Athletes know the guy who punches back almost always gets the penalty. That’s basically what happens in the culture war, and in no small part because one side owns the referees. The left is trying to change cultural norms, the right is pushing back, and the media is blaming it all on conservatives.
Ben Domenech and I wrote last week to note “finally” the right is wading meaningfully into the culture war. That argument, to some, was nothing short of laughable. But it’s true for two clear reasons — reasons many people have been blinded to by the biased referees of legacy media.
First, by definition, the goal of the progressive movement is to induce cultural change. Conservative resistance to that change is defense, not offense. The left stokes the culture war and the right responds to it. Honest progressives admit as much.
If, for instance, you wish to normalize transgender ideology or gay marriage, your strategy necessarily involves waging a war on the existing culture in which that norm does not yet exist. The same applies to our treatment of race in school curricula. If you want it to be more in line with leftist ideology, you are waging a culture war on our education system’s norms.
A few years ago, I used a Vox explainer on the “War on Thanksgiving” to break this down. Even as the article framed conservatives as culture warriors, it conceded that leftists were indeed trying to change the way we celebrate Thanksgiving. You may think the left’s argument is reasonable and virtuous, but that doesn’t absolve them of picking the fight. Some of those fights have been commendable, like civil rights and women’s suffrage. The effort to secularize Christmas, not so much.
Therein lies the second key point. Have conservatives leaned into conflicts like the “War On Christmas” for years? Absolutely. Did the Moral Majority have power in the past? Yes. Have some of the culture conflicts been puffed up? Yes. But “conservatives” alone are not “the right,” as Ben and I wrote. They are part of the right, but they are not the Republican Party or the Beltway class of journalists, consultants, and pundits that now seems convinced the cultural cause is worthy.
This is an incredibly important distinction. Both the GOP and the Beltway right have explicitly condescended to social conservatives for at least the last decade, siding consistently with the left and faux-center when it comes to leaning into cultural battles like restrooms and abortion and immigration. That’s true even of people who appeal to social conservatives when they’re forced to make politically difficult decisions, especially ones that put them at odds with the business community. These rebuttals were seen as bad for the brand and a threat to entrenched political power.
But they were still rebuttals. Conservative resistance to change is not categorically moral or rational. Today, of course, I think it most often is. Much of the country seems to agree key pillars of cultural leftism are wrong, including censorship and radical race and gender ideology.
That’s why this point is about more than semantics. In order to properly understand the culture war, it’s important to understand that resisters on the right, center, and left (see: Tulsi Gabbard, Joe Rogan, Dave Chappelle, etc.) are not the aggressors. The public is reacting to radical cultural shifts induced by the elite left. Republicans have come to realize these battles are not only moral, but politically expedient. They are leaning in, but they are doing so to represent a wide swath of the country that is uncomfortable with these attempts at change. This dynamic is exactly why the response is powerful, which the right and left should both understand.
Dismissing the culture war as a figment of right-wing fever dreams is not a factual or consistent position. On the one hand, the left wants to celebrate “progress” and “change” in the culture. On the other, it wants to cast detractors as rabid aggressors in a culture war, hellbent on forcing social issues into the discourse to gin up America’s bigoted hordes of toothless rubes. That’s the real fever dream.