Have Progressives Won “The Culture War?”


In a recent article,  David Brooks (New York Times “conservative” columnist who—surprise—writes as a ” progressive”) suggests that “the culture war” is over or close to over.  Progressives have already won. Their opponents, “the…less educated… tribalists,” have ” self-marginalized over the past two years.”

In addition, progressives “are getting better and more aggressive at silencing dissenting behavior….” As a result, they could now “be on the verge of delegitimizing their foes, on guns but also much else, rendering them untouchable for anybody who wants to stay in polite society… [ avoid being] morally illegitimate or socially unacceptable… [or just avoid having] your career…end[ed].”

How then does Brooks account for the Trump election, the dominance of Republicans in national and state legislatures, and the millions who are fed up with elite if not polite society?  He calls this politics and tries to separate it from culture.  He says that: “Conservatives …[ representing 40% of the country] have zero cultural power, but they have immense political power.” The idea seems to be that this is just temporary, that cultural losses will eventually turn the tide politically as well.

What to make of this? Are progressives really waging war against darkly atavistic tribal conservatives? The evidence would seem to point in the other direction.  What could be more tribal than the group identity politics progressives embrace?

Moreover, human thought and action do not fit neatly into categories such as culture and politics, and even if they did, one cannot omit economics. The most plausible explanation for the Trump victory is that Barrack Obama and the Democrats badly miscalculated on immigration. They thought they could sew up millions of present and future Hispanic voters without creating a backlash among other voters. They may have been right initially, but went too far,  and a massive backlash resulted.

Immigration is indeed a political issue, but also a cultural issue, and an economic issue, and one cannot pretend to understand it without looking at it from all these and other angles. It is especially easy to overlook economics, as Brooks does, because on many economic issues (trade and immigration notably excepted), Trumponomics is no different than Obamonomics. This is not surprising, since similar Wall Street figures have dominated both administrations. In monetary policy in particular, there is absolutely no difference between Trump and Obama.

Are opponents of immigration simply “cultural” racists, as most progressives seem to assert? Joseph Epstein, distinguished essayist writing in the National Review about the dire situation of blacks living in Chicago, a city run for decades by progressives, offers one possible rebuttal of this charge. He writes: “it could be argued that the left generally has contributed as heavily to the condition of contemporary blacks as lingering racism. In fact, encouragement in the belief that all black problems are at root owing to racism is certain to keep blacks in their place, and might itself just be the ultimate racism.”