The Culture War Turns Hot

Exclusive to STR

June 10, 2009

As John Brown's raid on Harper's Ferry was an ominous portent to Antebellum America, so should the killing of infamous abortionist George Tiller be considered a warning for contemporary times. With one shot, Tiller's assassin confirmed the fears of the radical Left and reignited America 's culture war, bringing us, once again, dangerously close to the precipice of violence.

During the 1990s, the Los Angeles riots, out of control crime rates, the shootings at Ruby Ridge, the burning of the Branch Davidian compound in Waco , Texas , and the Oklahoma City bombing contributed to a sense that the United States was at war with itself. The events of the first half of that decade seemed to confirm James Davison's 'culture war' thesis. In his book, Culture Wars: The Struggle to Define America (1991), Davison argued that the United States had polarized into two divergent worldviews on a wide variety of hot button domestic issues. These worldviews transcended ethnicity, class, and even political affiliation.

But during the last decade, the culture war seemed to cool. The last violent anti-abortion incident occurred in 1998, and the country was distracted and polarized by a new set of issues: terrorism, the War on Terror, and the invasion of Iraq .

The culture war did not fade away, however. In early 2009, Janet Napolitano revealed that she had not forgotten her enemy number 1 when the Department of Homeland Security released a memo to law enforcement warning of 'right-wing extremism' in the United States . With that, the Secretary of Homeland Security signaled her intention to turn the national security apparatus against her ideological enemies. This was a dangerous precedent for an administration that is supposed to represent all Americans.

Activists on both sides of our social divide are growing more entrenched in their rhetoric and are less willing than ever to bring their ideas to the table of reasonable debate. While arguments over same-sex marriage, immigration, terrorism, gun rights, and a host of other issues have become more heated, there are few on the national level willing to sit down and come face to face at the debating table with their opponents. Instead, pundits, politicians, and bloggers inflame their constituency in a maddened effort to raise money and garner votes. No one seems to be too concerned about where all of this will lead.

While Monday's victim, Dr. George Tiller, was a hero of the Left, their outrage rang hollow as, only a day later, a radical Muslim shot and killed a soldier outside of a military recruiting center in Little Rock, Arkansas. The silence from the Left in regards to that act of violence was deafening. Nor can the Left escape accountability for the attacks on Christians perpetrated in the weeks and months following the passage of Proposition 8 in California, or for the fire that devastated the Wasilla Bible Church, the church attended by former Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, in December 2008.

Violence goes both ways. One ideologies' heinous crime cannot be another's isolated incident.

But whether or not rhetoric on the Right or on the Left contributed to these crimes does not actually matter. What matters is that partisans on either side will use these events as ammunition with which to demonize their opponents and claim victimhood in an escalating game of finger pointing.

While there is no end to the noise generated over issues such as same-sex marriage on cable news channels and the Internet, there is a marked unwillingness to confront each other face to face over them on an individual basis. Each side seeks only to 'score points' against the other, and there is a growing sense that one set of Americans are a vital threat to the existence of the other. Both Republicans and Democrats have been all too eager to exploit these divisions, while accusing each other of radicalism. But whether the two parties agree or disagree, it seems like the American people as a whole always lose out.


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Michael Kleen's picture
Columns on STR: 36

Michael Kleen is the Editor-in-Chief of Untimely Meditations, publisher of Black Oak Presents, and proprietor of Black Oak Media. He holds a M.A. in History and a M.S. in Education, and is the author of Statism and its Discontents, a collection of columns on the topics of Statism, liberty, and their conflict. His columns have appeared in a variety of publications and websites, including Strike-the-Root.