Wednesday, July 7, 2021

More on Democratic Responsibility for the Culture War

This follows up on the previous post about Democratic responsibility for the current culture war. Progressives generally tend to allocate responsibility for this conflict as about 100/zero. That is 100 percent, those nasty Republicans, and zero percent, the noble Democratic fighters for the people. This is risible and self-serving, as Damon Linker notes in a new article on The Week:
"When progressives talk about the culture war, they tend to place themselves in a passive role.
It's conservatives who are the aggressors, they claim, with Republicans driving "asymmetric polarization" while being cheered on by a right-wing media complex that cynically increases its own profits by encouraging a relentless march toward outright authoritarianism. And all of it is made possible by the bigotry — racism, sexism, nativism, xenophobia, homophobia, and transphobia — of the Republican rank-and-file, for whom cruelty is the entire point. Faced with this furious onslaught of anti-democratic rage, progressives merely insist on standing their ground, defending the rights of the oppressed against their historic and present-day oppressors.
As with most self-serving political narratives, there is considerable truth to this story. On some issues, Republicans have indeed moved further right. Donald Trump really did appeal to and activate dormant (or barely concealed) prejudices among some GOP voters. His lies — especially those wrapped up with the 2020 election — have been extraordinarily damaging to American democracy, far surpassing anything we've so far seen on the left.
Yet that doesn't mean progressives have been merely defensive in the culture wars. On the contrary, as a series of charts recently compiled by center-left political commentator Kevin Drum show, progressives have been aggressors, moving left further and faster than conservatives have moved right, on numerous issues wrapped with the country's cultural conflicts over the past two decades. If this is true, or even partly so, it complicates in an illuminating way the story of a unilaterally belligerent right and virtuously defensive left."
Linker goes on to review Drum's data (perhaps a bit more clearly than Drum himself did) and some other related data. No doubt this will not impress the 100/zero dead-enders but I'd advise you to give it a look.
Linker concludes:
"American polarization is happening much less asymmetrically than many Democrats would like to believe — and...on certain issues wrapped up with the culture war, Democrats have moved further and faster to the left than Republicans have moved to the right....Why would progressives deny this reality? Aren't they committed to constantly pushing the moral envelope and furthering justice in our national life? One might think this would lead them to own these ideological shifts and speak of them with pride.
Yet doing so would require that they cede some of the moral high ground in their battles with conservatives, since it would undermine the preferred progressive narrative according to which the right is motivated entirely by bad faith and pure malice. The truth is more complicated. Conservatives genuinely believe themselves to be confronting an ever-changing, ever-expanding list of progressive demands backed up by the left's considerable cultural and political power. The right would be far less politically effective if the left did not continually provide it with evidence to verify the accusation.
This doesn't at all mean the left should surrender in the culture war in the hope that it will deprive the right of fuel for its own crusades. But it does mean that the left's actions in the culture war actually have an effect on what the right does, and vice versa. Too often progressives treat their own cultural commitments as following from self-evident and nonnegotiable moral imperatives rather than strategic political calculations."
And Linker even has a modest proposal that I heartily endorse. Though I suppose I won't hold my breath about the reaction of the 100/zero crowd.
"Making progressive politics a little bit less about public displays of righteousness might help to encourage Democrats to choose their battles more wisely — and so also somewhat less inclined to pick fights with the right on immigration and abortion and guns and religious issues all at once. Maybe waging one or two culture-war battles while displaying intentional moderation on a few others would do much greater good — by giving Democrats a modest electoral boost in a sharply divided country — than taking bold moral stands on all of them and confirming the right's most paranoid claims about progressives ambitions."

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