When liberal Houston — a city with a three-term lesbian mayor — overwhelming rejected an anti-discrimination ordinance for the transgendered (among others), a hysterical New York Times editorial accused voters of being transphobic hate mongers with blood on their hands.
There are, perhaps, some other possibilities.
For example, maybe a majority of voting Houstonians believed they could handle these social interactions without orders from the city council? Maybe, without any animus, they believe genetically corresponding girls and boys should use girls and boys restrooms? Maybe they find laws micromanaging the affairs and relationships of business owners intrusive?
I find myself in the last group. If you want to join a same-sex transgendered polyamorous relationship, mazel tov. Sounds intriguing. We can argue about what that means to society, but no one is going to stop you. That, however, isn’t enough. In contemporary politics, the Left is intent on commandeering your culture, too. They may coerce you to perform services in ceremonies against your faith, pick up the tab on abortions, or bequeath people who identify as the opposite gender state-guaranteed privileges in your private establishment. Or they may just try and shame you.
So this isn’t a culture war anymore. A culture war pits traditional values against modern worldviews. Kulturkampf refers to the struggle between nation states to break free from the influence of the Catholic Church in 19th century in an effort to expand liberalism. The tension between secularism and traditionalism is a useful one, but there is no church to break free from here; no ballot initiative targeting transgendered people.
We have enough space, technology, diversity and freedom to sustain an array of social views and lifestyles. Even though a majority of Americans live fundamentally traditional lives, most accept that other people do not — even if they disapprove. Other than a few voices on the fringe, no person advocates drumming gay or transgendered Americans from the workplace or society or to punish them for their lifestyle. (Though, the same can’t always be said in reverse.)
Yet, progressives are so wrapped up in the notion that social change can only be achieved through politics and regulation, that when they do lose a vote, they act like the social order is crumbling and the nation is careening towards a theocratic nightmare.
Boycott of Houston!
In a recent piece, “Liberals Are Losing the Culture Wars,” Molly Ball, a superb observer of American politics, argued that Tuesday’s election losses for liberals — many focusing on social issues like “anti-discrimination” laws, marijuana legalization, and so on — undermines the Democrats’ contention that conservatives are out of step with society’s inevitable progressive trajectory. I can’t help be skeptical about the conclusion.
The truth is 30 years ago — nay, 10 years ago — the idea of a ballot initiative forcing private businesses to make accommodations for people who self-identify as the opposite gender would have been far beyond the comprehension of even the most liberal Democrat. Today, 38 percent of voters in America’s fourth largest city believe it’s a good idea. And in giant metropolitan areas around the country, there are thriving communities that allow you to live nearly any lifestyle you want in peace.
There is no culture war. There’s not even any distinct unifying ideology that binds all “culture war” issues — pot legalization, abortion, gay marriage, etc. — together. Well, other than that progressive sensibilities happen to approve. In fact, as Ball argues, conservatives are surprisingly more flexible on this front:
Liberals love to point out the fractiousness of the GOP, whose dramatic fissures have racked the House of Representatives and tormented party leaders. But as Matt Yglesias recently pointed out, Republican divisions are actually signs of an ideologically flexible big-tent party, while Democrats are in lockstep around an agenda whose popularity they too often fail to question. Democrats want to believe Americans are on board with their vision of social change — but they might win more elections if they meet voters where they really are.
Even if we concede that liberals tend to lose elections that focus solely on social issues (the same probably goes for the GOP), and that Republicans are more philosophically flexible, the worst you can say about Tuesday’s development it that it points to a cultural stalemate — a state of affairs that is probably favored by more Americans than we might think.
The problem is that won’t do for the progressive Left. And with a bottomless well of grievances and yet-to-be-discovered civil rights, there’s no end in the fight for imaginary justice.
All of this is predicated on the idea that every person the Left approves of, no matter what kind of lifestyle they engage in, should feel entirely comfortable, loved, and accepted by everyone; everywhere they go, no matter what they do, never to hear an unflattering word from anyone. You can only try to achieve this utopia is by attacking, cajoling, and subduing other cultures to create philosophical uniformity.