Michael Lind

by James A. Bacon

Have the Culture Wars peaked? Is the national debate over God, Gays and Guns on the downward slide? Michael Lind, a conservative thinker and cofounder of The New America Foundation, thinks the end is foreseeable. Just as the Civil War didn’t end after Gettysburg — the Confederate states still had a lot of fight left in them — the controversy over abortion, gay rights and gun rights will generate headlines for years to come. But there isn’t much doubt who will win the war.

Look at the views of the Millennial Generation and you can see which way popular sentiment is heading. Millennials are far less likely than their elders to say religion plays an important role in their lives, and they are more likely to define themselves as social liberals. They are less likely to own guns and more likely to support gun control. They are the only demographic cohort in which a majority — 70% — support gay marriage.

As liberal Millennials replace conservatives from the G.I. Generation and the Silent Generation, will political power swing decisively to the Democratic Party? Not necessarily, writes Lind in “The Coming Realignment,” an essay in The Breakthrough. But there will be a massive shift in the fissures dividing the nation. How that will play out in terms of partisan politics is difficult to predict but rest assured that the Republican Party, a coalition of disparate and often fractious groups, will reinvent itself.

Lind analyzes contemporary U.S. politics along two great dividing lines: economics (free markets, regulation, inequality of wealth) and culture (guns, God and gays). Democrats represent the economic and cultural liberals; Republicans represent the economic and cultural conservatives. But there are many economic liberals/social conservatives (often called populists) and economic conservatives/social liberals (often labeled Libertarians) who don’t fall easily in either camp. As the social conservatives are slowly eased out of the picture, Lind argues, political coalitions will reorganize around two new poles: Liberaltarians and Populiberals.

Liberaltarian, a term already in use, describes “a broad camp including neoliberal Democrats skeptical of government in the economic sphere along with libertarian Republicans and independents who recognize the need for more government than libertarian ideologues believe to be legitimate.”

Populiberal, Lind’s coinage, describes “social liberals who share the liberal social values of liberaltarians, but who tend to be more egalitarian and to favor a greater role for the government in matters like social insurance, business-labor relations, and redistribution of income.”

Lind then boldly suggests that these two new coalitions will align themselves geographically between “Densitarian” and “Posturbia.” By Densitaria, he refers to the higher-density urban precincts, both downtowns and suburban villages, where higher-income Americans increasingly prefer to reside along with the service class that caters to their needs. Posturbia is comprised of lower-density suburbs and rural areas where the working and middle classes live. Residents of Densitaria and Posturbia will tend to disagree about the nature of the social safety net (should it be tailored to the needs of the most vulnerable, or should it structured more like universal social insurance?), the tax structure (soak the rich?) and the nanny state (using government power to combat obesity).

Though fascinating, Lind’s argument is not entirely convincing. He is entirely correct that the national sentiment is becoming more liberal on some Culture War issues, most notably gay rights. But I don’t believe the needle has moved much on abortion. And, as medical science advances, I think we will see entirely new ethical dilemmas arise. It won’t be long before genetic engineering allows people to create “designer kids” or before the use of manufactured limbs, hearts and organs on the one hand and the rise of robots imbued with Artificial Intelligence raises questions of what it means to be human. It is not hard to predict a growing revulsion against what some deem to be progress. Some of that revulsion may be religion-based, but much of it could be secular.

One additional point: Millennials are culturally liberal now. But will they stay liberal when they get married, settle down and have kids? Look what happened to the Baby Boomers. Who would have thought in 1968 that a majority of the generation would wind up voting Republican in 2012?

Still, I think Lind is right about some things. The shift toward equal rights for gays is likely to be permanent and, within a decade, no longer will be controversial. I also think Lind is right that the last remnants of racial prejudice are dying out with the passing of the older generations. As young “people of color” see race as less and less of a factor affecting their lives, they will be less attached to the Democratic Party and more open to appeals by Republicans.

In my spare time, I am working on a novel set in 2075. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking what the United States will look like in 60 years. I’ve concluded that the world is so complex and the interactions of technology, economics, politics and culture so impossible to predict that the future is unknowable. With that caveat, I postulate the break-up of the Republican Party into two entities — the Enterprise Party (which is economically conservative and culturally liberal) and the Faith Nation (which is first and foremost culturally conservative). In my scenario, the Enterprise Party hives off some people who call themselves Democrats today, and the Democratic Party shifts so far to the populist-redistributionist left that it rebrands itself as the Social Democratic Party. (In my novel, the Social Democrats predominate. I guess you could call it a dystopia!)

Such idle speculation aside, America has seen dramatic political realignments before, and it will see them again. Lind makes a provocative case and he identifies key dynamics that will influence the outcome. Popular dissatisfaction with Americans political institutions is so intense today that it’s hard to believe that the current two-party duopoly can long continue in its current form. Lind’s essay is as good a place as any to start thinking about what comes next.

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7 responses to “Is the End of America’s Culture Wars in Sight?”

  1. larryg Avatar

    we’re still fighting the Civil War. We still have people who dislike others because of their color or religion or sexuality…. we still have people who believe the earth was formed 6,000 years ago…. and that’s not just in the USA!

    re: distributionists – I think some think that if a person wants to work – he/she should be able to find work – and if they work 40 hours a week doing real labor – they should be able to not live in poverty.

    If that is not true – then we’re talking about why it’s worth working if you can still get entitlements – then we’re talking about taking away the entitlements for those who won’t work – for poverty wages – and then all of a sudden – we’ve back tracked a couple hundred years and morphed into a modern 3rd world country…

    I’m opposed to welfare without work but if it’s a Mom, we have to have 1. childcare and 2. headstart or equivalent.

    otherwise – we’re basically pretending that we’re not talking about a 3rd world type solution.

    Now some Conservatives are deadly honest about this. they will truthfully and forthrightly admit – that – that is their approach but others are cowards… who feel that way but won’t admit it and their basic attitude is that you have to vote them into office to find out how they really feel.!

  2. Are millennial generation members actually getting married, settling down, and having kids? I look at several conservative religious websites where there a lot of discussion about how the church is losing millennials at a disturbing rate. They don’t seem to be following the pattern of their parents.

    1. larryg Avatar

      the biggest threat to businesses now days, including the jobs they provide is – competition from other businesses that have evolved more quickly and are more nimble to the adoption of changing technology.

      companies no longer have a “responsibility” to workers – other than compensating them competitively to attract and keep them.

      companies that spend more on compensation and benefits become vulnerable to the companies that spend less and thus sell product cheaper and still make sufficient profits to pay for innovation and expansion.

      All things equal – being married or having a partner provides a level of security if both work – stay-at-home arrangements are reliant on one source.

      People who work – need to have the right skills or get them and once they get them – they need to continue to add to them.

      Even jobs like education and medicine – even law enforcement – all are undergoing technology-driven changes… that require continual attention to what a “valued” employee has compared to ones that have been there awhile and are more limited in their abilities because what they know is older technology.

  3. Back in the early 70s, my Biology professor was talking about things like cloning. He looked at us and said with assurance , “This is coming”. I just thought I’d be a lot older when it did.

    1. larryg Avatar

      re: older …faster… yes… things are moving at light speed..because of the internet… and all the things that are now so easily possible now that were not before.

  4. FreeDem Avatar

    Here’s the issue. Lind is assuming a broader typology of mis-matched voters (Populists, Libertarian) than really exist right now. And, as noted, he’s jumping over social issues where the needle hasn’t moved as much, mainly abortion. Millennials are socially liberal, primarily on gay rights and acceptance of diversity, and they do lean significantly towards the Democratic Party. But an emerging Democratic majority does not necessarily translate into the end of the culture wars.

    Lind’s vision of dense urban areas against the less dense suburbs and exurbs is largely already true. Dense urban areas vote Democratic. Everyone else with some exceptions vote Republican. Those exceptions are less dense areas with high minority populations (Black Belt, Indian Reservations, Hispanic areas of the Southwest) and small college towns.

    There may be a slight libertarian tilt to younger Millennial Democrats. Lind’s projection for the urban party may be close to being on target. But he assumes that anti-tax zealots, social conservatives and Southern whites, who increasingly vote as an ethnic block, will fade away. I don’t think that will happen easily. The universal social safety net for promoting the middle class he sees emerging from the politics of the suburbs is going to be undermined by a brand of irrationally anti-government conservatism and rich donors who want to dismantle the government.

    1. larryg Avatar

      I think Freedem’s analysis is pretty accurate. I don’t see the libertarians associating with Dems that believe in fundamental safety net things like social security and health care.

      And I see the “right” crowd working to dismantle govt – and to impose more religion into govt if they can.

      I do not understand the abortion issue when for more than a few of them, they also oppose the morning after pill and similar and I do not believe the millennials are going to buy that logic either. The same evangelicals, in a Pew poll a couple years back supported torture at a higher percentage than less religious people. pro-torture, anti-abortion, anti-birth control is mind-bending to me. But if there were no liberals and no libertarians that’s what our govt would likely look like.

      remember – when you listen to these folks they view compromise as an abandonment of their principles. I don’t see any movement on their part towards any middle ground what-so-ever so I’m not quite sure how Lind is reasoning this.

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