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Vengeance: Trump’s Republicans and the Deepening Culture Wars

Photograph Source: The White House – Public Domain

America has long been a nation at war – war against foreigner nations and peoples and war among its own people.  While the wars against those foreign may have been bloodier in terms of lives lost, the wars at home have been the most vengeful.

Since the nation was first settled, generations of Americas have inflicted untold horrors against other Americans – be they Native people; African slaves and Black citizens; immigrants speaking a “foreign” language, non-Christians or from a different nationality or ethnic group; and, of course, those embracing different cultural values.

For all the rants by conservative pundits and politicians about “critical race theory,” media blowhards seem to know little of the nation’s long history in vengeful culture wars. Long forgotten, the New World was besieged by numerous sex scandals during the first seventy-five years of Puritan settlement. For New Englanders and other British colonists up and down the Atlantic Coast, these scandals set the boundaries of acceptable sexual practice. They mostly involved premarital sex (fornication), extramarital sex (adultery), sodomy (homosexuality) and interracial sex. Two offenses were most upsetting: bestiality involving young men and sexual witchcraft among older women.  And many people, especially women, were arrested, tried and executed.

Four centuries later, Donald Trump was elected president and, four years later, was defeated in a reelection effort.  He is a man at the nexus of two contesting forces that define postmodern American life – hedonism and hypocrisy.  Over the course of his adult life he morphed, like a recovering alcoholic, from an up-market hipster to a repentant moralist.

Trump embodies a profound contradiction: he seems to love money as much as sex, both assertions of primitive masculine potency   His adult-life trajectory symbolizes the arch of the culture wars, especially the evolving sexual politics over the last half-century. Now, at 75-yrs, Trump’s sexuality has morphed into an aggressive campaign of political vengeance – one joined by desperate Republicans.

The current round of the culture wars began a half-century ago, a social and political reaction to the tumultuous 1960s, a decade that threatened the powers that be.  The threat was expressed in the combined insurgency of the civil-right movement, anti-Vietnam War protests, the counterculture of sex, drugs & rock-&-roll, and the emerging feminist and gay-rights movements.

The culture wars were promoted by Phyllis Schlafly’s successful campaign to block the adoption of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). Schlafly, a devoutly Catholic and rightwing activist, was a militant anticommunist long affiliated with the John Birch Society.  Often unappreciated, her “STOP-ERA” campaign became more than a single-issue “war,” more than an effort to block a proposed constitutional amendment.  It set the agenda for an awakened conservativism, the remaking of the Republican Party and social struggle for decades to come.

In the decades between Jimmy Carter’s election (1974) and the end of Barack Obama’s presidency (2017), including the presidents Bush I and II as well as Clinton, only Ronald Reagan aggressively played on culture-war themes to mobilize his predominantly white Christian base.  Trump’s election brought to a head the deep social, political and moralistic tensions that had gotten worse over the preceding decades.  The American Dream ended for most Americans with the end of the great Depression and WW-II recovery, and a deeply-felt sense of despair and resentment spread throughout the country.

Trump and his administration aggressively pursued the Christian moralistic culture wars. Example of their campaign are the following:

+ Trump backed overturning Roe v. Wade and limiting a woman’s right to an abortion. Before the Susan BAnthony List annual “Campaign for Life,” he asserted, “We’re also seeking passage of the 20-week abortion bill, which would end painful, late-term abortions nationwide.”

+ Trump backed “religious freedom” laws that legalizes discrimination of LGBTQ people based on (i) marriage as a union between one man and one woman, (ii) that sexual relations can take place only within such a marriage and (iii) that gender is an immutable biological characteristic.

+ The Dept. of Health and Human Services (HHS) backed antiabortion “crisis pregnancy centers” (CPC).

+ HHS sought to restrict protections afforded transgender people under federal civil rights law.

+ Vice Pres. Mike Pence supported conversion therapy and backed the Republican Party’s 2016 anti-LGBTQ platform that promoted it.

+ Trump sought to suppress commercial sex work with the FOSTA-SESTA — aka “Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act” and “Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act.”

The religious right’s support for Trump 2016 victory reinvigorated the culture wars and archconservatives of every stripe, including white nationalists.  They were willing to forego their moral beliefs regarding Trump’s misogynist behavior and questionable business practices for political power.  His election culminated in Trump’s appointment of three conservatives to the Supreme Court – Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barret.

In the wake of the 2020 elections, with Trump’s defeat and the Democrats securing control over both Houses of Congress, Republicans have grown ever-more desperate.  Driven by Christian fundamentalists and race nationalist, a mean-spirited sense of vengeance seems to now direct current Republic programs, especially at the state level.  “Republicans’ frustration with an inability to move policy at a federal level trickles down to more actions in the states,” said Alex Conant, a Republican strategist.  “I think a lot of these state legislatures are responding to the demands of their conservative base, which sees the culture wars headed in the wrong direction nationally.”

Among the efforts now being promoted:

Anti-abortion – the Guttmacher Institute reports that as of June 14th, “there have been 561 abortion restrictions, including 165 abortion bans, introduced across 47 states (all counts current as of June 7, 2021). “A whopping 83 of those restrictions have been enacted across 16 states, including 10 bans.”

Anti-LGBTQ – the Human Rights Campaign reports that as of May 7th, 17 anti-LGBTQ bill were enacted into law; in addition, 11 anti-LGBTQ bills were on governors’ desks awaiting signature or veto; and several more were continuing to move through state legislatures across the country.

Anti-immigrant – the Catholic Legal Immigration Network reports that between January and October 2020, 494 pieces of legislation were introduced in 46 states and the District of Columbia; “close to 65 bills and resolutions have been adopted or signed by the governors.” A total of 222 proposed bills had died by July 31, 2020.

Online censorship – in the wake Trump’s being blocked from Twitter, the AP reports that “GOP politicians in roughly two dozen states have introduced bills that would allow civil lawsuits against platforms for what they all ‘censorship’ of posts.

Gun ownership – As of July 2021, five states—Iowa, Montana, Tennessee, Texas, and Utah—have passed permitless-carry laws, bringing the total number of states with such laws to 21.

The most telling expression of Republican culture wars’ desperation is the current assault on voting, the anchor of America’s claim to be a “democracy.”

Since Trump propagated his “big lie” — that his 2020 electoral victory was stolen – and the January 6th attack on Congress, a growing number of states have passed voter restriction laws.  The Brennan Center reports that

between January 1 and May 14, 2021, at least 14 statesenacted 22 new laws that restrict access to the vote.

The demographic clock is ticking against the Republicans – and they know it! They know that the racial/ethnic composition of the country changing and that by 2050, the U.S. will be a “majority-minority” country, with white non-Hispanics making up less than half of the total population.  Equally foreboding, the U.S. is becoming an ever-increasing urban nationwith about 83 percent of the population living in cities.  Rural America is losing it population to more attractive urban centers (and the ever-growing suburbs), whether these be giant sprawls like New York, San Francisco Miami, Houston and Minneapolis or the dozen or more smaller urban pockets spread throughout the country.

This demographic change is being led by younger American looking for better jobs but better, more interesting lives.  And this change was reflected in the 2020 election “Basically 40 percent of the electorate are essentially Gen Z and millennials and some young Xers in there,”said John Della Volpe, director of polling at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Institute of Politics who helped the Biden campaign survey younger voters. “They are replacing the Silent Generation and the Baby Boomers. For every one of those who are exiting the electorate, they are being replaced by someone more progressive.”

This is the great fear that is whispering into the ears of Trump Republicans – their historic days are coming to an end and they know it.  And to hold on to power, they will reply upon increasing vengeance against all those who threaten them.