A Primal Scream

Notice: I was interviewed for a podcast (“What the Gerrymander”) that will drop at midnight tonight. You can find it here, if interested: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/what-the-gerrymander/id1668429440


Wanda Sykes has the ability to be both funny and a dead-on critic of social insanity. A recent quip making the rounds on social media will illustrate: “Until a drag queen walks into a school and beats eight kids to death with a copy of ‘To Kill a Mockingbird,’ I think you’re focusing on the wrong shit.”

The quote perfectly encapsulates what frustrates and angers the vast majority of Americans– people posturing as “pro life” and insisting that their censorship and homophobia are intended to “protect children,” while adamantly opposing rational gun regulation.

The priorities of the Right don’t just seem incompatible to most of us, they increasingly seem incomprehensible. But a book I recently read, suggested by a commenter to this blog, gave me a better understanding of the context of today’s culture wars and those who fight them. It was Stephen Prothero’s Why Liberals Win the Culture Wars (Even When They Lose Elections).

Prothero filled in some details of U.S. history that I’d previously missed. For example, I knew that Thomas Jefferson was criticized for his departures from orthodox Christianity, but I had not previously understood how incredibly widespread and vicious that criticism was. As a member of a marginalized minority, I was aware that American Catholics had also been subjected to significant discrimination–but I had no idea of the extent and duration of America’s anti-Catholicism. A colleague who studied Mormon history had clued me in about anti-Mormonism, but–again–I had been unaware of the extent of the cultural animus focused on Mormons.

These and other revelations really did provide a context–and predicted outcome– for our current cultural battles.

As Prothero points out, it is almost fore-ordained that the “liberal” side (the forces militating for inclusion and acceptance–i.e., the “woke” side) will win such conflicts. That’s because these “wars” only begin when the people waging them realize they are already close to losing–that the social environment is already significantly changed from the certainties with which they are comfortable, and within which they are privileged.

For some number of Americans, that loss is terrifying and unsupportable.

In analyzing partisan jockeying for the upcoming election, Jennifer Rubin identified  positions being taken by the GOP–on abortion, guns, and LGBTQ+– issues that clearly repel a majority of Americans, and explained that “Voters enthralled with turning politics into primal scream therapy don’t much care about a viable agenda or electability.”


Together, Rubin and Prothero explained what I previously found incomprehensible. For those of us who expect rational behavior by partisans engaged in an electoral contest, the recent trajectory of the Republican party has been mystifying. After all, it isn’t that Republican strategists don’t know that abortion bans, for instance, are costing them elections; as a recent Roll Call article reported.

The generic ballot has shifted toward Democrats, with Republicans losing ground among independents on the abortion issue, according to a new polling memo from a GOP firm that fell into Democratic hands.

“There has been a 6 point swing in the last year on the Generic Senate ballot from R+3 to D+3. This movement is [led] overwhelmingly by Independent and NEW voters that identify abortion as one of their top issues,” according to a “National Issue Study” by co/efficient, which was in the news recently as one of the pollsters for Kentucky Republican gubernatorial nominee Daniel Cameron.

The poll, conducted April 20-24, had similar findings on the House side. “There has been a 10 point swing in the last year on the Generic House Ballot from R+6 to D+4. This movement is [led] overwhelmingly by Independent and NEW voters that identify abortion as one of their top issues,” it said on slide seven. “Reproductive Freedom is the #1 issue among those that DID NOT vote in 2020.”

Other polling has confirmed the negative response of voters to efforts to demonize drag queens, attack trans youth, censor books and turn librarians into felons. These are not rational policy positions for a political party aiming to win elections. Given sufficiently large turnout by opposition voters, not even extreme gerrymandering and the Electoral College can save GOP control.

Prothero’s book, Sykes’ quip, and Rubin’s observation all point to the same conclusion. As Prothero put it, America’s intermittent culture wars only begin when the warriors realize they are on the cusp of losing.

What we are experiencing right now is their “primal scream.”

“Woke” folks will win the culture. The danger, however, is the considerable harm that will be done in the meantime in places like Indiana where Republicans pandering to the screamers remain in power.

Absent massive turnout by Democrats, independents and new voters, rational Americans can still lose the vote.


  1. Since we live in southeast Florida, I am concerned for my daughter and her wife. Not that our area is dangerous, but violence seems to travel across state and county lines. Groups such as the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers scare me.

  2. “Absent massive turnout by Democrats, independents and new voters, rational Americans can still lose the vote.”

    The slim majority of Republicans in the House continues to hold this entire country hostage via the ongoing debt increase battle between President Biden and Speaker McCarthy. McCarthy won the Speaker gavel after FIFTEEN VOTES; it took that many votes to wear him down to virtually full support of Trump’s Freedom Caucus. To ensure their firm grip on the Speaker’s gavel, the Speaker can now be voted out of that position on a whim by the members of the House, this is keeping McCarthy from agreeing to reasonable bartering on solutions to prevent a default. To cement his continued support of the Freedom Caucus; looming over McCarthy and this entire country is the fact that Marjorie Taylor Greene is the Deputy Speaker gnashing her teeth to replace him when he makes the slightest slip. We have a weakling male replacing the strength and support of a true American, Nancy Pelosi; with a dangerous, vicious, screaming female waiting to replace the weakling. The Speaker’s gavel will become a weapon against democracy if placed in her hands.

    “Absent massive turnout by Democrats, independents and new voters, rational Americans can still lose the vote.”

  3. It is a conundrum to attempt a rational explanation to global friends and colleagues how a political base in the good ole U.S.A. in the same breath makes the pro-life case against abortion case then inhaling to protect proliferation of ownership of lethal weapons in the same sentence. Breathless insanity.

  4. America has never been either truthful or realistic about our history, so that leaves us in good company, since no country has ever been either truthful or realistic about their history. We all like to believe that we are Emma Lazarus, when, in fact, we are mostly pre-conversion Ebenezer Scrooge, living in fear that well being is a zero sum game. We have never confronted the sins of our past. Until we do, we will constantly be fighting the culture wars.

  5. Don’t we need a 10-20 point swing to overcome the most partisan gerrymandering?

  6. What JoAnn said. Until the rational people get off their asses and vote, the “screamers” will keep destroying our democracy and the Constitution. The more desperate the right wing becomes, the more they will destroy.

  7. Congrats on the Podcast interview!!

    I’m unsure if our general strength is rationality or “rational actors.” Due to lifetimes of manipulations by the oligarchy, we are mainly reactionaries to propaganda. Oppression has a way of molding our thoughts and ideals.

    Some folks who claim to be woke are just believers in democratic propaganda. We’ve normalized a war culture while agreeing to reduce spending by cutting programs for weak Americans. Think about that!!!

    Biden and McCarthy agreed to leave tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans while cutting programs for the most vulnerable. The war agenda receives two thumbs up from both parties. This results from years of normalizing and acceptance by “rational actors.”

  8. It has been 100 years since the KKK ran Indiana. The frightening changes the majority of white people perceived at that time are the same ones that drove the KKK’s grandchildren and great grandchildren to vote for Trump. That mindset was taught, fostered, encouraged, and modeled by their parents, teachers and ministers just as it had been by their elders going back in history. Understanding that mindset allows evildoers to unleash the power those beliefs contain. The power of believing one’s own kind is superior to all others, and that any change in one’s small world is a danger to oneself is enough to bring fear to the point of violence.
    Indiana is a fearful place.

  9. “Caring about” and voting are two different things, especially if you are DEM-leaning and live in a RED-gerrymandered place. If you don’t “care” about politics more than you “care” about your favorite team, celebrity, or online game…hell in a handbasket lies ahead.

  10. The statistics you cite just verify why the GOP is trying its best to discourage our youth from voting. Thanks for always being willing to politely stick your neck out, Sheila. I enjoy your work–even now when I live in TX.

  11. Dan Mullendore has it right. We need at least a 10 pt or more swing in many of these gerrymandered districts—all across red states—to overcome the unfair Republican stranglehold on our voting maps. We must encourage decent, rational-thinking, non-primal-screaming republicans to help remove these wackadoodle politicians from office. Otherwise we’re looking at another decade plus of this crap that is harming us all.

  12. Our project, CommonGoodGoverning, since 2018 has worked on more than 85 congressional races where the GOP advantage was 7-12 points going in. Only 6 times did our DEM candidate win. The odds are long….

  13. Theresa is so right in her comments in toto; and especially her reference to Indiana. The last true progress made “of the people, by the people and for the people” in this country was the passage of the Civil Rights which have now been repealed. They were repealed on a much larger scale than Black Americans; it now includes Hispanics, Asians, all immigrants, LGBTQs and all women are now primarily targeted. Antisemitism has been revived to levels not seen or heard since WWII. It is no wonder we are now the focus of global attention as we, as a nation, can no longer be trusted due to the weakened structure of our government.

    Our only hope of salvation is our elections; but that system has also been weakened and is nonexistent in many areas.

  14. None of us choose what we were born with and into (including time and place) but it varies in adaptability to different times. It is more or less modern or old fashioned compared to the times.

    The right is born into times of anger and fear at the threat of people like themselves suffering declining status. They wish now was different; that would be better for them.

    The left was born into acceptance of the difference between the things in and out of our span of control.

    “God, give me grace to accept with serenity
    the things that cannot be changed,
    Courage to change the things
    which should be changed,
    and the Wisdom to distinguish
    the one from the other.”

    That’s easier when things are seemingly going your way.

    These times seem uncertain in direction; unstable in possible outcome; possibly good or bad for left or right; could be either in or out of our control.

    Uncertainty breeds discomfort for left and right and we react differently to that based on our memories of the behavior of those like us and around us as youngsters.

    We are all independent only to a degree and the rest reflects the accident of our birth with and into.

  15. Carefully Taught
    You’ve got to be taught to
    hate and fear
    You’ve got to be taught
    from year to year
    It’s got to be drummed
    into your dear little ear.
    You’ve got to be carefully taught.
    You’ve got to be taught to be afraid
    Of those people whose eyes are
    oddly made
    and people whose skin is
    a different shade
    You’ve got to be carefully taught.
    You’ve got to be taught
    before it’s too late
    before you are six or
    seven or eight
    To hate all the people
    your relatives hate
    You’ve got to be carefully taught.

    ~ Oscar Hammerstein II

  16. Very few people make any real difference in this world. Very few people have the intelligence and skills to move us forward. We owe our comforts and our lives to these geniuses.

    We ride on the backs of those giants, the scientists and visionaries. But the vote goes to the guy who thinks the world was created in six days, and he cannot distinguish between genius and psychopathic charm.

  17. Two of my friends died in WW II in defense of democracy vs. the Axis (and Japanese) and their embrace of facism of that day. One died while piloting a B-24 over China from Japanese anti-aircraft fire and the other, a Marine, died on Purple Beach (one of three invasion beaches) on an island of the Palau group, an island I later visited, never dreaming that my friend had just been killed there.
    So now we are confronted with domestic fascism by the captors of the remnants of the Republican Party headed by Herr Trump and Herr DeFascist, a reality I am sure my heroic friends could never have imagined had they survived (and a president who calls the military “losers and suckers”.)

    I survived and intend to carry on my friends’ sacrifices for democracy without fear or favor from book-burning and draft-dodging fascists such as Trump and DeFascist until my last breath since, as I often write: “Our democracy is the greatest asset we hold in common, and one of the last few things worth dying for.” Fascists, take note.

  18. “After all, it isn’t that Republican strategists don’t know that abortion bans, for instance, are costing them elections; as a recent Roll Call article reported.” They appear to have, happily imho, to have painted themselves into a corner.

    And, I will suggest, their only response will be to do what they do best: double down on their idiocy!

    “Woke” is short for “Awake to the reality of history, of current reality, as well,” and the anti-woke folk

    are living deep in the myth of America that Dan refers to. The fools who claim primary allegiance to their

    heavenly personage, conveniently ignore the fact that if there is such a personage he/she created the

    very LGBTQ+ and Trans people they take such apparent pleasure in dissing!

    I have previously, here, called attention to the fact that gayness is seen in many mammal, and even insect species. It is simply a part of the world in which we live, whether they, like gay J. Edgar, like it or not.

  19. Gerald; I have childhood memories of WWII, my parents had many friends in the Army, my Uncle Dan was in the Navy. Some of my parent’s friends never returned. Dad worked at Chevrolet Commercial Body Plant which manufactured airplane bodies during the war; his brothers worked for the local Kingen Meat Packing Plant which provided so many things for the war effort. I remember buying War Bonds at school and taking newspapers and cans of fat for the war drives. All neighbors had victory gardens and many different fruit trees which were shared and canned for use through winters. My grandparents took me to New York City to visit my aunt in 1942; the area of Queens where she lived, apartment buildings abutted one another and we could step out the living room window, down 2 feet to the roof of the next building. Grandpa and I went out one night to watch the blackout as sections of New York City went dark, one area after another. My aunt’s roommate was a school teacher and took me to school with her one day; I remember they had a bomb drill that day.

    I remember December 7th; didn’t understand it but felt the fear that it was something terrible. Dad’s friend was on leave from the Army, he had just brought me a puppy when the news came over the radio about the attack. Dad’s friend and my Mom hugged as she cried and he left in a hurry to return to the Army. At my school, we took flowers from our yard to put in the buckets of water in the entryways the day before Memorial Day, the janitors took them to place on the graves of veterans in cemeteries. I remember how solemn those days were and the struggles with rationing for everything and the shortages which were not understood or dealt with gracefully during the recent Pandemic. Empty shelves during the war and after years of never knowing shortages or lack of food and gas except for the poor in this country during the Pandemic opened my eyes to how fortunate we are in America. We are basically spoiled as a nation and do not deal with inconveniences with good grace or even civility.

    I remember and recognize that we no longer celebrate this national holiday as much more than a long weekend and cookouts with the 500 Mile Race here in Indianapolis. Thank you, Gerald, for reminding us of the meaning of Memorial Day.

  20. Sadly, there is the question of how much damage they can do before the “culture war” is won.
    I believe that Ukraine will win the war against Tsar Putin (much beloved by some commenters on this blog), but at a great cost of lives.
    The culture war will cause a loss of lives (as well as trauma to the living) due to gun violence and the degradation of women’s health care, but also an uncountable amount of anguish (and suicide) among the LGBTQ+ community and their supporters.

    I hope that new voters and previous non-voters come out in numbers because the non-MAGA former GOP vote is probably set.

    Warning – another back in the days story –
    Growing up in the ’50s and ’60s in Detroit, in the days of lever voting machines, we used to joke about the “Polish palsy”, so named because of the extreme reliability of the Catholic vote (largely Polish) for Democrats. The concept was that their entire body would shake if they reached for a Republican lever.

    Today, there are still too many in the non-MAGA GOP who have a similar reaction to voting “D”. After all, they tell themselves, this candidate isn’t truly a MAGA Repulican (even though they go along with all of the MAGA wishes) and Democrats just have terrible policies.

    I hope that there is enough energy to turn out the rest of the vote. I knew that Obama would win Indiana in 2008 because I could see the energy on the ground. While I continued to campaign for him in 2012, I didn’t see the same energy. We need that 2008 energy, which is hard to come by.

  21. Catholics and Mormons and anyone who believes in imaginary sky beings deserve to be closely watched and monitored just like any other dangerous religious cult

  22. “I hope that there is enough energy to turn out the rest of the vote. I knew that Obama would win Indiana in 2008 because I could see the energy on the ground. While I continued to campaign for him in 2012, I didn’t see the same energy. We need that 2008 energy, which is hard to come by.”

    In 2008, people were tired of politics/politicians and not much changing. Obama ran on “HOPE & CHANGE”. But nothing much changed (except ACA) and we nearly had a depression. Since then, “fool me once”…things are only worse – thus, no energy, no likely change in voting, MAGA rules.

  23. I thought being Woke sounded like Christian Values as taught by Jesus. Why are the Republicans still attracting their vote.

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