WOLLEY: With stakes so high, everyone just keeps fighting

December 10, 2016

There is a strange contradiction occurring in American society right now. In all its pubescence, it’s a “they did it first” attitude. I’m not sure when it started—this sense that its OK to continue to fight over legitimacy even after legitimate elections—but we are here.

The U.S. Senate has decided not to even have a hearing, to execute its constitutional responsibility to “advise and consent” on the nomination of jurist Merrick Garland for the Supreme Court vacancy. The Clinton campaign is joining in a quixotic recount effort on the basis of massive voter fraud, despite acknowledging that Trump won and that it does have evidence of voter fraud.

The political left seems to have found some moral mandate snatching victory in the popular vote—even after enduring a compelling loss based on the rules everyone understood going into the American electoral process.

The U.S. Congress passed a law that basically stops the Obama administration agencies from implementing new regulations—despite there being more than 100 such rules passed in a similar time period in presidential administrations since 1996. But why is a “lame duck” administration putting new regulations on the books anyway?

The dismantling of Roe v. Wade, settled law for decades, may be part of the public policy agenda in the Trump administration. The left has Citizens United as its wrongly decided law that ostensibly threatens democracy and must be overturned.

Our politics is sick. But I’m not immune to the culture war fever.

President-elect Trump’s election was culturally significant but in all the worst possible ways. There is a real fear about a regression in our culture, and I think people reclaim their sense of agency by asserting postures and even marching in the streets in protest. I get it.

I have my list of cultural issues, but the economic issues matter, too.

Of course, we also had Mitch Daniels’ aspirational call for a truce on social issues until economic issues are resolved. It might have worked if we could get along—or if social issues didn’t intertwine with economic issues.

After all, is any city not at an economic disadvantage without a human rightsordinance protecting the LGBT community?

Obamacare, LGBT rights, criminal justice reform—we now frame social and cultural issues in economic terms. How should we be? What should we do? How will cultural issues affect economic development?

In the black community, the seminal thinkers W.E.B. DuBois and Booker T. Washington had a late 19th century debate that speaks to the moment: Washington favored the pursuit of economic interests over political concerns; DuBois, who is often cast as the diametrically opposed foil to Washington, actually affirmed that political concerns and economic interests had to be pursued together for the sake of culture.

The culture warrior is now an economically astute communicator while economic analysis bends toward culture. We have every reason to fight because everything is on the line—and if one side loses it can simply keep fighting. Fight after the election. Fight after the bill passes and is signed into law. Fight after the courts decide.

The stakes seem so high that we don’t stop fighting ever. Meanwhile, we lose something in the culture even as economic anxieties rise for large segments of the country.

I don’t know what coming together looks like at the national level. I get the pursuit of progress, but I don’t think we understand how to lose anymore.•


Wolley is a lecturer at the School of Public and Environmental Affairs at IUPUI.Send comments to ibjedit@ibj.com.

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