Who’s Winning the Culture Wars Now?

On May 6, 2016, as the run-up to the struggle between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton for the presidency began in earnest, one of the Left’s most influential and brilliant intellectuals, Harvard law professor Mark Tushnet, wrote a blog entry called “Abandoning Defensive Crouch Liberal Constitutionalism.” His most important assertion in that little screed, italicized no less, was “The culture wars are over; they lost, we won.” By “they” he meant “conservatives,” and by “we” he meant “progressives.”

Tushnet, an almost unbelievably prolific and charismatic individual (and, indeed, an old friend), is wrong.

One of the founders of the Marxist-influenced Critical Legal Studies Movement, Tushnet was writing about what he thought should be done in the United States Supreme Court after Clinton was elected and more progressives were put on the bench. But, of course, the unexpected victory of Trump means, as we are seeing with the appointments of Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, that it is the cultural conservatives who will be ascendant for a generation, and not the progressives after all.

Culture Wars Define American Greatness
Trump’s triumph was a conservative triumph and a decisive victory in the still ongoing culture wars. Tushnet got it wrong because he apparently failed to grasp there will be no end to the culture wars so long as one side—the Left—insists on the illegitimacy of traditional views of human nature and flourishing, of religion and morals, and of private property and of the limited government contemplated by our framers.

Understanding this, one can go even further. The culture wars—best understood, actually, as battles over what really constitutes American greatness—will continue as long as there is a conflict between good and evil on earth, or, as C.S. Lewis once argued, as long as our planet is “enemy-occupied territory,” where God and the Devil fight for the soul of man. Such a notion is anathema to progressives, whose deity is science, whose current obsession is intersectionality, and, for most of whom, the proposition that Providence governs human affairs is hopelessly irrational and outdated.

Those whom Hillary Clinton despicably called the “deplorables,” and whom President Obama condescendingly accused of clinging to their guns and their religion, those whom the effervescent Kurt Schlichter (a Tushnet of the Right) calls “us normals,” still have that traditional understanding, and what is most remarkable is the manner in which people on the Left, like Tushnet, may be incapable of understanding why that should be so.

One has only to spend a few moments on the internet or watching Fox News to be exposed to the manner in which the Left increasingly fails to comprehend this reality, and flails about in a misguided struggle to silence conservatives and indecently and intolerantly to seek to crush dissension from political correctness. Two recent horrifying and instructive examples are a recent Planned Parenthood promotion and a “comedy” routine from Michelle Wolf.

The abortion provider Planned Parenthood of New York City’s fundraising campaign is straightforwardly labeled, “Protect Our Freedom to F*ck: Donate to Planned Parenthood of New York City.” The 45-second spot, a spectacular paean both to fornication and intersectionality, uses the word “f*ck” or its derivatives 13 times, and ends with the admonition, “F*ck New York and everyone in it. Protect our right to safely f*ck whoever the f*ck we want: donate to Planned Parenthood of New York City.” Apart from the lamentable grammatical lapse of the split infinitive, the ad appears to suggest that human flourishing is all about unlimited copulation, and this can be done without fear of consequences because abortion (and, presumably birth control and “safe-sex” counseling) can be readily available if Planned Parenthood has sufficient funding.

In a similar vein, Michelle Wolf, the purportedly comedic harridan who earlier this year harried President Trump and horrifically tried to humiliate Sarah Huckabee Sanders at the White House Correspondents Dinner, has a new routine called “a Salute to Abortion.” Dressed in fetching sparkling tights and a star-spangled low-cut red-white-and-blue majorette ensemble, Wolf throws confetti and declares, “God bless abortion and God bless the United States of America.” One can admire the patriotism, but she makes clear in her performance that for her, abortion is not the taking of an innocent human life. Instead, it’s merely “stopping a baby from happening. It’s like ‘Back to the Future’ and abortion is the DeLorean. Everyone loves DeLoreans.” At another point in her routine, Wolf suggests that abortion ought to be something available on the dollar menu at McDonald’s, and that it ought to be viewed as removing an egg from a woman’s “McMuffin.”

If the RNC runs the Planned Parenthood promotion and Wolf’s routine as part of its campaign, it is likely to result in quite a few Republican victories in 2018, because these progressives are broadcasting their unappealing and narrow view of life as fulfillment of evanescent carnal desire and a crabbed version of self-actualization.

“People Will Die” and Other Lies
Similarly horrid events unfolding last week included the testimony of Peter Strzok, which once again demonstrated the Left’s intolerance of Trump and his supporters, and reminded us of the Obama Administration’s placing Clinton and her campaign officials above the law, as they were excused from abominable breaches of national security and mendacity.

In the same disturbing vein were the scare tactics employed to suggest that if Brett Kavanaugh is confirmed for the Supreme Court, “basic rights” of all Americans are threatened, and “people will die.” The Borking of Brett is well underway, but this time, because Republicans have the numbers, it won’t work.

The Left must lie, perhaps, in order to continue to persuade its supporters and to appeal for funds to maintain power because it simply gets reality wrong. Life is not about solipsistic self-actualization, and—as the Right now understands, but the Left still does not—humans will not flourish under socialism and a leviathan state. Not abortion on demand, but moral and religious altruism, of a kind that Judge Kavanaugh has demonstrated in his private life, is what makes life worthwhile.

As Russell Kirk showed us, a rich diversity of approach in politics and culture is also essential, and, perhaps, the fact that our First Amendment encourages abominations like the Planned Parenthood promotion and Michelle Wolf’s “salute to abortion” is not entirely lamentable. At least they help us understand the real nature of American greatness, by suggesting its opposite.

About Stephen B. Presser

Stephen B. Presser is the Raoul Berger Professor of Legal History Emeritus at Northwestern University’s Pritzker School of Law, and the author of “Law Professors: Three Centuries of Shaping American Law” (West Academic Publishers, 2017). In the academic year 2018-2019, Professor Presser is a Visiting Scholar in Conservative Thought and Policy at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

Want news updates?

Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.