Ever since the inception of our political system, the state of the national economy and assertions of how it should be run have been crucial to determining electoral outcomes. When President Hoover insisted on pursuing non-interventionist policies as America spiraled into economic depression, Franklin Roosevelt promised recovery with his comprehensive New Deal and triumphed in ‘32 by a substantial margin. Similarly, when President Bush backed out on his pledge for “no new taxes,” Democratic challenger Bill Clinton dashed his re-election hopes decisively, winning in ‘92 by nearly six million votes.
Although economic proposals continue to play a central role in election campaigns, cultural issues, ranging from gun policy and immigration reform to full-on resistance to the Washington establishment, have become increasingly influential on how we vote and how candidates strategize. Presidential debates are no longer mundane discussions of policy; they are win or lose battles for cultural dominance.
Feelings of political alienation and cultural subjugation have greatly influenced voting patterns, pushing the usually blue-leaning Rust Belt to a full right-wing shift. America’s cultural divide has been slowly deepening for years. However, the election of Donald Trump to the presidency in 2016 marked the beginning of a full-on culture war.
As America’s longest recorded streak of job creation continues, public focus has steadily shifted away from the economy to other concerns. According to a Pew Research Center study, the percentage of the American public who view economic issues as “top priority” has steadily declined over the past eight years and a Gallup poll tracking the percentage of Americans considering the economy as the nation’s most important problem has shifted from a staggering 86 percent in 2009 to merely 20 percent as of last April.
Currently, dissatisfaction with the government, immigration, and gun control stand at the forefront of the nation’s focus. This fact is of little surprise, however, to those following the looming 2018 midterm elections, as cultural topics headline the Democratic party’s running platform.
Ever since the devastating Parkland school shooting last February, Democratic candidates have intensified their focus on the particularly divisive cultural issue of gun control. In a recent campaign advertisement, Arizona congressional candidate Pat Davis declared, “F–k the NRA. Their pro-gun policies have resulted in dead children, dead mothers and dead fathers.” Democrats maliciously contend that Congressional inaction on large gun control measures is evidence of a broad Republican indifference towards the deaths of children, yet neglect to mention their own inaction on gun policy during Democratic control of Congress in the early years of the Obama administration.
In response to the Trump administration’s crackdown on illegal immigration, Democrats have shifted towards an increasingly radical mindset. When President Trump compared violent MS-13 gang members to “animals,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said, “Does he not believe in the spark of divinity? In the dignity and worth of every person?”
Contrary to Pelosi’s suggestion, any member of a gang whose motto is “kill, rape, and control” deserves little sympathy from our leaders.
Economic proposals, such as Bernie Sanders’s plan for universal employment, seem to be taking a back seat as cultural matters stand in the limelight. Instead of defending Sanders’ socialist fallacies, flustered Democrats appear solely determined to oppose anything the President says, regardless of its logical intention.
As the culture war rages on, candidates and the parties they represent are playing a larger ideological role in society. Political battles lines have been drawn, and where one stands determines whether he or she is a decent person or belongs in a basket of deplorables. Democrats realize that voters in 2018 will be casting their ballots with much more than simply the state of the economy in mind and are relying more on a general anti-Trump sentiment than concrete and realistic policy proposals. Hopefully, this great battle of our time subsides before it consumes us entirely.