The United States certainly has a race problem and has ever since the early days of the Antebellum South. Northern ghettoes are the legacy of slavery and Reconstruction, and given the isolation, dysfunction, and alienation of inner city black communities, the issue of race will not go away soon. However, after sixty years of government attempts to right past wrongs and to set the African American ship on a more favorable course, most Americans realize that it is high time for the black community to take charge of their lives. While we commiserate with the lot of black people – most whites cannot possibly know what it must be like to walk down any street in America and be looked at with suspicion, prejudice, or hostility – the time for hectoring, shaming, and criticism is over.
Considered from a feminist perspective, women have had a rough time, and still need community and male support to help them over the last hurdles or up the last step of the ladder to the trapdoor in the glass ceiling. Of course, victimhood of women is a a new theme. The women in every one of Shakespeare’s Histories, Comedies, and Tragedies are strong, determined and defiant. There was no way that Lady Macbeth, Dionyza, Cleopatra, Volumnia, Tamora, Beatrice, or Rosalind were going to be the pawns and playthings of the men who courted them.
Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler, Rebekka West, and Hilda Wangel are strong,willful, Nietzschean heroines. Laura (Strindberg’s The Father) is dismissive of men, ably manipulates her husband, driving him mad and in so doing gaining custody of their daughter. Martha is a match for George (Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?), and Christine Mannon (Mourning Becomes Electra) rules all the men in her family and in her life.
Just as many people, although concerned about the plight of the black man have had enough whinging about it; even more say women are quite capable of taking care of themselves, thank you very much. Strindberg understood that since only a woman knows for sure who the father of her children are, they have a fundamental power over men. Men have to play catch up in gender games and pull out the heavy artillery in gender wars.
Because women are doing so well, feminists like any other interest group, need to expand to other minority groups to assure their continued relevance and to keep their activist agenda alive. Most older feminists cut their teeth on the Women’s Liberation movement in the Seventies and are discouraged that younger women have little interest in their ragged and strident attacks on men. The new hysteria over rape and abuse is fueled by this political agenda. Academic feminists are hoping that young women will overlook the inherent contradiction in their message. Women are strong and able, they say; but also weak, vulnerable, and in need of institutional protection against rape and abuse.
Male progressives also realize that their campaigns for black civil rights are getting old, tired, shopworn, and discredited because of lack of success and their obstinate refusal to indict the black community itself. So, like feminists, they have taken up the cudgel of gay rights. Homosexuals are the legatees of the civil rights movement, and need the same boost that blacks did. Despite the fact that most surveys suggest that the percentage of LGBT in the population is well under 3 percent and closer to 1, progressives are tireless in promoting an agenda which most Americans find irrelevant if not distasteful.
Ethnicity is of least concern to progressives who worry about the state of the nation. It takes only a generation and Latinos are speaking English like a native and more importantly have subscribed totally to the American work ethic and promises of prosperity. They are Christian, here to earn a living and send remittances home, not to destabilize the country, become radicalized, and work for the overthrow of the government. It is only a matter of time before they join the mainstream.
The point is that Americans are not unsympathetic to these causes. Most people do in fact express interest in and concern about the progress of those segments of society which have had a rougher row to hoe than others. They are simply weary of the secular evangelism; and ready to return to issues of immediate and more fundamental importance.
America is a profoundly religious country and fundamentalist Protestants who make up a significant proportion of the population are concerned with salvation, redemption, and God’s grace. They look to the Bible for instruction, guidance, and sustenance – not liberal and inflexibly secular activists. Many of these same people are doing the best they can to keep their heads above water. If there is any secular issue of relevance, it is economic progress.
Older people are increasingly concerned with putting their moral and spiritual life in order as they see the dimming light at the end of the tunnel. The more educated and intellectually challenging focus their interests on literature, art, philosophy and how these disciplines can enrich their lives if not help to explain them. Young people are getting on with their lives, focused on marriage, children, and good schools.
If one simply pulled the plug on The Nation, The Guardian, Upworthy, MoveOn, and the hundreds of other print and online journals of the progressive Left, most people would give a sigh of relief – not from idle self-interest or egocentric dismissiveness, but because this thin race-gender-ethnicity ground has been mined until all resources have been exhausted. There is enough in the Bible, Tolstoy, Shakespeare, Faulkner, and Dostoevsky alone to fill a thousand newspapers; and this does not even touch upon the genius of Anselm Kiefer, Sargent, Vermeer, or Picasso.
One chapter of Augustine’s Confessions is enough to make anyone reflect on morals, ethics, and one’s relationship to God. Even a history of a small war, like The War of 1812, can give untold insights into early America and its foundational philosophy.
I imagine that progressives will simply run out of steam. They are already up against a Republican juggernaut pulled by ordinary Americans who have had enough of the liberal agenda. Finally political discourse will be defined not by the hackneyed ‘race-gender-ethnicity’ agenda but more appropriate questions of individual liberty and expression.
The differences between liberals and conservatives in this country is profound. The Left believes in the perfectibility of Man, progress, and the eventual creation of a secular utopia. The Right believes in the ineluctability of human nature. History repeats itself because we are hardwired to be aggressive, self-interested, territorial, and protective. Like Nietzsche conservatives understand that in such a determined if not meaningless world, the only validation of humanity is the expression of individual will.
The twain shall never meet. The progressive Left is losing credibility and salience and it will be conservatives’ turn. Whatever the long term outcome of this political struggle, I am only glad that the drumbeat of liberal causes will become at least less loud and intrusive and maybe will stop entirely.