People on the Right that are often correctly derided as paranoid or ‘on the fringe’ claim that there is a grand conspiracy where people on the Left are fighting a ‘culture war’. Indeed it wouldn’t be the Christmas season in America without Bill O’Reilly claiming that atheist crypto-Marxists were waging a “War on Christmas”. Although there isn’t a coordinated plan to change America into a less socially conservative nation, there is a culture war going on between the Left and Right, and we are winning it.
People in the Republican Party always like to gloat that Abraham Lincoln was one of them and often use the phrase “the party of Lincoln” in order to appeal to African-American voters. However this ignores the ideological aspect to this discussion. If the parties are ignored and the framing is liberals and progressives against conservatives, history shows that since the birth of the United States the conservatives have been losing every single battle. As Martin Luther King said: “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice”.
Race has been an issue in America since 1776, and had been even before America was a country. Conservatives these days are often people who revere those of the civil rights movement including MLK and this is good because it means that these people no longer want to overtly discriminate against black people. There are some conservatives who do but these people rarely claim MLK or Rosa Parks as their icons; their answers may be Nathan Bedford Forrest or Robert E. Lee. George Wallace, the iconic proponent of segregation in the 1960s was a Democrat, but he was also a conservative. Lyndon B. Johnson, the president that signed the Civil Rights Act into law was a Democrat, but he was a liberal.
Similarly Lincoln, as I said earlier, was a Republican, but he was a liberal. However this was the same party that deployed the Southern Strategy, which appealed to white people in the South on the grounds of “states’ rights”. George Wallace had spoken about opposition to civil rights laws was linked to states rights, and this strategy very much acted as a dog-whistle to conservative Democrats. By saying that the Democrats have been racist in their past ignores the important fact that whoever identifies as conservative, whether it be Republicans or Dixiecrats, has always been on the losing side of the battle.
Now that the Democrats have established themselves as more liberal than the Republicans, and the Republicans have candidates that openly support striking down parts of the Voting Rights Act, the discourse gives the illusion of being more divisive than ever but this isn’t true. The compromise that people talk about as being missing from Washington was only possible because there were conservative Democrats and liberal Republicans and therefore could break gridlock; now that the political parties have more distinct identities, which is actually a good thing, the ideological disagreement has now moved to be directly down party lines. The very nature of the word a ‘conservative’ is a person who wants to ‘conserve’ what already exists. Therefore if the status quo is institutional racism, unless the candidate in question is liberal on this issue, it follows that conservatives would want to keep the system as is.
This attitude toward social conservatism not only extends to the issue of race. Women’s rights have also seen hurdles in front of them and the culture war that I believe is being waged is righting the wrongs of the past. Abortion remains an issue for conservatives in the United States and the famous Roe v. Wade Supreme Court case was somewhat controversial in 1973. However since then abortion, despite what the Tea Party would have you believe, has become a less controversial issue. A May 2015 poll by Gallup has identified that only 19% of people believe that abortion should be illegal in all cases, whereas 80% believe that abortion, whether in some or all circumstances, is perfectly acceptable.
Furthermore liberals, irrespective of political parties, have supported legislation that strengthens protections against domestic violence, mandates equal pay for equal work, and conservatives argued against allowing women in the workforce to begin with. To argue that social conservatism is better than more left-wing ideas when it comes to women is simply false and the more progress we make in relation to women’s rights, the more conservatives have to come to the left. For example, conservatives these days don’t argue against women in the workplace, or against laws protecting women from domestic violence, or against divorce. All of these things would have been acceptable conservative positions in the 1950s and 1960s, but because people on the Left such as myself have shifted the conversation to the Left it is no longer politically expedient for conservative politicians to support these points of view.
The final aspect of the culture war that I want to touch upon is about LGBT rights. As recently as the 1990s it was fashionable to oppose equality for LGBT people. Indeed the liberal president Bill Clinton supported ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ and the Defense of Marriage Act because it was politically expedient. On a slight side note, Hillary Clinton in her run for president has said that she and Bill supported DOMA in order to prevent a constitutional amendment; I call bullshit on that. But this is largely irrelevant. Both Clintons now support LGBT rights, as does George W. Bush.
Polling also reflects this, which is partly why the Supreme Court decided to hear Obergefell v. Hodges in the first place. According to the Pew Research Centre, in 2001 35% of people supported same-sex marriage whereas in 2015 55% do. Indeed this trend is even true among religious groups whose institutions oppose LGBT rights. According to similar findings, in 2001 only 38% of white mainline Protestants supported same-sex marriage, now 62% do; the same of true of Catholics who, over the same time period, moved from 40% support to 57% support. Conservatives are still arguing against LGBT rights however this is only a matter of time as millennials are overwhelmingly pro-LGBT rights. In order for conservatives to appeal to millennials they have to either change their positions or simply drop opposition to LGBT rights from their platforms.
Again let me emphasise that I’m not a supporter of the Democratic Party, and I find many of the things they do insufferable. This is not even a hatchet job against the GOP, it is actually agreeing with conservatives that there is a culture war; all I’m saying is that I’m enjoying the fact that conservatives on the losing side in all these issues. In these three areas conservatives have seen themselves have to change their positions or evolve on these issues.
I’m not complaining that you have Republicans supporting abortion or black people’s rights, but what I am saying is that the people who whine the loudest about a culture war are right about its existence. And the reason they are so loud is because when everybody is talking about how liberal America has become, they have to yell louder to get heard. The beauty of this is that the louder they yell, the more people can hear how terrible their social conservative positions are.