Today, contemplating 66 years on this planet, I realize how much mine has been an age of culture war. Yes, I lived through Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty, but from civil rights to same-sex marriage, my political consciousness has been shaped by imperatives of social inclusion. If my father became an economist because of the Great Depression, I became a student of religion because the challenges of my time seemed more moral and spiritual than economic.
The politics of social conservatism has often been viewed by liberals as a means of distracting lower- and middle-class white people from their economic interests. But we liberals have been no less captured by culture war politics. Race, gender, and ethnicity have become the watchwords of an intellectual-academic complex that made social equality rather than economic justice the summum bonum of American society. That’s the culture war of the left.
This year, we are seeing its passing. My three sons work, respectively, in the labor movement, the climate change movement, and the movement for socially responsible investing. They don’t reject the imperatives of social inclusion. Far from it. But taking them for granted, they’re moving on. Their preoccupations are far closer to my father’s than to mine. It’s no wonder that they, like their peers, fell for an old lefty like Bernie Sanders.
It’s possible that liberal millennials have been premature in imagining that social inclusion has been achieved — that all that’s left is a mopping up operation to deal with resistance to same-sex marriage, transgender bathrooms, etc. I’m not so sure.
But they have a better grasp of the challenges that lie ahead than my peers and I, because they are having to make their way in a wired economy and a sclerotic political system and a climate that spells real trouble for civilization in their lifetimes. They understand the Trump voter in a way we do not because there but for the grace of God go they.
For them, the neoliberal verities of the Democratic establishment are almost as hateful as the neoconservative and neo-evangelical verities of the Republican establishment — not because they reject neoliberal social progressivism but because they regard it as hypocritical. For them, Goldman Sachs, Monsanto & Co. cannot be permitted to race-, gender-, and pink-wash their sins away. It’s time to get real about the future of the planet.