Why Conservatives Should Care About Culture Wars

(Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images)

By Ethan Nikfar

A few weeks ago, conservative columnist Jonah Goldberg published a piece in The Dispatch on why culture wars are a distraction. Goldberg argues that while Republicans are busy focusing on petty battles such as Dr. Seuss, Democrats are ramming through spending bills using money we do not have. In Goldberg’s eyes, the real fights are the policy battles that conservatives have deemed secondary to the culture wars. 

If examining from a simplistic perspective, this seems correct. Why do conservatives seem to not have any grassroots opposition to President Biden’s spending plans when they are being discussed and voted on right in front of our eyes? 

But something too many never-Trump conservatives, including Goldberg, fail to recognize is that politics is downstream from culture. Culture impacts people – how they grow up and consume information – and that manifests in how they see politics. Conservatives will lose policy battles if they do not change the underlying culture because policy exists as an outgrowth of culture. 

It is no longer 2010. The central debate is no longer about military policy nor spending policy. The debate is about a woke, authoritarian left that seeks to divide people on the basis of immutable characteristics and force others to adhere to their worldview. 

This is not to say political battles do not matter. Political issues matter a ton – that is why I choose to discuss them frequently. President Biden’s spending plans are disastrous. His untargeted COVID-19 “relief” bill was a monstrosity and a half. His $2.3 trillion infrastructure plan is a political slush fund. His administration’s proposed tax increases will surely decrease the rate of economic recovery at a time when corporations are trying to rehire employees. 

But more important than debates about tax and spending policy is how people are treated in their everyday lives. Are they worried about sharing their opinion online because they could be fired from their job? Are they scared to tell their friend group about their political views because those friends will ostracize them? Are they afraid to speak up about the backward (and often-times racist) diversity training that major corporations and government agencies put their employees through? Those issues matter far more than politics. 

Moreover, for the left, too frequently, what starts in the culture does not end in the culture – it ends as law. A culture that labels everyone to Hillary Clinton’s right as a deplorable who should not have the right to speak is upstream of a Canadian-style hate speech law restricting that right to speech. A culture that believes that gender is simply a spectrum and that there are no biological differences between men and women is upstream of a law that allows biological men to compete in women’s sports. A culture that believes religious freedom comes second to social justice is upstream of laws that clamp down on religious freedom in the name of anti-discrimination law. 

The left has made regular life a living nightmare for conservatives by politicizing every major institution in the country. The most apparent example recently being the pressure the mainstream media has put on major corporations to condemn a common-sense Georgia voting law that many on the left, including our president, have deliberately misrepresented. Conservatives have avoided that same tactic because they inherently do not want to be divisive. But now the choice has become binary: conservatives can either continue to see their values diminish in the public sphere, or they fight back and establish an understanding of mutually assured destruction. 

One can reasonably question whether or not GOP politicians are the proper figures to be leading cultural battles. But what is not an option anymore is for the party to simply not do anything about it. 

I have much respect for Goldberg. We disagree plenty, but he is intelligent and thoughtful. He is also plain wrong on this topic. Culture wars are not a “distraction.” They are the primary fight. If conservatives do not realize this, we will squander both the culture and the policy. 

Mr. Nikfar is a Sophomore at Chapman University studying Pre-Pharmacy. 

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