Who’s the enemy? Is it the Evil Demonrats or the Hateful Redumblicans? Are you a gun shooting Jesus loving Trumper? Or a Whole Foods shopping Prius rocking Bidenator?
Do you see how the other side sees you? Do you care? It’s doesn’t matter if you’re in the right. Right?
The culture war is far from new, but 45 certainly recognizes its effectiveness as a political weapon, widening our divide. Of course, many will tell you it was Obama that originally cleaved our nation.* I recognize that the overexposure to our national divide has prompted some, like me, to respond. Perhaps my naïveté shows. If so, I only ask you allow me to work all this out. Thank you. I’d like you to know, I’m not your enemy. I’m offering my opinions, and some things to think about, but I’m not telling you how to think, or that you’re wrong. I welcome any debate or discussion.
Here’s the thing: I don’t recall a time when everything was cannon fodder in the culture war. If there was, and I can imagine a few times of unrest when that was possible, it was before my time. As it stands now, Covid-19 and BLM have joined the ranks of abortion and immigration as new hot button issues requiring knee-jerk emotional responses. They’re not up for “debate,” they’re right or wrong. Wearing a mask is a political statement. Your support of BLM is a political statement. (Unless you believe it’s a human rights issue, in which case, who’s right?—Is it the people with a history of slavery and oppression, or the people who’ve always told the oppressed “why don’t you shut up, everything’s fine?”)
Your support of Elmer Fudd carrying a hunting rifle or the existence of Chase from Paw Patrol is a political statement.
I read an article** about cop archetypes—let me tell you, it’s hard to let those archetypes go. As a crime fiction lover, I can see where the pushback comes from in “cancelling” these things. There are ideas ingrained in our culture, (like the hero cop archetype) and contemplating their removal is both painful and at turns ridiculous (Chase from Paw Patrol!) Can I still watch Die Hard? Is it okay to like westerns? Is it possible to recognize things are problematic and still enjoy them? What do we do with H.P. Lovecraft, master horror writer, genre influencer, and known racist?
I support free speech and expression, and I suppose “cancel culture” boils down to the fact that creators and distributors reserve the right to alter or stop production of content based on consumer desire. That’s a free market at work. Remember, the government isn’t the one stamping things out. It’s a change in public desire, even if that public itself is a on a sliding scale of slim majority. You can support some change while maintaining the opinion some change is unnecessary or ridiculous. We’re all entitled to our opinions. WA Redskins? Yeah, probably good idea to change the name. Removing episodes of TV shows? Debatable, probably should be contingent on context. Chase from Paw Patrol? Oy. I guess the real questions are: who wants these changes, and do they help? If they help, I’m certainly not going to defend Chase, or Elmer (in the case of guns). But if these are just generic gestures in the interest of placating, come on.
The internet warns our “cultural revolution,” mimics the Chinese Cultural Revolution of 1966-1976, in which the prolitetariat (labor class) rose up and overthrew the patriarchal elite in the one of the most bizarre and violent periods of human history—never mind that this was publicly backed by a central authoritarian figure, Mao Zedong. Like most political issues, the comparison of the cultural revolution in China and the current one here in the US is simplified into “watch out lefties, you’re going to bring communism and cannibalism to the USA!”
But context doesn’t matter in the feed. Most media stories on both sides are biased and loaded. The left is appalled at the stupidity of the right for being manipulated by 45 into reforming democracy into a fascist dictatorship. The right is enraged that the left wants to overthrow democracy in favor of culture cancelling communism, where anyone is a target for speaking out against what is perceived as mainstream thought.
The question, then is a two-parter—which fear is more grounded in reality, and where do we go from here? I’ll leave that to someone more qualified than I to answer.
Our opposing cultures and politics reflect both this country’s greatest strength and greatest weakness. We should want different schools of thought, different ideologies. But we take cultural opposition and instead of debating, conversing, or compromising, we weaponize (or have culture weaponized against us). We’ve entered a civil Cold War of sorts. Instead of far left pitted against far right, we have all left vs all right, with no unifying principle. A house divided. You know what they say about those.
Our intolerance leaves us vulnerable. Russian bots, China, you name it. Once more, I’ll leave the credibility of these threats for professionals to determine, but I do believe we are so focused on destroying each other that we are blind to the possibility of true threats from without or within.***
The culture war is a distraction no matter which way you shake it. Either that, or we’re willfully engaging because we like it. And I get that. It feels good to get in those digs. Let out the anger. Share a spicy meme. Get pisses off in the comments. Really show ‘em!
It’s also meaningless. Detrimental to national health. Or maybe that’s just me. I’m not advocating pure bipartisanship, though that is a welcome necessity at times. We have our beliefs, and they should be upheld. Debated. Fought for. But we won’t reach meaningful progress hurling bitter insults, personal attacks, or threatening violence.
Or maybe, eventually, we will. But that progress comes at a high cost, and it will be one-sided in the worst way possible. If you don’t want that (I sure as hell don’t) then we have to elevate the conversation, perhaps toward actual policy, at least toward healthy debate, instead of hawking insults and internet threats. Even if there is ultimately a “war,” it won’t be won with memes and Facebook comments.
And gosh golly, please think about where you get your news. If you wonder where the other side gets their ideas, read their preferred news sources. I find it insane that a singular event is spun into two completely different stories. But it happens every hour of every day on our feeds. (What a term huh? Our feeds. What are we feeding on?)
Be good. Be bigger. I’m trying.
“Does anyone remember laughter?”-Robert Plant
*Obama has said some controversial things, typically in the name of shedding light on social issues largely unacknowledged by the federal government, but sometimes out of frustration. In certain instances, he could have been more tactful. Contrast this with any number of 45’s tweets or statements. 45 plays to his constituents. There’s a possibility this is the media’s fault. 45 never had a chance of winning the left in any respect whatsoever. So he stopped trying, and doubled down on whistling the notes only his most loyal would hear, with a few others along for the policy ride and tax breaks. Hence, a widening divide.
***45 scares me. Those that question or investigate him are fired, coerced into stepping down, or publicly humiliated by 45 himself on twitter. His time in office is marked by nepotism. He was impeached based off Mueller’s report. His 2016 election, and the years preceding it, are chalk full of discord sewn into the fabric of our country by Russian intelligence over social media. 45’s administration knew this. In fact, some close to 45 that were convicted and sentenced based off ties to election interference are now free. His handling of the pandemic has been confusing at best, catastrophic at worst. This is not Democrat spin. These are facts available to the public. I suppose the true test will be in November, or possibly 4 years from November if it’s not too late. Try as I might, I find it incredibly difficult imagining 45 stepping down for any reason. Hopefully all these checks and balances aren’t for nothing. Yet at the same time, if 45 has enough powerful people in enough places, the checks and balances don’t mean much. People like Mitch McConnell, Brett Kavanaugh, William Barr, Michael Cohen, and Roger Stone. Time will tell if this is “just” classic executive branch corruption mixed with pandering to loyal constituents, or something ultimately dangerous to democracy.