Who should be blamed for the current state of American political discourse


Photo courtesy of the Baffler

Longxuan (Barry) Yao

We all recognize the detrimental effect cultural war is having on our politics today. We can feel it: when we interact online, it bleeds into our personal lives and hurts friendships; it offends feelings and uncomfortable conversations at thanksgiving, everybody knows.

It seems collectively we all lost our minds in the last several years, but part of the problem seems to be this: where can we all agree that it sucks? We agree on it, but it does not seem to be a way out. Because, at the end of the day, most people still feel like the other person is the aggressor, responsible for the tenor of our politics, leaving them with no choice but to fight.

I find that question very interesting; who is to blame for the culture war in its 2021 form? There indeed is a lot of blame to go around. Fascinatingly, some interesting new analyses tell us who might be some of the biggest instigators. Blogger Kevin Drum’s article “if you hate cultural war, blame the liberals” proved to be a stunning piece of political OP-ED after its publishing.

But before liberals decide to turn away from this conversation, we must consider this. When Drum says “liberals,” he refers to a specific subset of liberals: the MSNBC, CNN, white upper-middle-class individuals who likely went to a four-year university that offered them massive power in American life. Drum demonstrates that aside from same-sex marriage, the share of partisans adopting a more partisan view since the year 2000 on immigration, taxes, abortion, religions, and guns has nearly moved at all on the Republican side, while skyrocketed on the left. In other words, people who overwhelmingly identify as partisan democrats have become much more “partisan democrats” in the last 21 years.


This chart is a stunning illustration of such a phenomenon. Seen on a partisan scale of one to ten, if we look at 1994: the average democrat was a 5, the average Republican was 6, which corresponds to the politics of the late 20th century. But when we examine the picture and find 2017, the average Democrat was a 2, while the average Republican was a 6.5. This shows that throughout 1994 to 2017, consistent Democrats were three points more liberal than Republicans, who became more Conservative.

Despite such finding cries astonishment, it makes complete sense, especially in the context of the 2020 election. New validated data from Pew research on people who voted in 2020 shows that the election was one of the most racially depolarized elections in United States’ history. Hispanic voters, particularly Hispanic men who lack college degrees, gravitated toward Trump with the highest share of 41%. On the other hand, Biden dramatically improved his position over Hillary Clinton with White men, especially those who are possessors of a four-year college diploma.

Such findings break the notion that American politics is divided along racial/ethnicity lines. Instead, American politics is divided into the lines of “whether you go to college or not,” because if you do, you may find yourself having more doctrinaire attitudes on race, gender, abortion, and policing than those who did not go to college. And as those college graduates permeate our elite institutions, they have hijacked the Democratic party away from its base of predominantly elderly black people and formerly white working-class voters. Simultaneously, they have also hijacked every modern institution of American life.

As Democratic data analyst David Shor expressed ad nauseam, “we ended up in a situation where white-liberals are more left-leaning than Black and Hispanic democrats on pretty much every issue: taxes, healthcare, policing, even on racial issues or various measures of racial resentment. So as white liberals increasingly defined the party’s image and messaging, that is going to turn off non-white conservative democrats and push them against us.”

The good news is that while white liberals “run” everything, they are not the country’s majority. Racial depolarization in 2020 elections shows that even a buffoon like Trump can come 45 thousand votes away from the presidency by just holding up a “middle finger” to them. In particular, white liberal cultural attitudes on race are so unpopular that they repel the many voters they purport to speak on behalf of. It is unironically, in my opinion, a good thing, because the vote is the only thing they can not control.

Joe Biden’s ascension to the presidency, the democratic nomination; eric adam’s election as mayor; and other high-profile contests where these issues are smacked down by the very constituencies those white liberals claim to speak on behalf of is the real-world corrective to our problems. Now, I am not saying that the Republicans are going to be the solver of this issue. Frankly, I think they love this situation because they have harvested millions of votes with opposition to cultural leftism alone; they also do not have to change their support for big business.

But what it does do is that it creates a gigantic opening. Recall the graph above on changing attitudes: It leaves all the people present in the middle of the chart! They constitute millions of voters and politically invested individuals. So what we should take away is that people are not very partisan at all; only partisans are. It is simply that we live in a system where partisans are the people in charge of both the Republican and the democratic primaries; whichever primary base just happens to be closer to the “center”, that party wins, which is an okay strategy, but it does not lead to anything consequential or substantial.

So my ultimate hope is that the “middle” will prevail: culturally, economically, and more because they have been shut out of the conversation and neglected for too long.