The Culture War is Getting Darker – Is Compromise Possible?

The Culture War is Getting Darker – Is Compromise Possible?

It’s one thing when Steve Bannon, Roger Ailes, Paul Manafort, Roger Stone, Breitbart, and Alex Jones compare the election of Hillary Rodham Clinton to the coming of the apocalypse, the establishment of Satanic government, the end of civilization as we know it, but it is quite another thing when elected officials echo Stone’s prediction that there might be “a bloodbath”.

Yesterday, Matt Bevin, the governor of Kentucky,  (still a state as I understand it) spoke to the Value Voters Conference in Washington, D.C.  In what has been described as “off the cuff remarks”, Bevin reminded his listeners that the “blood of patriots” has to be spilled as well as the “blood of tyrants”.  Noting with sadness that it might be his own children who have to bleed and die in order to keep society from degrading farther.

“It’s a slippery slope. First, we’re killing children, then it’s ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell,’ now it’s this gender-bending kind of ‘don’t be a bigot,’ ‘don’t be unreasonable,’ ‘don’t be unenlightened, heaven forbid,’ ‘just keep your mouth shut.’”

A Clinton election, the governor suggested, would pull the nation so far down the slope that only violent opposition could turn the nation back to the values celebrated in the group he addressed.

“Whose blood will be shed?” Bevin asked. “It may be that of those in this room. It might be that of our children and grandchildren. I have nine children. It breaks my heart to think that it might be their blood is needed to redeem something, to reclaim something that we, through our apathy and our indifference, have given away. Don’t let it happen.”

If there were to be a conversation among us all, although the opportunity for real dialogue appears to have passed, we might identify the principles that separate us, recognizing that we will disagree, that some convictions are bone deep and unshakable.  At the start, we’d use the same words for what we hold most important – freedom, conscience, decency, honesty, love, family, nation.

And then … the two competing cultures would face the difficult task of living in the company of others whose beliefs are not our own.  As I write that sentence, I am aware that I am painfully uncomfortable with the notion that my country might endorse to some degree convictions about gay, bisexual, lesbian, transgender people, convictions about the centrality of Christian faith, convictions about caring for the poor and homeless, convictions about public health, convictions about welcoming immigrants and those seeking asylum, convictions about the exclusive use of English, convictions about the use of public land, convictions about the regulation of industry and commerce, convictions about the environment … that I find horrifying.
And then … I realize that the governor of Kentucky speaks for those, and they are many, who believe that this election may be the last election.  As America has become more diverse in almost every way, and as modernity pulls young people into beliefs not held by the previous generations, and as we are demographically not our grandparent’s America, the chances of a conservative candidate defeating the forces of change grow more narrow by the year.
For those of us who are Democrats, or liberals, or radicals, that is a comforting thought.  For those who are not, it is terrifying.
The language of extremity and the strength of conviction that these are end-times for  conservatism activates a kind of populist reaction that has been ugly in part and desperate as well.  Hillary Rodham Clinton’s use of the word “deplorable” fits some of the mean-spirited nativism and racism that has been attracted to the Trump campaign, but ordinary people, whose views are not my own, are caught in the maelstrom as well.

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