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“Is Trump trying to wage something of a culture war?”, CNN’s Jim Acosta asked White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, referring to the President’s comments on the #TaketheKnee-protest that has overtaken the NFL and, by proxy, parts of the Democratic opposition.
The mere fact that a correspondent employed at a news station that got nearly everything wrong about last year’s elections – and has doubled down in its pandering to identity politics ever since – asks such a question is in itself pretty rich, but it proves most of all that CNN has transformed from a formerly neutral news channel into a Democrat’s FOX News.
Huntington vs. Fukuyama
Indeed, the culture war need not be waged. It is already here. As a matter of fact, the perennial Huntingtonian culture battle between progressive and conservative forces never really ceased to exist. Yet in recent years it has been raging with exceptional force and has emerged from the depths of web culture – from the Reddits, Tumblr’s and 4Chan’s of this world – and reentered into mainstream debate. The conservative aim is clear: to challenge the Left’s self-declared victory in the culture war and take back the ground it has been losing to progressive forces for decades. Conservative pundits like Ben Shapiro, Tucker Carlson, Charlie Kirk, Tomi Lahren and Milo Yiannopoulos are leading the charge, espousing views ranging from classical-liberalism to traditional conservatism – yet all pushing a narrative that aims to take down identity politics and focus on the preservation of core values of Western civilization: freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and equality before the law. This also marked a change in contemporary conservative movements opposed to those of previous decades, when conservatism was predominantly dominated by the Christian hard-right, not particularly known for its tolerance either.
Up against an intellectually weak Christian right, the modern Left declared a Fukuyaman ‘End of History’ in the culture war and subsequently increasingly retreated in a bubble of self-righteousness throughout the years, sowing the seeds for the far-left elements – the language police and iconoclasts – that are currently keeping this side of the political spectrum hostage. The modern Left has thus effectively become what conservatives were until the 1960s and what it once rebelled against: the establishment.
The praiseworthy goals the Left fought for in those days, like equal rights for men and women, acceptance of homosexuality and combating institutional racism, created better and freer societies in the West, yet the modern Left now openly embraces ideologies and tactics that directly contravene the very rights it once fought for. And whilst claiming ownership for words like ‘inclusiveness’, ‘tolerance’ and ‘diversity’, the modern Left, time and again, manages to display a zero-tolerance for dissent and the only diversity that really matters: intellectual diversity.
It is this gap between word and deed that has fueled the flames of the culture war to new heights, not to mention the modern Left’s tendency to bully those who do not align themselves with their narrative into submission or self-censorship – a topic on which Ben Shapiro has written extensively, amongst others in his New York Times bestseller Bullies. This intolerant behavior has caused an awakening amongst conservative movements, which no longer wish to be lashed out against by the intolerant self-proclaimed tolerant.
Most importantly: Donald Trump, as CNN aimed to suggest, is not the instigator of this culture war, but merely its product. His election vividly reflects a pushback against the left’s ever-narrowing Overton-window, in which less and less topics can be openly discussed and those holding different views are bullied into silence or slandered against with accusations of ‘racism’, ‘sexism’, ‘white nationalism’ or ‘something-o-phobia’. From Gamergate to the bullying of dozens and dozens of conservative speakers at universities and from Clinton’s deplorables comments to the betrayal of Charlie Hebdo, the hard-left’s Pavlov-reflex to launch verbal defamation against those holding different views eventually really only proves one thing: it has run out of ideas. It has become so intellectually barren, so entangled in its culture of victimization that these empty accusations are really all that it still has to offer in public discourse.
Champions of the First Amendment
If there is one place where this becomes increasingly clear it is American college campuses, where progressive student groups have launched a full-blown assault on free speech, often assisted by university staff. For years, universities have been catering to the absurd demands of progressive students by creating safe spaces, providing counseling for students affected by ‘offensive speech’ (read: opinions that are conflicting with their own) and establishing gender-neutral language instructions and a barrage of useless pseudo scientific social and gender studies only aimed at institutionalizing victimization, rather than self-empowerment. It may be no surprise that such an environment produces people that are wildly intolerant to any views that differ from their own and – as Crowder’s recent infiltration of the campus-Antifa and the 2017 Berkeley riots shows – are more than willing to use violence to prevent others from speaking.
The list of speakers that have been disinvited to speak at universities or were shouted down while doing so is becoming a sad memento of this progressive intolerance. Ben Shapiro at California State University Los Angeles, Nicholas Dirks at Berkeley, Jason Riley at Virginia Tech, Suzanne Venker at Williams College, Richard Dawkins at Berkeley, Charles Murray at Notre Dame and Gavin McInnes at DePaul University – the list goes on and on. In 2016 alone Milo Yiannopoulos was disinvited a stunning eleven times in total, constituting more than 25% of the 42 separate disinvitation incidents logged by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education that year, a 100% increase compared to 2015. It led US Attorney General Jeff Sessions to the rightful conclusion that freedom of speech is under attack at American campuses.
The worrying developments on America’s university campuses even led the Senate to organize a hearing on challenges to free speech at universities, in which Ben Shapiro clearly outlined the tactics used by campus progressives to prevent him and others from speaking. Let it be clear: one does not have to agree with the views of Shapiro or Yiannopoulos. I do not agree with them on every single topic and neither will others. What matters is that they have the right to speak. Free speech cannot come with cherry picking. You either have full free speech, or you have none. Everything in between is a dangerous slippery slope.
By narrowing the Overton-window and defaming speakers with asinine accusations of ‘racism’ and ‘white supremacy’, the modern Left makes it harder to combat actual racism and white supremacy, such as that of the despicable bunch of neo-Nazis that marched through Charlottesville or the likes of Richard Spencer, who openly advocate white supremacy. Thát is the actual alt-right. And conservatives despise them just as much as progressives do.
As I stated in a previous article, universities and colleges are the very places to discover and learn about different views. If it does not happen there, then where will it happen? If hearing someone with different views speak makes you want to retreat to a safe space you do not belong at a university – perhaps not even in adult society – because clearly you have not surpassed the intellectual stage of a Kindergarten graduate. The ever-growing (online) base of followers of leading conservative opinion makers shows that an increasing number of people is fed up with being told what can or cannot be said, what must and must not be thought, as well as the excessive offense-taking of the oversensitive modern Left. Even left-leaning show hosts like Bill Maher have disavowed the intolerant behavior of their fellows, but somehow the moderate left – and there are scores of reasonable people on this side of the political spectrum, let that be clear – seems unable to control the intolerance in its own ranks. All of this has effectively shifted the torch in the battle for the defense of free speech from progressives to conservatives.
That is not to say that there have not been instances in which conservative students prevented a left-leaning speaker from appearing on campus. Especially views on abortion have, regrettably, triggered several disinvitations on behalf of conservative groups, but the numbers are far, far lower than disinvitations pushed for by progressives. Also, there has not been a single case in which conservative students destroyed university property in mass riots targeting someone holding different opinions – like the riots at UC Berkeley in February 2017, aimed at shutting down Yiannopoulos. Progressives also do not need to cough up exorbitant security fees in order to speak in safety, nor do progressive speakers burden the financial resources universities have to provide security. Shapiro’s September 2017 speech at Berkeley did cost the university a stunning and absurd $600.000 in order to ensure his safety, as well as that of those who wanted to listen to him. The reason for this may be clear: conservatives welcome debate more than the modern Left does, because their Overton-window has not narrowed down to the extent it is nearly closed. They welcome disagreement more. They are more tolerant of different points of view. They generally have no need to shut down speakers holding different views because they can challenge them with facts and reason, rather than whining, unfounded accusations and violence. And there where conservatives lack facts and reason, predominantly on the religious right with its radical stances on abortion and gay marriage, the Left battles it effectively.
Social Justice Warriors and the war on common sense
The problem of the American left, and increasingly that of its European counterparts, is that it is held hostage by the hard-left fringes of progressivism: those that have been grouped by the popular term social justice warriors, or SJWs.
Over the course of the last years the SJW-movement has not only launched a war on free speech, it also produced headlines, statements and studies worthy of The Onion. Sadly none of them were a parody, but just a reflection of post-modernist deconstruction. Mona Chalabi of the Guardian deemed correcting grammar a ‘racist practice’, a PhD candidate at the University of North Dakota claimed that science is sexist because it is not subjective, a Huffington Post writer claimed that the word ‘too’ is sexist, a Massachusetts librarian denounced the famous children’s book The Cat in the Hat as ‘racist propaganda’ and university campuses provided students with gender-neutral language instructions to ensure no one is ‘offended’.
From mansplaining and manspreading to microaggressions and safe spaces. From trigger warnings and intersectionality to white privilege and cultural appropriation – it is only a colorful selection from the bizarre terminology and Orwellian constructs that SJWs use to pollute public debate and stifle free speech.
It is nearly impossible to make all this stuff up, but nothing is inconceivable when it comes to social justice warriors. Hence it should not be a surprise that these very same people accuse an openly Jewish man (Shapiro) and a Catholic, gay man with Jewish ancestry, who recently married his black boyfriend (Yiannopoulos) of being far-right racists and white supremacists.
Let that sink in for a moment.
It is hard to follow such a stunning lack of logic and common sense, but social justice warriors never disappoint at displaying it. Unable to effectively battle or denounce these radicals in its own ranks, the modern Left faces an uphill battle in the culture war.
Where conservatives previously lost the culture war through their opposition against the Left’s genuine call for equality in the 1960s and beyond, through being held hostage by the Christian hard-right and through things as opposing gamer culture and declaring that Harry Potter ‘promoted witchcraft’, the tide has now turned. Conservatives do not wage the war on common sense anymore. This war is waged by the modern Left, which has become so oversensitive that it sees racism, sexism, homophobia and ‘Islamophobia’ (not a real word) in every corner as part of its culture of victimization. Or as Dennis Prager put it: “The left-wing trinity of race, gender and class has prevailed. The new dividing lines are no longer good and bad or excellent and mediocre, but white and nonwhite, male and female, and rich and poor.”
A study showed that progressives are three times more likely to unfriend conservatives on social media for espousing political views. It is an unsurprising result: not only did conservatives for years put up a poor fight in the culture battle, they hardly lifted a finger in the battle for institutions: from Hollywood to academia to the mainstream media, the modern Left has bested conservatives for decades, leading to a society in which conservatives became used to a continuous flow of information and points of view from the other side of the aisle, whereas that other side of the aisle became trapped in an information bubble that only circulated, rehashed and reconfirmed its own opinions and became increasingly hostile to any points of view outside of its own spectrum. Hence, the narrowed Overton-window.
Thus, the greatest trick the modern Left ever pulled was to convince the world it stands for tolerance. Thanks to social justice warriors, this false narrative is now quickly unraveling, leading conservative forces to ridicule the intellectual emptiness the other side of the political spectrum has descended into. It is a culture war that can be fought with a smile, thanks to the bizarre social justice narratives spewed out by the other side of the aisle.
Roughly said, for SJWs facts do not matter. Feelings do. It is not about whether someone is actually discriminated against (which is, obviously, always wrong). It is about whether that person feels discriminated against. It is not about objectivity. It is about subjectivity. It is about a supreme reign of feelings over facts, of weakness over strength and of victimization over self-empowerment.
Going down this road, the modern Left has declared war on reason and common sense. It is a war that cannot be won without totalitarian means and the more support conservative movements gather amongst the general public, the more repressive and fear mongering the modern Left’s tactics will become. And one need not look far for that: the manner in which mainstream media report about Republicans and the rising European conservative movements is often without any sense of shame and nuance. It is hard to lose a culture war against such bias and, quite often, blatant lies, but it is not impossible. Conservatives will have to speak out, they will have to regain ground within important institutions: as civil servants, as academics, as influencers and as journalists. So far, they seem to be seizing that momentum.
The Dangers of Relativism and the Information Bubble
As Canadian conservative Mark Steyn correctly noted in an interview with FOX given in response to the controversy surrounding The Cat in the Hat: “If everything is racist, then nothing is.” Sadly it appears to be the modern Left’s favorite pastime to pull everything it does not like or is offended by into the aforementioned trinity of race, sex and class.
Time and again conservative pundits like Ben Shapiro and Milo Yiannopoulos have spoken out against racism and white or black supremacy. Yiannopoulos, by all means a provocateur and certainly not a diplomat, is anything but “alt-right” or “white supremacist”. The fact that left wing and left-leaning media continue to address him as such shows desperation. The accusations launched at both Yiannopoulos and Shapiro are shockingly dishonest and anyone who has either read their books (e.g. Yiannopoulos’ recent book even includes a chapter named “Why the Alt-Right hates me”) or viewed the countless online videos they have produced would have to come to the conclusion that these accusations are groundless and fabricated, no matter whether one agrees or disagrees with what both gentlemen have to say. Nonetheless, left-leaning media happily continue to discredit them – leading to, amongst others, a hilarious schooling of a journalist of the progressive publication The Hill by the UK-born Yiannopoulos. Examples like this vividly prove why trust in mainstream media is hitting all-time lows.
Eventually, whoever needs to resort to slandering, bullying and silencing their opponents is fighting an unwinnable fight. And indeed, lacking intellectual firepower to slam back against the cultural reconquista at the hands of conservatism, the modern Left will eventually lose the culture war – albeit said that, perpetual as the war is, it need not be forever. It shows that the Left will need to reinvent itself and unshackle itself from the irrational grip of social justice warriors. That it has to return to the actual Western freedoms it once stood for and needs to reinforce its movement with reason rather than endless outcries of offense, racism and sexism. It is conservatives that have become the defenders of these Western freedoms in the contemporary West, reflecting an astonishing switch within the political spectrum. They are backed by Generation Z, those born after 1995 – a generation that, according to studies, is consistently more conservative than its predecessor, the millennial generation.
What matters most of all, in a digital age in which consumers themselves can decide what kind of news and points of view they see on their social media feeds, is a balanced influx of information, to prevent ending up in an information bubble solely consisting of reaffirming and like-minded ideas. As the New York Times rightly pointed out: get out of the political bubble. A person who only watches CNN and MSNBC and who only reads the New York Times, Politico and BuzzFeed, without paying attention to Breitbart, FOX News and the likes of Ben Shapiro, Milo, Tomi Lahren and Tucker Carlson is obviously the one whose take on reality is more colored, less balanced and most importantly, less informed. Conservatives are more likely to receive news from both sides of the aisle, as stated before. It explains to a large extent why progressives were absolutely flabbergasted by the election victory of Trump in November 2016, whereas many conservatives saw it coming.
Conservatism is the new counterculture
The last years have marked a fundamental change in the culture war, with political correctness going berserk, mass immigration into the West from cultures that are generally hostile to Western values and a quickly increasing gap between the proponents of (cultural) globalism and the supporters of (cultural) protectionism. All of this intensified the culture war between the modern Left and conservatives. The election of Trump and rising conservative movements in Europe are only the first signs of a major political shift, politics being the primary outlet of the culture war. And whatever one may think of the issues at stake in the 2016 US election, or whatever one may think of the often controversial President himself, it is undeniable that his election was a strong vote of no confidence against the establishment.
Such a thing can only be done by a countermovement. A countermovement that looks beyond race, gender or class, but cares about Western values, rather than setting groups against each other by convincing them they are victims of others.
Thus, conservatism has undeniably become the new counterculture. And whilst slowly losing its control over the shaping of public opinion, the modern Left is likely to become increasingly repressive to stifle opposing voices – verbally and otherwise, thereby not only drifting further away from reason, but also alienating the vast amount of moderates and reasonable people in its own ranks, who may not always agree with conservatives on the substance of issues, but do subscribe to the same Western values of free speech, free assembly and equal rights conservatives aim to defend.
The new counterculture will be happy to take them aboard.
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