Culture War Dilemma

Culture war is the media buzzword for the acrimonious political struggles of a country polarized by divergent value systems. Pat Buchanan’s “Culture War” speech at the 1992 Republican National Convention fired the opening salvo in what would become an unending assault by right-wing conservatives on the Democratic party. The strategy rallied voters behind the conservative agenda by demonizing support for social issues such as gay rights and abortion rights as being morally corrupt. For more than twenty years, self-righteous politicians have wielded the spectre of damnation as a weapon in the battle for control of the political process.

In the aftermath of the banking failures of 2008, outraged citizens had every right to rise up against corporate practices responsible for plunging the global economy into recession, but culture war antagonists shrewdly redirected political unrest to emotionally charged social issues. A sleight of hand occurred as the negative consequences of unregulated free market capitalism were passed off as evidence of the breakdown of society under the influence of liberalism. This political shell game was carried out through political attack ads, radio talk shows, the Tea Party movement, Fox news and Republican talking points.

Culture war provided the opportunity for a minority of right-wing extremists to become major players in the political process. The divisive tactics are perfectly suited to the sound-bite dramas of mass media. Hot button social issues and slander campaigns are reliable sources for cheap inflammatory programming that increases audience share while advancing the agenda of big business. From high-profile media platforms, politicians and pundits harness the resentment and prejudices of the working class into a political force.

Legions of working class conservatives, held in step by culture war, march to drummers of the corporate state. Whatever the course of foreign and domestic policies, as long as it fills America's breadbaskets and gas tanks, it will to be seen as morally responsible by embittered voters whose political views are fashioned by cable television and radio talk shows.

From one election to the next, working class conservatives vote in compliance with little regard for the ethics of political policies or for the social and environmental impacts of corporate practices. Locked in battle for America’s identity as a Christian nation, they have difficulty seeing through the misdirection and propaganda to recognize the motives of a political system controlled by corporate interests.

Well-intended conservatives are duped by a damning chorus of half-truths and hyperbole. Fearing their way of life is in jeopardy, they support political policies serving corporate interests. Conservative politicians, indebted to corporate sponsors, campaign as advocates of traditional values while legislating policies that erode personal freedoms, remove corporate profits from the tax base, cut funding for education, infrastructure and social services and undermine human rights and environmental protections. God-fearing middle America is slow to realize that corporate controlled government and subjugated politicians are systemic to the social and economic problems we face today.

Social conservatives are by their nature susceptible to the tactics of culture war. Inflammatory rhetoric binds the group and produces an ‘us against them’ attitude toward outsiders. The flaw in the psychology of Christianity is rancor (Nietzsche); if there is no enemy, we make one up. It follows that a consumer society based on conservative religious values would be more interested in exposing the moral transgressions of others than examining the ethics of its own agenda.

In political campaigns and the nightly news, culture war antagonists take the moral high ground as they malign opposition candidates and policies. By comparison, the ethics of the conservative party are seldom challenged. Where conservatives want to convert liberals, liberals want to include conservatives in a consensus opinion. One group wants to assimilate the opposition with missionary zeal -- the other seeks agreement through compromise. In the context of culture war, one side is antagonistic, the other is conciliatory.

Culture war is for the most part the one-sided expression of a complex dilemma. The differing value systems within society reflect not just two viewpoints but many. The Republican party, including most right-wing fringe groups, have related religious values and conservative economic views. The Democratic party, on the other hand, represents a spectrum of cultural and ethnic groups and multiple political philosophies (only about a third are liberals). Despite their diversity, a majority of Democrats consider themselves Christians. Understandably, they are at odds with the political rhetoric of the religious right. It seems particularly galling that hate mongering talk show hosts maintain the pretense of representing Christian values.

At the root of the culture war conflict is the unwillingness of conservative religious groups to live in harmony with other value systems. In a general way, both humanitarian values and the tenets of religion are based on the golden rule: ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you’. Conservative religious and political leaders de-emphasized Christianity’s basic tenet of fair play and focused on contentious social issues as a way to distinguish religious values from humanitarian values. The strategy united conservative voters at the expense of polarizing the country. Rather than bringing people together, religion was used to drive them apart.

As economic recession forces post-consumer society to reevaluate its priorities, the inquisitions of morality-based culture war seem vindictive and self-serving and no longer reflect the more democratic view of the people. The right lost the moral high ground and the swing vote as dirty politics, graft, promiscuity, bigotry and the coded fascism of the Tea Party betrayed their moral pretense. The hate mongering and race baiting of culture war backfired on the Republican party. Instead of continuing to rally voters behind the faith-based agenda, the divisive tactics of culture war have become self-defeating. The same inflammatory speeches responsible for attracting fringe groups to conservative rallies now frighten everyone else.

While culture war has proven to be an effective means for manipulating lower socioeconomic classes, the strategy is one of convenience for corporate sponsors. Recently, corporations became part of the outspoken opposition when the fascism of culture war threatened quarterly profits. This unexpected and very public tactic imposes corporate dictates directly on working class voters -- the same people they rely on during elections. It may become standard procedure as radicalized states are further differentiated by their ideologies.

Major corporations are in danger of losing their markets if indigenous populations relocate en masse to escape social persecution and depressed local economies. Red states are becoming victims of their own agenda; poverty-stricken countrysides have started to take on the cast of third world countries with refugees of the middle class encamped behind walls of gated communities.