Trump’s Culture War: A Last Stand?

Trump’s Culture War: A Last Stand?

With last week’s announcement of a ban on transgender soldiers in the US army, Trump slid to a new low that shocked even Sauron himself.

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“I was shocked!”- Sauron

Of course, nothing is yet certain with this latest betrayal but even the proposal of such an amendment sheds light on the growing sense of desperation that characterizes this administration. And now at this fatal hour, when his cabinet is falling apart, North Korea is testing missiles, and the Republicans can’t pass a repeal on Obamacare, he must play what could perhaps be his last card; the culture wars.

Republicans have been playing this one for years. It’s what they do when the heat gets a little too intense in an election debate or when Modern Family introduces another minority character. It helps to convey the other side for what they really are; family-ruining, drug-addicted hippies who would have every American speaking Lithuanian, or some other strange language, if they could. And the thing is, it works. 

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The dog is also gender neutral.

In the 1980s, as the New Right became more powerful and assertive, they began to push back against some of the radical shifts in society brought about by the Left in the 1960s and 1970s, such as abortion. Although this issue had effectively been put to rest in 1973 with the Roe v. Wade case, the opposition never quite dissipated; in fact, they became more vocal and encroaching in everyday life, leading to the rise of Republicans like George W. Bush, who would, himself (yes), appoint two eyebrow-raising justices to the Supreme Court in 2005-6. Meanwhile however, leftist activists broadened their range of issues from anti-war activism and feminism, taking on the proliferation of nuclear weapons and power plants, energy sources, and globalism in the 1980s and 1990s. When the Kyoto Protocol of 1997, for instance, was turned down four years later, the cultural schism became apparent in the ongoing debates on environmentalist priority. The media, in their ever cunning way, capitalized on such tensions by targeting their audiences appropriately with ideological news channels like CNN, MSNBC, and Fox.

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Former Fox giant Bill O’ Reilly, in one of his old pieces, ranting about how a single mother took his parking spot.

Today, Americans live in a zany, amplified version of this reality however. Many liberals see conservatives as backwards-thinking, science-abating morons with their heads stuck in the sand, yearning for a time long gone. The right, on the other hand, resent how soft and regulated America has become under the likes of Obama. They believe the right to bear arms is tantamount to their right to freedom, under the US constitution. And… Gwyneth Paltrow!!! It’s not all clear cut but a range of issues divide these collective groups, including: political correctness, church & state,  LGBT rights, women’s rights, immigration, recreational drug use, censorship, and state rights.

Are there two Americas then? or is this all better understood as a modern-day struggle to define the spirit of what America is? Of course, no society is ever wholly united on every issue but in general, there’s usually a strong consensus on at least several of the ones mentioned above. Judging by the course of other nations and the prevailing tide of social history, it seems rational to guess the left will prevail on most of these, though at times, it must be admitted that even their tactics can be deemed a tad excessive (especially with political correctness).

Trump is no ideologue but he is a master at shit-stirring. He may yet be able to rally his supporters up, if he’s able to cast his liberal opposition in the same framework Bush did to Kerry in 2004. It’s not a surefire strategy but with the 2018 mid-terms becoming a more prominent talking-point, it may be the one by which he hangs on. It certainly helped in 2016. As Rich Lowry wrote for The Guardian in January, ‘ [he] is an unlikely cultural warrior, but if he can harness a sense of national solidarity and speak persuasively for ordinary American workers… he may prove a powerful one.’ The battle’s on liberals- your base will undoubtedly garner the support of the transgender community but leave your Facebook commentators at home. They’re just terrible.

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A Crisis Of Confidence Revisited

A Crisis Of Confidence Revisited

We always believed that we were part of a great movement of humanity itself called democracy, involved in the search for freedom; and that belief has always strengthened us in our purpose. But just as we are losing our confidence in the future, we are also beginning to close the door on our past…

38 years ago, President Jimmy Carter spoke to the nation in an effort to reconcile the will of the people with his own agenda. In the years preceding, America had undergone a radical decline in morale thanks to the War in Vietnam, the assassinations of two Kennedys, Watergate, an Energy Crisis, and inflation. The people were agitated on an account of the inference that their lives were getting worse and that Washington, in its bubble, seemed unwilling to help. The same old story tends to repeat itself throughout history. So why revisit this one?

The short and simple answer is that it so emboldens the contrast in leadership values held between two of the most diametrically opposed leaders of recent history. Carter was a morally-minded, peace-seeking, detail-oriented hard worker who never lied to the American people and Trump is a comic-book villain. In tandem to this however, many of the things said in the famous ‘Crisis of Confidence’ speech still garner interest to people today. Indeed, I would go so far as to assert that it is one of the best speeches that was ever delivered by a president, at least in terms of diagnosing what was wrong with American values then.

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It was delivered on July 15 under the context of an Energy Speech. Carter understood he wasn’t exactly popular and that this program needed help. In a somewhat prophetic move, he thus retreated to Camp David and let citizens of all walks of life give him their assessment of his presidency. To many today, this would appear a weak and even pathetic move. I would argue however that a little humility can go a long way in evoking an image of thoughtfulness. Confidence certainly has its place but not when misguided and blinded. Carter, a wise man, didn’t have the audacity to just stupendously ignore the people. He listened to them and did his best to understand their concerns.

… [After] listening to the American people, I have been reminded that all the legislation in the world can’t fix what’s wrong with America.

Many things were and still are wrong with America but back in 1979, Carter pinpointed a growing tendency towards greed and self-indulgence that would prevail in the succeeding decade and thereafter (a time in which Trump’s fortunes inflated beyond any sense of reality). It wasn’t purely a commercial, economic, and political triad of change however, it was one weighing on the consciousness of the American spirit which had always bolstered the idea of going from rags to riches through hard work.

In a nation that was proud of hard work, strong families, close-knit communities and our faith in God, too many of us tend to worship self-indulgence and consumption. Human identity is no longer defined by what one does but by what one owns.

Carter’s most savage critics sneered that he was piously preaching; even blaming the shortcomings of his administration on the hard-working American people. It’s not too difficult to make this case given the realities of the time. The importance of this speech, regardless, rests on the fact that no other president would ever say such things. As blunt as it may seem, they have always appeased the public with undeserved flattery to save their own skin like Goneril and Regan to King Lear… which brings us back to the mad King.

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Can he change? Can he inspire? Can he tell the truth? Going by any interview, biography, or fortune cookie, it would be fair to say that he is a lost cause but we must remember, that other leaders will arise, from the smallest towns to the state capitals to Capital Hill and the White House.  We must raise the bar for what we expect from them. Trump-level leadership is not acceptable. Paul Ryan-level leadership isn’t either. Not even George W. Bush, as saintly as he may appear these days, is acceptable. We need to be given a hard slap of reality frequently and not just when election cycles go haywire. America may have fallen off the band wagon altogether in 2016 but those wheels have been rocking for a long time. Of course, Carter called it back then:

We are at a turning point in our history. There are two paths to choose. One is a path I’ve warned about tonight, the path that leads to fragmentation and self-interest. Down that road lies a mistaken idea of freedom, the right to grasp for ourselves some advancement over others…

The other path is presumably somewhere in Canada.