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  • Stephanie Wilson

It's Happening Here: Culture Wars are the Main Event

Updated: Mar 28, 2023

It's time to stop looking at culture wars as individual policy discussions. MAGA is waging a war and we need to fight back on a wartime footing.

by Stephanie Gerber Wilson, PhD

This week, I interviewed Ryan Busse, former gun industry exec and author of Gunfight: My Battle Against the Industry that Radicalized America. The podcast episode comes out on Monday, March 20. As you’ll hear, he believes MAGA is waging a war for White Power, and no policy argument stands a chance against MAGA’s war.

I agree. I see this war in every “culture war” fight in the state legislatures. I believe the anti-trans laws sweeping MAGA America, the book banning, the public education defunding, the “don’t say gay” bills, the abortion bans, the intransigence on gun responsibility are weapons and strategies that MAGA is using to wage this war to accrue raw power.

There’s a war on for freedom and democracy. How do I know? As a Jewish GenXer, I grew up surrounded by Holocaust survivors and regularly listened to stories of the pre-war oppression of Jews in Germany, and the mass death and incarceration of Jews, LGBTQ+, Roma, and others during the war itself. We need to keep our eyes on the big picture and find a way to fight the larger power struggle while at the same time protecting our vulnerable siblings and kids. MAGA is using individual issues—anti LGBTQ+ legislation, anti-wokism and book bans, forced birth, denial of health care (and more)— as tools to gain absolute power, rather than as policy goals.

We need to fight this war on two fronts: building political power by winning elections at every level and protecting every trans and LGBTQ+kid as if they were our own, because they ARE our own. Gen Z identifies as LGBTQ+ at 20% or more. Every single one of us could or do have trans or LGBTQ+ kids, and we need to recognize and love them because they are all our kids too. A free United States needs to include belonging for all of us…and cannot include hate, division, or discrimination. It must include bodily autonomy and freedom for all its citizens and immigrants. Winning this larger war means year round organizing, funding and training candidates, and making the biggest coalition we can to turn out every vote we can.

As a historian, I use knowledge of the past to help explain the present. Umberto Eco, an Italian intellectual, grew up in Mussolini’s Italy. He put together a list of the 14 common features of fascism. (see article here).

Here’s how I see them playing out around us each day.

  1. The cult of tradition. Here we see a counter-factual insistence that the founders were creating a Christian nation, or like the nonsensical judicial philosophy of “originalism.”

  2. The rejection of modernism. MAGA wants to turn back the clock to the past when White power was greater and Jim Crow reigned, the civil rights era hadn’t happened, forced birth was the norm, and there were no legal protections for trans people.

  3. The cult of action for action’s sake. Look at the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) —the MAGA group that writes all the reactionary policies that GOP legislators introduce to state legislatures across the country in their campaign against all non-White, non-Christian, non-Male people.

  4. Disagreement is treason. What happens when anyone disagrees with Donald Trump or MTG? Exactly.

  5. Fear of difference. Fear drives the MAGA base’s embrace of bans on drag shows, removal of transgender health care, and targeting of LGBTQ+ people.

  6. Appeal to social frustration. White grievance, anyone?

  7. The obsession with a plot. This is every Jewish space laser, George Soros-backed activist, and “groomer” attack.

  8. The enemy is both strong and weak. Transgender folks are both so strong that they’ll recruit your kids and so weak that they are beneath contempt.

  9. Pacifism is trafficking with the enemy. Anyone who disagrees with the culture war is an enemy.

  10. Contempt for the weak. We all remember Trump mocking disabled people.

  11. Everybody is educated to become a hero. See Kyle Rittenhouse, the teenager whose mother drove across state lines to kill BLM protesters with an AR-15.

  12. Machismo and weaponry. Ho-boy. Look at those AR-15s.

  13. Selective populism. MAGAs considers only Whites in the heartland to be true Americans—no coastal “elites,” people of color, or non-Christians.

  14. Ur-Fascism speaks Newspeak. Like in George Orwell’s novel 1984, words mean their opposite. MAGA word salad against “wokism” is an example.

We need to understand that MAGA White Christian Nationalists are after absolute power. And they choose to hurt the most marginalized groups first and then they move on to the next and the next.

And though we are not now discussing gas chambers, MAGA’s intention to eradicate transgenderism, from Trump to CPAC, to DeSantis, on down, is well down a road that is hard to come back from. Far from diminishing the Holocaust, talking about when others are facing an attempt at eradication makes our learnings from the past even more salient. And make no mistake, trans and gender expansive people come in every religion, race, ethnicity and geography. And they’ve been here since the beginning of humanity.

Our country hasn’t always been engaged in this war, though very strong elements of it can be traced to well before our country’s founding, primarily with enslavement of Black Americans. I’ll close with Republican Dwight D. Eisenhower’s farewell address:

“We pray that peoples of all faiths, all races, all nations, may have their great human needs satisfied; that those now denied opportunity shall come to enjoy it to the full; that all who yearn for freedom may experience its spiritual blessings; that those who have freedom will understand, also, its heavy responsibilities; that all who are insensitive to the needs of others will learn charity; that the scourges of poverty, disease and ignorance will be made to disappear from the earth, and that, in the goodness of time, all peoples will come to live together in a peace guaranteed by the binding force of mutual respect and love.”

I call on each and every one of us to create a world for our fellow humans where love and belonging outweigh hate and fear. That starts with winning elections at every level and standing up for the people targeted by MAGA. Because each and every one of us is a MAGA target. It’s just a question of time.

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