The American Tradition of Waging Culture War

Waging culture war is an inescapable part of American history, as far back as the Civil War, arguably America’s first and by far bloodiest ‘culture war’ (I’m excluding the Revolutionary War, because America was still a part of Britain and most (but not all) colonists supported independence).The legacy of the Civil Rights Act, desegregation, integration (of the North and South), as well as immigration (such Catholics, Jews, and Chinese) and stark and long-standing cultural differences between the North and the South are contributing factors.

But America’s cherished yet obsolete institution of democracy is part of the problem. Democracy in America is like two shipwrecked passengers fighting over a dead body. The irony is that democracy was supposed to liberate Americans from tyranny, but instead rather it has lowered Americans’ trust in each other, than against a king. If all decisions were made by a committee/politburo/monarch/etc. rather than by elected representatives, there would be no politics and all of the divisiveness that goes with it. In order to get those invaluable votes needed to win, but more importantly, deny their opponents such votes, politicians must employ increasingly divisive rhetoric. The punditry and media also contribute to the problem by acting as surrogates or mouthpieces of their favored politicians and ideologies, so rather than just two politicians campaigning a few months at a time with a respite when the voting ends, there is an unending chorus of media outlets and pundits broadcasting non-stop what are effectively thinly-veiled political advertisements and endorsements. Forbes, Fortune, Huffington Post, New York Times, etc. all have a politically-motivated agenda. Both the high-IQ left and the high-IQ right can agree that democracy is contributing to political division–the very division that politicians themselves decry yet are unwitting accomplices of.

As bad as things may seem now, America has always been divided over cultural issues. Although these issues are a distant memory now, at the time, especially on talk radio and TV, they were very heated.

Trump in office may have fanned the flames to some degree, but the seeds were planted well in advance–things like campus protests, internet outrage culture, and BLM protests, etc. predate Trump by years. In 2009-2011, people were raging over Obamacare, gay marriage, and OWS. In 2004-2006, it was over the Iraq occupation, hurricane Katrina, and such. In 1996, it was over don’t ask don’t tell. In 1993-1994, it was over Hillarycare. In 1994-1995, it was the Newt Gingrich Republican revolution. In 1998-2000 it was over Monica Lewinsky and Ken Starr. In 2000 it was the Florida recount. In 2001, 911. In 2002-2003, Iraq War. The California recall in 2003, which elected Arnold Schwarzenegger, although it seems like ancient history now, was a huge deal at the time and made news all over the world. And don’t forget Al Gore and Michael Moore, whose videos and documentaries and other activism stirred the pot in the mid-2000′s. Those are just a handful of examples from the past three decades. There is always going to be some issue or issues that will divide the nation and that are blown out of proportion by the media and punditry. That’s how politics works in democracies.

Will there be violence, beyond the occasional fisticuffs or vehicular homicide? I don’t think it will ever come to that. Most people are too busy with their own lives…things like going to work, trying to pay for healthcare, enjoying entertainment, child rearing and such, to engage in mass acts of civil disobedience. Pundits live in a frenzied world that revolves around politics and the latest-breaking headlines, but the average person tends to be more detached. Part of the problem is the media (especially social media) puts a megaphone to the loudest and most obnoxious voices, so it seems like things are worse than they really are. Also, due to social media and the 24-news cycle, every single event of civil unrest and warring–from campus protests to a teacher assistant being reprimanded–becomes a major news bulletin broadcast to millions of people instantly. A larger net means a bigger catch, and social media is a very big net.

If it seems like America is broken it’s because the media (both social media and mainstream media) is putting a megaphone to everything. Every singe occurrence of unrest is amplified, so bad news seems more common or worse than than it really is. That’s not to downplay the bad news, but the context is lost in the reporting. From the post Putting Charlottesville in perspective:

Look at it like this: although tragically someone died yesterday due to extremism, for the past year or so , nobody died due to political extremism. There are 364 out of 365 days out of the year where all 300+ million Americans coexist without killing each other due to political differences.

As the old saying goes, if it bleeds, it leads. The media can create a ‘crime wave’ , not by encouraging more people to commit crime, but by reporting crime more often. A single act of extremist violence gets considerably more coverage than the thousands of people who die every year in car accidents or other causes of death that are far more common. Since 911, only about 100 Americans have been killed by domestic terrorism, or about the number of auto fatalities in just a single day.