The Great White Culture War in America is really an economic conflict. Ironically, many of the combatants are so obsessed with cultural warfare they cannot see the economic origins of the struggle.
One of the few culture warriors who acknowledges the economic struggle is the man who helped coin the term “Great White Culture War;” David French. French partially exposes the economic aspects of the battle, in an 8 August 2019 National Review column.
“Thus, conservative white Americans look at urban multicultural liberalism and notice an important fact: Its white elite remains, and continues to enjoy staggering amounts of power and privilege,” French writes. Most white elite institutions; such as the Ivy League universities, are thriving for example.
The White Elite is Thriving
In fact, Harvard University had an endowment of $39.234 billion at the end of fiscal 2018, US News & World Report estimates. Meanwhile, Yale had an endowment of $29.445 billion; Stanford University had an endowment of $26.455 billion, and Princeton had $25.438 billion in the bank in 2018.
Hence, the white elitists have the resources to win the culture wars. Thus, data partially justifies the lower-class white fears French identifies.
Yale, Princeton, and Harvard, are rolling in cash, while average Americans go into debt to attend college. Notably, 69% of college students rely on student loans and 44.7 million Americans owed $1.56 trillion in student loan debt in February 2019, Student Loan Hero estimates.
What Student Loans tell us about the Culture War
The student loan crisis could get worse. The Brookings Institution forecasts that nearly 40% of student loans could be in default by 2023.
African Americans are already living in 2023, Brookings claims 21% of black students with a bachelor’s degree and student loans are in default. Finally, 23% of the for-profit college students default on their loans, Brookings estimates.
Currently, 11.5% of student loans are 90 have been in default; or delinquency, for 90 days or longer, Student Loan Hero notes. Furthermore, over three million U.S. Senior Citizens are paying off student loan debts, Business Insider claims.
Additionally, the cost of admission to the elite is rising. Business Insider claims 101 people owed over $1 million in student loan debt in 2018. In contrast, only 14 people owed over $1 million in student loan debt in 2013, just five years earlier.
The student loan data shows ordinary Americans lack the money to pay for education. Yet we live in an economy where education is necessary for many jobs.
Income Inequality and the Culture War
The greatest economic factor in the white culture war; however, is income. Income figures show that white Americans in white majority “Red States” such as Kentucky have far less money than the elite.
For instance, the average per capita (individual) income in Kentucky was $25,888 a year between 2013 and 2017, the US Census Bureau estimates. Meanwhile, the Median household income in Kentucky was $46,535 during the same period.
In contrast, the median per capita income income in New York County (the Borough of Manhattan) was $69,529 a year during the same period, the Census Bureau estimates. Hence the average individual income in Manhattan is nearly three times the median individual income in Kentucky.
In the final analysis, people in Kentucky are broke while people in New York County have more money. Okay, $69,529; or $79,781 (the Blue Grass State’s median household income for 2013-2017) will not go far in New York, but the geographic income disparity is dramatic. Moreover, most of those broke Kentuckians are white; the Census Bureau estimates Kentucky’s population is 87.6% white.
The Stark Divide Between Kentucky and Manhattan
The educational divide between Manhattan and Kentucky is even more stark.
The Census Bureau estimated that 60.7% of Manhattanites had at least a bachelor’s degree in 2013 to 2017. Meanwhile, only 23.2% of Kentuckians had a bachelor’s degree or higher in the same period.
Interestingly, high school graduation rates for the two regions are close. The percentage of Kentuckians with a high school degree was 85.2% in 2013 to 2017. Meanwhile 86.8% of those in Manhattan had graduated high school in the same period.
Nor is there a serious technology gap between the two regions. The Census Bureau claims 82.4% of Kentucky households and 89.1% of Manhattan households had a computer in 2013-201. Plus, 72.9% of Kentucky homes and 81.9% of Manhattan apartments had broadband in the same era.
What is Wrong with Kentucky?
Therefore, Kentuckians have most of the resources available to Manhattan residents. Yet, income data shows Kentucky residents cannot compete economically.
Furthermore, Kentucky residents know something is wrong. They can see the wealth gap in action every time they look at the internet or the TV set. People in Kentucky know they are being shortchanged economically.
Needing scapegoats, Kentuckians listen to culture warriors; such as President Donald J. Trump (R-New York) and U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky). Trump, in particular; tells Kentuckians, what they have suspected for a long time, that a white liberal elite rigs the economy against them.
Kentuckians see evidence verifying Trump; and U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders’ (I-Vermont), allegations of a rigged economy every time they look at their bank statements. The culture war serves Trump and McConnell by diverting some whites’ attention away from economic issues.
How the Economy Explains the Culture Wars
Meanwhile, elite opinion makers on both sides of the culture wars, do not see the economic struggle because they live in places such as Manhattan or Brooklyn.
Hence, the opinion makers have plenty of cash, good jobs, and a rich cultural life. For instance, a Manhattan resident has hundreds of restaurants to eat at, several sports teams, and unlimited numbers of plays, nightclubs, concerts, etc.
In contrast, a Kentuckian worrying about paying the bills has a cultural life that comprises a choice between Fortnite, Netflix, high school sports, and Monday Night Football. Dining choices in much of Kentucky are between Domino’s pizza and McDonald’s. Sadly, the Census Bureau data shows many Kentuckians will have a hard time affording those culinary adventures.
Thus, a Manhattan conservative culture warrior can afford to worry about Drag Queen Story Hour and MAGA hats. In contrast, the Kentucky culture warriors worry about paying the bills and buying groceries.
The Culture War on the Left
Therefore, class is driving the culture wars. America’s upper class obsesses over cultural issues while ordinary people struggle to survive.
This conflict plays out on both the left and the right. A great example, of the class-based culture wars is the conflict between actress and Me Too Movement field commander Alyssa Milano and Presidential Candidate Andrew Yang (D-New York).
Milano dropped out of a Yang fundraiser because of sexual misconduct allegations against an unnamed campaign staffer, CNN reports. The allegations did not involve Yang himself, but Milano dropped out anyway.
The dispute is interesting because Yang is one of the few political figures who ignores the culture wars and runs only on economic issues. Yang’s signature campaign issue is the Freedom Dividend basic income; a wealth redistribution scheme.
Predictably, Yang’s plans to tax big business and pay every American a $1,000 a month basic income are popular in Middle America. In Hollywood, however, culture war orthodoxy is more important than the economic wellbeing of ordinary people.
The Culture War as Class Warfare
Disturbingly, Milano tweeted “I do believe Andrew Yang is a good man with progressive, smart, interesting ideas. And to be clear, NO allegations have been made against him personally. But this issue is too important and too prevalent. The buck stops at the top.”
Hence, Milano tells ordinary Americans; “I do not care if you are sleeping in your cars or going to the food bank. My cultural values are more important than your lives. Working folk do not matter as long as I am safe from sexual harassment.”
Milano’s arrogant remark reminds me of French Queen Marie-Antoinette’s legendary; and probably mythical, remark about starving peasants: “Let them eat cake.” Ultimately, they executed Marie-Antoinette with the guillotine during the French Revolution.
The French Revolution was a cultural war between different classes in French society. I think such a conflict could come in America. However, I doubt it will be as deadly as the French Revolution.
Interestingly, Yang claims his campaign fired the accused staffer for other reasons, The Daily Beast reports. No comments from Milano about the firing were available.
How the Culture War became Class Warfare
I think Milano’s behavior exposes an ugly cultural civil war that will tear both the American left and the American right apart.
We see this dynamic playing out in the Democratic presidential primary where lower income voters prefer socialist U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont). In March 2019, Vox’s Tara Golshan wrote “The older, and wealthier, the voter gets, the less interested they are in Sanders.”
“Sanders’ base was young — and some of the young white men stood front and center,” Golshan writes of the 2016 Democratic presidential primaries. Hence, the Great White Culture War affects both Democrats and Republicans.
Notably, in 2016, white upper culture warriors attacked Sanders; a veteran of the 1960s civil rights movement, as a racist. Much as culture warrior Milano is trying to brand Yang a sexist.
Sanders and Yang’s real crime; in upper-class culture warriors’ eyes, is to ignore the culture war and make the election about economic issues. Liberal elitists are frightened because voters are listening to Sanders and Yang but not to them.
Culture War and Victory
The left wing culture warriors’ reaction to Sanders and Yang resembles the hostility some conservative culture warriors directed at Donald J. Trump (R-New York) in 2016. Remember, Trump attracted large crowds; and won the election, by discussing economic issues.
Thus, today’s culture war is more of an effort to silence critics of the economic status quo than a battle over cultural issues. Importantly, Yang, Sanders’ and Trump’s popularity shows those efforts are failing.
However, I predict left-wing culture warriors will cling to unpopular; but politically correct, candidates such as Pete Buttigieg (D-Indiana) until they suffer big electoral defeats. Finally, Democrats will have to choose between winning with a leftist; such as Yang or Sanders, or losing with a culture warrior.
Notably, Bernie is the only Democrat who beats Trump in the November 17 to 20, 2019 Emerson polls. The Emerson Head to Heads show Sanders beating the Donald by a margin of 50% to 49%. In contrast, Emerson speculates Trump would beat culture warrior Buttigieg by 52% to 48% and former Vice President Joe Biden (D-Delaware) 51% to 49%.
Ultimately, Republicans chose Trump; and victory, over culture warrior U.S. Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) in 2016. Since then Trump has been walking a fine line between economic issues and the Culture War.
Currently, Trump tries to appease culture warriors; whose support he needs in primaries, with symbolic actions such as executive orders targeting imaginary campus Anti-Semitism. However, the Donald is dodging attacks on his economic agenda from conservatives – such as Fox News talking head Tucker Carlson.
How the Culture Wars could end with a whimper not a bang
Thus, a likely outcome of next year’s elections could be President Yang or President Sanders trying to appease left-wing culture warriors. For instance, President Yang appointing Alyssa Milano to a symbolic White House Job to appease the Me Too Movement.
I have to wonder if 2020 will be the year culture warriors finally start paying attention to the economy. Right-wing culture warriors are finally paying shallow lip service to economic issues because of the Trump victory. Expect left-wing culture warriors to notice the economy after they lose the Democratic primary.
To paraphrase T.S. Elliott the culture wars could end “not with a bang but a whimper” next year. The culture wars will end that way because the culture warriors are not addressing the economic issues Americans care about.