America Is Built on a Great Culture. Progressives Want to Abandon It | Opinion

Here's a dirty secret: Great nations rest on a great common culture. I say it's a secret because it's become almost taboo to discuss this historic fact; progressives across the globe have turned decisively against national legacies, and it's progressives who by and large dictate mainstream culture. But if the Democratic Party wants to avoid further electoral disasters like those in Virginia, Long Island and elsewhere, it would do well to relearn the obvious truth that a common culture that binds us is not only good and necessary, but popular.

Though it's chic these days in progressive circles to oppose the notion of a common culture, there's nothing inherently at odds between this idea and the progressive agenda writ large. Great progressives like Eugene Debs, George McGovern or Martin Luther King were critics of America but also patriots. Phrases like "death to America"—recently tweeted by the student body President of Kansas University—or the Seattle DA's tweet that "I for sure hate this country" would have been as foreign to Dr. King as support for political violence. Yet things have gotten so out a wack that the National Archive felt the need to warn us that our founding documents like the Constitution and Declaration of Independence contain what they call "harmful language."

But this version of liberalism is not just alien to progressives of old. Only a very small fraction of Americans, well under 10 percent, consider themselves progressive, and most reject the view of America as uniquely fallen. And the prevalence of the "woke" view in the media and popular culture, despite how marginal it is in American society, goes a long way toward explaining the Democrats' astounding losses at the polls last week.

This is really an argument about history, at the end of the day. Can we have a shared national culture is another way of asking if we can have a shared interpretation of our past. And the answer right now seems to be no. Consonant with its view of America as fallen, the (tiny) progressive Left believes that American history is uniquely shameful and racist, a view that provides the rationale for separating third graders by race and asking them to rank their "privilege." And despite their small numbers, the progressives have the educational and corporate establishment behind them.

What they don't have is the support of parents, who are clearly in rebellion. Increasing numbers are home schooling, or shifting to charters and private schools. And contrary to the progressive myth around this, it's not because they don't want to teach the tragedies within American history, or the changing nature of America. It's not that these parents don't believe instruction these days requires a greater emphasis on the role of ethnic minorities; it's that they believe this instruction should not reduce minorities to victims but should cast them as what they are—contributors to our national culture and economy within an admittedly imperfect system.

New York City statue defaced
MANHATTAN, NY - JUNE 30: Statues at New York City Hall defaced and painted. Two of the statues were painted black while the other one has the letters put on it of "Justice.' Ira L. Black/Corbis via Getty Images

Ultimately, contrary to the the view of much of our academia and media, America is not a country based on racial commonality but a set of political notions. You know this is true because of the pull our nation has for immigrants; New Latin, African or Asian immigrants come to America for something different than what they had at home. They are seeking out our national ethos, best described by Frederick Jackson Turner 130 years ago: "a restless nervous energy" applied by a "dominant individualism."

Sadly, it is now the fashion to denounce things like hard work, punctuality, individualism and family as "white." But minorities, particularly immigrants, often show a greater proclivity to start businesses than many Americans and are generally more culturally conservative, both in the U.S. and the U.K., than the native born. Asian parents in particular have reacted negatively to motions to remove standards for academic high schools, which blame successful Asians for adopting "white supremacist thinking" as a San Francisco school board member put it.

Particularly concerning is the assault on math and science, where immigrants and their children now predominate. Science itself, as former Obama advisor physicist Steve Koonin notes, is becoming increasingly politicized. On campuses, militant groups like "Shut down STEM" seek to recalibrate science and math and even such seemingly innocent fields as astronomy to fill the progressive critique of western advances.

Meanwhile, the ideas critical to the operation of a diverse society—the rule of law, debate, objectivity—are now increasingly replaced by post-modernist ideas about race and gender, something the Biden Administration sadly seems to have embraced. And the media, rather than oppose illiberalism, now celebrates it. In too many cases, notes long-time liberal writer Andrew Sullivan, "the narrative replaces the news," often using convoluted, opaque and awkward language that would have offended a good socialist like George Orwell.

The good news is that Americans are pushing back, including people on the Left. The public now disdains the media at historic levels. The ratings for all the networks—particularly the ultra-politicized CNN—have cratered, while Hollywood's politically correct movies have done poorly. Hollywood's party line progressive orthodoxy clearly repels many Americans.

Corporate America might like to claim that embracing "social justice" as defined by the activist Left is good for business, but there's little proof that's true; Fox News's late night host Greg Gutfeld now enjoys higher ratings than his far more well-established network counterparts, while the anti-woke comedian Dave Chappelle has gotten rave notices from audiences, if not the party line-conforming critics. And the Daily Wire, a conservative website, commands more Facebook engagement than the New York Times, Washington Post, NBC, and CNN combined. By contrast, the well-funded progressive sites, Buzzfeed and VICE have been suffering with major layoffs and reduced valuations.

All of this points toward a hunger among Americans for a return to a shared culture and shared history—the one abandoned by the would-be cultural arbiters.

A shift in culture can't come fast enough; we're already seeing a large drop in patriotism among the young. Already more than one in three young people are lukewarm about their country and more than two in five favor such things as censorship of unpopular views, according to the Pew Research Center.

We need to recognize the genius inherent in our republic once again. Re-segregation as an ideal may be popular on the far Left but interracial dating and marriage are growing rapidly, and most minorities, like their white counterparts, now live in suburbia. The fastest growing race in America is mixed; one in ten babies born in the U.S. have one white and one non-white parent and 12 percent of all African-Americans are now immigrants from Africa, the Caribbean and elsewhere.

We are becoming, as Walt Whitman put it, "a race of races." This remains our country's promise, if we restore our lost sense of common purpose, and our belief in the American experiment.

Joel Kotkin is the Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University and executive director of the Urban Reform Institute. His new book, The Coming of Neo-Feudalism, is now out from Encounter. You can follow him on Twitter: @joelkotkin.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own.