Culture war collateral damage

When wingnuts play at it, someone (else) is liable to get hurt

Conservatives have been yelling at each other about what real conservatism is, again. The kickoff this time was Sohrab Ahmari, pro-Trump editorial page director of the New York Post, accusing National Review’s JustTheTip Trumper David French of being too classical-liberal-conservative when what’s actually needed to fix this sick country is the reactionary curb-stomping of liberals — I’m not even going to try and explain it because like all these rightwing ideological flashpoints (such as the elevation of Tucker Carlson to philosopher-pundit some months back) it's too ridiculous to take seriously, scholasticism for the stupid — how many Buckleys can dance on the head of a pin.

A bunch of the yak has been about “culture,” which conservatives only understand as the subject of a “culture war,” and the never-ending complaint that liberals get all the culture just because people would rather watch movies and shows and read stories than listen to rageaholic editorial writers snarl at everything and it’s not fair. (This did relieve some of the tedium of the debate, however, when an Ahmari ally, the buffoon Matthew Schmitz, got shirty with French for acting all high and mighty about Trump when French, hypocrite that he is, “proudly watches an explicit TV series, Game of Thrones.” Gasp! I saw Goody French with the remote!)

This seems to have inspired, or rather infected, National Review’s Jim Geraghty — another buffoon, but generally at least a more down-to-earth sort than these guys. “Loneliness in America Is Caused by Our Broken Culture,” his musing is headlined. It actually starts somewhat sensibly — “what would qualify as ‘actual culture wins’” from Ahmari’s point of view, he wonders; “The release of more movies the writer liked, or higher box-office revenues? Fewer movies or television shows he didn’t like?”

Alas, then comes the inevitable turnaround: “But just because the terms of the lament about cultural defeat were frustratingly vague, it doesn’t mean I don’t sometimes share the sentiment.” Let’s all play culture-war army mens! Geraghty goes on about the “cultural power of celebrities” and how awful it is because celebrities are fucked up with “all kinds of obsessions and disorders and frequently going under the knife to preserve their youthful looks,” plus they’re on drugs (“addictions flourish and are almost endlessly enabled”). Then Geraghty gets onto the bullshit about that Dutch girl who committed suicide in Holland that all the wingnuts pretended was “euthanasia”

It’s all stupid but there’s an interesting part, after Geraghty gets into the “lonely crowd” section of the performance where he notes our allegedly atomized and alienated existence (Hillbillies taking drugs? Unlike when it’s black people, this is everyone’s problem!) and attributes it to The Breakdown of The Family, and then slides toward a solution:

Are we likely to fix this by changing laws? It’s unlikely that many Americans would want to dramatically change divorce laws, although we may prefer to encourage counseling and trial separations attempted before finalizing the legal dissolution of a marriage.

This rang a bell, and then I remembered: Covenant marriage. This was the rage among the godly back in the late 90s, when evangelism was more on the George W. Bush compassionate-conservative model than the Franklin Graham Trump Stooge model. During the mania Arizona, Arkansas, and Louisiana all passed laws that allowed couples to opt for a sort of marriage-plus on their license whereby it would be made super-hard for them to get divorced — you know, like in the old days, when everyone mated miserably for life. The federal Administration for Children and Families’ Office of Family Assistance still pushes covenant marriage as an option via organizations like the National Healthy Marriage Resource Center, which publishes a “fact sheet” on it.

Covenant marriages never took off, and at least one such marriage was legally 86ed when the disgruntled spouse took off to a state where they didn’t have covenant marriage and a court said he could get divorced according to their own laws. But now that we’re in Trump time, where theocrats are slavering at the prospect of banning abortion and even contraception, maybe the brethren will bring it back — and try this time to make it mandatory rather than optional. After all, it’s for society! It’ll bring us together, by force if necessary!

It would be part of a strong strain of conservatism, now getting stronger, that wants to wreck our social protections, not just so their corporate donors can get the money, but also and perhaps mainly because it will render us impoverished and helpless and thus recreate the feudal order that they think was the real intention of the Founding Fathers.

Good weekend, guys, see you Monday.