Thoughts on the American Culture War

The age of Trumpism highlights a novel development in the battle between an increasingly progressive left and an increasingly populist right.

Cultural conflicts are not inherently bad; arguably, America needs polarization in her current submissive intellectual climate. The populist right-wing surge this presidential election is a comprehensible reaction to the cultural left’s ideological stronghold and political though control, which is reinforced by the irrational hysteria spurred by Trump’s win. Most pundits on the right these days seem to tell you a similar story, so I’ll move along to my argument: although conflict can be a feasible mean of reaching certain ends, its outcome is more often an endless, circular roundel.

Progressives, who just like Republicans in the Obama era finds themselves in an upsetting political minority, currently experience their own tea-party movement. The Tea Party’s energized oldies, though, are fundamentally peaceful unlike much of the far-left fringe, which mixes in the typical youthful blend of anarchist riots, vandalizing, and violence against Trump supporters to prove to any- and everyone JUST HOW MUCH THEY HATE FASCISTS.

And it’s all quite fun because this paranoia isn’t merely youthful distractions but a genuine reflection of the state of polarized America, which now has asserted itself at the very head of government.

What’s less fun and more tedious about the ongoing cultural conflict is that few people seem to recognize how objectively aimless the whole spectacle really is. Shouting matches and echo chambers have buried open discussions; the main actors, with their clannish following, feeds off of the recklessness and hysteria of the one side, or the insensitivity and “covertly racism” of the other.

Millennials are getting quite the heat. Their senselessness, especially on college campuses, has been labeled “The New Millennial Morality,” whose primary traits are being “highly sensitive and easily offended”. In their defense, however, Millennials merely mimic the billion dollar hyper-partisan industry, which stretches far beyond YouTube channels or talk shows’ infinite quantity of professional opinionators.

At its core, it’s the network of pressure groups that truly characterize the present state of American democracy, and they are penetrating all cultural and most economic aspect of society. If Alexis de Tocqueville was even half-right in his assertions of a common, enlightened democratic culture in America, we can safely say that has long been replaced by specialized interest groups, whose totality of loud-moths produce the modern political environment. Indeed, contributing to a more enlightened culture is the very anti-thesis of the pressure group – just like the talk show pundit – in their endeavors to engage and alert their fellow tribe. While the pressure groups has become increasingly generic in their narrow demands, the populist right is not merely isolated from this professionalized network, but also in its opposition.

The current right-populist wave is, hence, in many ways a necessary backlash against the dominant cultural left and against the neo-conservative stronghold in the GOP that neither offers an alternative to the progressive edifice nor admits dissenting voices in their ranks. Populist policies, meanwhile, mostly amounts to mere symbolism, reflected in Trump’s temporary “high-risk” travel ban, instead of vital government reforms that over time could make America great once again.

Similarly, rather than offering substantial policies themselves, generic leftist intellectuals merely sustain the infantile culture by inciting moral hysteria in young progressives. In all fairness, it isn’t just the radical or institutional left that are increasingly intolerant of divergent ideas and observations, as both sides on the political aisle construct their own political correctness. A predictable yet unhelpful outcome of the inflation of racist accusations, for example, is the seemingly reduced sympathy among many Americans for actual racism. This may again further political inaction in areas where there arguably do exist unacceptable racial disparities in the rule of law system, prominently in the drug laws and their enforcement. Another deplorable development, in a justifiable use of the word, is the louder barking from white supremacists in their effort to crest the wave of the moment.

On a more general level, the increased hyper-partisanship reflects our anti-intellectual culture in which political tribalism invariably destroys sound logic. In an age of educational explosion – Western youth are the most educated people in human history – this seems paradoxical. However, education is a main reason why momentary hypes and fears overshadow clear thinking. To oversimplify myself: Western education systems since the 1960s have become an increasingly generic industry “socializing” young citizens into our dominating and “correct” ideology, where social inequalities, however their origins, are considered as synonymous with unfairness.

Though, children be warned, the forces of evil would at any time intensify this unfairness, which has only improved because of the forces of good – of which they are apart of, naturally – have struggled and fought. So when Donald-fans are beaten at Berkeley’s campus to deaf ears, they are in fact themselves guilty of a worse crime: obstructing the Great road to progress. Ironically, together with the narcissist tendencies that ascend from the comfortable safety of twenty-plus years of schooling, many people see their own role as central for Progress, without having the slightest self-awareness that they’re ultimately zombies.

The Rage and the Machine. There’s no question that Trump’s bravado also is senseless, but in light of being an authentic popular reaction, he’s more than the smokes and mirrors of our time. The great value of his presidency is not despite of, but precisely because of, his awkwardly clownish conduct and strongman fetishes. The cult of Donald is indeed beneficial to discredit the political elites and hysteric fad-culture of dead kings and living shadows, but for different reasons than his supporters realize.

The election of Trump doesn’t say nearly as much about his voters as his political opponents claim. It does however say something far more profound about the managerial state, the pressure groups, and its respectable squad of politicians, who, despite an effort of historical magnitude, failed to curb Trump. Any conventional political leader, however their policies, could never accomplish such powerful symbolism: Trump entered naked as the infant he is into the political circus’ limelight, and by becoming the Emperor without clothes in the “world’s greatest democracy”, he simultaneously called the giant bluff of the Great road to progress through the means of mass democracy. It was ultimately as naked, shallow and empty as the emperor’s facade himself – with the facade being the delusive yet incessant pull toward the very concept of the center.

And from this debris comes a violent breeze of cognitive dissonance among the declared champions of democracy on the left and right. The same political fractions that has advanced persistent centralization of the federal government and increased executive authority are now realizing that this major federal tool-kit that has been amassed over the last century aren’t integrally “progressive”, especially when their adversaries steer the machine. Still, most seem to argue that Trump only represent a temporary, circumventing hammer locked in the machine, forcing us to await the progress of the times ahead…

The embarrassed Republican and Democratic establishment seek to regain control over the machine, but their efforts can invariably never spur a more enlightened culture. The political elites will remain power-lusty, and, in a culture that regards politics as the foremost means of positive change, the masses will sill be fooled. But Trump might just strike sufficient fright in the hearts of enough progressives to come out of the closet as the authoritarians they really are. Please proceed deeming Trump an “illegitimate” president which must be forcibly removed, so that the masses know what they’re participating in when they head for the polls. If so, ironically, Trump ultimately represents a step forward, but in its peculiarly disparaging ways – like all forms of “progress”.

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