Culture War 4.0 – the “overreach” cycle
Benjamin Domenech and Robert Tracinski have an intriguing article up at The Federalist in which they opine the left in general, and Social Justice Warriors in particular, are setting up a huge cultural backlash by their triumphalism and overreach following the SCOTUS finding in favor of gay marriage. They site the “iron law of the cultures wars” as their premise.
The iron law of the culture wars is that the public hates overreach—and each side will always overreach.
Domenech and Tracinski take us through the history of our recent culture wars. 1.0 was the ’60s and 70’s “counterculture”.
[C]onsisted of a combination of two things: a promise of “liberation” from restrictions that seemed overly Puritanical and outmoded, combined with an ideological goal of the destruction of existing social institutions such as church, family, and capitalism.
The first aim had a broad appeal, promising freedom from blue-nosed moral scolds and a liberating revolution in human behavior. But the second was a more aggressive and provocative attack on institutions that had endured since before the country existed. By the late 1970s, the effects of the Counterculture were hitting with full force, and people didn’t like what they saw.
Which led to the backlash of 2.0. The birth of the “Religious Right” which became the “Moral Majority” and a move back toward more traditional values.
Reagan Democrats partnered with Republicans to pursue a law-and-order agenda. Overwhelming bipartisan majorities passed religious freedom laws, which Bill Clinton dutifully signed.
Then came the overreach:
Political wives started a crusade against violent and sexually explicit television, movies, and popular music.
The desire to “ban” what isn’t “acceptable” by the culture driving the train at the moment seems overwhelming, regardless of the side.
On to 3.0 which is a bit more complex. Clinton was impeached, which much of the country saw as overreach (it was none of the business of politicians, they figured), especially in light of those condemning him (remember Jimmy Swaggart and the Bakkers?). But again, what it primarily did was put the “counterculture” kids back on the offensive and the more traditional side, guilty of the overreach, on the defensive again:
The Counterculture kids from the 1960s and 70s were now ensconced in positions of power. They had taken over the universities in the 1990s and began to assert a campus culture of conformity on issues involving religion and sex. They had established themselves as the leaders in entertainment and popular culture. The nostalgic and implicitly conservative pop culture of the 1980s and 1990s, where villains were Nazis, Communists, feckless bureaucrats, and irresponsible reporters—gave way to influential depictions designed to press a change in social norms. 1998 brought Bill Clinton’s impeachment, but it also brought “Will & Grace” and a push for greater tolerance and acceptance of homosexuality. The crusade for gay marriage—a key change in goals for the gay-rights movement—threw religious conservatives into a defensive posture, causing them to fight to maintain their mores as public policy via gay-marriage bans.
Boom – here we are, and we’ve entered 4.0 and the beginnings of overreach by the left:
Today we live in the early stages of that triumph, and as a small number of public intellectuals and media commentators predicted, it is a bloody triumph indeed. Culture War 4.0 brings the Counterculture full circle: now they have become the blue-nosed, Puritanical establishment. Once they began to achieve their goals and saw the culture moving their way, they moved from making a plea for tolerance and freedom to demanding persecution of anyone who dissents against the new orthodoxy in even the smallest way.
Whichever side believes it is winning will tend to overreach, pushing too far, too fast, and alienating the public.
In just the past two years, the Counterculture’s neo-Puritanical reign has made things political that were never thought to be: Shirtstorms and Gamergate, Chik-fil-A and Brandon Eich, Indiana and Sad Puppies, and don’t you dare say Caitlyn Jenner isn’t a hero.
Instead of being content and modest in their victory for gay rights, the left has chosen instead to be aggressive and intolerant. Overreach begins:
Within hours of the Supreme Court’s resolution of the battle over same-sex marriage—the triumph of a generation of gay-rights activists—some were already calling for further steps to take tax exemptions away from churches, use anti-discrimination laws to target religious non-profits, and crack down on religious schools’ access to voucher programs. We learned media entities would no longer publish the views of those opposed to gay marriage or treat it as an issue with two sides, and the American Civil Liberties Union announced it would no longer support bipartisan religious-freedom measures it once backed wholeheartedly. A reality TV star pushed the transgender rights movement into the center of the national dialogue even as Barack Obama’s administration used its interpretation of Title IX to push its genderless bathroom policies into public schools. And we learned that pulling Confederate merchandise off the shelves isn’t enough to mitigate the racism of the past—we must bring down statues and street signs, too, destroying reminders of history now deemed inconvenient and unsafe.
On college campuses and in the workplace, across mass media and social media, for American celebrities and private citizens, every comment, act, or joke can make you the next target for a ritual of daily attack by outraged Twitter mobs. It is now an unavoidable fact of life that giving money to the wrong cause, making a “clumsy attempt at humor,” or taking the wrong side on a celebrity, religious debate, or magazine cover can lead to threats of violent death, end your career in an instant, or make you the most hated person in America for 15 minutes—longer if you bungle the apology.
American society is, for the most part, an incredibly tolerant society. However, there is a point beyond which it won’t be pushed. It reacts, sometimes subtly and sometimes more forcefully. It is that innate tolerance that drives this reaction. Tolerance cannot abide the intolerance of those who would impose their cultural values on others by force – i.e. the force of law, bans, infringement on rights, etc. There are lines drawn by society at large and it doesn’t care what side the culture warriors are on, it refuses to let them cross those lines.
We’re again seeing a coalition forming in opposition to the current “victors” of the culture wars, interestingly including many on the left. We’re also beginning to see the SJWs and their like begin to “eat their own” as their rigid orthodoxy is applied to their own kind. It was inevitable and it is somewhat humorous to watch. But the bottom line is they’ve overreached and are now beginning to reap the backlash they have sown.
Frankly, that is long overdue. As Domenech and Traciski conclude:
This is the hopeful side of the culture wars—a call for engagement, not retreat. Religious believers weighing the option of withdrawing from a culture increasingly hostile to their values should redouble their efforts to cultivate their ideas within active subcultures that influence the nation and the next generation of Americans. Those who share a commitment to the freedom to think, speak, associate, publish, and express their beliefs may not have the American Civil Liberties Union in our corner any more—but that just means that we get to take up the noble cause, and the moral authority, they have abandoned.
Yes, this can be a dangerous time to be active in the culture. But it’s very hard to make speech codes, safe spaces, and other anti-thoughtcrime measures work in the long term. Sometimes all it takes for the whole apparatus to come crashing down is a handful of people brave enough to speak their minds without fear.