US: Culture War


The 1990s was a triumphant decade for neoliberalism, reflected in free trade, globalism and greater inclusivity.

The U.S. is in the midst of a brutal “culture war” that will arguably define its political course for the foreseeable future.

It’s not so much an academic debate as a symbolic one. It’s a discussion with huge political consequences, which revolves around issues like a transgender person appearing in a beer ad, which books should be kept in public libraries or the role of religion in public life. And so on.

In the land of liberalism, the rights of the LGBT community are bound up in the political debate together with subjects like the fear of migrants.

For Gary Gerstle, author of the book “The Rise and Fall of the Neoliberal Order,” the ’90s were a triumphant decade for neoliberalism, reflected in free trade, globalism and greater inclusivity.

But it also caused reactions, now seen in the rise of a new militancy from those of minority, religious, sexual or ethnic groups, to the resurgence of “neo-Victorianism” centered on the defense of traditional values, such as family and sexual traditionalism.

“The cosmopolitans attacked neo-Victorians for discriminating against gay people, feminists, and immigrants, and for stigmatizing the black poor for their so-called culture of poverty. The neo-Victorians attacked the cosmopolitans for tolerating virtually any lifestyle, for excusing what they deemed to be deplorable behavior as an exercise in the toleration of difference, and for showing a higher regard for foreign cultures than for America’s own.”

The decade of the neoliberal triumph – the 1990s – was also one in which cosmopolitans and neo-Victorians fought each other in a series of battles that became known as the “culture wars.” In fact, a focus on these cultural divisions is the preferred way of writing the political history of these years.

Donald Trump and his government have been a direct consequence of this war. Questionable morality, both personal and professional, did not prevent ethically minded voters from seeing him as a “flawed” messenger serving the return of traditionalism because it suited them.

In the run-up to the 2024 presidential election, public attention returns to another aspect of the culture wars with the country seemingly irredeemably divided over women’s rights and status; sexual, religious and ethnic minorities; the aftermath of debates surrounding getting vaccines; race; and if Trump should be treated like a hero or like a traitor.

Is the religious fanaticism of Texas Republican Greg Abbott considered American? Is the Democrats’ inclusivity American, exaggerated though it may be?

After all, as analyst Howard Fineman points out, Americans are still debating what constitutes a human being.

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About Hannah Bowditch 129 Articles
Hi, my name is Hannah. I hold a Masters degree in Translation from the University of Portsmouth and a BA in English Literature and Spanish. I love travel and languages and am very pleased to be a part of the Watching America team.

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