The Right Kind Of Culture War

When we come across references to “culture war,” most of us–whatever our political orientation– immediately think of issues raised by the political right. (I tend to envision the fundamentalist Christian Right.) However we picture the culture warriors, the battles being fought are almost always focused on so-called “family values” (women’s reproductive autonomy, homosexuality, etc.) and a “law and order patriotism” that is performative and superficial–a stubborn “my country right or wrong” approach. Plus, of course, a generous dollop of racism/White Supremacy.

Jennifer Rubin deconstructs those issues in a recent column for the Washington Post.

Republican cultural memes are galling. The GOP has made a national issue out of something that does not exist: teaching critical race theory in public schools. Republicans claim to be on the side of the police and the military, but members of the MAGA cohort have regularly scorned Capitol and D.C. police officers who defended them on Jan. 6, smeared the military as “woke,” and even called the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Mark A. Milley, a “pig” and “stupid.” Republicans claim to be “real” Americans but make traitors (e.g., Confederate generals, Ashli Babbitt) into martyrs.

But Rubin goes beyond a critique of these Rightwing tropes, arguing that a neglect to respond to Republican demagoguery and descent into anti-American authoritarianism equates to a failure to defend the ideal of multiracial democracy. She wants to see the rest of us move to reset and redefine America’s culture war.

Rubin wants Democrats, especially, to “flip the script”– to campaign on “democratic values,” and to point out that Republicans have become a party defending violent thugs and traitors.

Democrats defend the Constitution, which conservative “originalists” used to claim as their own, while Republicans support the man who sought to overturn the election (“just say the election was corrupt + leave the rest to me” he told the Justice Department, seeking pretext for his Jan. 6 gambit).

Her basic charge (which is accurate) is that Republicans who continue to echo Trump’s “big lie” or who voted not to certify election results, or who pretend that January 6th was not an insurrection, are  behaving in ways that are anti-American.

Whose side was my opponent on? Why wouldn’t he/she vote to investigate the worst domestic terrorist attack in decades? Republicans have never been shy about challenging Democrats’ patriotism, and here Democrats actually have grounds to call out Republicans for refusing to both defend the Constitution and respect the votes of their own constituents. Democrats should also challenge their opponents to pledge to accept election results even if they lose and denounce any threat of violence to overturn the will of voters.

In a paragraph that really resonated with me, Rubin also advocated for policies to shore up civic knowledge. She suggests the establishment of a “democracy corps” that would pay young people “to set up civics programs, teach media literacy, serve as poll workers and engage in other pro-democracy activities.” She urges Democrats running for state and local office to endorse mandates for civics instruction in grades K-12.  And she quite properly advises them to call out the racists and crackpots trying to get schoolteachers to stop teaching about the Ku Klux Klan and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

The bottom line–as Rubin obviously recognizes–is the danger in allowing the Right to define the terms of America’s culture wars. There’s an old saying among lawyers to the effect that “he who frames the issue wins the debate.” Those of us who reject the Right’s stance on its issues do so because we understand their positions to be contrary to what this country and its constitution are all about–in a word, we find the misogyny, racism, homophobia and the rest to be profoundly anti-American.

Rubin is absolutely right when she argues that we need to do more than just reject that anti-Americanism. We need to wage our own culture war on behalf of the democratic norms and equal civic status required by the  Americanism we embrace.

Those of us who recognize and accept the American Idea need to enlist–it’s a war worth fighting.


  1. If I thought for one moment that Nancy Pelosi’s committee was going to be a truth-seeking exercise in what happened leading up to and including the day of 1/6, I might lift a finger and give a damn, but it’s a show for the media. The operation was allowed to happen for many reasons, and those who are responsible for funding it and assuring its execution will never see a courtroom or appear before congress.

    The question Rubin should be asking at her Post position is why all the insistence of lies and deceit at the level of our federal government. It’s all a fraud, including the media.

    The US Department of Justice needs a name change until they can actually administer justice. I’m not sure about the FBI, but they’ve fallen apart since the 60s. I can’t trust anything coming from them either. AG Barr ordered the assassination of Michael Reinoehl, and the US Marshalls executed his order. WTF is going on in Washington?

    Anybody watching the videos of the airport in Kabul has to wonder about the Pentagon as well. I saw remnants of the Fall of Saigon. If I were Xi or Vladimir, I’d be on international media asking, “What the hell has happened to the US Government?”

    Hell, we are getting our butts kicked by a virus for a third go-around because we have zero leadership. We have governors ordering school systems not to wear masks, and now kids are getting sick.

    I stopped watching TV News decades ago, and I’m about to cancel emails keeping me abreast internationally. Sadly, when the government and the press sold out, we’ve become a malignant case of incompetency – a kakistocracy.

  2. I completely agree with this entire premise. It seems as if almost every rational human of voting age in the USA is too quiet or uninformed about how much our democracy is in jeopardy and just how important it is to now…right now to jump on just how bad things are and how much worse they can become before it is too late. It is unfortunate that people that actually have good to excellent “values” view the more healthy dialogue of concern and need for action as too negative, unimportant, or insignificant and then choose not to contemplate what their role needs to be to stem the tide of the insidious assault on our democracy that currently exists. I am very disappointed with how little is actually being accomplished by what appears to be a fairly wimpy collection of Democrat politicians that seem to be ill-equipped to really fight the battle for the best possible outcome (One of the reasons I choose to be an “Independent” not a “Democrat”). I like much of what I hear, but not what is actually being done to shine a very bright light on every politician that participated in the anti-American, anti-democracy, and unconstitutional behavior we have WITNESSED and then hold them accountable for the damage they have done in so many ways to American liberal democracy.

  3. Regarding a Civics course in the public schools. I graduated from high school in 1956, on Long Island, a suburb of NY City. In our Senior year, the Social Studies (required) course dealt with the American government and the Constitution. Not only were we required to take notes, but the teacher collected them every Friday, annotated them, and returned them the next Monday. That may seem extreme today, but it was effective – we paid attention.

    Of course, I don’t remember every thing we covered in detail, but when I read Sheila’s comments about government, I hear things that are familiar.

    Don’t they teach about government in the schools today?

  4. Russian propaganda has worked! They have been trying for years to manipulate Americans so that we lose faith in America; its media, institutions and government. You couldn’t ask for a better statement of what they want us to believe than Todd’s missive above.

  5. I both agree and disagree. We definitely need to affirm values that we have! We’ve often self-destructed recently – in identifying as: “anti-Trump” – but Not doing anything to clearly show a positive alternate vision. At the same time – we need to recognize difficult truths – about our history and how it leads to our present – Those of us who are upper-middle have often stayed within our “cocoons” – looking down on potential allies – allowing – Racism to separate and divide – providing “intellectual” arguments – when emotion – and fears rule so much. The Right is organized – and use tools like Mitch – to manipulate us – the Infrastructure efforts – rely upon WV Joe and AZ’s “finest” – to be “with us” – and House Dems to both unite – might well not happen – Covid – could still bite Joe B – and the current collapse in A – is “failure” – was wrong from the beginning – Biden speaks a “nice” line – but he and Trump both failed miserably. We can blame the Right and DT – all we want to – but we’re far from “winning” today.

  6. Pascal’s comment reminded me of a favorite teacher in my Catholic High School. His name was Mr. Post and he taught our civics and government class. But he did far more than teach civics. He challenged us to think for ourselves. Mind you this was in 1968-68. He covered a wide range of issues and topics of the day and delved into subjects like Jungian and Adlerian psychology. For all of this he was rewarded by dismissal from our school at the end of my Senior year. It was just too much of a departure from the school’s core mission: to nurture the next generation of contributors to finance the vast Roman Catholic empire.

    But this morning I find myself shaking my head over the amount of ink spilled and pearls clutched over the battle lines of our so-called culture wars when I see what’s going on in Afghanistan. And what is going on is nothing less than a resumption of the Taliban’s war on women. I don’t want to diminish the importance of reproductive rights or effective public health policies (i.e. MASKS!) in America but they just pale in comparison to the consequences of letting a feudal patriarchal regime reemerge to restrict the liberties and rights of millions of Afghan women (and many men too, especially gay and trans).

    Although she is not the author of the phrase, Hillary Clinton was right when she told the assembly at the 1995 United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing:

    “Women’s rights are human rights”.

  7. “The Right Kind Of Culture War”

    That headline immediately brought to my mind the news films we have seen repeatedly for the past few days of those many hundreds of Afghani MEN trying to cling to the U.S. Air Force plane trying to leave Kubal airport loaded with evacuees. Their culture has for centuries placed their women and girls as being of little value; in recent years they have allowed some of them the benefit of education and to hold a few positions of responsibility. For more than 20 years they have relied on American and Allies to pour money, training, weapons and many lives to aid them in protecting themselves and their families from the horrors of the Taliban. It only took a matter of days for them to turn over the weapons we provided, the air bases we built, the money to feed, house and clothe their families and themselves to their proclaimed enemy the Taliban and leave their homes and their country to extremism and terrorism.

    The American politicians and most of the media are blaming President Joe Biden for all of the horrors we have been watching on all news channels. The Afghan government, after years of accepting all they were given and promised their full support in return, turned tail and got their asses out of Afghanistan on Sunday. We have learned the accelerated takeover of their major cities was accomplished gradually through the rural areas of their countryside where police departments and the military turned their weapons over to the Taliban systematically. The media is blaming President Joe Biden for the lies and cowardice of the entire country of Afghanistan and its corrupted government, the takeover of the Kabel airport by the Taliban and being overrun by Afghani citizens trying to flee by hanging onto the military plane and getting in the way of safe evacuations.

    Exactly what kind of culture are we witnessing from the American politicians and the American media who are laying the blame on President Biden who, whether he agreed or not, followed the format of the pact Donald Trump made with the Taliban about pulling troops out of Afghanistan by August 31st to allow the Afghan government to keep their solemn word to protect their citizens. Is it the culture of politics, religion, race or money we are witnessing? And what example are they setting for our children to build their future as Americans on as we continue to struggle to survive the unrelenting Pandemic and infighting within our own government and in many of our own families and neighborhoods? Is it no wonder anti-Americanism is at a premium over our Americanism at this time with the examples we have all watched for the past almost 6 years?

    America is again expected to be the leader in saving the world while we struggle to save ourselves from ourselves as a nation.

  8. JoAnn,

    Yes. The descriptions for the Republicans (they’re not a party anymore. They’re a cult.) above smacks of the Taliban. Same ideology. Same perverted religious B.S. Same disrespect for women’s rights. Gotta have their guns. Gotta abuse, torture and kill those who don’t fall into that narrow line of “thought”.

    Republicans are America’s Taliban. Who will come with the helicopters to rescue us at the last minute?

    It’s also easy to see who does and does not read and listen to the truth.

  9. “America is again expected to be the leader in saving the world while we struggle to save ourselves from ourselves as a nation.”

  10. Until the Russians came, Afghanistan had a king they liked. Women were free to get an education and a job, and life in the cities was comparable to life in many other cities throughout Asia. After the Russians took over, the Taliban grew from a handful of freedom fighters to an organized Islamic jihad. They were given arms and support by the good old US of A. As the Soviet Union collapsed, their army withdrew from Afghanistan, leaving the radicalized Taliban in charge. When we invaded, our goal was to end al Qaeda. That’s not what we did, however. We moved the Taliban out of the offices of government and wasted time trying to build a secular government. We trained and equipped a 300,000 man standing army. They got a job that paid and some nice weapons. They didn’t get, nor did they want, something to believe in, a reason to fight. You can’t transfer those things. They have to come from within.

    So America is the latest in a long line of failures in Afghanistan. We need to get the people who supported us out as quickly as possible. Move them to Guam, where the government stands ready to receive them. Then we need to review our entire policy in the regions of Asia and Africa. Recognize that the people of the region have to resolve what they find to be issues. Provide humanitarian assistance, but no arms. The people will do what they must and that may eventually mean peace, but at the very least we won’t be finding unexploded ordinance stamped USA after every battle.

  11. Isn’t this culture war somehow based on yesterday’s post about school vouchers and disinformation? First you take a generation of students out of public schools, put them in religious school or even better, isolate them by having Mom teach them at home. It’s all wrong! It’s a mess! Now, we have to deal with a population that doesn’t know the truth about our country or world. Good old America. Take one step forward and two steps back.

  12. “He who frames the issue wins the debate” is an important observation not only among lawyers but debaters and others as well. What has happened here is that a noisy minority has successfully seized the framing on cultural issues and have gone from there, issues that belong on the kitchen table and not government’s table, whose chief reason for being is to govern.

    Thus it’s kitchen table abortion versus “carried interest” high finance for hedge and equity fund managers wherein ordinary income is treated as capital gains. Guess who is interested more in abortion than such a seemingly obscure happenstance in the internal revenue code and the reason why?

    Abortion is a kitchen table issue experienced in the real and the raw by millions while carried interest is somewhere off in never-never land and of no interest to those around the table. Abortion is real and carried interest is some obscure concept concocted by Wall Street counsel.

    It is therefore no surprise that those of us who think government is for governing have lost the framing ball to those who politicize everyday realities since much has to do with the nature of the subject chosen and, of course, those on one side or the other villify the other with cries of baby killer, racist, white supremicist and other epithets, none of which advance the cause of governing, like taxes, the global environment, solution of wage and wealth inequality etc.

    To do: Redefine the issues, and with the same ferocity and with the same perseverance that those at the kitchen table employ, all with the hope that we can reframe the real issues at hand that are being currently ignored while we are wasting precious time on non-governmental matters right wing politicians have so cunningly brought to the fore.

  13. Peggy – beautifully stated. I would add civic/democratic local organizing/processes as things we could bring to struggling countries. And make sure any money is tracked to the last penny.

  14. Here’s the problem in my opinion: Republicans don’t dream up most of what they say. It’s handed to them from professional propagandists being paid to manipulate branded Americans and it comes in the same envelope as their campaign donations. Each envelope is a tactical piece of a national strategy to recruit an army of inaction to support the extreme capitalist notion that wealth redistribution up is a right. It is an aristocracy in action.

    One idea that “he who frames the issue wins the debate” is based on is, if framed effectively, any retort seems defensive to those in the branded and manipulated cohort and reinforces their belief that the framing is correct and what they believe is therefore correct.

    I’m afraid we have a war between professional propagandists like public relations lawyers and amateur politicians.

    That means that the outcome of the war will be determined not by this process but by the relative size in today’s America of two cohorts. 1) The authoritarians who can be fired up to claim the right to lead society and 2) the liberal democrats who stubbornly resist the idea that freedom is a luxury not supported by the facts of human life.

    This is exactly the problem faced by the country’s founders between those who believed that the wealthy are entitled to wealth even at the expense of slaves, and those who believed that while wealth may be earned through one’s own labor, no one is entitled to it.

    King George never went away, and maybe never will.

  15. I posted a thing on facebook about how ATF is and had been defunded by multiple generations of Republican administrations. For the last 3 administrations Republicans (even under Trump) never appointed a permanent director. The conclusion was that Republicans are the only. one really successfully defunding the police and they are getting away with it. ATF are the police and enforcement to help enforce existing gun laws and they are hog tied by a successful “Defund the police” campaign.

    I then pointed out the the guys enforcing the tax laws (the IRS) have had their funding cut time and time again, mainly under Republican pressure since the 80’s or 90’s, and now with a flat out refusal add any funding by threatening to block the infrastructure bill. Republicans are defunding the tax police. Many of the culture war issues that the right accuses the left of, are just projection of the things they have already been doing, and have gotten away with because they have a better PR machine.

    So not only are Republicans successfully and selectively “Defunding the Police”, they are now openly pro tax cheats. The notion of a slick and well financed right wing propaganda engine makes a lot of sense. The left needs that level of funding, sophistication, and coordination in the culture wars.

  16. I want to say thanks to all the men on this blog who are allies of women. It’s so wonderful that you support our civic rights!

    It breaks my heart to see the Taliban defeat the Afghan government so rapidly, but I am not at all surprised. I sometimes wonder what would have happened had women been enlisted into the military. I don’t doubt that many of the women would rather die while fighting the Taliban than live under their horrific mysogyny. It would be incredible if the women found a way to create an underground that allowed girls and women to escape Afghanistan and allowed them to use the same tactics as the Taliban. The men in the military are probably just as sexist/mysogynist as the Taliban. They have far less to lose than the women. I am sure that Malala is horrified. Countries that do not support the civic rights of women are not going to create a healthy democracy, nor a vibrant economy.

    I once heard a history professor say that you cannot defeat an insurgency with a military strategy. The Taliban, no doubt, are supported by Muslim fundamentalists in Pakistan. They have used the tactics of an insurgency.

    Culture wars damage us because they prevent us from addressing the existential threat of climate change, addressing our infrastructure, and creating an economic system that will keep us competetive as we move forward.

    It’s sad that churches are not more focused on serving the poor and needy, the widow, the orphan, those in prison. They are too obsessed with culture wars. Those culture wars are based on their inability to use critical thinking with the Bible as religous scholars like Elaine Pagels and Marcus Borg have. Their paranoia toward science obstructs their capacity to adapt to the rapid technological and social changes.

    Americans,especially the GOP, have forgotten that divided we will fall. The damaging polarization and demonizing of those with different political views and cultural perspectives is an existential threat to our country.

    We need civics education and instruction in civil debate in our schools more than ever!

  17. Todd Smekens “WTF is going on in Washington?”

    Congress is keeping the US safe with DHS establishment, and multi-million dollar funding, of NCITE.

    NCITE, National Counterterrorism Innovation, Technology and Education Center of Excellence, Univ. Nebraska, Omaha.

    To maintain its funding, and relevance, NCITE will need to thwart a steady stream of terrorism plots.

    Wapo 8/14/21 article by Hannah Allam:

  18. Vernon, you nailed it.
    I like Rubin’s thesis, very much. It reminds me bout how the right took the flag as their very own, during the 1960’s, and no one said “Yo, that’s EVERYBODY’S flag.” “My country, right or wrong,” seems to me to come from that same period, and was nothing but dumb, then, as it is now.
    We never belonged in Afghanistan, and it was hubris to think that we would be victorious where Russia failed!
    We are still in thrall to GWB’s idiocy. I recall a meme, before the word became a “thing,” about GWB wanting to have, and win, obviously, “My war.” He still needs to be tried, by the World Court, on charges of Crimes Against Humanity. And Liz Cheney’s father!
    “He who frames the issue, wins the debate,” is much the same as “He who makes the definitions has the power.” And it’s always “He,” isn’t it. But, that’s another issue. Of course, Boebert and Greene are trying hard to change that.

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