In watching the division that plagues so much of our politics, it seems each side has had some victories, meaning each side has had some losses. The liberals have generally won the culture wars over reproductive health and sexual orientation and identity. Conservatives have largely won the battles over the economy and taxes. The situation could change in the long term, but those seem pretty baked in for the time being.
To the chagrin of conservatives, LGBT citizens are out and proud. The hit of the Winter Olympics is gay skater Adam Rippon. The best skating color commentary is from the clearly gay Johnny Weir, a former Olympian. Gay people are popping up everywhere to a collective shrug from everybody but the evangelical community. They’re not going back into the closet and the only way we’re ending gay marriages is through divorce, just like everybody else.
Conservatives have probably lost on abortion, too, though their efforts to curtail it are working pretty well in some areas. If we see abortions actually being outlawed, there will almost certainly be blowback from women that would have devastating consequences in the ballot box. While many people believe in some restrictions on abortions, most support access and that support has been relatively stable for the past 25 years.
On the economy and taxes, conservatives have generally won. Reagan introduced supply-side economics and that’s the model we’ve lived under for almost 40 years. We’re one of the lowest taxed developed nations and have been for a long time. Consequently, we’re stingy with our social programs, preferring that people pay for themselves instead of relying on the government for help.
We’ve also largely embraced free trade, though Trump is giving conservatives a bit of heartburn right now. For every job sent overseas, Republicans point to high tech jobs and affordable goods. Unions and others lost the battle to keep manufacturing jobs in the United States.
For that matter, the labor movement is struggling to survive in a country that rewards corporate CEOs and shareholders but doesn’t care too much about the plight of workers. While it would probably have lost influence with the decrease in manufacturing, the symbolic point of its slide began when Reagan fired striking air traffic controllers. The stagnation of wages has coincided with their loss of political clout.
The emerging fight is gun control. It’s an issue conservatives have won with the backing of the NRA. This time, though, might be different. The charge is being led by kids whose peers died in a mass shooting at school. The number of households with guns is shrinking and it’s just a matter of time before the outrage over people dying in mass shootings overcomes the fear of the NRA. With only 30% of households owning guns, that time may be now.
Urbanization has helped progressives win the culture wars and I suspect it will help them win the battle over guns. Gun culture is rooted largely in rural areas with lots of space. Urban and suburban families aren’t interested in banning guns but they’ll certainly support more restrictions. Rural populations are declining while urban/suburban ones are increasing. Support for more gun control has been on the uptick with shootings like Orlando, Las Vegas and Southerland, Texas. Parkland may push it over the edge.
Thomas Mills is the founder and publisher of PoliticsNC.com. Before beginning PoliticsNC, Thomas spent twenty years as a political and public affairs consultant. Learn more >