The white culture wars are about the ’60s — the 1860s

The white culture wars are about the ’60s — the 1860s February 7, 2022

• For years I’ve repeatedly argued that every iteration of the (ongoing) Satanic Panic — from Salem to BADD to QAnon — is just a rehash of the ancient blood libel. So it’s worth noting whenever the Panickers themselves step up to affirm this: “Sculpture is evidence of antisemitic ‘blood libel,’ not false QAnon theory.”

USA Today frames this as a “fact check” — something Gannett papers reserve only for special stories — and thereby garbles both the substance of the story and what makes it newsworthy. The point is not that these QAnon/MAGA fanatics are “factually” confused because they don’t know the difference between a centuries-old antisemitic lie about Passover matzoh and a Trumpified 21st-century antisemitic lie about “adenochrome.” The point is that millions of white Americans are eagerly spreading and promoting antisemitic lies.

That never ends well.

• Related to that, here’s a headline from NPR for a story that doesn’t even begin to live up to it: “When did America’s culture wars begin, and how can they end? Jon Ronson has answers.”

No, he doesn’t. Or, if he does, he doesn’t offer them here. He can’t begin to tell us how “America’s culture wars” can end because he doesn’t begin to tell us when they began.

The “culture wars” are treated here as something that started, sui generis, in the 1970s, rather than as something that started in 1619 or — at the very latest — 1865. Which is to say the entire category is confused and misconstructed as a series of battles over “moral” or “social” issues here in America that have nothing to do with racism. This is the framing used by the white religious right — the pretense that their massive organizing against “the 1960s” is more about Woodstock than about Selma, merely about the innocent defense of “conservative values” and not at all about a Second Redemption to overturn the Second Reconstruction of the Civil Rights Movement.

This is what “culture wars” means.

Nope. The complete list of moral and social issues in America that have nothing to do with racism is that there aren’t any.

• See, for example, this interview with former NIH director Francis Collins, “The culture war is literally killing people.”

Collins laments that he didn’t foresee white evangelical culture warriors latching onto anti-vaxx and anti-mask nuttery as yet another culture-war wedge issue. But it quickly became one because it quickly became yet one more in the never-ending list of proxies for the backlash that began before the ink was even dry at Appomattox. (See also: Rogan, Joe and the chicken-or-egg impossibility of determining if his white resentment or his anti-vaxx nuttery came first.)

So here’s a prediction: Phoenix has created an Office of Heat Response and Mitigation. This seems like an utterly reasonable, necessary, non-partisan idea and strikes me as wise and good. If the work of this office proves effective, then it would undeniably be a Good Thing for everyone living in Phoenix.

I cannot yet specifically imagine any way for this to become a “controversial” thing or any kind of flashpoint in America’s culture wars. But, alas, I can all too easily imagine that — somehow, bizarrely, but as always — it will. White right-wingers will find a way to pretend to resent heat response and mitigation, and to pretend to be furiously angry about it, for the children. That anger, resentment, and indignation will — somehow, as always — prove to be as racialized as every other aspect of the white culture wars. And so it will also, somehow, as always, be framed as morally defensible — nay, as morally superior! — because of adenochromebloodlibelbabykillers.

Again, I can’t foresee how they’ll manage that. But they will.

Applebees still doesn’t have a salad bar and a Wawa hoagie still ain’t a Wawa hoagie without capicola, so I still take a sallow-eyed view of David Brooks’ trustworthiness and I’m not going to try to navigate around the paywall to read the latest column from the Meh of Easttown just because it’s about white evangelicalism. Nomo Bobo, life’s too short.

That column, apparently, includes a conversation with Reformed pastor Tim Keller on what it would take to rescue or redeem white evangelicalism. It’s titled “Can These Evangelicals Save Their Movement?” In Brooks’ defense, he probably didn’t write the headline for that column, and he surely didn’t run it past Keller who, as mentioned, is very Reformed, and would have objected that we humans are never the ones responsible for or capable of doing any “saving.”

But set aside “can.” The real question Brooks and Keller need to answer is Should These Evangelicals Save Their Movement? And if so, why?



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