What do NBC and ESPN’s decision to cut ties with Donald Trump in retaliation for his comments about Mexican immigrants, the South Carolina House’s vote to take down the Confederate flag, and a Harrisburg newspaper’s decision to “very strictly limit” letters and op-eds opposing same-sex marriage have in common? They’re all signs of a historic shift: Political views that were once controversial are now unacceptable.
We’ve seen such shifts before. Until the 1960s, supporting legal segregation of the races was a respectable position among both conservative Democrats and Republicans, and was championed by such intellectual eminences as William F. Buckley. After Congress passed the civil- and voting-rights acts, it no longer was. Until the 1980s, prominent conservatives defended apartheid South Africa as a staunch U.S. ally besieged by Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress, which the Reagan administration classified as a terrorist group. After apartheid ended, Mandela became the equivalent of Martin Luther King, a man revered by left and right alike.
It’s not just conservatives who have been forced to abandon once mainstream opinions in the wake of political and cultural change. In the 1930s, prominent progressive intellectuals and artists spoke admiringly about communism and the Soviet Union. Once the Cold War dawned in the late 1940s, such views cost some of them their jobs. In the 1960s, some New Left thinkers and activists denounced monogamy and organized religion—and condemned not just the Vietnam War, but anti-communism itself. By the more culturally conservative 1980s, such views were confined to an academic fringe.