I saw another article this weekend about culture war in America. Supposedly, America is deeply divided, and I’m not denying there are divisions. But when you ask Americans what they want, what’s surprising is how united we are, irrespective of party differences. For example, Americans favor a $15 minimum wage. We favor single-payer health care. We favor campaign finance reform that gets big money donors and corporations out of government. Yet our government, which is bought by those same donors, refuses to give Americans what we want. Division is what they give us instead, and even then it’s often a sham form of division.
What do I mean by “sham”? Well, our so-called divided government is strongly united in support of huge war budgets and endless war. Strongly united in support of Israel. Strongly in favor of, and obedient to, special interests and big money in politics. Strongly in favor of business as usual (with a stress on “business”), with sham elections every four years between the center-right Democrats and the increasingly unhinged-right Republicans. Sadly, when it comes to policy that impacts the working classes, there isn’t much difference between Nancy Pelosi and Mitch McConnell. They are unified in what they deny us.
It’s a war of the have-mores versus the haves and especially the have-nots, and the have-lots-more are winning. Why? Because they’ve bought the government too.
Of course, we do see examples of so-called culture war in the U.S. Consider in the realm of history the “battle” between the 1619 Project and the 1776ers. The 1619ers want to stress the many violent and tragic legacies of slavery to America’s history. (1619 was the first year an African slave was brought to the colonies.) The 1776ers want to stress the ideals of the American Revolution, the proud legacy of George Washington and other founders, the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution, and so on.
What’s the solution to this “culture war” between the 1619ers and the 1776ers? I’m a historian, and I’ve taught U.S. history. The solution is easy. You teach both. America is a land of contradictions. Any U.S. historian worth her salt is going to talk about genocide and the Native Americans; is going to talk about the violent and bitter legacies of slavery; and is also going to talk about the ideals and idealism of the founders, however imperfectly they put them into practice, and the promise of the Constitution and the spirit of liberty. To ignore slavery while singing the praises of the founders would be as flawed and one-sided as focusing entirely on slavery without ever mentioning the proud achievements of those same founders.
America is a complex and contradictory place — and any historian is going to address those complexities and contradictions because that’s precisely what makes history interesting, fascinating, enthralling. Few students want to be comforted by feel-good history or assaulted by feel-bad history. They want to know the good, the bad, and the ugly, and historians should be able to teach the same. There’s simply no need for a culture war here over the content of history.
I said there’s no need, but that doesn’t mean a culture war isn’t wanted. Polemicists love culture wars, and so too do the already privileged and the powerful. For if we’re fighting each other, if we perceive we’re divided and simply can’t find common ground, we’ll forget we have so much in common, like our desire for a living wage, affordable health care, and politicians who’d actually represent us instead of the special interests.
Forget culture war. Let’s make war on those who keep us apart and who refuse to work for those so desperately in need.
Readers, what do you think?
24 thoughts on “Culture War!”
As usual WJA, you are right on the money (pardon the pun…)!!
MLK made the same point 50 years ago: divide us by race or whatever so that we won’t unify to demand our “leaders” represent us.
If it were not so damned serious it would be laughable; that the great majority of all people of the earth want peace and a better life so badly, and their leaders seem powerless and sufficiently witless to obtain it for us. What I wish to ask of all members of the United Nations is, “How many more centuries are you going to continue to allow the ‘stupidity’ and atrocities of wars? Do we need to find minds more wise? Look at the ‘Purposes of the UN.’ Read what you all signed onto.”
I caught this story about Rick Santorum being fired at CNN for his comments on Native Americans: https://www.theguardian.com/media/2021/may/22/cnn-rick-santorum-axed-native-americans
I don’t see this as “culture war.” I see this as a struggle against dumb asses like Santorum. And why did the “liberal” CNN give him a platform to begin with?
The MSM is always trying to boost its ratings by fomenting division and controversy. But they’ll quickly fire a reporter — even a Jewish one — for being seen as slightly pro-Palestinian.
Bravo! I especially liked your categories of the “haves,” the “have-nots,” the “have-mores,” and the “have-lots-mores.” Spot-on!
Or, as Deputy Dubya Bush (Sheriff Cheney’s Barney Fife) said to a room full of swank donors: “Some call you the ‘haves.’ Some call you the ‘have-mores.’ I just call you my base.” (… snicker snicker, smirk smirk …)
As the Congress and Courts sing along to the tune of:
Pimpin’ with the Prezident
It ain’t so hard to be a pimp
Just ask George Bush, the wailin’ wimp
He’ll eat your hamburger today
Then Tuesday promise to repay
On Monday, though, he plans to skip
And leave your kids with bill and tip
He’s pimped the troops out walkin’ beats
In Baghdad’s mean and lethal streets
While he stays safe at home in bed
A nightlight shinin’ by his head
He flies into Iraq at night
Then splits before the mornin’ light
He takes some promo picture groups
Him feedin’ turkey to the troops
Another ersatz plastic bird:
A photo of a smilin’ turd
In his big plane he flies around
While troops get hammered on the ground
He pimps out both the girls and boys
To bring in money for his joys
Too bad his need to be reborn
Too good the war bucks kiddie porn
The fanboy fascists jerkin’ off
Would never think to bitch or scoff
It ain’t their sisters takin’ slap
It ain’t their brothers catchin’ clap
They loved that tale of Monica
Why do they hate America?
It ain’t so hard to be a pimp
Just ask George Bush, the smirkin’ chimp
He learned about the crime that pays
In voodoo Reaganomics days
With Laffer drawin’ fancy curves
On napkins that the waitress serves
Old Ron and Dick and Don saw quick
That deficits would do the trick
Just rob the future; hide the stash
Then cover up by talkin’ trash
The sacred military scam
Would kill the ghost of’Vietnam
“Let’s coin an urban myth,” they thought
“To unlearn all the lessons taught”
“We’ll say they had it ‘won’ for naught,
We expert ones who never fought”
“Their deaths and maimings we can choose
To call a ‘syndrome’ — we can’t lose!”
“Americans are so damn thick
They think of wise as somethin’ sick”
But, anyway, this pimpin’ pays
You cannot even count the ways
This pimpin’, George the Shrub thought fine
As long as he could jump the line
Let better men go off to die
He’d get ahead and learn to fly
He got his picture took in planes
Then disappeared to make some gains
But now, though, he gets custom threads
And public funding for his meds
“It troubles me,” he sometimes blurts
When he gets wind of how war hurts
“It must be like that ‘poverty’
That mom made sure I’d never see”
Like most stud hamsters, don’t you know?
He swaggers like they’re hangin’ low
With Haliburton writin’ checks
Dick don’t care how much world George wrecks
Michael Murry, “The Misfortune Teller,” Copyright © 2006
LikeLiked by 1 person
How to make this war on those who keep us apart, Professor? They seem to hold all the cards, including all the propaganda outlets…
I just whine about problems, Denise. I don’t offer solutions. 🙂
So many solutions. Turn off the TV. Get educated. Reach out to each other and find common ground. Organize and protest. Withhold your money and votes from politicians who are all about division and phoniness.
Be the change. Don’t be the dupe who does the bidding of the wannabe masters.
LikeLiked by 1 person
I really thought Bernie had the answers and the momentum to do as you’ve suggested. And yet, he’s defeated or deflected at every turn. He’s gotten Biden to make a few more progressive noises, but not much substantive action. His grassroots efforts are the key, but man, we sure need a LOT more of them! With such an enormous mass of people to motivate, and such tensions among various groups, it’s hard to see how to accumulate sufficient support to effect any kind of coming together.
Back in 2010, I wrote this article with a friend, Barbara Andreassen, at Truthout. We need “A Place to Make Sparks.”
We’re all tired of the suffocating parameters of “left versus right,” of “blue America versus red America,” of manufactured conflict – the evil twin of manufactured consent. We’re tired of the haters, the snake oil salesmen, the hypocrites, the phonies. We’re tired of toxic politics, of baseless accusations, of cowardly efforts to wound with code words like “socialism” … all played out in our illiberal media.
We’ve had enough of the greed of dangerous people who are willing to get a little blood on their hands to get what they want, or at least to dance heavily on the heads of the little guys in an attempt to maximize profits. We’ve had enough of the excesses of the well-connected, tapping the power of our government to advance their own self-interests, pulling the strings, crafting shady deals behind closed doors, rewriting our policies and our laws in their favor.
We all know there’s something wrong. We all sense the dark underbelly of our politics. Yet so many of us are misdirected to some extent or another. The naked exploitation of the many by the few is so obvious, yet so many refuse to see it. Our political discourse, as interpreted for us by our media, is nothing less than surreal.
What we need is a forum for education, reconciliation and reform: a detoxification center. What we need is the resurrection of journalistic integrity and credibility that fosters intelligent and civil debate. What we need is a movement that maintains its focus and sustains the discipline necessary to reach attainable goals and that builds morale through the success of achieving those goals. A movement that isn’t tied to a political label or party. A movement made up of a combination of movements. A meeting place. The catalysts’ hub. A place to make sparks.
Let’s rekindle the spark of hope; let’s revive our pursuit of a better America. Not an America of expansionist militarism; not an America of universal soldiers but no universal health care. Not an America of unlimited bailouts for the overpaid but draconian firings of the underpaid. We’ve had our fill of that America. We’ve had enough of celebrating the game-fixing of the victors while blaming the victims for losing a game they never had a chance of winning.
There’s no room for mockery of the “hopey changey stuff.” The message of hope and change, as yet so imperfectly achieved, was delivered with purpose from one of the most powerful platforms in our political universe, to every corner of our planet. It still resonates. And there’s still time.
Obstructionism and cynicism are so easy; it’s funny how self-styled tough guys get off on striking poses, and saying “no.” Inspiration, imagination and idealism are so much tougher; opening yourself to hope and change requires courage – the courage to say “yes,” to dare to dream.
It’s time for zero tolerance of brayers and naysayers, the betrayers of hope and its promise. It’s time to stop trimming our sails to safeguard a status quo that favors the already powerful over the powerless.
It’s time to come together to spark some new ideas – it’s time to rekindle our courtship of a better, freer, more caring America.
LikeLiked by 3 people
William, I posted a variation of this theme 0 years ago,
10 years ago!
have just read an article about ethiopian marathon runners who have sought sanctuary in the US:
which helps mollify my anti-US predispositions. if one lobbies for human rights and is outside the ruling faction of the current ethiopian despot, one is simply shot, in the streets, at work, or at home. or if more fortunate, s/he is jailed w/out charges and tortured, often to death. plaudits to the americans, like wm ‘bill’ staab who is 81 and a former peace corps volunteer in liberia, has dedicated his life to coming to th aid of such victims of state-sponsored violence and inhumanity. the US is replete w/ americans like wm astore and wm staab; we cannot let them disappear into silence lest the divisive among us continue to divide, fractionate, and conquer imaginary factions.
here is the link:
apologies, but the link from ‘pocket’ does not appear. i do not know why as i’m a comps-idiot. google the article from GQ entitled: THE MARATHON MEN WHO CAN’T GO HOME.
Something apropos of the lead article’s title:
Boobie Culture Shock
(from Fernando Po, U.S.A., America’s post-literate retreat to Plato’s Cave)
Incessant, gnawing waves of change
Against their shoreline lapped
The Boobies didn’t understand;
They felt alone and trapped
And thus their fragile psyches stretched
And then completely snapped
Fernando Po has come unmoored
From its tectonic plates
By gravity attracted to
Its continental mates
With all of them oblivious
To their collective fates
They thought themselves Olympians
With god-like powers blessed
Upheavals in the Boobie world
Did not leave them impressed
In their entitled atmosphere
Not one of them felt stressed
They lived on gated mountaintops
Above the mundane clouds
Equipped with hired security
To keep the teeming crowds
At bay and working down below
Till death brought them their shrouds
The government served “choices” then,
Like Dick-or-Lyndon’s spam,
And if you didn’t go along
They threw you in the slam
No matter how you voted you
Got more of Vietnam
The worldly man will soon discount,
So Santayana wrote,
Established cult varieties
Of which he’d taken note
Because of their absurdities
And dogmas learned by rote
Their vengeful atavistic cant
Their animistic rituals
Produce no known results
But still the Boobies cling to their
And Boobies tend to take it hard
When someone sage observes
That sadomasochism tends
To maim the mind it serves
And so it gets precisely the
Contempt that it deserves
But Boobies also close their ears
To that which they should hear
And thus we have the motto that
Caligula held dear:
“I wouldn’t worry; let them hate,
As long as me they fear.”
Michael Murry, “The Misfortune Teller,” Copyright © 2006
LikeLiked by 1 person
A picture is worth 1000 words it is said.
Can’t give that one enough thumbs up, RJC.
Good article. A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn could be the basis/text of at least an optional/advanced course in high school.
Yes. We need critical history, balanced history, not just triumphant history or history that blames America for all the world’s problems.
We have to be able to look at ourselves honestly, warts and all.
Lies My Teacher Told Me is another good read
There are two narratives of what it means to be an American and what America is about.
The first is the 1620 – Plymouth narrative. This says that everyone helps everyone else in order to survive and prosper. Things like helping a neighbor construct their cabin, harvesting crops and other hard work.
The second is the 1607 – Jamestown narrative. This says it’s every man for himself to acquire wealth and the good life. No one owes anything to the community.
Plymouth prospered and the people, the Pilgrims, had a clean and safe community.
Jamestown became a violent and filthy town. Half the residents died from dysentery or starved to death. No one bothered to plant crops because they believed they would find El Dorado and be back in England before winter.
As long as there are two narratives believed by Americans, we will be a divided nation. These narratives are mutually exclusive. The Pilgrims were not communists and held hard work as the duty of every able bodied person. Some where in our history the Jamestown narrative became respectable.
We need a new narrative in America, one that is 21st century if we are to survive as a society.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Conservatives like to claim they are following the Plymouth narrative (hardworking businessmen) and portray liberals as following the Jamestown narrative (welfare queens) when the opposite is more the case. Corporate welfare far outstrips social programs in costs.
The Plymouth narrative is a manifestation of what happens when you “love your neighbor as your self”. The question “who is my neighbor” was answered 2000 years ago as being all inclusive, even of the most despised groups. Unfortunately the Pilgrims didn’t seem to have such an inclusive view. Without the inclusivity while it is not every person for himself it is every faction for itself.
People who try to take an inclusive view and work for the good of all seem to get attacked from all sides.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Comments are closed.