America’s Manufactured Culture War

W.J. Astore

So much of what passes for America’s Kulturkampf (culture struggle) consists of phony, made up, manufactured issues.  Consider the following sign, sent to me by a friend as he toured the wilds of Pennsylvania:

PC Penntucky

It is supposedly “politically incorrect” to say Merry Christmas, to state the Pledge of Allegiance (“one nation under God”), to salute the flag, and to thank the troops.  Those who do all these things apparently take pride in their alleged outspokenness and their love of all things American.

Sigh.

Forgive me for stating the obvious, but it’s never been politically incorrect to say Merry Christmas.  Virtually all Americans say they believe in God or some higher power.  Nearly all Americans respect the flag (even those who kneel in protest, I’d argue), and America’s respect for the military has never been higher.

But this sign with its false narrative encapsulates much of the Republican/Trumpian message: We’re the real Americans.  And anyone who says “Happy Holidays” or who suggests separation of church and state or who sees protest as legitimate free speech is obviously un-American and should leave the country.

I just wonder at all those Americans who buy signs like this, thinking that by doing so they’re showcasing their bravery at being non-PC and their pride in being so “American.”

One thing is certain: this manufactured culture war is a great way to distract and divide the commoners as the rich and powerful continue their looting of America.

11 thoughts on “America’s Manufactured Culture War

  1. This alludes to what I have been thinking (and saying to those willing to be around me)-America & the government are NOT the same thing, no more than a city council is a community, but it is useful to those of influence to invoke an abstraction and shuffle the masses into classes that work against each other while those of increased economic utilty, politcal influence & social stature perpetuate a failing paradigm.

    I don’t believe this is isolated to any particular institution either. Every institution, be it government, churches, schools, et alia have drifted from principles, and taken refuge in the interpretation of principles. We are out on the branches, hanging from the twigs and distracting ourselves with the leaves, believing the solution to our woes is to go farther.

    We should return to the fundamentals. I will use the fundamentals of shooting, as outlined by the military [breathing, body position, sight picture and trigger squeeze] as an example. Most people don’t breathe (and aren’t relaxed), are contorted (by unquestioned ideas), can’t see beyond their own understanding (misidentifying the target) and react, rather than respond (jerking to & fro).

    Any effort that develops over time does so because the fundamentals are sound and have value. For any effort to withstand time, the fundamentals must be revisited regularly.

    In case the NSA (or whatver group) is monitoring this website, I am not implying an overthrow of the G-I am suggesting an overthrow of our own understanding of the world around us, the expectations we have of ourselves & the institutions that emerged to serve us and most importantly, our expectations of each other.

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    1. Yes. If government is “of the people, by the people, for the people,” we can remake government by remaking ourselves.

      Sadly, our government is less and less attached to the concerns of the majority, and more and more controlled by those with money and power. Thus even as we remake ourselves, we must reform our government. The first step (among many) is to get big money out of politics via campaign finance reform. Maybe that way our elected representatives will stop being obedient remoras riding so many corporate sharks.

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      1. I don’t see how it can be top-down at this stage-too many “citizens” have invested in a dying paradigm. Millennials are inclined to do it, but unless they question not only social issues, but the presentation of said issues, the culture will become more perverse (not sexually).

        The one thing that gives me hope (as far as culture) is that more people are realizing “narrative” [whoever introduced that term into popular parlance did a great service], primarily because everyone has a story and can share it instantly.

        The age of information has given way to the age of activism, and even when I don’t agree on issues, it’s great to watch people resurrect/redefine democracy.

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    1. Yeah, I guess it was dangerous eating cake in the 1780’s, but today we have a new fear: using Christian Dior’s (best selling for decades) men’s cologne: “Sauvage” (Savage). Yup, the PC Police in EU want a name change. Wasting time, as some retirees do, I checked out their website, full of apologies. Before leaving, I got a sales pitch for their women’s “Dior Addict” scent. No media PC problems thus far, but I’d like to ask them what opioids or heroin smell like! I also wound’t like my wife labeled as one because she wears it!

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  2. I would slightly disagree, there has been Cultural War in the past – It has morphed or evolved.

    The beasts that evolved during the Age of the Dinosaurs, had their own “Arms War” so to speak, giant-ism in terms of sheer size, stubby horns, developing into the Triceratops, and a variety of fierce some two legged carnivores.

    Socially and politically this culture war has played out with ever escalating verbiage since Strom Thurmond and his Red neck Neo-Confederate Dixiecrats. Ike’s support of Brown vs Topeka, enforcing Federalism in Little Rock was a CAT 5 social hurricane: Eisenhower knew he had to act boldly. He placed the Arkansas National Guard under federal control and sent 1,000 U.S. Army paratroopers from the 101st Airborne Division to assist them in restoring order in Little Rock.

    The Culture War in my lifetime had begun. Since then, there has been an escalation on the legal front as well as the Social-Culture Fronts. As I read some feeds on Face Book, the Federal Government (with the important exception of the military) has ruined America, by taking bibles out of public schools and of course eliminating religious celebrations in the schools and public property – The War on Christmas.

    The escalation goes on: Assault Rifles and banana clips are now a necessity to defend the home and homeland, the EPA is job killer, climate change is challenged. Like the Dinosaurs who had a small beginning, there are now these ferocious beasts who want to return the culture to the early 1950’s. Thoughts and Prayers will solve all our problems.

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    1. I agree with your mild objection ML. Going back in US history, it doesn’t take very long to find what could be termed ‘culture wars’ – the 60’s certainly had a dichotomy of political views, and — in addition to your mention of Ike & Little Rock (not to mention the lynchings that still took place into the 60’s)—- the 50’s had the mainstream culture but also had the Beat culture in opposition. I can’t help but wonder if some of the examples cited in WJA’s above article aren’t somewhat the result in the explosion in the number of electronic media outlets, notably right-wing talk radio, that have to fill-up air-time and compete with each other for ears & eyeballs, leading to a hyperbole race much like ‘professional’ wrestling announcers?

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  3. “I, Me, Mine”

    There is no “Golden Age” to return to.
    Cultural divides – some easily bridged, others as wide as the sky – have existed in America since Day One. I believe they became “wars” when it became politically and commercially expedient to label them as such and, subsequently, to exploit them. And where one couldn’t be found, by all means manufacture one. As we can hardly be said to be living in “a more enlightened age,” to do so is easier than ever.
    (Recommended reading: “Faces of the Enemy” by Sam Keen.)

    No matter how noble or base and venal a particular group’s cause may be, they are all – in their way – exclusionary, decidedly “us vs them.” That’s from the most passive vegan to the most vitriolic & violent nationalist/white supremacist.
    As a result, because there will be no “joining of forces,” it is all too easy to manipulate such groups. Everyone has their own agenda/cause and no discernible interest in forming a coalition for fear their “message” will become diluted or compromised beyond recognition. They all also make it quite clear that anyone who fails to recognize the righteousness of their cause is (fill in appropriate vilification).

    People refuse or are unable to see the connection between one issue or another. But all issues that affect the populace are connected in that while we may not be the same, we are all One. “E pluribus unum.” Rich or poor, climate change affects you. Injustice affects you. The interference in/manipulation of the democratic process and political system affects you. Endless military actions affect you. The increasingly poor quality of education affects you. The health care system, the crumbling infrastructure … on and on.
    But as George Harrison once sang, it’s all “I, Me, Mine.” Less-than-splendid isolation.
    It’s not even a question of “divide and conquer”: by emphasizing their differences, these groups only succeed in isolating themselves. To be isolated is, ultimately, to be without power.

    An Example:
    Q: How many people see Bernie Sanders as a rich, goggle-eyed, old man with bad hair, raging away about things that will cost tax payers Big Bucks?
    A: Probably a lot.
    Righteous though his stands on certain issues may be, Bernie’s already been isolated. Moral outrage doesn’t have the clout it used to among voters.

    Ah, getting well away from things, here …

    America has long looked at other nations, shaken its head at their political/social/cultural/ religious oppression and related violence, and smugly asserted “That wouldn’t happen in our country.” But it does on a daily basis.
    From taking offense at someone saying, “Merry Christmas” to encouraging shouts of “Send them back!” we look for and find not excuses but justification for our actions. And if we don’t find one, we create one because “We’re not like them!”

    I’m not saying there aren’t solutions to the Nation’s problems, but they lie within the people, not in institutions. The White House, the Pentagon, the halls of Congress, churches, universities, banks … these are structures which, in and of themselves, can do nothing to anything or anyone. It’s the people inside them and the people who put them there.
    In 3rd grade math terms, we have come to believe more in division and subtraction than we have in addition. And any excuse will do.

    Cynical & pessimistic, perhaps. But I’ve come to believe people don’t change: they evolve or revert to their true selves. And, alas, it turns out Americans aren’t all that different from anyone else.

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    1. Very well put. Division and subtraction is the way now. Forget about addition — unless it’s the richest adding up all their money.

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