Over the past few days, there’s been considerable discussion of the cultural power of the left and the political power, for now, of the right. The idea, as I understand it, is that while the left dominates the culture industries and elite academia, its devotees resent the fact that self-described conservatives are firmly in the driver’s seat of the federal government. This disconnect between the left’s cultural power and its lack of political power to match is experienced by some liberals as a sign that something has gone gravely wrong. Many conservatives, meanwhile, sense that even when they do manage to win elections, they still find themselves disempowered by a cultural climate that, to their mind, is hostile to their values and sensibilities. Conformity with liberal beliefs is, according to this line of thinking, a prerequisite to membership in the polite elite. It’s a conflict dramatized, in the past week, by the controversies swirling around an unlikely pair of stars: Kanye West and Taylor Swift.
Shortly before the 2016 presidential election, The New York Times columnist Ross Douthat observed that though the left has always had a disproportionate presence in the commanding heights of culture, “the swing toward social liberalism among younger Americans and the simultaneous surge of activist energy on the left have created a new dynamic, in which areas once considered relatively apolitical now have (or are being pushed to have) an overtly left-wing party line.” This, he argued, has engendered a sense of panic and resentment among those who don’t embrace social liberalism, and as a consequence, “the feeling of being suffocated by the left’s cultural dominance is turning voting Republican into an act of cultural rebellion.” At the time, I recall that Douthat’s argument was widely ridiculed, especially among those who found the notion that Donald Trump might win the White House risible. That has changed.