A revived culture war—that is, a war between opposing ideas, creeds, or values—is supposedly tearing Western societies apart. I say “supposedly,” because it isn’t always easy to pin down exactly what is going on. Since at least the mid-2010s, every big political showdown has been portrayed as a contest over “values.” But is this really the case?
The most dramatic example was the election of Donald Trump. Those who paid attention to his speeches from the 2016 election cycle understood that the main thrust of his platform was a form of economic nationalism and a critique of the era of unrestrained war abroad. But in the days after Trump’s victory, most left-liberals took the line that there were absolutely no rational reasons why anyone would ever vote for him, and thus his win must have been the product of deep-seated racism and cultural bigotry.
At least one faction of American leftists resisted this narrative as late as 2019. But eventually, they, too, were defeated and publicly ostracized for rejecting the solidified narrative: that Trump’s raison d’etre was war over culture, with economic concerns as a smokescreen. A few on the left still bang the drum over there being more to Trump’s appeal than just being evil and stupid, but almost everyone else has moved on.
This brings us to the recent fight prosecuted by the American right over Florida’s so-called don’t-say-gay bill. In reality, the bill signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis has very little to do with whether or not one can say the word “gay” in a classroom. Its intention is to keep educators from teaching casual, freelance sex-ed lessons to young children. To be sure, the language of the bill is vague enough—intentionally or not—that there are any number of ways to interpret and enforce it. But as this latest battle in the culture struggle turns into a “war on groomers,” many on the right feel that they have a political slam dunk. And they have good cause to think so—the existence of “groomers,” meaning adults who systematically coerces children into sexual relationships, truly is worrying to a lot of people.