How Conservatives Can Fight the Rabid Partisanship Plaguing America
You never voted on it. You never gave society your consent. Yet somehow every decision you make has political ramifications, from the fast food you buy to the ice cream you eat, the sports you watch, the movies you enjoy, the words you use, and even the decision to fly your country's flag. Our institutions, similarly, are becoming increasingly partisan, typically with a left-wing bias, including our media, entertainment, universities, and even our scientific establishments. More alarmingly, polling data and social science studies reflect rapidly growing animosity toward those with differing political viewpoints.
While extreme partisanship is a problem on both ends of the political spectrum, a recent poll indicates that those on the left exhibit significantly less tolerance of alternative views than conservatives. A poll from the Survey Center on American Life found that Democrats are twice as likely as Republicans to end a friendship over politics. Similar sentiments were expressed in a 2018 Axios survey, which found that 41% of Democrats would be at least somewhat disappointed if a family member married someone from a different political party, compared to 26% of Republicans. A microcosm of such attitudes was articulated in a Virginia Heffernan op-ed, in which Heffernan agonized over how to interpret an "act of aggressive niceness" in which her Trump-loving neighbors, without asking, shoveled her snow-covered driveway. Heffernan weaved an intricate web that stunningly compared her neighbor's act of kindness to those of polite Nazis, charitable members of Hezb'allah, and the January 6, 2021 rioters.
In Heffernan's mind, support for Trump must also mean support for the January 6 Capitol breach; therefore, all Trump voters must be violent insurrectionists. No attempt is made to find common ground or even to understand why her neighbors support Trump. Before we judge Heffernan too harshly, consider the rhetoric that has continually been used to describe Trump-supporters: basket of deplorables, white supremacists, science-deniers, Nazis, and fascists, to name a few. Such insults are not unique to the Trump era: during the 2012 election, then–GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney was compared to Hitler and was called sexist, homophobic, and a "corporate raider." Potential 2024 GOP frontrunner Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.) is already being slammed as "more of a lunatic than Trump ever was," while the entire GOP was recently compared to the Taliban. The political divide is now akin to religious conflict: you cannot agree to disagree when you believe that the side you disagree with is evil incarnate. Unfortunately, ending friendships may be the smallest cost of our political divide: when you characterize the other half of the country as being irredeemably evil, it forebodes violent conflicts.
Political violence has skyrocketed, from the Antifa/Black Lives Matter riots last summer to the storming of the United States Capitol building on January 6, 2021. Clashes between right- and left-wing groups took place in Portland, Louisville, Kalamazoo, and Atlanta, among others. Polling data indicate that support for using violent tactics to achieve political goals has increased nearly fivefold among both Republicans and Democrats since 2017, according to a collection of polls from Yougov, and Nationscape/Voter Study Group, analyzed in January 2021. Similar sentiments were reflected in a February Survey Center on American Life poll, which found that nearly 30% of Americans supported political violence in some circumstances.
Support for secessionist movements is also increasing: a June 2021 survey stunningly found that 37% supported the notion of regional secession. These were not simply knee-jerk reactions to the 2020 elections, either: support for secession was at 29% when the same poll was conducted in January/February of 2021. From January to June, every voting group in every region expressed an increasing willingness to secede. On both ends of the political spectrum, secessionist movements are emerging, including Texit, Calexit, and the New England Independence Campaign.
Voters from both political parties are fearful that the U.S. is headed for civil war, according to a 2019 survey. Indeed, we may already be experiencing a "Cold Civil War" among states. For example, California has banned state-funded travel to seventeen conservative states. Multiple conservative states have deployed their National Guards to the U.S.-Mexico border following Biden's lackluster border policies and have also defied federal guidance on issues such as Critical Race Theory, COVID-19, and gun control measures.
The path to a depoliticized culture should be straightforward: simply stand down. Entertainment corporations could reduce the amount of politics in their products. Corporations could donate less to politically charged causes, or at the very least stop producing politicized ads. Individuals could post less about politics on social media, and social media giants in turn could consistently apply the same standards for both right- and left-wing accounts. Unfortunately, because the left has a stranglehold on most of our society's institutions, this scenario would require these entities to make major concessions while receiving little in return.
Consider the entertainment industry: in the 2018 election, 99.7 percent of all political donations from the Hollywood Reporter's top 100 list of entertainers and executives went to Democrats. Donations from tech companies are only slightly less skewed: 98% of donations went to Democrats in 2020. Wall Street's $2.9 billion in donations in 2020 favored Biden over Trump at over a 2.5:1 clip. In academia, Democrats outnumber Republicans by an estimated 10:1 margin among university faculty. The vast majority of power centers in the U.S. are overwhelmingly leftist. Conservatives must do more to match that clout and bring about a balance of power in our culture if we hope to incentivize the depoliticization of our society.
On an individual level, conservatives should be tolerant: don't end friendships over politics, and don't politicize every topic on God's green Earth within your social circles. Love your neighbor. However, on a societal level, conservatives must exercise collective economic power: companies that promote far-left policies must be boycotted until they change their policy. Similarly, we should "buycott," or provide additional economic support, to companies that promote conservative values. The power of protest is equally important: the political right can learn a thing from liberals, who have successfully pressured corporations to enact politically motivated policies. Just as left-wing activists influenced Major League Baseball to move the All-Star game, right-wing activists must pressure Hollywood to reduce its involvement with China on humanitarian grounds (treatment of Uyghurs, tyranny against Hong Kong, etc.), for example. Participation in local politics is also powerful, as demonstrated by recent grassroots movements against the teaching of Critical Race Theory. More conservatives are needed in academia, and support networks for conservative faculty may help these efforts. We can also support efforts to develop culturally relevant content: for example, the conservative news site The Daily Wire is entering the entertainment industry, while Cayo Films is planning a TV series dramatizing the Old Testament. Conservatives can also support right-wing journalism by subscribing to conservative news sites and writing op-eds.
Because conservatives favor individual liberties over government intervention, we are often reluctant to wield political power. Many in the conservative movement vehemently defend, for example, Big Tech providing a platform for the Taliban while banning Donald Trump as simple free speech and free enterprise. "Conservative" writers have also been among the harshest critics of banning the teaching of Critical Race Theory in our schools. In principle, their logic is sound: in a truly free society, the best ideas will ultimately prevail without government intervention. In practice, however, the horses left the barn decades ago: the ideas espoused by our entertainment, education, and cultural institutions have swung dramatically to the left, and conservatives have done little to provide a coherent alternative message. Division and violence will fester as long as our institutions are incentivized to appease the more vocal, organized political left.
For our nation to survive, our culture must be a source of unity that transcends political differences. It is therefore imperative that the political right leverage its economic, political, and social power to provide a check on the leftist takeover of our culture.
J. Allen Cartwright writes about interplay of politics with cultural and scientific institutions. He can be followed on Parler at @jallencartwright.
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