This Is How America’s Culture War Death Spirals

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ASPartOfMe
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07 May 2022, 2:30 pm

Why Disney vs. DeSantis is the future of politics

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The drama in Florida between Governor Ron DeSantis and the Walt Disney Company has taken so many unusual turns in so little time that providing a truly straightforward account of what’s transpired is not easy. But here is the simplest summary I can give.
Florida passed a law:
Disney said they didn’t like the law:
Florida passed another law, punishing Disney for saying it didn’t like the first law:

Pausing here, we can already make out a few details that are somewhat unusual. Florida’s original bill was alarmingly vague, leaving all sex-ed and gender-identity instruction open to potential lawsuits from litigious parents. Disney’s about-face was a reminder of the power of the liberal professional class, which pushed the company’s reluctant CEO into the political arena against his initial judgment. And then there’s the ethical pretzel of DeSantis, who enjoys talking about his support for free speech, but also punished Disney for the sin of speaking freely.

But a review of events only gets you so far. I don’t think we can see what’s really happening here until we identify the cultural narratives simmering below the surface.

1. Republicans fear cultural disempowerment.
The past decade has seen a total collapse of institutional trust on the right. A majority of Republicans say they disapprove not only of colleges but also of big companies, the entire entertainment industry, and tech firms. While more than 60 percent of Democrats say they trust various mainstream news sources (such as The New York Times and CNN), there is no media company that more than 60 percent of Republicans say they trust (no, not even Fox News)

What’s happening here? An explanation that’s not generous to conservatives is that the right is animated by hateful grievance politics. An explanation that’s generous to conservatives is that the professional managerial class really has become anti-conservative. Organizations such as the NBA respond to conservative laws they dislike by pulling their business out of a state. Major tech companies hail causes such as Black Lives Matter, whose positions—on policing, for example—are far to the left of the typical American’s. Of course we’ve turned against America’s institutions, a conservative might say. They’ve turned against us!

Right-wing distrust of big companies is awkwardly embedded in a party whose leadership outwardly loves big companies. The most important economic legislative achievement under President Donald Trump was a multitrillion-dollar tax cut for the same corporate class that the rank and file dislikes.

But regardless, right-wing antipathy to just about every American establishment that doesn’t employ cops, priests, or soldiers is real and growing. That’s how you wind up with DeSantis, a pro-business conservative, beating up on Disney, the largest business in his state.

2. Democrats fear political disempowerment.
If you’re a conservative wondering where all this Millennial corporate activism is coming from, try to see things from the liberal perspective. Trump is a wannabe authoritarian who desperately tried to overturn a democratic election. He failed, but his clownish followers still stormed the seat of government, apparently thinking they could accomplish by force what the president couldn’t accomplish by law. State-level Republicans are purging bureaucrats who refused to go along with Trump’s attempted cancellation of the election. Meanwhile, Republicans have moved ever further to the right on LGBTQ issues; they are empowering citizens to enforce severe anti-abortion laws in Texas and many other states; and the Supreme Court’s conservative majority may soon overturn Roe v. Wade.

If Republicans have reasons to feel paranoid about liberal companies stomping on their values, Democrats certainly have reasons to feel paranoid about conservative lawmakers flirting with authoritarianism as revenge. Looking around at their political leadership, Democrats are bereft. The president is feckless, the Senate is pathetic, the House of Representatives is powerless, and the courts are strewn with Republican appointees. What lever of power is left? The cultural lever.

3. Bipartisan paranoia is creating a war of words about words.
o review, today’s culture-war death spiral is being accelerated by reactive polarization on both sides. Republicans, freaked out by what they see as cultural disempowerment, are yanking politics right; Democrats, freaked out by what they see as political disempowerment, are pulling institutions left.

I know that by typing the words both sides in the previous paragraph, I have summoned the ancient curse of a thousand tweeted screenshots by media watchers. So let me state something as clearly as possible. As a liberal Millennial, I don’t think liberal Millennials urging companies to take political stands is remotely as bad as Republican activists urging politicians to, say, ban math books on the grounds that cartoons of gay parents amount to sexualized “grooming.” Personally, I find the former defensible and the latter detestable. But as a political observer, I ought to note plainly that both of these things are extraordinary appeals to power, that these appeals to power are effective, and that liberals’ effectiveness moving companies left and conservatives’ effectiveness moving state politics right are two forces turning in a gyre of unyielding grievance. The possibility that the right is polarizing harder and for worse reasons than the left doesn’t change the fact that both sides are polarizing.

America right now is not exactly devoid of problems: We have a housing crisis and an energy crisis; climate change is becoming more severe; the pandemic is not yet over. When historians look back on this period in a few decades, they may be a touch surprised to discover what we argued about. Huh, so they spent 2022 fighting about sex-ed policies? And the treatment of Reconstruction in history classes? My point isn’t that these things don’t matter, but rather that some weeks, they appear to be the only things we talk about.

The political scientist Ronald Inglehart famously wrote that as societies get richer, voters care less about economic (material) issues and more about social and cultural (post-material) issues. With rising material well-being, we climb Maslow’s hierarchy to the top of the pyramid, get woozy with altitude sickness, and start ranting at each other about language.

Who is allowed to say what? In the post-material future coming into focus, this is the only political question that matters.
Years ago, Republicans were critical of college-campus Democrats for their embrace of “safe spaces.” But maybe the right wasn’t contemptuous of safe spaces, just envious. Why merely a safe room, or a safe campus? Mustn’t be afraid to dream a little bit bigger, darling. Why not an ideologically safety-proofed corporation? Or state? Why not fire the entire federal bureaucracy, as Ohio’s Senate candidate J. D. Vance proposed, and make the government a safe space for right-wing populism


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techstepgenr8tion
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09 May 2022, 8:25 pm

This is the 'drama', which is the sort of thing that excites and motivates most people, but I still think the economic underpinnings are the real driver. It's unintelligible because it's a collective lashing out in reaction to something else rather than the cause.

We've been on a growing wage v. productivity gap since the early 1970's, people are feeling squeezed, the causes seem complex, and what comes out is (Rene) Girardian memetic madness along with hunts for scapegoats, tribalism, all the fun stuff. It's a bit like a bunch of strangers all getting lowered into a shark tank but having the impulse to go after each other over the stress, and how that breaks down has less to do with whose in what party or who said what, whether a Republican punched a Democrat or a Democrat punched a Libertarian first, it's the getting lowered into a shark tank that's the central issue.

I posted a video Ray Dalio made based on a book he wrote dealing with rise and fall of empires, it's prescient in that it touches on what part of that arc we're on right now and it seems like this happens on repeat largely due to economic incentives during different point on that arc. Effectively you might even be able to say that every empire is a bubble in its own right.

I think our goal is to figure out how we glide through this smoothly, maybe speeding up automation is the ticket. It's really critical that we find some way of dealing with what's hitting the working and lower-middle classes right now so that we can maybe have a drift into something more like European living arrangements rather than massive unrest and possibly civil war as a result.


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09 May 2022, 9:21 pm

techstepgenr8tion wrote:
It's really critical that we find some way of dealing with what's hitting the working and lower-middle classes right now so that we can maybe have a drift into something more like European living arrangements rather than massive unrest and possibly civil war as a result.


Rest assured, Europe is on the same path, its extreme peaks only slightly dampened by social systems... But a few weeks ago, Macron (France's Hillary/Biden, if you want) just about won the election over LePen (France's right wing populist Trumpist).
Brexit has happened and now Johnson is failing, but it's Starmer isn't exactly popular either, the Germans have a ridiculous coalition of Neoliberals and Greens which ensures absolutely nothing gets done while the trumpist AfD is gaining ground... Hungary is lost to the far right, Austria, ... Yeah, it's looking bleak here, too, man. And people are rather occuppied with angrily discussing gendered pronouns and stuff as well...


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roronoa79
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10 May 2022, 7:19 pm

The fixation on culture wars stems from a few factors. The capitalist media and political class focus on cultural issues to distract from criticism of capitalism. This has become more important than ever as the left (and even some on the right) are more skeptical of capitalism than they have been in a long time.

Republican cultural disempowerment has been a slow process that they have only truly woken up to recently. They lost academia as they collectively decided the humanities were a waste of time. Or they self-segregated into christian schools. Or conservatives who went into the humanities realized that conservatism does not stand up to academic scrutiny from diverse perspectives and ceased to be conservatives. Outside conservative universities, conservatives in the humanities are a contrarian minority.
They lost corporations once the latter realized that you could make more money supporting/pandering to left social causes than you could from staying nominally conservative or even neutral in the social arena. Hell, supporting conservative social causes is a narrow market niche at this point. Realists in the corporate world realized which way the wind was blowing and acted accordingly. To the social conservatives who praised capitalism from the mountaintops, this is an unacceptable betrayal.

Social conservative grievances with "woke" capitalism come across as petty because they lack ideological coherence. Using the government to punish businesses who oppose your social policies is not at all laissez faire. At best, they can say they are still free market capitalists insofar as they are just revoking anti-market government favoritism (ie: the current Disney situation). Libertarians support these policies only inasmuch as they decrease government favoritism, but they are otherwise not so eager to actively punish "woke" businesses through the state. This disconnect is going to be a serious problem for the fusionist coalition that has defined US conservatism for the last 50 years.

Given political deadlock and the weakness of organized labor as an extra-legal force for economic change, ideological conflict is mainly settled in culture: what is shown in media, what is taught in schools, what is treated as acceptable in polite society. Social conservatives are losing on all three fronts. Realizing they cannot roll back this slow, steady retreat in the social arena, they are forced to seek political solutions to social defeats. Hence the use of court-packing, gerrymandering, mass incarceration, and voter suppression legislation. Even with all this, they are barely hanging on in the political arena by virtue of the simple fact that they don't have the votes they need to stay in power. Whether they recognize this or are in denial (eg: belief in stolen elections), this has motivated the right's open flirtation with authoritarianism.

This shift towards social issues in discourse has contributed to the hollowing of the political center and "both sides" (-gags-) polarizing. The more the left wins in the social arena, the more emboldened they become. The more the right loses, the more embittered and reactionary they become. Moderates grow scarcer. They either: move left with the times, decide the left has gone too far and become reactionary, or they try to push a "both sides" social narrative which pleases no one and lacks an ideological core.

If we want to move on from the overfixation on social issues, we need to be more vocally critical of establishment capitalism. The Right and Center do not have the ideological coherence on economic issues to provide a clear alternative to the capitalist status quo. Only through worker organization and activism can we bring economic inequality and stagnation to the center of political discourse. Condemning corporations for not supporting conservative nationalism is not going to fix those problems. Applauding corporations for supporting left social causes is not going to motivate them to treat their workers or consumers with basic dignity. It is not going to lead us to collectively question the ways the capitalist establishment has shown the seeds of inequality and environmental destruction. It is not going to lead to the collective realization that economic inequality exacerbates social inequality and vice versa. If we want to bring back economic politics, we need to embrace collective action and organization of the working class.


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Tim_Tex
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11 May 2022, 6:11 pm

roronoa79 wrote:
The fixation on culture wars stems from a few factors. The capitalist media and political class focus on cultural issues to distract from criticism of capitalism. This has become more important than ever as the left (and even some on the right) are more skeptical of capitalism than they have been in a long time.

Republican cultural disempowerment has been a slow process that they have only truly woken up to recently. They lost academia as they collectively decided the humanities were a waste of time. Or they self-segregated into christian schools. Or conservatives who went into the humanities realized that conservatism does not stand up to academic scrutiny from diverse perspectives and ceased to be conservatives. Outside conservative universities, conservatives in the humanities are a contrarian minority.
They lost corporations once the latter realized that you could make more money supporting/pandering to left social causes than you could from staying nominally conservative or even neutral in the social arena. Hell, supporting conservative social causes is a narrow market niche at this point. Realists in the corporate world realized which way the wind was blowing and acted accordingly. To the social conservatives who praised capitalism from the mountaintops, this is an unacceptable betrayal.

Social conservative grievances with "woke" capitalism come across as petty because they lack ideological coherence. Using the government to punish businesses who oppose your social policies is not at all laissez faire. At best, they can say they are still free market capitalists insofar as they are just revoking anti-market government favoritism (ie: the current Disney situation). Libertarians support these policies only inasmuch as they decrease government favoritism, but they are otherwise not so eager to actively punish "woke" businesses through the state. This disconnect is going to be a serious problem for the fusionist coalition that has defined US conservatism for the last 50 years.

Given political deadlock and the weakness of organized labor as an extra-legal force for economic change, ideological conflict is mainly settled in culture: what is shown in media, what is taught in schools, what is treated as acceptable in polite society. Social conservatives are losing on all three fronts. Realizing they cannot roll back this slow, steady retreat in the social arena, they are forced to seek political solutions to social defeats. Hence the use of court-packing, gerrymandering, mass incarceration, and voter suppression legislation. Even with all this, they are barely hanging on in the political arena by virtue of the simple fact that they don't have the votes they need to stay in power. Whether they recognize this or are in denial (eg: belief in stolen elections), this has motivated the right's open flirtation with authoritarianism.

This shift towards social issues in discourse has contributed to the hollowing of the political center and "both sides" (-gags-) polarizing. The more the left wins in the social arena, the more emboldened they become. The more the right loses, the more embittered and reactionary they become. Moderates grow scarcer. They either: move left with the times, decide the left has gone too far and become reactionary, or they try to push a "both sides" social narrative which pleases no one and lacks an ideological core.

If we want to move on from the overfixation on social issues, we need to be more vocally critical of establishment capitalism. The Right and Center do not have the ideological coherence on economic issues to provide a clear alternative to the capitalist status quo. Only through worker organization and activism can we bring economic inequality and stagnation to the center of political discourse. Condemning corporations for not supporting conservative nationalism is not going to fix those problems. Applauding corporations for supporting left social causes is not going to motivate them to treat their workers or consumers with basic dignity. It is not going to lead us to collectively question the ways the capitalist establishment has shown the seeds of inequality and environmental destruction. It is not going to lead to the collective realization that economic inequality exacerbates social inequality and vice versa. If we want to bring back economic politics, we need to embrace collective action and organization of the working class.


The problem with the cultural right is they could care less about the economy.

They only care about claiming "oppression" when they get called bigots for espousing outdated or false views on social media.

There are some righties who think the Dems are going to legalize pedophilia or human trafficking. Hence people like Marjorie Taylor-Greene.



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11 May 2022, 6:26 pm

I'm just curious if there ever was an age of cultural enlightenment to begin with?

The cultures war in the current era stem from the "Empire striking back".

There is always a push-pull between conservatives and progressives and it doesn't neatly follow left-right political spectrums.



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11 May 2022, 7:09 pm

cyberdad wrote:
I'm just curious if there ever was an age of cultural enlightenment to begin with?

The cultures war in the current era stem from the "Empire striking back".

There is always a push-pull between conservatives and progressives and it doesn't neatly follow left-right political spectrums.


But thanks to the Supreme Court, it favors the far-right. All because of their persecution complex.



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11 May 2022, 7:12 pm

Tim_Tex wrote:
cyberdad wrote:
I'm just curious if there ever was an age of cultural enlightenment to begin with?

The cultures war in the current era stem from the "Empire striking back".

There is always a push-pull between conservatives and progressives and it doesn't neatly follow left-right political spectrums.


But thanks to the Supreme Court, it favors the far-right. All because of their persecution complex.


Yes we live in interesting times. When uninformed and ignorant slogans/populism and parochial nationalism sways a voting population who seem to be drawn to this despite probably knowing how vacuous and self-destructive this path is.



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11 May 2022, 7:56 pm

cyberdad wrote:
Tim_Tex wrote:
cyberdad wrote:
I'm just curious if there ever was an age of cultural enlightenment to begin with?

The cultures war in the current era stem from the "Empire striking back".

There is always a push-pull between conservatives and progressives and it doesn't neatly follow left-right political spectrums.


But thanks to the Supreme Court, it favors the far-right. All because of their persecution complex.


Yes we live in interesting times. When uninformed and ignorant slogans/populism and parochial nationalism sways a voting population who seem to be drawn to this despite probably knowing how vacuous and self-destructive this path is.


In some European countries, they would be in jail, especially in Germany and Sweden.



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11 May 2022, 8:00 pm

DeSantis is an idiot. Remember, he's the one who declared WWE wrestling nonsense "essential" in the middle of a pandemic. And stupidly enough, I know people in Florida who blindly supported that.


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11 May 2022, 8:03 pm

Tim_Tex wrote:
The problem with the cultural right is they could care less about the economy.

They only care about claiming "oppression" when they get called bigots for espousing outdated or false views on social media.

There are some righties who think the Dems are going to legalize pedophilia or human trafficking. Hence people like Marjorie Taylor-Greene.

They still care about the economy. They care ad nauseum about the economy at the expense of everything besides their social agenda.

The issue is they no longer have any ideological coherence on the economy. They allied with libertarians and mainstream capitalists bc "oog oog, capitalism love Jesus--communism hate Jesus". But now the latter are less willing to humor right-wing social policies when it goes against capitalist orthodoxy.

They cannot stand corporations supporting left social causes and use the state to punish them. This means they cannot turn around and claim to support government non-interference in the economy. Yet their willingness to interfere does not stem from a desire to improve the lot of the working class.
This means their economic agenda prioritizes whatever helps them spite their cultural enemies.

This is not a coherent economic policy that people outside the cultural right can get behind. It alienates establishment capitalists, libertarians, center-left capitalists, liberals, and progressives. It's all about spite. It's about short term victories that do not address their undeniable, slow retreat on almost all cultural fronts. It exemplifies the fundamental pettiness of social conservatives.


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12 May 2022, 3:16 am

This is how they react when people don't bend to their will: