As I explain in The Genius of Ross Douthat, partisanship and ‘culture wars’ have given way to ‘shared narratives and themes’ (existential matters, the economy, anxiety, distrust of elites, etc.) that cross the political aisle. This was especially evident during the 2016 GOP convention, where in his well-received speech Peter Thiel openly proclaimed being gay and implored the GOP to focus not on ‘culture’ issues (such as gender-neutral bathrooms) and instead focus on more ‘worldly’ objectives. From his speech:
But today our government is broken. Our nuclear bases still use floppy disks. Our newest fighter jets can’t even fly in the rain. And it would be kind to say the government’s software works poorly, because much of the time it doesn’t even work at all. That is a staggering decline for the country that completed the Manhattan project. We don’t accept such incompetence in Silicon Valley, and we must not accept it from our government.
Instead of going to Mars, we have invaded the Middle East. We don’t need to see Hillary Clinton’s deleted emails: her incompetence is in plain sight. She pushed for a war in Libya, and today it’s a training ground for ISIS. On this most important issue Donald Trump is right. It’s time to end the era of stupid wars and rebuild our country.
When I was a kid, the great debate was about how to defeat the Soviet Union. And we won. Now we are told that the great debate is about who gets to use which bathroom. This is a distraction from our real problems. Who cares?
Of course, every American has a unique identity. I am proud to be gay. I am proud to be a Republican. But most of all I am proud to be an American. I don’t pretend to agree with every plank in our party’s platform; but fake culture wars only distract us from our economic decline, and nobody in this race is being honest about it except Donald Trump.
The US government being ‘broken’ is another example of a narrative that both liberals and conservatives can agree on. The same for how ‘culture wars’ (which he explicitly mentions in his speech) are a distraction, and how America should focus on ‘real problems’, not contrived ones.
His speech, arguably the highlight of the night and even overshadowing Donald Trump himself, was met by raucous cheers by the audience, indicating that perhaps the GOP has thrown in the towel on the culture wars. You see this in the online in the ‘alt right’ movement, with Milo who is openly gay as their ‘shitlord leader’. Or Donald Trump, who has positioned himself more as an ‘economic warrior’ or a ‘border-control warrior’ than a ‘culture warrior’. Hot-button issues such as abortion, gun control, contraception, gay marriage, or the ‘separation of church and state’ have been pushed to the periphery or ignored all together.
To some extent Scott also concurs, in POST-PARTISANSHIP IS HYPER-PARTISANSHIP:
The consensus explanation was that there was a moment in the 90s and early Bush administration when evangelical Christianity seemed to have a lot of political power, and secularists felt really threatened by it. This caused a lot of fear and arguments. Then everyone mostly agreed Bush was terrible, studies came out showing religion was on the decline, evangelicalism became so politically irrelevant that even the Republicans started nominating Mormons and Donald Trump, and people stopped caring so much.
Not only have they stopped caring that much about religion, but they’re willing to adopt progressive religious people as role models and generally share stories that portray religious people in a positive light. Pope Francis gets to be the same sort of Socially Approved Benevolent Wise Person as the Dalai Lama.
The Defense of Marriage Act was a big deal, until the court struck it down in 2013 and everyone seemed to stop caring. Same for Obamacare, which generated a lot of heated, emotional debate between 2009-2013, and now it’s just become background noise, something that is annoying but tolerable. Prayer in schools, ‘under god’ in the pledge of allegiance, etc. were a big deal in the early-mid 2000’s, but now hardly any discussion about those things.
Perhaps many Americans have become inured and indifferent to ‘culture-war outrage’ and ‘partisanship’ that reached a fever pitch in 2008. Tribal politics were more appealing during periods of economic crisis like in 2008 or in the early 2000’s after 911, but as the stock market keeps making new highs and companies like Google and Facebook keeps reporting blowout earnings and computer sci and math become more important than ever, people are now seeking nuance and understanding, as part of the rise of ‘shared narratives’ and intellectualism. Instead of duking it out about gender-neutral bathrooms, people are now wondering if post-scarcity is possible, if quantum physics and relativity will ever be reconciled, if wealth inequality threatens the economy, if liberal arts degrees instead of STEM are a waste of money, if the stock market is a good buy at these levels, or if the singularity is near.
The traffic of medium.com and vox.com, two sites that epitomize the post-2013 trend towards ‘wonkish’ journalism and intellectualism, have exploded in recent years:
Although Vox.com, overall, does have a liberal bias, they frequently entertain contrarian, non-PC ideas as IQ-determinism, the Revolutionary War being a bad idea, and feature-length write ups about neoreaction (NRx) and the ‘alt-right’. These contrarian articles, as well as articles that are chock-full full of data and graphs instead of emotive partisanship, and the fact that these articles always go viral, is part of bigger trend of an ‘intellectual renaissance’ of sorts unfolding in America.
Same for medium.com, another website that entertains contrarian and complicated, intellectual stuff, that is seeing massive growth since 2013 and is now one of the top-400 sites in the world according to Alexa. Just this morning I checked my email and in the spam folder are tons of articles from Medium about programming, technology, psychology, machine learning, and other smart topics. It’s not like I deliberately chose to follow bloggers who write about smart subjects – the whole site is like that.