Jamelle Bouie published an opinion piece in the New York Times titled “Democrats, You Can’t Ignore the Culture Wars Any Longer.” His opinion is not only wrong; it’s dangerous. It shows a fundamental misunderstanding of how the culture wars work and the New York Times’ role in perpetuating them. If Democrats would only ignore the culture wars, they might make some progress toward fixing the problems in this country.
Bouie’s point is fairly simple. The culture wars are not really about culture. He uses the examples of teaching about critical race theory and LGBTQIA+ issues (the “Don’t Say Gay” law) in schools. He correctly points out that these “issues” are Trojan horses. The real goal for the conservatives making all this noise is to dismantle public education in America entirely.
The problem arises after this diagnosis. Bouie makes two claims. First, he says that the Democrats are ignoring these culture war issues. Second, he says that the best way to fight them is to engage with them. Both claims are wrong. The way the culture wars have worked for at least the last 20 years is a conservative media outlet, usually Fox, makes an outrageous claim. Then, a bunch of moderate to left media outlets (CNN, Comedy Central, the New York Times, etc.) act outraged by the claim. This creates a bit of a firestorm for a few days to a few weeks before the conservatives make another outrageous claim. The moderate to left media outlets are Democrat proxies, just like Fox News is a Republican proxy. They are clearly not ignoring the culture war. They already are engaging with it and amplifying it.
Engaging in the culture war is bad because of that amplification. Less than one percent of Americans watch Fox News and other conservative outlets. Fox can say almost whatever they want, and it would have almost no impact. However, once the rest of the media picks up the stories, even if it’s to dunk on Fox News, the stories start to spread, and everyone forms up on their predictable sides. What was some bit of nonsense becomes an issue that people care about and issues that people care about become policies and legislation.
The important point is that the culture wars are all about the noise. It has been pointed out many times that most of the people talking about critical race theory don’t seem to know or care what critical race theory is. The conservatives who started the hysteria don’t care as long as they are the ones setting the agenda of public discourse. As Bouie pointed out, critical race theory has nothing to do with the Republicans’ ultimate goals. It’s a means to an end. They are baiting the Democrats. It’s like an unruly student trying to derail a classroom. Things don’t break down until the teacher engages the student.
It is important to point out that the Democrats shouldn’t be passive. If, or when, anti-LGBTIA+ legislation is proposed, the Democrats should fight tooth and nail against it. Same with holocaust denialism, racism, voter suppression, and all the other things decent people are against. But most Americans are on the same side as the Democrats on these issues. Without all the noise and confusion caused by the culture wars, few of these issues will reach the proposal stage.
If Democrats would start ignoring the culture wars, Fox News would become an echo chamber with no effect on anyone or anything outside of the chamber itself. They could use all their newly found bandwidth to focus on things like governing. Imagine their popularity if they actually got something accomplished. As a bonus, it might cut down on political polarization. Society could move toward being civil for the first time in ages. And all they have to do is start ignoring the culture wars.