One aspect of our current culture wars which deserves more attention than it’s received is the fact that the tactics of each side are becoming more and more like those of the other. The two sides are, in fact, becoming mirror images of each other. And they’re making our culture wars more and more toxic.
This should be especially obvious to those who follow the clashes between left-wing and right-wing crackpots over a variety of issues. These leftists and rightists do not merit the labels “liberals” and “conservatives.” True liberals and conservatives hold strong views, but they don’t demonize those who disagree with them. And they may even consider the possibility that their opposite numbers have something worthwhile to say. But crackpots, wingnuts, and cranks—no matter where they place themselves on the political spectrum–most emphatically believe whoever disagrees with them is by definition evil, and they lack the goodwill and the intelligence to advance any argument or pursue any strategy other than to call those who disagree with them a wide variety of vile names.
Leftists in particular have a great selection of epithets to hurl at those who question them: Sexist, fascist, homophobe, transphobe, neocolonialist, and– their favorite all-purpose smear—racist. Moreover, they typically accuse anyone who disagrees with them of wanting to foment violence. To question Chinese policies is not only racist—after all, the Chinese are people of color—but doing so will stir up violence against Asians and Asian Americans. To question whether a man can become a woman simply by calling himself one, to question whether a man can give birth, and to question the distinction between a woman and a “person with a uterus” or between a “mother” and a “birthing person” is the sort of transphobia which will give rise to violence as well.
But I’m embarrassed to say that folks at my end of the political spectrum can come up with equally braindead howlers too. Since the New Deal and especially since the onset of the Cold War, the favorite response from right wingers (as opposed to thinking conservatives) is to label whatever policies they dislike as “communistic” or “socialistic.” Thus Social Security is socialistic (never mind that our Social Security program is based on a program designed by 19th century German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck—nobody’s idea of a leftist–to woo workers away from true socialism). Policies to promote civil rights and human rights are a communist plot (never mind that nowhere in the Soviet Union or any of its satellite states did anyone have any civil rights or human rights at all). While right-wing crazies may not have had as wide a range of pejoratives as their leftist counterparts had, what they lacked in imagination was more than made up for by their irresponsible and irrepressible zeal in deploying them.
This pattern is reasserting itself in the latest front of the culture wars—the battle over who should determine what children should be taught in our public schools. It takes a special blend of arrogance and stupidity to say, as the 2021 Democratic nominee for Governor of Virginia, Terry McAuliffe, said, “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach.”
But of course parents should have a say. After all, they supply the children, supply the taxes to finance the schools, and elect the school boards. No wonder McAuliffe lost the election.
And of course parents have the right to attend school board meetings and question board members and administrators about what’s going on in the schools to which they’re required, by law, to send their children, and for which they pay the taxes. That’s simply good parenting and good citizenship.
But the National School Board Association, in a letter to the U. S. Justice Department, raised the possibility that some of the tactics of complaining parents could be classified as “domestic terrorism” and “hate crimes.” While the NSBA has since walked back its letter, the task force assembled by Attorney General Garland to track and investigate complainants for “domestic terrorism” and “hate crimes” apparently remains in place.
Unfortunately, many parents concerned for their children’s education are adopting equally extreme tactics which mirror those of leftists on college campuses who seek to suppress and “cancel” views they dislike. For example, some parents are demanding and securing the removal of books—usually with gay-related themes—from school libraries. In a growing number of instances, all it takes is the objection of a single parent to secure the removal of a library book. Now, parents should have the right to prohibit their children from reading what they consider objectionable material. But to actually remove a book from a library and thereby make it inaccessible to anyone else takes away from those who might want to read the book (with their parents’ permission) the right to do so. There is no difference between somebody on the right suppressing ideas he dislikes and somebody on the left doing so as well. They’re mirror images of each other.
And it gets worse. It’s becoming increasingly common for those on the right to call school librarians “groomers,” or perverts preparing children to be molested by other perverts. Think of the folks who staffed your school libraries. The charge of “groomer” would be laughable if it weren’t so obscene.
It’s safe to say the culture wars are with us permanently. In a country with a population as vast and diverse as ours, it could hardly be otherwise. And as long as we pay too much attention to the crazies at both ends of the political spectrum, and accord too attention and support to the thoughtful liberals and conservatives who might otherwise tone down the more extreme ravings to which we’re being subjected, things will get much worse before they get better. Whatever hope there may be for the use of facts and logic rather than namecalling rests exclusively with ourselves.
Malcolm L. Cross has lived in Stephenville and taught politics and government at Tarleton from 1987 until 2023. His political and civic activities include service on the Stephenville City Council (2000-2014) and on the Erath County Republican Executive Committee (1990 to the present). He was Mayor Pro Tem of Stephenville from 2008 to 2014. He is a member of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and the Stephenville Rotary Club and does volunteer work for the Boy Scouts of America. Views expressed in this column are his and do not reflect those of The Flash as a whole.