Who’s Winning The War?

The title doesn’t refer to the Ukraine versus Russia war–instead, I want to talk about a far more protracted conflict: America’s culture war.

A few days ago, I shared my opinion that culture will ultimately overwhelm politics. A few days after that, a Washington Post column by Eugene Robinson highlighted a relevant University of Chicago survey of that culture. It appears–and the op-ed is titled–that “wokeness is winning.”

“Wokeness” is winning, according to an illuminating new poll that should — but probably won’t — make Republican politicians wary of hitching their wagon to the anger-fueled culture wars.

The survey — conducted this month by the nonpartisan research institute NORC at the University of Chicago, with funding from the Wall Street Journal — found that on several hot-button issues related to “wokeness”, substantial majorities of Americans believe our progress toward inclusion and diversity is on the right track.

Given the ferocity of current attacks on trans people, it was comforting to learn that 56% of respondents thought that social acceptance of people who are transgender, “has been about right” or “has not gone far enough.”  The opposing view– that we have “gone too far” in accepting transgender people–was held by 43 percent of those surveyed. 

And as Robinson noted, the results just got “more woke” from there.

On “promoting equality between men and women,” 86 percent took the woke “about right” or “not gone far enough” positions, as opposed to 12 percent who espoused the anti-woke “gone too far” view. On “accepting people who are gay, lesbian, or bisexual,” the poll found respondents to be 69 percent woke versus 29 percent anti-woke. On “businesses taking steps to promote racial and ethnic diversity,” woke beat anti-woke, 70 percent to 28 percent. And on “schools and universities taking steps to promote racial and ethnic diversity,” wokeness ruled once again, 67 percent to 30 percent.

Even on the subject of pronouns, which GOP demagogues have sought to shift from the grammatical realm to the political, 58 percent of respondents were neutral or favorable toward the practice of specifying “he/him, she/her or they/them” in emails, on social media or in conversations; 42 percent were unfavorable. And on the narrower question of “being asked” to address someone with gender-neutral pronouns such as “they/them,” those polled were evenly divided.

When the survey asked about the GOP’s current effort to ban “inappropriate” materials from the nation’s classrooms, the results were gratifying: 61 percent of respondents  were concerned that “some schools may ban books and censor topics that are educationally important.”  Only 36 percent worried that “some schools may teach books and topics that some students or their parents feel are inappropriate or offensive.”

Of course, 36% is still a troubling number, especially since these are the people most likely to be making noise and challenging educational choices. As Robinson notes, the poll results are unlikely to deter MAGA activists from “hectoring school boards to yank classics such as Nobel laureate Toni Morrison’s “Beloved” from library shelves.”

And don’t get me started about the parents who got a Florida school principal fired because a teacher in the school showed students “pornography”–aka Michelangelo’s David.

The least surprising finding of the survey was its confirmation of the partisan divide– a  divide Robinson characterized as stark.

Seventy-five percent of respondents who identified as Republicans said we have “gone too far” in accepting transgender people, as opposed to just 15 percent of Democrats and 47 percent of independent voters. Majorities of Republicans also took the “gone too far” position on gay, lesbian and bisexual acceptance, and on promoting diversity in businesses, schools and universities — versus minorities of Democrats and independents who hold those views.

As other media have reported, the one area in which the survey showed less of a partisan divide was on the issue of gun control. It found 

“broad public support for a variety of gun restrictions, including many that are supported by majorities of Republicans and gun owners….71% of Americans say gun laws should be stricter, including about half of Republicans, the vast majority of Democrats and a majority of those in gun-owning households.”

Overall, the survey confirmed what most Americans understand: American citizens’ partisan affiliations are no longer based primarily on economics or policy preferences. Instead, they reflect profoundly different values, and contending perspectives on Americanism and the common good.

The good news is that Americans who are “woke”–who value inclusion and respect for individual rights– are in the majority. The bad news is that–thanks to gerrymandering and outmoded electoral structures– MAGA Republicans and White Christian Nationalists retain far more positions of authority than they should be entitled to hold in a democratic system, given their minority status.  

The silent majority has evolved, and it’s woke. Now its members need to get out the vote.