Florida Gov. Ronald Dion DeSantis’ book tour is a thinly disguised testing of the 2024 presidential waters and his trip and book inevitably give prominence to the ongoing “culture war” of which he is the lead standard-bearer. He and other cultural warriors are encountering some opposition but generally Democrats’ attitude seems more in line with Jesus’ call to his followers, as related in Luke 6:27-31: “But I say unto you who hear: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you and pray for those who spitefully use you. To him who strikes you on one cheek, offer the other also.” That is alien language in the world of the culture warriors, where “political correctness” and “cancel culture” have given way to “wokeness.”
Within three years, lawmakers in 45 states proposed 283 laws “that either sought to restrict what teachers can say about race, racism and American history,” The Washington Post reported. The bills would also “change how instructors can teach about gender identity, sexuality and LGBTQ issues.” They would “boost parents’ rights over their children’s education,” as well as “limit students’ access to school libraries and books,” and “circumscribe the rights of transgender students; and/or to promote what legislators defined as ‘patriotic’ education.” Sixty-four of those bills became law in 25 states.
The Republican Party, it is worth remembering, was reeling from the presidential victory of Democrat William Jefferson Clinton, who served two terms, 1993-2001. Party leaders, led by Newton Leroy Gingrich, gathered – peacefully — on the steps of the Capitol and signed a “Contract with America” on Sept. 27, 1994. The ideological blueprint, which marked the start the current divisiveness, helped Republicans win the House and the presidency, with George W Bush serving from 2001 to 2009. But that success did not last.
Voters elected Democrat Barack Hussein Obama the ﬁrst African American President, despite vicious, personal, racist attacks, which continued through-out his two terms, 2009-2017. This time, it was the Republican National Committee, which Reinhold Richard Priebus chaired, that went to the drawing board, appointing, in December 2012, a team to design a “Growth and Opportunity Project.” The result was an impressive 100-page report with a 10,000-word summary of recommendations, including a section on African Americans.
Then came Donald John Trump and his surprise victory in 2016 without any commitment to the Project but with a history of racism that include a baseless challenge to Obama’s citizenship. His style of governing included demonizing his enemies as un-American. He elevated some who had long waited for a chance to halt and reverse the trend towards a more perfect union. And then Trump lost his re-election bid to Obama’s vice-president, Joseph Robinette Biden Jr., in 2020.
No back to the drawing board this time. Trump was impeached twice, including once on the claim that he instigated the failed Jan. 6, 2021, coup, and he faces several criminal investigations. Still, he is running for re-election – solely on the false claim that he lost because of fraud — and on the strength of his Make America Great Again (MAGA) movement.
But even some of Trump’s strong supporters believe his brand has been damaged and this has emboldened other Republicans to start creeping out from his shadow as potential challengers. They include DeSantis and his “anti-woke” and anti-gay policies. The Republican Party which they seek to lead is not even a ghost of what it was a dozen years ago.
While Democrats give the impression that they are rolling over and playing dead, there is some resistance to the Republicans. Biden occasionally engages in the culture war, mostly when he proclaims that “the soul of America” is on the line but his response is in what he does. If he seeks re-election, he can hold up his record as an example of how politicians can score even bipartisan success at a time of acute partisanship without belittling their opponents. He persuaded Congress to approve a $1 trillion infrastructure bill, among other initiatives.
Biden also recently presented a $6.8 trillion draft budget whose provisions include reducing the cost of health care, prescription drugs, housing and education and restoring a tax credit which cut child poverty by half before recently expiring. He is also seeking a tax hike on the wealthy to help fund Medicare.
California Governor Gavin Christopher Newsom announced that his state will end its $54 million business with Walgreens which announced that it will not dispense abortion pills in the 21 states which prohibit it. He said it is a question of, “Which side are you on? Are you going to just cower in the face of bullies?” he told Politico. California, Newsom emphasized, is “the size of 21 states’ populations combined,” adding, “And likely, when the dust settles, we’ll be the fourth largest economy in the world. So, we have, we believe, moral authority, but we also have formal authority, and will exercise it in partnership with the Legislature, and in the absence of that, through executive action.”
In Michigan, where Democrats now control the state government, “In the course of a single afternoon and evening, and despite loud objections from many Republicans, the Michigan House of Representatives voted to repeal a right-to-work law loathed by labor unions, expand background checks for gun purchases and enshrine civil rights protections for L.G.B.T.Q. people in state law,” The New York Times reported. The State Senate voted to repeal an abortion ban still on the books.
Others have expressed strong criticism. Columbia University and UCLA law professor Kimberlé Crenshaw likens the “anti-woke” campaign’s censoring of books and teachers to allowing “states to decide whether they want the segregated version, or whether they want a more fully representative and inclusive version,” she told The Guardian. “Wokeness has become the oppression, not the centuries of enslavement and genocide and imperialism that has shaped the lives of people of color in ways that continue into the present.”
Crenshaw noted that even the memoir of activist Ruby Bridges, the ﬁrst African American child to integrate an elementary school in the South in 1960, is banned under anti-woke edicts. “So, white kids’ feelings are more important than black kids’ reality,” she added.
Janice Byrd, a Penn State University assistant education professor, calls it “a form of erasure” that would lead African American youth to believe “that who they are is inherently flawed and unimportant,” she told HuffPost.
And New York Times columnist Charles M. Blow, in a March 8 column, asked about the harm being done to “the roughly 600,000 Black students in Florida’s public schools … searching for a history that includes them — a history of them — who now feel targeted and afraid?”
In fact, DeSantis has victimized nearly four million or 17 percent of his state who are African Americans and 900,000 or ﬁve percent who are gay. Nationally, the anti-woke and anti-gay campaign has devalued the worth of 40 million African American citizens or around 13 percent of the nation and 20 million Americans or about seven percent who identify as LBGTQ+.
And, as the culture warriors get ready to take their campaign of bigotry national, they will afford Americans with a chance to see whether there is truth in what Finrod tells his sister Galadriel in “The Rings of Power” serial after she asks him, “How do I know which lights to follow?” His answer: “Sometimes we cannot know until we have touched the darkness.”