What Does It Mean That America Is Engaged in a ‘Culture War,’ and Why Should You Care?

Culture War BELatina Latinx
Photo courtesy of Reuters.

You’ve probably heard and read in the media the phrase “Culture War,” along with references to the Supreme Court and universities. No, this is not a war of books versus whiteboards or clashes between different types of cultures — although the latter option is the closest to reality.

It is about undermining access to knowledge and culture as a result of conflict between social groups and the struggle for dominance of their values, beliefs, and practices.

To no one’s surprise, the term “Culture War” emerged to describe contemporary political and social issues in the United States. Think abortion, homosexuality, transgender rights, multiculturalism, racism, and more.

Simply put, the so-called “Culture War” in America is the perennial clash between conservative or traditionalist values and their progressive or liberal counterparts.

And it goes far beyond mere political parties.

Take, for example, the Supreme Court’s decision last week to hear a case that could doom university policies that consider race as a factor in student admissions.

As Reuters explained, the issue over student admissions practices at Harvard University and the University of North Carolina, taken up by the court on Monday, gives conservative justices a chance to cripple affirmative action policies long despised by the U.S. right with a ruling expected next year.

Adding to that case are the abortion rights debate and the Second Amendment debate.

The fact that the highest court in the country, with a conservative majority, makes judicial decisions in favor of a grill of conservative arguments can give you an idea of what it means to be immersed in a Culture War.

It all begins (and ends) with immigration

The term “Culture War” began to be used in the United States in the 1920s when urban and rural American values were at odds with the interwar wave of immigration.

However, the term would gain traction during the early 1990s, when James Davison Hunter, a sociologist at the University of Virginia, reintroduced the expression in his 1991 publication, “Culture Wars: The Struggle to Define America.” Hunter described what he saw as a dramatic realignment and polarization that had transformed American politics and culture.

It was there that the range of issues expanded to gay rights and abortion rights, in what Hunter characterized as a polarity between progressivism and orthodoxy.

The problem of religion

In the United States, talking about conservatism without talking about the church is almost impossible. For historian Kristin Kobes Du Mez, the emergence of the culture wars was a direct product of the end of the Cold War and the rise of evangelical Christians in the United States, who championed the campaign against communism.

When this threat ended with the end of the Cold War, evangelical leaders shifted the source of the perceived threat from foreign communism to domestic changes in gender roles and sexuality.

The pendulum nature of politics in the country, from Democratic to Republican rule, only added fuel to the fire.

In one way or another, the “moral” polarity in the country corresponded — and continues to correspond — to electoral political platforms.

Pandemic, education, and another chapter in the Culture War

While we could spend hours recapping the comings and goings of the Culture War debate in America — including the chapter on the unmentionable 45th president — the worst episode seems to be taking place directly in the schools.

Conservatives and GOP acolytes have decided to win the Culture War by attacking the source of it all: education.

By taking over school boards, conservatives could win the battle over evolutionary instruction, sex education, abortion, and other controversial issues.

A case in point has been the debate over critical race theory.

As Politico explained, this shift in focus from the Culture War has alternated between religion and history (and lately epidemiology) to the nation’s identity.

“What should be a teachable moment for our children has become another dividing line between their parents. Even the question of masks in schools is now a take-no-prisoners struggle, pitting different versions of America against each other,” the magazine explains.

And no people are more manipulable than ignorant people. If the literature on race, identity, and gender is removed from schools, we can end the Culture War and crown the conservative dinosaurs as victors.

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