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The United States has always been viewed as a strong and confident country, with its people united in their self-identity and idealism. However, in the wake of the Trump Presidency, the nation has experienced violence, strained relations and even calls for secession. Although this is a disturbing trend, I contend that this apparent battle for the soul of the United States is not a new occurrence. On the contrary, it appears that this development is simply another chapter of a culture war that can be traced back to the US very founding.

In order to explore this thesis, I will analyse the history of this philosophical war and the issues of division. However, due to the vast history of America, it will be impossible to discuss the culture war in its entirety. Therefore, this essay will be split by two eras, the Founding Fathers along with the Civil War and the Era of Civil Rights and the End of History. I will then proceed to categorically scrutinize the points of socio-political contention of that time. It will became apparent that America have always been in a culture war and therefore the current period of hostility will come to pass as the ideological civil war subsides and transforms once again.

 The Founding Fathers Divided

What made about Americanism unique was its fundamental ideals. However, over time the interpretation of these ideals became ever changing, therefore it has been difficult to pinpoint the exact battlelines between the two Americas. Although the agenda of the modern culture war is vastly different, its origins can be traced to the First Party System.

The earliest example of a cultural division was between the disagreement between Hamiltonian Federalism and Jeffersonian Democracy. It was Alexander Hamilton’s philosophy that held humanity being pawns of passion and thus incapable to true self-government. Therefore, he leaned towards order and stability, the protection of the weak and the restraint of those in power[1]. His economic ideas and support for a strong federal government for national development represented this belief[2]. In regards to race, he stated that Negros ‘natural faculties were as good as our own’ and that America must overcome racial bigotry and raise about prejudices and self-interest[3].

In contrast, Thomas Jefferson possessed the worldview that mankind being endowed by moral sense and saw the American Revolution as a rebellion against the old order of monarchical and aristocratic rule and opted for people governing themselves.[4] In regards to race, he viewed blacks were slow, lazy, oversexed, less capable than whites of reasoning and thus required some parentalism from White America[5].

This ideological debate is extremely important to understand, as it would lay the foundations of the culture war for generations to come. For instance, I would argue that Hamilton had won the battle with Jefferson, but his America did not bring about unity, but took battle into the dynamics of the 1815 Market Revolution. According to Sean Wilentz, Americans were still a rural people that mostly lived and worked on family farms, which operated on the barter system and held the notions of communalism and middle-class values in high regard[6]. With the innovation of technology, it allowed transport, trade and settlement easier and thus industrialization to occur[7]. This saw the rise of the professional class, which saw the creation of new careers such as manufacturers, merchants and lawyers. This brought the unintended consequence of community and family life going to the wayside for a new value system of careerism and a depersonalized society[8]. But this was not a monolithic experience, as the concepts and fruits were predominantly embraced by the Northern States. In contrast, the South was still content to operate in rural conditions, acquired the Cotton Kingdom and Plantation economics[9].

This culture war would not only go from economics and abstract notions of government responsibility and race to a violent Civil War, but it also contributed to the demographic formations of the war itself. I submit that the Democratic South had unintentionally adopted Jeffersonianism with its views of race and role of government and the Republican North had gone the way of Hamilton in supporting manufacturing and anti-slavery.

 The Cultural War turns into the Civil War

By the time of President Lincoln the politics had dramatically changed. For instance, the Republican Party represented the culture of the North that supported free labor, antislavery, economic nationalism and the Protestant work ethic[10]. The opposition was the Democrats, what were the party of the South and advocated free trade, slavery, Catholicism and social hierarchy[11]. This is an important development, as it determined the culture of the North and South and thus defined the battlelines of the Civil War. This war is particularly interesting, as it transitioned from being about one aspect of the culture war, the role of government and economics into being about race and slavery.

It was in response to Lincoln’s Presidential victory, and his public distaste for slavery, that seven slave states withdrew from the Union with others contemplating doing the same. The Lincoln Administration responded by asserting their federal authority over the Southern states[12]. It was initially debated the role of government: the possibility of the federal government imposing its will upon the states. When the tension escalated into a hot war, Lincoln initial response was to preserve the Union, even if that meant maintaining slavery[13]. However, as the war progressed, Lincoln changed his casus belli from being about preservation of the Union to being about freeing slaves and living up to the American ideal about freedom and liberty[14]. The Emancipation Proclamation exemplified this, as it freed many slaves and thus closed the possibility to the South re-joining the Union with their Slave Power intact, and sought ending slavery throughout the land[15].

I will argue that it was during the aftermath of the Civil War, that the US had the opportunity see an America unified under a singe ideology, in this case the Northern mindset, and ultimately end it cultural war with itself. However, the South rejected their reality and sought to re-establish their way of life, and did so, with the implementation of the Jim Crow Laws. This saw to the maintenance of racial segregation in military units, federal workplaces, public schools and transport, restrooms, restaurant and drinking fountains[16].

This system lasted until the 20th century, which came with the second major upheaval of American history with the Civil Rights Movement and was still felt during the 1990s. 

The Great Society flows with Goldwater

It was not until the 1960s that this cultural disagreement fundamentally transformed yet again. Although it still echoed the debates of the past, a social dimension came to the forefront of the public discourse. This generation saw three distinct characteristics form: mass protest movements, rethought liberalism and the rise of American conservatism[17]. I would add that this period was further complicated by the traditional politics swapped political parties with the Democrats advancing Hamiltonian economics and government intervention and the Republicans representing Jeffersonian democracy and civil libertarianism.

This ‘new politics’ saw the rise of the New Left that was the ideological home for Marxist dogma, student protest, alternative lifestyles, social activism, liberation movements and civil rights[18]. By possessing a radical streak, the New Left alienated Old Liberals and turned the Middle Class apathetic or into the arms of the New Right. The promised Great Society of Lyndon Johnson sought to see initiatives of Kennedy’s New Frontier come to fruition: ending racial segregation and civil rights, war on poverty, social security, welfare environmental protection, rural development and winning the Vietnam War[19].

Countering this narrative was the development was the New Right and the rise of Barry Goldwater. What made Senator Goldwater the champion of conservatism was his authentic idealism of constitutionalism, republicanism, civil libertarianism, liberal economics and anticommunism[20]. This movement, consisting of libertarians, traditional conservatives, suburban middle class and an affluent working class becoming increasing resentful of an increasing interfering government[21]. However, with the death of Kennedy, the cultural war intensified when the torch of JFK was passed to the Johnson, who sought to passing of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. It was viewed that Goldwater opposed the Act was due to him being a reactionary and insensitive to the needs of race and the poor[22]. But this was not the case. Being a strict constitutionalist, Goldwater had voted for many local ant-discriminatory laws, as he viewed them as moral and appropriate[23]. It was his belief that racism was a fundamental problem of the heart and not the law and that the Civil Rights Act was unconstitutional, as it allowed the federal government to interfere with not only State rights but also the individual[24]. But the combination of the assassination of JFK along with the perception that he represented the far right with his objection to the Civil Rights Act, resulted in a crushing defeat for Goldwater. So devastating was the defeat, that the nation’s most esteemed scholar of the presidency to state that ‘this is surely a liberal epoch as the late 19th Century was a conservative one’[25].

An important example of how the culture war exhibited itself during the ‘long decade’ of the Sixties and Seventies was seen with the implementation of affirmative action. Dennis Deslippe describes how this affected the cultural norm of traditional Americana and led to a white backlash by using the example of the 1970s Detroit Police Department. When this police was implemented, it resulted in mass protests and riots by the predominate white male working class. They echoed the Jefferson-Goldwater argument that affirmative action represented the interference of big government into private industries and the local and national politics[26]. They went on to state that such liberal polices as being oppressive and that they were the oppressed classed. They saw liberals as trying to reorder society by sacrificing working class whites for the crimes of the past, while the white middle class were not inconvenienced[27]. They perceived Blacks were getting more than what rightfully belonged to them. Although they agreed with the idea of job creation, but not to take from those and create anger and resentment. By doing so, the Hamilton-Jefferson dynamic remerged with the debate of individual merit being the determining factor in the hiring process and jobs and promoting being distributed across the collective for the greater good.[28] Although race relation did somewhat improve, Detroit policemen remained frustrated due to the perceived ‘reverse racism’ as it demoralized people seeking promotion, test taking and seeking the highest score as opportunity was denied due to identify politics[29].

 It appears that the Silent Majority politically rebelled by supporting two Republican landslide victories under the centrist Richard Nixon and eventually saw to conservatism gaining the White House under Goldwater’s protégée Ronald Reagan. It was at this stage that the culture war saw the liberal side subdued with Reagan denouncing affirmative action as ‘discrimination to cure discrimination’ and that saw to the repeal of many of its legislation[30].

However, once again this cultural stability proved to be elusive and the cultural war resumed once again during the 1990’s between the Clinton Administration and social-conservative Pat Buchanan.

 Slick Willie and the Buchanan Brigade

 By the time of the 1990s, America experienced a major realignment and polarization in politics and culture. This political stage was battled predominately between the children of the 1960s. It was this stage that the cultural war acted as the forerunner of today with the issues echoing the contentions of the past along with modern social issues such abortion, role of government, immigration, homosexual rights, censorship, drug use and censorship. There could be no better representatives of the cultural war in the form of President Bill Clinton and social-conservative Patrick Buchanan. Their battle during the 1990s was essentially the battle of the meaning of the 1960s[31].

Although being a champion of the values of the 60s, Clinton presented himself as a centrist and promised to lower the deficit, cut taxation, end welfare dependency, universal healthcare, opening admission to gays in the military and relaxation of drug use and sexual morality[32]. However, the polls revealed that although Americans were excited by the Clinton Presidency, they were disturbed by the unintended consequences from cultural liberalism: increased divorce, rise of single families, more female-headed families in poverty and the spread of sexual transmitted diseases[33].

In response to the Clinton Administration, Pat Buchanan in his now-famous 1992 ‘Culture War’ speech, he clearly defined the two political camps that were lock in battle for the soul of America. He declared that the change that Clinton wished to impose, such as radical feminism, abortion on demand, homosexual rights, women in combat units was not the kind of change America wanted or needed imposed in if it wanted to remain ‘God’s Country’. And finally, he reflect the origins of the culture war when he spoke of Clinton’s VP pick Al Gore stating that the central organizing principle of government was the environment and the Republican Party represented freedom[34]. When this speech was met with a hostile reaction, Buchanan stated that America’s history is also being assaulted and slowly America will ultimately forget what is stood for, namely family, faith, friends, country and lose the culture war[35].

It will become apparent that this battle was not healed and later explode onto the national stage with the Trump Presidency.

Trump Triumphant

By 2016 Election, the old divisions within American civilization revealed themselves once again. It was after the Bush-Obama Administrations that had Americans feeling demoralized and frustrated, this time by perceived political correctness and assault on their identity, immigration, race, economics and the role of government. Chris Arnade, who interviewed Trump supporters, discovered that the old culture war was still being fought, but this time, it was felt that the liberal left have dominated the culture and politics for some time and it was a time to ‘take the country back’.

Much like the abovementioned previous eras, the people who were complaining were ignored and taken for granted. For instance, Arnade encountered thoughts such as: there is no American Dream fro anyone who isn’t a lawyer, immigrant are taking all out jobs, that an outsider was needed[36].

 Although the history of Trump has yet to be written, it appears that he superficially represented an anti-establishment vote and therefore people are willing to fight back against the political left of the culture war.

Conclusion

In conclusion, it appears that America is destined to always be in conflict with itself.

The seeds of division were planted between Hamilton and Jefferson, it has continued transform over time to include the question of slavery and race and eventually social issues. It appears that the US will constantly sway from one ideological extreme to another, with the dominating agenda overreaching itself until a backlash occurs and the cycle repeats once again. This could be due to part of the American ideal of seeking the balance between the rights of man and their responsibility to one another.

 – 2517 words

Bibliography

Chris Arnade, ‘What I learned after 100,000 miles on the road talking to Trump supporters’ Guardian, 3 November, 2016

https://www.theguardian.com/society/2016/nov/03/trump-supporters-us-elections

Mr. Conservatism: Goldwater on Goldwater 2006, DVD, Zeitgeist Films Ltd, United States. Directed by Julie Anderson.

Buchanan, Patrick. “1992 Republican National Convention Speech.” Patrick Buchanan Official Website. Last modified August 17, 1992.

http://buchanan.org/blog/the-cultural-war-for-the-soul-of-america-149.

Buchanan, Patrick. “The Cultural War for the Soul of America.” Patrick Buchanan Official Website. Last modified September 14, 1992.

http://buchanan.org/blog/the-cultural-war-for-the-soul-of-america-149.

Dennis A. Deslippe, “Do Whites Have Rights?”: White Detroit Policemen and “Reverse Discrimination” Protests in the 1970s, The Journal of American History Vol. 91, Issue 3. Dec 2004: 932-960.

Ferling, J (2013) Jefferson and Hamilton, Bloomsbury Press, United States.

Barbara Jeanne Fields, “Slavery, Race, and Ideology in the United States of America,” New Left Review I/181, May-June 1990.

Eric Foner, “The Emancipation of Abe Lincoln,” New York Times, December 31, 2012, http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/01/opinion/the-emancipation-of-abe-lincoln.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

Eric Foner, Free Soil, Free Labour, Free Men: The Ideology of the Republican Party Before the Civil War, New York, Oxford University Press, 1970, Ch 1(11-39)

Gillon, S (2008) The Pact, Oxford University Press, United States.

Michael J. Heale, “The Sixties as History: A Review of the Political Historiography,” Reviews in American History 33 (2005), pp. 133-152

LBJ 1991, DVD, PBS American Experience, United States. Directed by Unknown

Kuznick, P (2012) Untold History of the United States, Random House, United States

Perstein, R (2001) Before the Storm, Nation Books, United States

Trump D 2016, ‘Trump Gives Major Economic Policy Speech’, 08 August, viewed 15 April 2017, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k-1Dqz8Hj8g 

Sean Wilentz, “Society, Politics, and the Market Revolution, 1815-1848,” in Eric Foner, ed. The New American History, (Revised and Expanded Edition), Temple University Press, 1997, pp.61-84.

[1] John Ferling, Jefferson and Hamilton, Bloomsbury Press (United States, 2013), 188.

[2] John Ferling, Jefferson and Hamilton, Bloomsbury Press (United States, 2013), 220.

[3] John Ferling, Jefferson and Hamilton, Bloomsbury Press (United States, 2013), 88.

[4] John Ferling, Jefferson and Hamilton, Bloomsbury Press (United States, 2013), 131.

[5] John Ferling, Jefferson and Hamilton, Bloomsbury Press (United States, 2013), 131.

[6] Sean Wilentz, “Society, Politics, and the Market Revolution, 1815-1848,” The New American History (1970): 64.

[7] Sean Wilentz, “Society, Politics, and the Market Revolution, 1815-1848,” The New American History (1970): 63.

[8] Sean Wilentz, “Society, Politics, and the Market Revolution, 1815-1848,” The New American History (1970): 64.

[9] Sean Wilentz, “Society, Politics, and the Market Revolution, 1815-1848,” The New American History (1970): 67.

[10] Eric Foner, “Free Soil, Free Labour, Free Men: The Ideology of the Republican Party Before the Civil War”, Oxford University Press, (United States, 1970), 12.

[11] Eric Foner, “Free Soil, Free Labour, Free Men: The Ideology of the Republican Party Before the Civil War”, Oxford University Press, (United States, 1970), 129.

[12] Eric Foner, “The Emancipation of Abe Lincoln,” New York Times, (2012): 928.

[13] Eric Foner, “The Emancipation of Abe Lincoln,” New York Times, (2012)

[14] Eric Foner, “The Emancipation of Abe Lincoln,” New York Times, (2012)

[15] Eric Foner, “The Emancipation of Abe Lincoln,” New York Times, (2012)

[16] Eric Foner, “The Emancipation of Abe Lincoln,” New York Times, (2012)

[17] Michael J. Heale, “The Sixties as History: A Review of the Political Historiography,” Reviews in American History 33 (2005): 138.

[18] Michael J. Heale, “The Sixties as History: A Review of the Political Historiography,” Reviews in American History 33 (2005): 139.

[19] LBJ 1991, DVD, PBS American Experience, United States. Directed by Unknown

[20] Mr. Conservatism: Goldwater on Goldwater 2006, DVD, Zeitgeist Films Ltd, United States. Directed by Julie Anderson.

[21] Rick Perstein, Before the Storm, Nation Books (United States, 2001), 146.

[22] LBJ 1991, DVD, PBS American Experience, United States. Directed by Unknown

[23] Rick Perstein, Before the Storm, Nation Books (United States, 2001), 363.

[24] Rick Perstein, Before the Storm, Nation Books (United States, 2001), 363-36.

[25] Rick Perstein, Before the Storm, Nation Books (United States, 2001), ix.

[26] Dennis Deslippe, “ Do Whites Have Rights?”: White Detroit Policemen and “Reverse Discrimination” Protests in the 1970s
,” The Journal of American History, 91(2004):934.

[27]Dennis Deslippe, “ Do Whites Have Rights?”: White Detroit Policemen and “Reverse Discrimination” Protests in the 1970s
,” The Journal of American History, 91(2004):940.

[28] Dennis Deslippe, “ Do Whites Have Rights?”: White Detroit Policemen and “Reverse Discrimination” Protests in the 1970s
,” The Journal of American History, 91(2004):951.

[29] Dennis Deslippe, “ Do Whites Have Rights?”: White Detroit Policemen and “Reverse Discrimination” Protests in the 1970s
,” The Journal of American History, 91(2004):960.

[30]Dennis Deslippe, “ Do Whites Have Rights?”: White Detroit Policemen and “Reverse Discrimination” Protests in the 1970s
,” The Journal of American History, 91(2004):959.

[31] Steven Gillon, The Pact, Oxford University Press (United States, 2008), 10.

[32] Peter Kuznick, Untold History of the United States, Random House (United States, 2012), 484.

[33] Steven Gillon, The Pact, Oxford University Press (United States, 2008), 275.

[34]Patrick Buchanan, “1992 Republican National Convention Speech.” Patrick Buchanan Official Website. Last modified August 17, 1992. http://buchanan.org/blog/the-cultural-war-for-the-soul-of-america-149.

[35] Patrick Buchanan, “The Cultural War for the Soul of America.” Patrick Buchanan Official Website. Last modified September 14, 1992. http://buchanan.org/blog/the-cultural-war-for-the-soul-of-america-149.

[36] Chris Arnade, “What I learned after 100,000 miles on the road talking to Trump supporters” Guardian, 3 November 2016.

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