The more obvious it becomes that our domestic political struggles are actually part of a much larger spiritual war over the fate of western civilization, that we are today engaged not so much in a political fight as a religious battle between good and evil, the stronger the urge seems to be among Republican politicians to deny this reality and take refuge in the comforting political narratives of the past.
A perfect case in point was a tweet last week from Kari Lake’s permanent campaign, which managed in one fell swoop to channel the deeply misguided political analysis of the entire neocon Washington establishment: “No one is saying not to fight the culture war. But it’s simply not the most critical issue heading into 2024.”
“The GOP must show the country how it plans to turn the economy around & prevent World War 3,” she added. “We need to take this country back from @JoeBiden before we can take our culture back from his friends.”
Ah, yes. The comforting fiction that if we can just show voters how we plan to turn the economy around, surely then we’ll regain power, surely then we’ll have a mandate from the people — and then (and only then) we can “take our culture back.”
With apologies to Lake, who before the midterms seemed to have a bright political future in the emerging populist GOP, this is absolute nonsense. On the one hand, it’s a desperate cope, the embodiment of the stale, low-energy politics that have kept conservatives out of power in Washington for most of the last three decades. On the other, it’s a textbook neocon talking point, pretending the culture war is a distraction when in fact it’s the only war whose outcome really will decide the fate of our country.
Ironically, it’s also an example of the kind of politics that Lake herself purported to defy. She made a name for herself during the midterm cycle by taking on the political establishment and attacking the corporate media’s false narratives about 2020 and much else. Lake isn’t the politician you’d think would fall into this trap, yet she did. Why?
The best explanation has nothing to do with Lake in particular but with the tendency of all politicians to want to explain the problems we face and offer practical solutions. The economy is bad, here’s how we fix it. The cities are filled with dangerous lunatics, here’s how we make our streets safe again. The border is overrun with illegal immigration, here’s how we crack down and secure it.
Republicans are more naturally susceptible to this way of thinking because, unlike Democrats, they tend to be less rabidly ideological and less committed to fundamentally altering America and bringing about political and social revolution. But this way of thinking — that our most pressing problems just need common-sense policy fixes that normal people support! — is woefully inadequate for our current moment.
Put simply, the big mistake in thinking the culture war isn’t the most critical issue heading into 2024 is that all of American politics is now one big culture war. The culture war is the only issue because the cultural war is everything now. When one side stakes its claim to political power on offering abortion up until birth and transgender operations for 8-year-olds, and holds out these policies as proof of its moral authority, we’re way past arguing over how to get the economy back on track. There’s no going back to that kind of politics.
Tucker Carlson hit on this at the end of his big speech at Heritage recently. He compared the values of the political left to the values of the Aztecs, who sacrificed children to their bloodthirsty gods — and he wasn’t wrong. Our politics, he argued, have shifted profoundly in a relatively short period of time. Instead of arguing over the best means to bring about an agreed-upon common good, we no longer agree about what the common good is. Forget about whether Republicans or Democrats are right about the ideal marginal tax rate. We can’t even agree on whether men and women exist as meaningful categories. And if we don’t get that question right, you can forget about economic prosperity, much less anything like a republic or a constitutional system of government.
What the neocons and establishment politicians don’t seem to understand is that the culture war has become a grinding war of attrition that will end with the complete destruction of one side. There is no way to reconcile the vision of the common good espoused by the transgender movement, on the one hand, and orthodox Christians, on the other.
The culture war in America is not some luxury good that Republican politicians can sample now and then. It has consumed our politics by revealing deep, uncrossable chasms in our national life. So we now find ourselves in a different kind of struggle. Call it a culture war, a religious war, a battle between good and evil, or all of the above. It’s a war for survival between two competing and irreconcilable visions of what America should be.
Any politician on the right that doesn’t understand that, who thinks we just need to show voters our plan for getting the economy back on track, needs to step aside and make room for leaders who know what time it is, that the hour is late, the day now far spent, and the time for fighting has come. The culture war is now the big tent. Those who embrace it, who delve into the fray without apology, will be the next crop of leaders on both the right and the left.
Keep this in mind as we march toward the 2024 election cycle. The cast of buffoons and egomaniacs on the Republican side will feature mostly candidates who don’t understand or don’t want to admit what’s happening. They will say things like, “No one is saying not to fight the culture war. But it’s simply not the most critical issue heading into 2024.” And when they say that, they’ll be doing you a favor. You can then safely ignore whatever else they say because you’ll know at that point they’re either a fool or a coward, and all they have to offer is defeat.