Immigration, trade, war, and crime. Being right on these four issues propelled Donald Trump to the presidency in 2016 against all odds. The intervening seven years have changed nothing. The only way a candidate from the Right can possibly win the presidency in 2024 is by campaigning on limiting immigration (build the wall), increasing tariffs, getting out of Ukraine, and restoring law and order (especially in regards to elections and the opioid crisis).
These are the core issues for the center-Right coalition needed to win national elections. No supposedly conservative politician with aspiration for higher office should ever make any public statement without hammering at least one of these points. Journalist asks about Social Security? Talk about why we need to stop giving money to Volodymyr Zelenskyy. Democratic opponent brings up climate change? Talk about why we need to build the wall and make Mexico pay for it.
The issues of national survival are of primary importance. There is no point in fighting a culture war if we don’t have a country in which this war can take place. Conservatives do not have a viable path to political power any other way.
The Paul Ryan strategy of calling for lower taxes and deregulation is yesterday’s failure. Voters don’t have enough skin in that game to care. Calling for entitlement reform, i.e, cuts to social security and medicare, is political suicide. And as the 2022 midterms showed, campaigning on social issues like abortion is also a losing gambit.
I hate to be the bearer of bad news but the culture war is over and conservatives lost . . . at least for now. Trying to rehash these old battles in the present political moment, when institutional Christianity no longer has any meaningful political or cultural clout, is a waste of time—at least at the national level.
COVID-19 made the weakness of American Christianity painfully clear. Protestant and Catholic churches alike overwhelmingly declared themselves nonessential during the spring of 2020. That was, sadly, merely an acknowledgement of a longstanding reality.
Virtually no one today cares what the pope or any megachurch pastor, for that matter, has to say about political and cultural life. Their endorsements do not move the needle and their influence has had little to no bearing, even on their own flocks, when it comes to preserving the older standards of Christian morality and decency.
Since 1933, the American Right has posted loss after loss in the culture war. From blasphemy laws to pornography, school prayer to abortion, gay marriage to biological men using women’s bathrooms, conservatives and Christians have suffered a nearly unmitigated series of losses.
America’s pastors and priests couldn’t stop this decline. And, for the most part, they didn’t really try or seem to want to. Aside from a few metaphysical niceties and theological quibbles, I can detect no real difference in the innumerable sermons and homilies I’ve heard in my lifetime. The modern pastor wants little more than to issue platitudes and collect the tithe.
The vague admonitions to “have faith” and “follow Christ” that pepper the Sunday morning pastoral exhortations from America’s pulpits generally lack any practical core. America’s pastors, with few exceptions, shy away from fighting for the faith they supposedly love. They lack the sternness and fidelity of their forebears. Compare a St. Augustine to a Pope Francis or a Martin Luther to a David French. Our Christian forebears had iron in their souls. The modern pastor is generally soft.
We live in a country where the president says it is antisemitic to ban trans surgery for minors. And yet you will strain yourself trying to hear any priest or pastor say a word in response. Millions of Americans are hurting, desperately confused about their very identity and sexual impulses, and the leaders of the churches have almost nothing to say. Nonessential workers indeed.
America is awash in men’s groups, Bible studies, discipleship training, women’s seminars, and worship conferences. Yet divorce is through the roof, abortion is common, and homosexuality lauded from the very centers of American financial and political power. Whatever utility all this frenetic religious activity has had for the private faith lives of ordinary Americans, it is abundantly clear it has not had any real benefit for the moral and spiritual health of the nation as a whole.
One wonders what purpose, at this point, the differentiation between denominations even serves. Pope Francis, just like John MacArthur, agrees with the leftist view of racism. And Tim Keller, just like Pope Francis, lauds mass immigration. On the most prominent liberal issues of our day there is total agreement among the leaders of the West’s supposedly different Christian denominations.
America has a moral majority, all right. It’s just liberal. The Left controls every institutional power center in America. Wall Street, the media, the universities, Hollywood, the military—you name it—everywhere the liberal consensus reigns supreme. There is not a single Fortune 500 company in America, not one, that would denounce transgender surgery for minors.
Those institutions shape the public consciousness in a way social conservatives simply cannot. Manufactured consent is real and all around us. A large portion of Americans simply accept whatever their televisions and cellphones tell them to believe no matter how perverted, wrong, or harmful. Even many of those who do not agree with it, at least bow to the moral consensus. Think of all those many millions who got vaccinated, not because they wanted to, but because their “job required it” or because they couldn’t “travel without it.”
The idea that large numbers of Americans are going to “wake up” and “push back” is simply a cope. That’s not how popular opinion works. The idea that Americans are going to see transgenderism as a bridge too far is, I think, much overhyped. I remember the gay marriage “debates,” such as they were. I remember Prop 8 passing in 2008 in California. I also remember how none of these setbacks for the Left ultimately had any bearing in the end. By 2015, gay marriage was the law of the land. Today it is untouchable liberal orthodoxy supported by a majority of Americans, including large numbers of “conservatives.”
Deploying more 10,000-word essays on teleology and the new natural law isn’t going to solve the social issue problem either. Millions of Americans didn’t start shoving dildos in orifices, guzzling sex change hormones, and consuming billions of hours of pornography a year because they read an article or heard an argument. These sexual and social perversions spring from a much deeper source, one that isn’t going to be solved by policy wrangling in D.C. think tanks.
The spiritual crisis that afflicts the West runs far deeper than most social conservatives want to admit. They don’t understand how bad things really are, which is why they stand around, mouths agape, as they try to figure out what a “furry” is or why U.S. military officers dress up in leather “pup play” fetish gear while they sodomize each other in uniform and then post photos to social media.
In light of our ongoing moral and spiritual crisis, I fully expect that the Bud Light/Dylan Mulvaney controversy is merely a blip that will soon pass. In the 1990s Ikea ran the world’s first commercial featuring a gay couple. In 2022, Ikea was valued at $17 billion. Go woke, go broke?
The Matt Walsh’s of the world won’t want to hear this, but trying to fight the Left on gender with desiccated Socratic arguments (“What is a woman?”) is a losing battle. Owning liberals with facts and logic is mostly a waste of time. Political power doesn’t flow from scoring debate points in the “free marketplace of ideas.” It comes from the willingness to impose one’s beliefs on others and possessing the resources to do so.
All morality requires enforcement.
The Left implicitly understands that point. They are more than happy to crush their opponents. Just ask Donald Trump, John Eastman, Douglas Mackey, or any of the January 6 defendants. Strip away civilization and politics boils down to the distinction between friend and enemies. That’s why the White House hosted a trans day of visibility just two days after a transgender terrorist murdered six Christians in Tennessee.
At some point, every political regime must put its foot down. Some people think cannibalism is wrong, others think that it is right. If the former are to prevail politically they must be willing to use force against the latter. In the end, this is what morality requires. This is what morality is.
Conservatives and Christians today simply lack the force of will to impose their social morality on the Left. That is why they lose cultural battles and the Left wins. Conservatives aren’t even willing to mock their enemies. If you want to make “respectable” social conservatives and Christians uncomfortable, call a prostitute a “whore” in their presence. Mock OnlyFans as a den of “sluts.” Express deep revulsion at sodomy. Watch them writhe in psychic pain.
Such firm moral condemnation, I am frequently told, is “judge-y” and “un-Christian.” “We” need to “watch our tone” as “we” seek to “draw others to the faith.” As their flock comes under attack from wolves, the shepherds condemn those who would fight back. There are many such cases.
The deep-rooted weakness of the American Christian Right is a serious problem. I wish it wasn’t this way. I wish my fellow Christians had more spirit. I wish our leaders would lead. That isn’t the reality we have, though, as much as I may wish otherwise.
Right now, conservatives in deep red areas can still fight cultural battles at the local and state levels. Even some purple states, at the local level, still provide a way to maneuver against the Left’s cultural hegemony. Everywhere else, and at the national level especially, conservatives must sideline the cultural battles in favor of the issues of national survival.
Trump showed that even in our degraded moral culture, a huge percentage of Americans still want the nation to survive. They don’t hate themselves despite all the propaganda to which they’ve been subjected. The old pre-World War II conservative consensus in favor of protectionism, non-intervention, and immigration restrictions is still enormously popular.
If we win on those fronts and secure a future for our country then, and only then, will we have a chance to fight once again for the family, for our faith, and for a return of moral decency.
That day, however, is still a long way off. We have work to do.