How Progressives Win the Culture War

How Progressives Win the Culture War, by David Brooks.

Yet I have to admit that something bigger is going on. It could be that progressives understood something I didn’t. It could be that you can win more important victories through an aggressive cultural crusade than you can through legislation. Progressives could be on the verge of delegitimizing their foes, on guns but also much else, rendering them untouchable for anybody who wants to stay in polite society. That would produce social changes far vaster than limiting assault rifles.

Two things have fundamentally changed the landscape. First, over the past two years conservatives have self-marginalized. In supporting Donald Trump they have tied themselves to a man whose racial prejudices, sexual behavior and personal morality put him beyond the pale of decent society.

While becoming the movement of Dinesh D’Souza, Sean Hannity and Franklin Graham, they have essentially expelled the leaders and thinkers who have purchase in mainstream culture. Conservatism is now less a political or philosophic movement and more a separatist subculture that participates in its own ostracism.

Second, progressives are getting better and more aggressive at silencing dissenting behavior. All sorts of formerly legitimate opinions have now been deemed beyond the pale on elite campuses. Speakers have been disinvited and careers destroyed. The boundaries are being redrawn across society.

As Andrew Sullivan noted recently, “workplace codes today read like campus speech codes of a few years ago.” There are a number of formerly popular ideas that can now end your career: the belief that men and women have inherent psychological differences, the belief that marriage is between a man and a woman, opposition to affirmative action.

What’s happening today is that certain ideas about gun rights, and maybe gun ownership itself, are being cast in the realm of the morally illegitimate and socially unacceptable. …

If progressives can cut what’s left of the conservative movement off from mainstream society, they will fundamentally alter the culture war. We think of the culture war as this stagnant thing in which both sides scream at each other. But eventually there could be a winner. Progressives have won on most social issues. They could win on nearly everything else. …

Conservatives have zero cultural power, but they have immense political power. Even today, voters trust Republicans on the gun issue more than Democrats. If you exile 40 percent of the country from respectable society they will mount a political backlash that will make Donald Trump look like Adlai Stevenson.

Controlling the culture really matters, because culture is upstream of politics. And controlling who and what appears on media, including social media, is a large part of controlling culture.