This Summer, Progressive Culture Has Trumped Conservative Politics

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“Arguments can always be found to turn desire into policy.”

                       ― Barbara W. Tuchman, The Guns of August  

If last year’s election proved anything it was the rejection of the politics of progressivism as an electoral movement. But this summer’s national discord has proved the ascension of the politics of progressivism as a cultural movement. Today, culture is more potent than politics. And a tour of America from sea to shining sea over recent weeks proves that progressive culture has trumped conservative politics. It wasn’t supposed to be this way.

Donald Trump’s victory in 2016 was heralded by some as confirmation that a new conservative crusade — reminiscent of the Reagan Revolution in 1980 — was about to begin, as a sort of restoration of American exceptionalism here and abroad. There was plenty of evidence to support such a thesis.

At the federal level, Republicans were now controlling the legislative and the executive branches. And President Trump’s successful confirmation of Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch meant that the U.S. Supreme Court could, during just one Trump term, tip decidedly conservative. At the state level, Republicans further consolidated their majorities. They were now controlling 34 governorships, and 68 legislative chambers (controlling both chambers in 32 states, covering 61 percent of the U.S. population). And in 25 states Republicans owned the so-called trifecta:  governor, senate, and house. In short order state judiciaries would also turn definitively more conservative.

The last time Republicans enjoyed such overwhelming political clout was in 1928, with the election of Herbert Hoover. A portend, 2016 promised even better things than 1980, when Ronald Reagan became president.

But the dazzling radiance and noisy clatter appearing on tablets and televisions this summer wasn’t the sight and sound of conservatives toiling away at the national debt or global competitiveness. Or other important matters. On the contrary, you saw and heard progressives roiling about statues and white shaming. And, just this past week, climate disruption. (Even before making landfall the severity of Hurricane Harvey was attributed to global warming.)     

Give progressives their due.

Lacking in political influence, they have been masterful in leveraging their cultural influence (as they have ever since the late 1960s). Under the cloak of indoctrination, seemingly all aspects of life are now subject to scrutiny for unity, diversity, inclusiveness, fairness, and offensiveness. And victim status.

By cleverly using marketing and media (where social media and mainstream media have become one massive progressive voice) progressives have used emotion, not reason, to their advantage. It is an efficacious strategy, intent on converting empathetic emotions into public policy. Conservatives have underestimated the power of this fact:  tears, not taxes, resonate better on tablets and televisions.

This summer, conservatives have mostly stood idly on sidewalks, but for sheepishly waving white flags in the anxious air, as parade after parade of marching culture warriors have passed them by, celebrating anarchy, trampling history, and commandeering moral agency, all while captivating peoples’ hearts, not their minds. A change of season — and sensibility — is slow in arriving.

Relive conservatives’ Summer of Discontent all across America.

The San Domenico School, a Catholic institution in Marin County, California, has removed a majority of its campus’ 180 religious statues and icons in order to be more “inclusive” and “forward looking.” In an email message to the school, one outraged parent wrote, “Articulating an inclusive foundation appears to mean letting go of San Domenico’s 167-year tradition as a Dominican Catholic school and being both afraid and ashamed to celebrate one’s heritage and beliefs.” Also in California, at Rocklin Academy Schools, a kindergarten student was reintroduced to classmates as transgender and the teacher followed up the student’s new gender revelation by reading a pair of books about transgenderism to the class.

At the University of Iowa, Jodi Linley, assistant professor, pledged to expose her students to “their own white ignorance.” In her words, she seeks to “deconstruct whiteness” in her curriculum. With white shaming a national campus rage, Linley draws on her “identities as a queer, able-bodied, cisgender woman” to build her “teaching paradigm.”

In Chicago, where last month alone 410 people were shot (74 people fatally), a pastor has called on Mayor Rahm Emmanuel to rename two parks named for former Presidents George Washington and Andrew Jackson, both slaveholders. As the CBS Chicago affiliate reported, Bishop James Duke insists “he’s not trying to erase history.”

Along the banks of the Mississippi River, the board of the Orpheum Theatre Group, in Memphis, will no longer show Gone with the Wind. After an August 11 screening, the theater group received “numerous comments” about the eight-time Academy Award-winning film. The 1939 classic is now deemed “insensitive” to audiences at large.

On the campus of Yale University, officials altered an 86-year-old stone carving of a Puritan settler and a Native American to make it appear less “offensive.” The musket of the Puritan, but not the arrow of the Native American, has been covered. Explains the Yale Alumni Magazine:  “The university consulted faculty and other scholarly experts, who concluded that the image depicts a scene of warfare and colonial violence toward local Native American inhabitants.”

As autumn mercifully, but unhurriedly, approaches, conservatives need to answer a fundamental question:  how do you govern in a prodigious country seeped in a progressive culture?

James P. Freeman is a New England-based writer and former columnist with The Cape Cod Times. His work has also appeared in The Providence Journal, newenglanddiary.comand