Culture War!

W.J. Astore

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!

  1. 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.


  2. 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.”


  3. I caught this story about Rick Santorum being fired at CNN for his comments on 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.


  4. Bravo! I especially liked your categories of the “haves,” the “have-nots,” the “have-mores,” and the “have-lots-mores.” Spot-on!


    1. 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

      Liked by 1 person

    1. 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.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. 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.


        1. 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.

          Liked by 3 people

  5. 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.


  6. 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.


  7. 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
    Intelligence insults
    Their animistic rituals
    Produce no known results
    But still the Boobies cling to their
    Anthropomorphic cults

    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

    Liked by 1 person

    1. 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.


  8. 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.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. 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.

      Liked by 1 person

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