one that Doug Masson analyzes at Masson’s Blog prohibiting persons born biologically male from competing in school sports contests against females. As he concludes:

As far as I can tell, this legislation isn’t so much an effort to address a real problem as it is simply a vehicle for expressing unhappiness that society is increasingly recognizing that gender identity is not perfectly correlated with biological sex.

Indiana’s lawmakers tend to be fixated on issues around sex and sexuality. Case in point is a measure that definitely belongs in the “inhumane” category: Indiana Senate Bill 300. This effort to allow discrimination in the service of (certain people’s) religion would allow mental health professionals to turn away clients seeking emergency services for suicide prevention and emergency interventions, “on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, those who have received reproductive services, those who are divorced, etc.”

Ironically titled “Conscience protection for mental health providers” the measure would prohibit a hospital or other employer from discriminating against or disciplining such a professional because of the “sincerely held ethical, moral, or religious belief” that impelled that “professional” (note quotation marks) to withhold emergency assistance to desperate people of whom he or she “sincerely” disapproves.

Indiana’s public schools are underfunded. Our teachers are underpaid. Indiana’s infrastructure is crumbling. Hoosiers are embarrassingly unhealthy. The opiod epidemic has been brutal here. I could go on and on.

But thanks primarily to gerrymandering, those issues get short shrift. The bills referenced above are a very small sample of the damaging nonsense that our legislators prefer to address, and that we Hoosiers have come to expect.

At least it’s a short session….

When Politics Becomes A Culture War

I have my favorites among the columnists who write for The New York Times and The Washington Post, and I’ll admit that Tom Friedman has never been one of them. It isn’t that I disagree with him any more frequently than I disagree with others; he simply tends to address issues with which I’m less engaged, and to do so in a hectoring manner I find annoying.

I do think, however, that he hit this one “out of the park” as the saying goes.

The column was titled “A President With No Shame and a Party With No Guts,” which gives you a pretty good hint about the subject matter.

If your puppy makes a mess on your carpet and you shout “Bad dog,” there is a good chance that that puppy’s ears will droop, his head will bow and he may even whimper. In other words, even a puppy acts ashamed when caught misbehaving. That is not true of Donald Trump. Day in and day out, he proves to us that he has no shame. We’ve never had a president with no shame — and it’s become a huge source of power for him and trouble for us.

And what makes Trump even more powerful and problematic is that this president with no shame is combined with a party with no spine and a major network with no integrity — save for a few real journalists at Fox News like the outstanding Chris Wallace.

When a president with no shame is backed by a party with no spine and a network with no integrity, you have two big problems.

Those three paragraphs go a long way toward summing up where Americans find ourselves these days. But the observation that really struck me was this one:

The G.O.P. has lost its way because it has been selling itself for years to whoever could keep it in power, and that is now Trump and his base. And Trump’s base actually hates the people who hate Trump — i.e., liberals who they think look down on members of the base — more than it cares about Trump. This is about culture, not politics, and culture doesn’t change with the news cycle. And neither do business models — and Fox News’s business model is to feed, and feed off of, that culture war by allowing many of its commentators to be Trump’s parrots and bullhorns.

This, it seems to me, is the real problem, and it may be intractable.

Ever since the stunning result of the 2016 Presidential election, I have tried–and miserably failed–to understand how any sentient being could have voted for Donald Trump, a man so obviously unfit for office (not to mention polite society) that people who knew anything at all about government and/or business considered his candidacy a joke.

This is a man who makes polite people cringe and kind people recoil. If someone like Trump tried to strike up a conversation at a bar, most of us would change seats. He’s like the ignorant, self-absorbed uncle you don’t invite for Thanksgiving, because you don’t want your children to think his “all about me” behavior is acceptable.

I understand that hatred for Hillary Clinton (nurtured by misogynists for years) may have motivated some voters to cast that vote–but how do you explain the 30% of Americans who still support him? Fox News can spin–or ignore–the news, but you would expect anyone reading his misspelled tweets or listening to his delusional “word salad” speeches to be appalled.

I think Friedman answers that question when he writes that “Trump’s base actually hates the people who hate Trump — i.e., liberals who they think look down on members of the base — more than it cares about Trump. This is about culture, not politics.”

If he is correct–if Trump’s support comes from people who hold deep animus toward those they dismiss as “elitist” and “cosmopolitan” and who are more interested in “sticking it” to people they believe fall into those groups than in good or even adequate government– they aren’t going to change. They aren’t going to wake up one morning and say “gee, maybe sticking it to those snobs isn’t worth doing irreparable damage to the country and the planet.” They are lost to reason.

If Friedman is right–if this is culture war– efforts to right the ship of state need to be focused on the 49% of eligible voters who didn’t bother to cast a ballot in 2016.  I can only hope that Trump has been their wake-up call.