Editorial & Opinion

Today’s Culture War: Playing With People’s Lives for Sport

Over the past few years the culture war has devolved into what seems more like a sporting event than an honest debate on the issues.
Photo for Today’s Culture War: Playing With People’s Lives for Sport

Published on September 28, 2021
By Greg Brailsford

There are many aspects of today’s culture war that make sense and in which both “sides” have a reasonable argument to make, even if we may not agree with it. Gun rights and free speech are a couple of these examples. However, over the past few years the culture war has devolved into what seems more like a sporting event than an honest debate on the issues. I will cover some of the most widely-known examples and challenge you to figure out what it really is you are fighting for.

The modern day culture war works like this: Take policy discussion and throw it out the window. For purposes of the culture war, policy and integrity do not matter at all. All that matters is doing whatever you can to make the opposite side of the political spectrum lose. In the culture war, passing good legislation is not the goal. Creating a society where we all benefit is not the goal. The only goal is beating the other team. In the modern culture war, there are two teams: Red MAGA (Trump-supporting conservatives) and Blue MAGA (establishment Democrat-supporting liberals). Red MAGA is lead by Donald Trump and conservative media including Fox News, OAN, and podcasters such as Dan Bogino. Blue MAGA is lead by a hydra of establishment Democrats and liberal media including CNN, MSNBC, and the NY Times. Blue MAGA typically throws the first salvo (eg. mask mandates, vaccines, criminal allegations, etc.) and then Red MAGA takes the opposite position of whatever Blue MAGA has put out there, regardless of whether it makes any sense. Blue MAGA then overplays its hand and takes its original position too far or ignores it entirely when convenient, providing fresh ammunition to Red MAGA. This process repeats over and over on every issue, resulting in a discourse devoid of purpose and more akin to a football game than to policies that affect people’s lives.

The Origin of COVID-19

Originally, experts claimed that COVID-19 was passed to humans from bats at an open market in the Wuhan province of China. This seemed like an odd explanation since no bats were sold in the area that the virus was declared to originate from. Suggestions that a pangolin was the culprit were squashed when those animals were tested and found to not harbor the virus. Nonetheless, many organizations were adamant that it was not lab-leaked despite a lack of evidence to the contrary. Blue MAGA swallowed the animal origin theory without much question, in part because Red MAGA suggested that it was possible the virus originated from a Chinese lab, was manmade, and either leaked out or was released purposely. Donald Trump promoted this theory in press statements. As a result, Blue MAGA had no choice but to mock this theory and declare it an impossibility. Never mind that one of the top Chinese virus research labs was literally in the same place that the virus originated. Never mind that this made more logical sense than a sudden zoonotic crossover. To Blue MAGA, there was a 0% chance that the virus was made in China because Red MAGA says it was. Eventually, after over a year Blue MAGA swallowed its pride and allowed for this possibility after the WHO decided maybe they aren’t entirely sure it wasn’t leaked. By not taking the lab leak theory seriously, Blue MAGA harmed its credibility and its reputation for basing its theories on facts and common sense.

Vaccines and Masks

Remember back in “normal times” when we all got vaccines, and listened to doctors because they knew more than we did about vaccines? Antivaxxers were a fringe group that you poked fun at because their fears had no basis in science or fact. Then COVID hit, conspiracy theories went mainstream, and here we are in a situation where half the population has volunteered to put their health and that of their immediate family in danger, simply because the rules of the culture war dictate that they must oppose the other side. For Red MAGA, resistance to the COVID-19 vaccine, now a fully FDA-approved medication, is entirely a construct of conservative media. Worse, that same media has railed against nearly all mitigation measures, and Red MAGA has happily obliged. It would be reasonable to believe that conservative media was attempting to get its own viewers killed off. But it gets worse. Conservative elected officials have fully bought into this pro-COVID-19 messaging as well, inexplicably resulting in their own voters becoming fatal victims of the virus. When you put it into simple terms, it is essentially like me saying to you “Hey, there is this bad disease going around. If you take this vaccine, you are very unlikely to get it but if you do, it’ll be no big deal. But you shouldn’t take the vaccine. Also, wearing a mask will protect you and others from getting the virus. But you shouldn’t do that either. And avoiding others who are unmasked in crowded spaces will also help you avoid getting infected, but you shouldn’t do that either.” Does this sound insane to you? Welcome to Red MAGA.

Not to be outdone, officials from Blue MAGA including San Francisco Mayor London Breed, DC mayor Muriel Bowser, and California governor Gavin Newsom instituted mandates on private gatherings and requiring masks be worn by residents of their states indoors – then proceeded to ignore their own mandates, even knowing everyone has a camera phone at the ready. This cavalier attitude did not go unnoticed by Red MAGA, and rightfully so. Worse, over the course of the past year, officials representing Blue MAGA have waffled back and forth, seemingly at random on the science of vaccines and masks. At times recently declaring that masks work (which we know to be true) and then enforcing quarantines in schools – keeping classes of fully-masked students out of in-person learning due to a single exposure in the class. Recently, the Emmy awards was able to get an exemption from CA’s mask mandate. Not because of science, but because Blue MAGA just makes up the rules as they go. California’s mask mandate does not make exceptions for events where everyone is vaccinated, but when you’re hosting a gathering of famous celebrities, you can just do whatever you want. All of this feeds into Red MAGA’s wrongful assertion that masks are not effective, and erodes Blue MAGA’s reputation for “trusting the science”.

Believe Women

When Brett Kavanaugh was nominated to the Supreme Court, accusations of his college behavior were brought out into the open, most notably his sexual assault of Christine Blasey Ford. Christine was given ample opportunity to tell her story and Blue MAGA was overjoyed at the prospects that this would “cancel” Mr. Kavanaugh and his nomination to the highest court, and rightfully so. I am not a fan of what I call absolute cancel culture, where people try to get others fired or “canceled” for dumb stuff they said 20+ years ago. People make mistakes and people change, and they should be allowed that opportunity. What is not OK, however, is someone aspiring to be a SCOTUS justice or other high office, when they have committed and got away with credible accusations of criminal behavior. In the case of Christine Blasey Ford, her accusations were presumed to be true right from the start and whether or not they were true, Blue MAGA was all in that she was credible, well before her public testimony.

When Tara Reade later accused Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden of sexual assault, Biden was immediately defended and the “believe women” mantra was tossed aside. Whether or not Ms. Reade’s accusations were true, Blue MAGA and its media collaborators took a completely different tact from the start in trying to disprove the allegations using character assassination and other common techniques typically reserved for women and minorities to downplay her believability. Their argument was that Biden must defeat Trump and nothing should stand in the way of this, principles be damned. Trump was defeated, yet the hypocrisy continued. Blue MAGA again threw its integrity out the window when Lindsey Boylan accused then-NY governor Cuomo of sexual harassment earlier this year. While sexual harassment does not equate to sexual assault, it is nonetheless an abuse of power and the party who claims to fight for women’s equality and zero tolerance for this type of behavior should have given credence to Boylan’s accusations. Unlike Ms. Reade, Boylan did not carry the questionable reputation the media was quick to paint onto Reade. Nonetheless, the day Boylan came forward, none of the Blue MAGA news networks covered the story. This isn’t “believe women”. This is “believe women” only if they are accusing a Republican. It is wrong, and it is yet another example of the culture war playing with people’s lives for sport.

Critical Race Theory

In short, CRT is the examination of the part race plays in US law and challenges mainstream approaches to racial justice. Long overdue, in my opinion, it brings forward many of the policies and procedures in use today that, while not explicitly intended to be racist, have that exact effect. As many of us know, the US school curriculum is loaded with false narratives on our history and political structure. From Christopher Columbus “discovering” America, to the atomic bomb being necessary to end World War II, nearly all school children have been subjected to these fabrications and/or stretching of the truth to fit the “USA only does good things” narrative. To claim that school curriculums lack propaganda is foolish and simply untrue. CRT is not propaganda but rather a means of approaching our institutions from a different angle than many of us are used to. With regards to any subject, examining at it from multiple angles is empathetic and a key part of critical thinking. This is a subject that Blue MAGA gets right. CRT does not propagandize but rather asks tough questions and leads students to consider alternatives in how we deal with the many issues that intersect race. Red MAGA, the same group that claims to support free speech and “freedom” has decided it will not allow children the freedom to consider alternative viewpoints on the way we do things around here (because they know what the end result will be) and has come out vehemently against not only CRT, but any teachings that could make the case that the white man has not been right this whole time. Conservative media has successfully convinced its viewers to oppose the teachings of CRT despite the majority of them not understanding what it is: In a recent Reuters/Ipsos poll, 73% of adults including 60% of Republicans supported teaching high school students about racism and its impact on the country – the major component of Critical Race Theory. However, nearly the same percentage of Republicans supported a ban on the teaching of CRT in schools.

These are just a few examples of the modern culture war where policy does not matter. Facts do not matter. Science does not matter. For many Americans, all that matters is beating the other team at any cost, even their own health. In order for us to move forward, both “teams” need to stop this childish bullshit, gather some integrity, and start approaching problems based on what is right and just, not which team is making the play.

Rear View

  • Local liberals seem to be getting nervous about their prospects for 2022. After the RI Political Co-Op announced their slate of progressive candidates for 2022 races, the RI Democratic Party released a bizarre statement attacking the Co-Op’s candidate for governor, Matt Brown. Say what you want about Matt Brown, the party’s statement hammers home the fact that in Rhode Island, the major political battle is not the GOP vs. the Democrats. It is the progressive Democrats against the conservative Democrats.
  • One race in particular that had historically progressive Democrats sounding like establishment conservatives was the announcement that the Co-Op would support a primary opponent against Senator Dawn Euer. Despite Senator Euer’s voting record being amongst the most conservative in the General Assembly and her membership on the ultra-conservative Senate Judiciary Committee underlining this point, some progressives including Aaron Regunberg publicly admonished the Co-Op for daring to help a primary opponent against her in 2022. I warned in my last column about the dangers of “fanboying” politicians because it prevents you from holding them accountable. Worse, it implies that Ms. Euer owns the seat and that democracy is optional when your fave is in office. Regunberg should know better. I discuss this situation in more detail on this week’s episode of Can We Fix It, airing Friday at 12pm.
  • The way we treat prisoners, both those at the ACI, and nationally speaks volumes about who we are as a country. When a person is convicted of a crime, their sentence is that for x number of years they are taken away from their family, and forced to live in a place they do not want to in a tiny room that they do not want to, with people whom they do not want to. What many fail to understand are the unwritten parts of the sentence that greatly exacerbate the penalty for their crime: slave labor, malnourishment, beatings by corrections officers, torture via solitary confinement, forced exposure to disease, deliberate lack of medical care when needed, and the list goes on. As with police departments here and nationwide, the reason is simple: lack of accountability. Conservative and liberal voters have joined forces on this issue to absolve their elected officials of any accountability for what goes on behind prison walls. We need to do better, or be honest about what prison sentences really are. Either the sentence is “time away” and we enforce real accountability or we begin stating the real sentence at the time of conviction. For example, “You are hereby sentenced to 20 years away from your family, where you will be forced to perform slave labor, will be fed a diet that does not meet nutritional standards and may be dangerous, you will be denied medical care unless you are literally dying, you will be exposed to COVID-19, you will be beaten for both small infractions and at the whim of any correctional officer, and you will be placed in an empty cell alone for an extended period of time in the hope that you go insane, for any infraction or at the whim of any correctional officer.” My guess is society might take a different view of incarceration if we doled out sentences in this more verbose manner.

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