Only the left can turn down the heat in the culture war, because it is the left that has cultural power in America. Our cultural institutions, from higher education to legacy media to the entertainment industry to the tech industry, are run by people whose politics range from left-liberal to socialist. Even sports, business, and finance are increasingly left-wing, especially on cultural issues—Black Lives Matter is brought to you by Wall Street and Big Business waving a rainbow flag on ESPN.
Leftists are the culture war aggressors. This is part of their self-image, in which they are fighting for liberation from the oppressive strictures of traditional society. Thus, they are always discovering new limits to overturn. This is why in a few years we went from debating same-sex marriage to shutting down dissent over transgender children, and from legislatures rethinking the prominence of Confederate monuments to mobs tearing down statues of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and even Abraham Lincoln.
To be a conservative in the culture war is thus to fight the long defeat, punctuated by the occasional grueling effort at a counterattack. In contrast, the left can de-escalate the culture war whenever it wants. Either the radicals could chill out a bit, or the moderates could stand up to them.
What we see, however, is radicalism intensifying across institutions and the moderates caving. The same dynamic has played out politically. Joe Biden has moved left on everything from abortion to crime, and he won’t even renounce the court-packing schemes being pushed by the activist base of his party.
They don’t want tolerance, they want dominance. Once in power, they require the rest of us to affirm their orthodoxies (e.g., a woman can have a penis). The menace of the left holding unified cultural and political power is therefore a large part of why conservatives are willing to support President Trump, despite his sins.
The political party that won’t stop harassing the literal Little Sisters of the Poor should not wonder at religious conservatives refusing to hand the presidency to them. Democrats are eager to unleash government against Christian institutions, from charities to hospitals to schools, and they have delighted in using lockdowns to treat us as second-class citizens—such as by privileging slot machines over the sacraments.
It is not just conservative Christians the left threatens. New York politicians who praised and participated in enormous Black Lives Matter protests have targeted much smaller Jewish gatherings. Nor is it only the religious who are threatened by the left’s cultural aggression: when radical feminist lesbians are teaming up with the Heritage Foundation, the cultural revolution has gone very far indeed. No one is safe, because the left’s cultural radicalism is always discovering new forms of oppression to overthrow — today’s ally might be denounced tomorrow.
Thus, the list of offenses against woke ideology is ever-expanding. For example, a professor at Ohio State University was recently forced to abase himself for writing that college football might be good for the country right now. College football, he was informed, is racist, so he promptly groveled and repented of his sins.
This struggle session cannot be dismissed as another wacky tale of higher ed gone mad, because we know that what conquers the campus today will be coming for the world tomorrow. Even here, the apologizing academic was not some poor adjunct at a minor liberal arts college, but a chaired professor at a major Midwestern state school.
Dragging a professor for saying it might be good for the nation to be able to watch some college football is not a movement for social justice. It is a group of witch-hunters desperate to find a witch because the rituals of denunciation and punishment give them a sense of meaning in life.
If it is a truism that the current cultural radicalism is more akin to a religious revival than a political movement, that is because it is true. This ideology is not about policy, but it arises as an incoherent response to the givenness of existence and the sinfulness of the human race.
We are born into a world that is unjust and unfair, and that often does not give us what we want (if we even know what we want). Today’s cultural radicals have been deprived of the cultural and spiritual resources to cope with this and to order their lives well amidst this fallen world.
This is why each of the left’s culture war victories is followed by a new offensive. No matter what political or cultural triumphs they attain, there is always cause for more dissatisfaction.
The institutions they control, from education to entertainment to the Democratic Party, become vehicles for permanent cultural revolution, and no compromises or concessions will satisfy them. For example, left-wing activists are demanding court-packing only a few months after Justices John Roberts (twice) and Neil Gorsuch (once) joined with the court’s Democrat-appointed judges to give them huge culture war wins in the Bostock and June Medical cases.
This shows the foolishness of the proposal, suggested by self-flagellating conservatives such as David French, that Republicans pass up the chance to fill a Supreme Court vacancy. The idea that some grand self-sacrificial gesture will heal the culture-war breach is deluded. It is politics as the third act of a romantic comedy.
In reality, conservatives cannot de-escalate, let alone end, the culture war. Even abject surrender would not buy us mercy; we would not be left alone to live in peace. So, until the left is willing to back off, we have no choice but to continue to fight.