On Sunday, Breitbart published a column by Susan Berry, who began by invoking the web site’s late founder: “Andrew Breitbart famously said, ‘Politics is downstream of culture,’” she began, using the hyperlink to direct readers to this Red State post:
Andrew Breitbart, the late ever-controversial right-wing gonzo journalist (not to be confused with the dreary Trump-propaganda organ that now bears his name) used to have a saying that “politics is downstream of culture.”
- People’s political opinions are mostly not thought-out or analytical so much as an expression of what they think is valuable, cool, scary, smart, stupid, impressive to their friends.
- People generally put more of their hearts and free time into cultural pursuits—from mass media and video game consumption to churches, schools, museums, gun clubs, bowling leagues, etc.—than political ones, so the attitudes that pervade the larger spaces of their lives affect the smaller ones, not just in what they believe but who they know and trust.
- Young people in particular are much more into getting their values and their “facts” from cultural rather than explicitly political sources.
After approvingly linking to that article describing today’s Breitbart as a dreary, Trump-propaganda organ, Berry proceeded with her own Breitbart article:
Andrew Breitbart famously said, “Politics is downstream of culture,” and while establishment Republicans seem unwilling to defend America’s culture and values on many fronts, President Donald Trump is already changing the country’s politics by taking back its culture from progressives.
She then offered seven examples: Trump banned transgender people in the military; signed an executive order pertaining to abortion; signed another executive order on religious freedom; signed a bill that affects state funding of Planned Parenthood; appointed a Supreme Court justice; made sound appointments to the Department of Health and Human Services; and vowed to defend law enforcement.
Notice that Berry inverted Andrew Breitbart’s claim: She cited what are largely political actions, arguing that cultural change is downstream from them.
The inadequacy of the metaphor is part of the problem here. Streams always flow in one direction. Culture often influences politics, but culture is often influenced by politics, too. In fact, much of the Republican Party has gambled that political gains they expect from the Trump administration outweigh the cultural costs that Trump is exacting.