When it comes to the culture wars, President Joe Biden is a conscientious objector—or at least that’s what the press would have you believe. “The culture warriors keep knocking on the White House doors,” USA Today’s Michael Collins insisted, “but President Joe Biden seldom answers.” In the Washington Post, Paul Waldman argued that because he has broken the link “between culture and policy,” Biden is “kryptonite to the Republican culture war.” Most of Biden’s policies must be viewed as part of a concerted “strategy to reduce the corrosive impact of hot-button social, cultural, and racial issues,” according to New York Times columnist Thomas B. Edsall. And while “Republicans are busy trying to bait Democrats on culture war issues,” the Week’s Damon Linker contended, the party in power is “refusing to play along” and getting high marks from voters as a result.
Joe Biden “offers the right, well, a nothingburger on culture wars,” New York Times reporter Jonathan Martin most recently observed. The use of “nothingburger” was a wordplay response to the fizzling of the allegation, credulously promoted by rightist media venues, that the president’s climate plan would require Americans to eat 90 percent less animal protein by 2030 than they currently do.
Fact-checkers, professional Fox News hate-watchers, and the industry that markets sneering condescension as comedy all sprang into action. They demonstrated that while Biden’s climate agenda might be ambitious, it does not actually propose curbing individual meat consumption. Conservatives are so desperate for populist anti-Biden content that they fell for a poorly sourced tabloid story and ran with it to their own detriment. In response, left-leaning journalists and political news outlets used it to suggest that Biden is so averse to cultural combat that Republicans have to cut allegations of Democratic culture-warring from whole cloth. But that analysis is predicated on the assumption that the culture wars progressives engage in aren’t really culture wars at all.
Joe Biden’s push for unionization is culture-warring.
This administration’s members cannot use the word “job” without modifying it with the prefix “good union,” and the White House is not above leveraging its power to enforce its preferences. In April, Biden signed an executive order creating a task force, chaired by Vice President Kamala Harris, designed to bolster union membership, augment worker organizing, and support collective-bargaining efforts. The move comes on the heels of a humiliation that the White House appears determined to avenge.
The preceding month, Biden had taken the unusual step of weighing in on a dispute at one Alabama-based Amazon warehouse during a contentious push to unionize its workers. Unions “level the playing field,” the president said in a video message. He added that it was his duty to “encourage unions” and put his thumb on the scale in order to persuade that shop’s workers to organize. He failed. By a vote of 1,798 to 738, those workers voted against unionization.
It seems that neither Biden nor Democrats respected the judgment of workers as much as they claimed, since the vote only made the president and his party more committed to a legislative effort that would force workers into affiliations with organized-labor organizations they would otherwise reject. The PRO (Protecting the Right to Organize) Act would artificially inflate union membership by kneecapping the so-called sharing economy. It would curtail an individual’s ability to leverage his assets in the marketplace by limiting the legal status of “independent contractor” to those who control the work they perform, are incorporated, or are performing a service that falls outside a contractor’s normal scope of business. The bill would also allow unions to override so-called Right to Work laws that allow employees to operate in unionized shops, and it would effectively reverse the Supreme Court’s 2018 decision in Janus v. AFSCME by allowing unions to collect dues from nonmembers.
Finally, the bill prohibits employers from influencing union elections by, for example, holding mandatory meetings at which firms can lobby their employees against unionization. But it also allows employees to cast unionization ballots remotely, where pro-union activists can freely influence those proceedings in ways employers cannot.
“Today’s corporate culture treats workers as a means to an end and institutes policies to suppress wages,” Joe Biden’s 2020 campaign website insists. By contrast, “Biden will ensure that workers receive the pay and dignity they deserve.” In this way, Joe Biden himself characterizes the drive to unionize as a cultural issue.
Joe Biden’s infrastructure plan is culture-warring.
The president’s initial proposal for $2.3 trillion in infrastructure spending expands the definition of what constitutes infrastructure in startling ways. Over and above conventional physical improvements such as roads and bridges and airports or even the expansion of broadband networks, the White House is also keen to invest in “social and civic infrastructure.”
The pandemic, in the administration’s own words, has exposed “the fragility of our caregiving infrastructure.” The president’s plan invests in the “care economy”by dedicating between $400 billion and $995 billion to “creating new jobs and offering caregiving workers a long-overdue raise.” Senator Kirsten Gillibrand summarized the Biden plan more succinctly: “Paid leave is infrastructure. Child care is infrastructure. Caregiving is infrastructure.”
And yet, as Vox’s German Lopez observed, one of the biggest gaps in America’s ailing “care infrastructure” is the lack of a federal mandate on businesses to provide their employees with paid leave. The Biden administration hopes to remedy that with a separate $1.8 trillion proposal tentatively called the “American Families Plan.” That bill would boost funding for primary education and prekindergarten instruction, make community college a tuition-free proposition, and fund mandatory paid family and medical leave.
Writing in Fortune, Arianna Huffington and Harvard University dean Michelle Williams laud these “well-being policies,” which are being “built into company culture.” The left-leaning think tank New America agreed. The Biden administration should be commended for its “use of incentives” to “create cultures” that encourage parents “to take leave after birth, adoption, or fostering of a child.”
Once again, we must conclude that it’s gauche to describe these initiatives as cultural only if you’re skeptical of them.
Joe Biden’s emphasis on “equity” is culture-warring.
The Biden administration entered office with the mission of pursuing “equity” in every aspect of governance. “Racial equity will not just be an issue for one department in our administration, it has to be the business of the whole of government in all our federal policies and institutions,” the president said in February. Toward that end, Biden tasked Domestic Policy Council President Susan Rice “with ensuring that the new administration embeds issues of racial equity into everything it does.”
A remit that encompasses literally everything includes the culture.
The pursuit of “equity,” as practiced by Democrat-dominated municipalities and institutions, leaves objective observers with the impression that the redistribution of both economic and social goods is central to it. Education is one area in which “equity-driven reforms” are most visible.
In April, Maryland gubernatorial candidate John B. King Jr. told the Washington Post that the Biden administration needs to tether the disbursement of education funding to states to the condition that they adopt “more-equitable systems” for funding schooling than local property taxes, which advantage “mostly white school districts” over “high-poverty districts.” An administration source told the Post that the president has “made clear” that he plans to tie school funding to equity, though he has yet to propose such a scheme.
Similarly, the Biden administration’s Justice Department summarily backed off its support for a lawsuit brought on behalf of Asian-American students who allege that Yale College discriminated against them. The DOJ also withdrew the Trump-era finding that the school had violated Title VI of the Civil Rights Act. The Department of Education likewise dropped an investigation into Princeton University after its president confessed that “racism and the damage it does to people of color nevertheless persist at Princeton as in our society.” Under the rubric of equity, not all allegations of discrimination merit scrutiny.
In April, the federal government released a draft rule that provides priority access to U.S. history and civics grants to programs “that incorporate racially, ethnically, culturally, and linguistically diverse perspectives.” That rule praises and, therefore, encourages grant-seekers to lean into the work of prominent critical-race-theory proponents, such as Ibram X. Kendi, and revisionist accounts like those published in the New York Times’ “1619 Project.” Applicants “must describe” how they propose to teach “systemic marginalization, biases, inequities, and discriminatory policy and practice in American history.”
The “1619 Project,” a work that its own publishers claim was an effort to reframe “our national narrative,” and which has been sharply criticized by working historians, has nevertheless been distilled down into teachers’ resources, distributed to schools across the country, added to curricula, and is now being promoted by the Education Department.
Republicans such as Senator Mitch McConnell noticed all this and called on the department to block that proposed rule. So, how did Politico report that? “McCONNELL LEANS INTO THE CULTURE WARS.” Yes, “the Kentucky Republican no doubt is looking to throw some red meat to the base,” so he and other conservatives have “pounced.”
Outside the realm of education, the administration’s focus on equity has found its way into the conduct of both foreign and domestic affairs, but it is the drive to embed racially retributive politics in monetary policy that is the most ponderous aspect of the pursuit of “equity.”
Along with maintaining stable prices and encouraging full employment, Biden ran for office with the goal of “making racial equity part of the mandate of the Federal Reserve.” As the Wall Street Journal notes, however, this third mandate complicates the Fed’s prime directives. The theory of “social-impact monetary policy” favored by the White House takes a dim view of rate cuts, which, while boosting earnings for workers, also increase asset prices. Even if such a policy lifts all boats, it does so at disproportionate rates and can exacerbate the “wealth gap.” Everyone is doing better, of course, but that nevertheless conflicts with the demands of equity, which “takes convergence of economic outcomes as an end in itself.”
Ultimately, the racializing of monetary policy is an effort to impose a cultural mandate on an institution that is designed to be removed from the political fray.
Joe Biden’s sex and gender policies are culture-warring.
One of the Biden administration’s chief priorities when it entered office was to roll back the Trump administration’s reversal of Obama-era Title IX guidelines, which forced colleges and universities to adjudicate allegations of sexual misconduct.
In pursuit of what Hillary Clinton described in 2016 as alleged sexual-assault survivors’ “right to be believed,” the Obama administration implemented rules that stripped the accused of due-process rights. As a result of the changes to Title IX that followed a 2011 “Dear Colleague” letter to institutions of higher learning, schools were compelled to prosecute allegations of criminal misconduct in a tribunal setting. What followed were horrific abuses. In some instances, both accusers and the accused were refused access to counsel; lower standards of evidence that apply only to civil cases were used to “convict” students of criminal acts; Fourth and Sixth Amendment rights were abridged, as evidence was withheld from the accused and the right to confront an accuser was denied. This process ruined the reputations of many who were later found by real courts to be not guilty of any crime.
As a candidate, Joe Biden said the restoration of due process on college campuses amounted to an effort to “shame and silence survivors.” The Trump administration, he said, had given colleges the “green light to ignore sexual violence and strip survivors of their rights.” Though it was within the context of an apology to progressives over his 1991 treatment of Anita Hill, Biden dismissed these jurisprudential standards as obstacles in the pursuit of social justice. “This is English jurisprudential culture,” Biden said with contempt, “a white man’s culture. It’s got to change.” As it turns out, Biden wasn’t just blowing smoke.
Whether the administration will simply ignore the precedents set by the myriad lawsuits won by the victims of “justice” meted out in a systematically unjust fashion is an open question. But this administration is proceeding with similar urgency to impose its cultural vision on the country in an area in which courts haven’t weighed in yet: the redefinition of gender.
On his first day in office, Joe Biden signed an executive order that jeopardizes federal funding for schools that refuse to allow transgender women to join girls’ sports teams. Shortly thereafter, the Democrat-led House of Representatives passed a measure that would codify that order in law.
The Equality Act is framed as a civil-rights initiative. Its advocates say it is designed to prevent institutional discrimination against LGBT Americans, and they’re quick to dismiss objections to the proposal raised not by conservative activists or defenders of religious liberty but by the young women who believe themselves to be disenfranchised by this effort.
“Mentally and physically, we know the outcome before the race even starts,” said Alanna Smith, a high-school sophomore and one of three Connecticut girls who filed a federal lawsuit aimed at blocking biological males from competing against women. “That biological unfairness doesn’t go away because of what someone believes about gender identity,” Smith added. “All girls deserve the chance to compete on a level playing field.”
The plaintiffs argue that “forcing girls to be spectators in their own sports” conflicts with Title IX proscriptions against gender discrimination. Moreover, they claim, initiatives like Biden’s could rob women who would otherwise excel in their chosen sports of scholarships and other opportunities. Their arguments aren’t hypothetical. In the plaintiffs’ school, two transgender seniors have won 15 girls’ state indoor or outdoor championships between them since 2017. One of those transgender students finished third in the 2019 girls’ 55-meter indoor-track state championship. Their biologically female opponents regularly finish behind their transgender competitors.
These three girls are the underdogs. The American Civil Liberties Union is representing both these transgender teens and backing the power of the state. The entire apparatus of the Democratic Party is aligned against what these girls and women insist are their interests. It seems “the right to be believed” isn’t something Democrats think all women should enjoy.
Joe Biden’s speech-policing is culture-warring.
It’s particularly galling to hear chroniclers of current events who know better insist that Biden is entirely above cultural squabbles, given the attention his administration pays to the linguistic obsessions of progressives.
Facing a surge of illegal migrants at the southern border larger than at any point in nearly two decades, the Department of Homeland Security turned its attention to the urgent matter of rhetoric. By order of the agency’s top officials, the DHS announced in April that it would retire dated and offensive terms from law enforcement’s lexicon.
“Illegal alien” is no more. In its place, federal officials are encouraged to use “undocumented noncitizen” or “undocumented individual.” Despite the offense against brevity and the bizarre conviction among progressive activists that the word “alien” conveys the impression that an individual is unnatural rather than foreign, these substitutions are relatively benign. The same thing cannot be said of another term that is being put out to pasture: “assimilation.”
Federal officials are advised to avoid using this word to describe the process by which immigrants successfully integrate into American society. Instead, they should say “integration” or “civic integration.” But those words have distinct meanings. “Integration” describes the process of consolidating distinct units into a whole. By contrast, assimilation involves the absorption of those distinct units to the point at which their distinctions become imperceptible.
You can see why the latter so offends progressives, for whom assimilation into American culture—to the extent such a thing exists—is nothing to be proud of. But outside of intellectually isolated activist cliques, assimilation is not an offensive term. Assimilating is what every successful immigrant group has done since the country’s founding. Whatever we call that process, it will endure.
While the DHS is busy catering to progressive demands to pollute the English language, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is also being made to genuflect at the altar of left-wing linguistic fashions, as though it has little else to do these days. The CDC’s COVID-related guidance for pregnant and reproductive-age women changed little during the transition from the Trump administration to the Biden administration. With one exception: They’re now “pregnant people.” References to women have been scrubbed from the CDC’s site dedicated to COVID guidance for pregnant women, save for links that direct users back to information that predates the Biden era or citations of less ideological medical venues.
You can charitably chalk this up to inclusivity—a desire among trans activists and their allies to popularize the notion that trans women are women even if they still possess the reproductive organs they had at birth. But that doesn’t alter the fact that this is an attempt to nudge the culture in a direction preferred by a particular class of activists. And those activists are not Republicans.
And yes, Biden’s views of animal consumption are culture-warring.
The fact-checkers are right. Republicans who insisted that Biden was coming after their burgers misinterpreted a claim published in the Daily Mail alleging that the president’s agenda “could” require curbs on meat production and consumption. But the source the Mail cited to support that charge cannot be so easily dismissed.
That outlet referenced a study conducted by the Michigan University’s Center for Sustainable Systems, which concluded that reaching ideal emissions-reductions targets could involve dramatic reductions of meat in American diets. This study is no outlier. In 2018, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned that humanity had only about a dozen years left to stave off a runaway greenhouse effect. The claim was repeated by activists and broadcast by media outlets for weeks, but the report’s recommendations didn’t make the headlines. Among them was the suggestion that Western nations should reduce their production and consumption of animal protein and dairy products by at least 30 percent.
A subsequent study conducted by University of Oxford researcher Marco Springmann and published in the Journal of Nature a month later went further than that: It said the West must give up at least 90 percent of its meat in favor of beans, seeds, and legumes. A report published in the medical journal The Lancet in 2018 concurred. A global move toward vegetarianism could substantially reduce greenhouse-gas emissions and resource strain. “Therefore,” the Lancet report concluded, “incorporation of sustainability in the dietary recommendations would require inclusion of advice to replace livestock products with plant-based alternatives.”
Reports like these have heavily influenced climate-focused Democratic lawmakers such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. A draft “Green New Deal” resolution called for “a more sustainable food system,” and a Frequently Asked Questions section released by her office acknowledged the need to develop a “greenhouse gas free food system” within the next decade, though “we aren’t sure we can get rid of farting cows” that fast. We don’t know how much of this Joe Biden supports, but his campaign website acknowledges that “the Green New Deal is a crucial framework for meeting the climate challenges we face.”
But to hear the New Republic tell it, making yourself aware of all this only marks you as a paranoiac. “Biden himself has been astonishingly disciplined; the administration has largely ignored right-wing attempts to bog him down in culture-war nonsense,” Alex Shephard wrote. “That’s how you get a panic over a burger ban.”
Democrats act as though only those who are inclined to nod along uncritically should be privy to these reports and the legislative proposals based on them. The moment a skeptic encounters these studies, their recommendations, or the political initiatives modeled on them, progressives dismiss any criticisms as though they were the fevered product of an active imagination. There’s a word that describes this kind of manipulative dishonesty: gaslighting.
IF WE ASSUME good faith among Democrats as well as their ideological compatriots in the press, we must rule out the possibility that the left knows full well it is attacking trends and traditions it regards with hostility and that it’s simply lying. According to this line of thinking, the left’s effort doesn’t constitute a culture war. It’s much more like a cultural renovation. And we should be grateful for their efforts.
No, Democrats and progressives aren’t trying to nudge Americans toward the consumption of plant-based meat alternatives. Rather, they’re creating the conditions for sustainable agricultural practices to avert the “climate crisis” that’s already upon us, and all while promoting healthier lifestyles.
No, Democrats and progressives aren’t trying to ban mentholated tobacco products out of a belief that it’s their role to control the behavior of free adults. They’re just fostering an environment that rewards good choices and punishing the firms that manipulate minorities who would otherwise be lured unwittingly into a dangerous habit.
No, Democrats and progressives aren’t trying to stigmatize and retire aspects of the language just to appease the narrow band of activists who have embraced obscure and academic critical analyses as dogma. They’re just trying to be inclusive, welcoming, and anti-racist.
No, Democrats and progressives aren’t trying to force participants in the gig economy out of their chosen vocations, nor are they trying to artificially increase union membership only to augment the contributions these constituent groups make to Democratic campaigns. They’re simply promoting fairness in the workplace, expanding National Labor Relations Act protections to everyone, and making sure unions recoup the dues from nonmembers who nevertheless benefit from the terms these organizations negotiate.
That’s why they say these aren’t battles in the overall culture war. No, they’re policy-driven, technocratic reforms predicated on sound and objective analyses. The people who oppose them are not articulating a valid point of view that deserves to be taken seriously. They are hidebound, oppressive, and reactionary. All progressives want is progress; who could possibly oppose that?
If you believe that, or you’re at least sympathetic to it, you’re also unlikely to see Democratic culture-warring for what it is. As USA Today’s Michael Collins put it, Joe Biden’s Department of Education didn’t ditch all references to Dr. Seuss on “Read Across America Day” (which, not coincidentally, falls on the author’s birthday) to appease insular progressives who long ago arrived at the conclusion that his works are racially insensitive. This “nuanced” administration is just striking a “delicate balance” to avoid a “minefield of hot-button social issues.”
Democrats seem convinced they are only ever seeking to establish a fragile cultural equilibrium that accounts for the views of all stakeholders. By contrast, they argue, their opponents don’t seek fairness or justice—rather, the right wants cultural hegemony for itself. If you think this way, you can convince yourself that the only people with a taste for cultural combat are on the right. But this isn’t logic; it’s a craven rationalization.
Democrats do seem to think they can convince voters that Joe Biden is a noncombatant in the culture wars. But that’s a risky proposition. The left and their allies are placing a potentially ruinous bet on their ability to condition the American people to ignore the evidence of their own eyes.
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