We’re spiking the football because it’s long past time for the political establishment to pay attention. Culture is a kitchen table issue, just as much as health care bills and taxes, despite years of smug assurances otherwise from consultants and pundits. We were right and they were wrong. They are not good at this, and their incompetence is hurting the cause of conservatism and, more importantly, the country.
In the wake of Glenn Youngkin’s blue-state culture war upset, CNN panelists pondered their echo chamber. Sen. Joe Manchin tried to pump the brakes on President Joe Biden’s massive social spending plan. James Carville unloaded. Others doubled down on the false and toxic narrative that dissenters from the left’s cultural dogma are motivated by bigotry.
While radical illiberalism crept from academia to the so-called real world, the establishment assured us it was a non-issue. Republicans boasted of their brilliant strategy to moderate on social issues, a theory that earned them Twitter follows from Very Serious People and airtime on cable news.
It was all wrong. All of it. The culture war is not only a moral battleground for conservatives, it’s a politically advantageous one. It animates voters. People care, not because they’re racist or unsophisticated, but because an unhealthy culture affects their everyday lives just as immediately as a higher tax bill. It’s not a distraction from “the issues,” it underlies all of them.
The culture war is here and has always been here because it’s the pivot point that determines what the nation has been and will become. The other side has understood it from day one, and has been cleaning up on it in a leftist blitzkrieg that has gone on for generations.
The years since have seen an explosion of controversy over political correctness, with battles over safe spaces, speech codes, and the assertion of privilege spreading from academia into the broader culture.
“[S]ince 2012, the nation has changed,” Ben wrote in early 2016. “[Mitt] Romney ran the last campaign of the pre-gay marriage era. The years since have seen an explosion of controversy over political correctness, with battles over safe spaces, speech codes, and the assertion of privilege spreading from academia into the broader culture. The flashpoint in this new phase of the culture war is the issue of speech: what our culture and politics will allow you to say, and where you are allowed to say it.”
“Congratulations to the American left,” he concluded. “You asked to win the culture wars — and evangelicals are giving you Donald J. Trump.”
At the Texas Tribune Festival in 2018, Ben was the only voice on a skeptical panel insisting, “We have a radicalized culture war that is here now, it’s here tomorrow, it’s here forever as far as the eye can see, and it’s not going away,” echoing sentiments he expressed long before Trump entered politics.
Culture War forever.
— Ben Domenech (@bdomenech) May 10, 2012
In 2019, before George Floyd’s killing, Ben warned that “the left may be turning into the culture war white walkers.”
That same year, we both wrote that Big Tech censorship was a “kitchen table issue,” in the face of staunch disagreement from thinkers on the establishment right who dismissed concerned voters as a “rounding error.” Why? Because censorship, as Ben wrote long before, had become a key element of the left’s culture war. Here’s an excerpt from The Transom at the time:
If you want to know why, just consider this: Internet activists hear about people like Steven Crowder. What you don’t hear about is the local realtor who put a Trump sign in their lawn, and because of that, the neighborhood listserv and Nextdoor app filled up with people campaigning to nuke their Google mentions, respond to their Facebook page with constant harassment, and deface their ads in the neighborhood, calling them a white supremacist. That is not a major story. It is not even a minor story. But it is the sort of story that radicalizes a church, a community, a group of likeminded people … and then you start looking for politicians who take this issue on.
On the same subject, Emily explained in 2019 why it was significant that Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., was “waging war on both the regulatory and cultural fronts” when it came to Big Tech. When Hawley and a handful of other GOP candidates ran on culture war issues in 2018, she reported on the wisdom of their strategy, writing, “As populist sentiments against coastal elites run high among conservatives — bolstered by Trump’s strategic media baiting — [they] are casting themselves as the authentic representatives of their states, and their opponents as the pawns of wealthy outsiders.”
Earlier this year, Emily argued, “The political discourse is not a zero-sum game limited by time and space,” noting, “economic distress and the immediate destruction of free expression are not mutually exclusive.” Here’s an excerpt from that essay, which explained why normal people are animated by cancel culture.
What’s the point of freaking out over Dr. Seuss? Isn’t it just a culture war fomented by Beltway MAGA cynics and their Fox-guzzling fans? After all, most of his beloved books are still for sale. This is actually an instructive example, although I hardly expect the left to give their angle any pause.
To the vast bipartisan coalition of normal people annoyed by “cancel culture,” news of backlash against Dr. Seuss means norms have quickly shifted even more out of alignment with their fundamental values. It also makes people feel as though they’ve been implicated in gross moral wrongdoing. It creates anxiety that these rapid and unpredictable shifts will soon catch up with them or their loved ones, and that reading a simple children’s book could land them in hot water with enforcers of these new norms in their communities.
Suburban voters in key states largely don’t seem to like Trump’s style, but the culture war pushes them towards the GOP. Here’s my piece from yesterday on what that means for the future whether or not Trump wins. https://t.co/SuJC3N1YKm
— Emily Jashinsky (@emilyjashinsky) November 4, 2020
In a piece that could have been written after Youngkin’s win, Emily analyzed data on suburban voters collected in the run-up to the 2020 election, arguing the numbers showed Democrats would be “much less well-positioned in suburbia after Trump is out of office, forced to defend their radicalized agenda instead of merely opposing the president.”
“For them,” she added, “Trump-era victories could be one step forward and two steps back, as the president’s overpowering presence convinces suburbanites to vote Biden while also allowing Democrats to transform into a party that will look a lot less appealing when the lights come on.” That’s exactly what ended up happening in Virginia. (She wrote about this in the context of the 2020 RNC as well.)
Had a great time chatting with @esaagar and @makosloff about how the culture war shapes the realignment. What started as a conversation turned into a debate, and it was a fun one. Remember: I am never wrong. https://t.co/CjRvon1DUx
— Emily Jashinsky (@emilyjashinsky) August 25, 2020
We’ve covered this constantly in popular culture and news media too, highlighting how demand for heterodox alternatives to Hollywood and corporate media are empowering new platforms and revealing massive, widespread distaste for cultural leftism. (See our series on the New Contras.)
If Youngkin had lost, all of this would still be true. His narrow margin against a Democratic giant in a blue state, with the entire media aligned against him, would have been equally telling. It would not, however, have shaken any awareness out of the chattering class of the strategic avenue offered by the culture war focus.
It’s true that many of our so-called experts are now doubling down on their nonsensical narrative that everyone who voted for Youngkin is a racist. But establishment Democrats are starting to notice the conundrum they’ve created for themselves, and establishment Republicans are starting to notice they can lean into it. (Or “pounce,” as The New York Times put it.)
An apocryphal remark credited to Alexander the Great by Winston Churchill applies: The Right, at long last, has learned how important it is to vocalize, at the top of your lungs, over and over: No.
The culture war has for years been considered dirty by the same secular, socially liberal elites who were waging it. Stop listening to them, whether you’re on the left, center, or right. Their bad ideas are metastasizing in echo chambers, protected from debate. They are wrong, and their power is waning.
The left has understood the power of the culture war for half a century. They know its power and have deployed their forces accordingly. But something happened leading into Tuesday: The right figured it out too. It’s a bell that can’t be unrung.