Last week, Lexington
, in the Economist, encapsulated quite well the main problem in U.S. politics in the past decade...
What is clear is that the rapid replacement of Bush-hatred with Obama-hatred is not healthy for American politics, particularly given the president’s dual role as leader of his party and head of state. A majority of Republicans (56%) approved of Jimmy Carter’s job performance in late March 1977. A majority of Democrats (55%) approved of Richard Nixon’s job performance at a comparable point in his first term.
But today polarisation is almost instant, thanks in part to the growing role of non-negotiable issues such as abortion in American politics, in part to the rise of a media industry based on outrage, and in part to a cycle of tit-for-tat demonisation. This is not only poisoning American political life. It is making it ever harder to solve problems that require cross-party collaboration such as reforming America’s health-care system or its pensions. Unfortunately, the Glenn Becks of this world are more than just a joke.
Clearly, one of the reasons for this divisiveness in American politics is the 'culture war'
launched by the religious right in the late 1980s. Thank you, Mr Pat Robertson
. Of course, culture wars are nothing new. In the 1920s
, it was urban vs. rural values, 'progressive' policy vs. 'laissez-faire', the 'Roaring 20s' vs. 'Normalcy'.
It started again in the 1980s and took momentum throughout the 1990s and 2000s on issues like 'abortion, guns, separation of church and state, privacy, gay rights, censorship, drugs' that have been the hot button issues with the help of the right-wing media (The O'Reilly
s and other Becks
, to name the most influential figures). In that period, the left and the moderates showed little capacity to get to more political issues or simply to respond with any force as if intimated by the topic.
Well, of course it is not easy to change the paradigm. Besides, how can you even argue moral absolutes and issues supported by God himself? Hence the danger of mixing politics and religion.
Unfortunately, the Republican party let itself be hijacked by the religious right (cf. the Christian Coalition) and people like Pat Buchanan
who in his famous 'culture war' speech
at the 1992 Republican convention said :
There is a religious war going on in our country for the soul of America. It is a cultural war, as critical to the kind of nation we will one day be as was the Cold War itself.
So today, the far right may have conceded it has 'lost' the culture war
(Thanks Mr Dobson for acknoledging the obvious!) but it has damaged America's ability to solve issues for years in the process and its poison will have a long lasting effect.
Thank God, so far, Europe has been able to avoid culture wars.