I’ve been something of a conservative cultural warrior for the last 30 years, albeit a weary and, at times, a very reluctant one. For a long time, I essentially had thrown in the towel, happy to leave the struggle to younger warriors infused with a bit more zeal and encumbered with far less cynicism.
Hillary’s “basket of deplorables” comment galvanized me. It reached deep into my psyche and activated some primordial something in me. I resolved that, armed with my modest financial resources and meager rhetorical skills, I would fight to my dying breath the authoritarian social order that these reckless comments portended.
Actually, I saw where this was heading a long time ago. A generation ago, I wrote extensively about the controversy over the Confederate flag. As far back as the 1990’s, I and many others perceived that the left’s rage – or feigned rage – over Confederate symbolism ultimately would lead to an assault of the wider subject of American symbolism and ideals. In the left’s view, after all, American symbols and ideas are, in moral terms, little removed from the patrimonial, slavocratic Confederacy.
Reflecting back on all of this, I’m reminded of what a prophet the late University of Georgia historian Eugene Genovese has proven to be.
Genovese predicted that in the course of the left’s sowing the wind, the entire nation would ultimately reap the whirlwind. American society, he feared, ultimately would pay a price, perhaps an egregiously high price, for robbing white, predominantly working-class Southerners of their heritage and, in effect, rubbing their noses in the dirt.
Yes, I know, a legitimate argument can be made for eliminating government-sanctioned displays of the Battle Flag, which has all but been achieved within the last few years. But there’s a difference between creating accommodating public spaces and asserting that Southerners who evince devotion to Confederate symbolism and the Lost Cause are little removed from reactionary racist pond scum.
There comes at point at which the quest for fairness degenerates into hitting below the below the belt. The Obama administration’s twilight decision to remove displays of Confederate flags on fixed poles from National Cemeteries, even where Confederate veterans are buried and despite a previous decision by Congress not to impose this ban, was a malicious parting shot – a punch below the belt – by an administration sworn to “fundamentally transforming” America.
As Genovese predicted a generation ago, this denigration has only worked to augment the increasing sense of alienation among working-class whites. They’ve grown weariy of being depicted as this nation’s problem demographic, especially considering that they have borne a disproportionate share of this nation’s imperial burdens, having filled enlisted ranks in every American military outpost in the world.
This sense of alienation will only intensify in the future. The left has won the cultural war, but as Rod Dreher observes in a recent column, conservatism wields enormous political power and its adherents are still capable of marshaling a helluva lot of obstinance.
And there are lots of mad, obstinate people out there. Dreher cites the growing numbers of white Americans increasingly drawn to white nationalist rhetoric. He quotes extensively from a self-described well educated white intellectual who confesses to being both repelled and attracted to white nationalist rhetoric.
I’m a white guy. I’m a well-educated intellectual who enjoys small arthouse movies, coffehouses and classic blues. If you didn’t know any better, you’d probably mistake me for a lefty urban hipster.
And yet. I find some of the alt-right stuff exerts a pull even on me. Even though I’m smart and informed enough to see through it. It’s seductive because I am not a person with any power or privilege, and yet I am constantly bombarded with messages telling me that I’m a cancer, I’m a problem, everything is my fault.
For me, the CNN town meeting about gun violence – all the shouts of “Murderer!” and “Burn her!” – really put all of this into deep perspective. I suspect it did for a lot of Americans. I think it underscored to millions of us that a kind of Rubicon has been crossed and that the divisions in this country are only going to grow worse.
Frankly, I am surprised that the soft secessionist sentiment is largely confined to California and isn’t yet being expressed widely in red states. I think this a reflection of two factors: first, the conviction among blue-state “progressives” that they are now the dominant cultural force in America and that such talk is acceptable, so long it’s aimed at affirming and reinforcing progressive dogma; and, second, a stubborn perception among conservatives in red states that all eventually will be worked out – that America remains a singular nation and that we all will finally return to our senses.
In time, though, I think that many red state Americans will conclude that things in this country will become even more untethered – unstuffed, as the case may be – and that some form of devolution, perhaps even some desperate attempt at secession, ultimately may point the way out of this impasse.
And recall that Dreher, the creator of the Benedict Option, is a separatist of sorts.
A generation ago, I wrote extensively about how the South represented the most fertile soil from which a counterrevolution could be mounted. While my this conviction has wavered a bit in recent years, I still suspect that sooner or later, as these national divisions intensify, that the counterrevolutionary struggle will coalesce in the South.
Whatever the case, I think that conservatives should forget about cultural warfare. Dreher is right to stress that the cultural war has ended with a resounding victory by the left. Our energies at this point should be invested in a devolutionary movement – or movements – not in fighting a rearguard cultural war, which has been irretrievably losts, at least, for the foreseeable future.