Here’s a dirty secret: Great nations rest on a great common culture. I say it’s a secret because it’s become almost taboo to discuss this historic fact; progressives across the globe have turned decisively against national legacies, and it’s progressives who by and large dictate mainstream culture. But if the Democratic Party wants to avoid further electoral disasters like those in Virginia, Long Island and elsewhere, it would do well to relearn the obvious truth that a common culture that binds us is not only good and necessary, but popular.
Though it’s chic these days in progressive circles to oppose the notion of a common culture, there’s nothing inherently at odds between this idea and the progressive agenda writ large. Great progressives like Eugene Debs, George McGovern or Martin Luther King were critics of America but also patriots. Phrases like “death to America”—recently tweeted by the student body President of Kansas University—or the Seattle DA’s tweet that “I for sure hate this country” would have been as foreign to Dr. King as support for political violence. Yet things have gotten so out a wack that the National Archive felt the need to warn us that our founding documents like the Constitution and Declaration of Independence contain what they call “harmful language.”
But this version of liberalism is not just alien to progressives of old. Only a very small fraction of Americans, well under 10 percent, consider themselves progressive, and most reject the view of America as uniquely fallen. And the prevalence of the “woke” view in the media and popular culture, despite how marginal it is in American society, goes a long way toward explaining the Democrats’ astounding losses at the polls last week.
This is really an argument about history, at the end of the day. Can we have a shared national culture is another way of asking if we can have a shared interpretation of our past. And the answer right now seems to be no. Consonant with its view of America as fallen, the (tiny) progressive Left believes that American history is uniquely shameful and racist, a view that provides the rationale for separating third graders by race and asking them to rank their “privilege.” And despite their small numbers, the progressives have the educational and corporate establishment behind them.
What they don’t have is the support of parents, who are clearly in rebellion. Increasing numbers are home schooling, or shifting to charters and private schools. And contrary to the progressive myth around this, it’s not because they don’t want to teach the tragedies within American history, or the changing nature of America. It’s not that these parents don’t believe instruction these days requires a greater emphasis on the role of ethnic minorities; it’s that they believe this instruction should not reduce minorities to victims but should cast them as what they are—contributors to our national culture and economy within an admittedly imperfect system.
Ultimately, contrary to the the view of much of our academia and media, America is not a country based on racial commonality but a set of political notions. You know this is true because of the pull our nation has for immigrants; New Latin, African or Asian immigrants come to America for something different than what they had at home. They are seeking out our national ethos, best described by Frederick Jackson Turner 130 years ago: “a restless nervous energy” applied by a “dominant individualism.”
Sadly, it is now the fashion to denounce things like hard work, punctuality, individualism and family as “white.” But minorities, particularly immigrants, often show a greater proclivity to start businesses than many Americans and are generally more culturally conservative, both in the U.S. and the U.K., than the native born. Asian parents in particular have reacted negatively to motions to remove standards for academic high schools, which blame successful Asians for adopting “white supremacist thinking” as a San Francisco school board member put it.
Read the rest of this piece at Newsweek.
Joel Kotkin is the author of The Coming of Neo-Feudalism: A Warning to the Global Middle Class. He is the Roger Hobbs Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University and Executive Director for Urban Reform Institute. Learn more at joelkotkin.com and follow him on Twitter @joelkotkin.