For years now, Americans have engaged in culture wars, typically over gay rights, abortion, feminism, an imperiled Christianity, bathrooms and Confederate monuments, all perhaps as contrived as the “winners,” usually declared to be “leftists” and “lie-brals,” and “losers,” the poor victimized “right and righteous.” Those clashes still roil our society. Yet in a crucial sense, they were never real, just an emotional way to inflame Americans and disguise a lack of substance. Bathrooms? Really?
In September 2017, letter writer Aimee Fried accused me of wanting to remove Confederate monuments and of brainwashing “kids” and “millennials” into a misplaced anger over the election of Donald Trump [“Movement to Remove Monuments Is Misguided,” Sept. 27, Xpress]. Fried’s outrage knows no bounds. It’s because of “highly biased professors” like me that there’s so much “anger and violence today”; startling to know I have so much power over so many. Zeb Vance, Robert E. Lee, Donald Trump and others should be acknowledged as “great Americans” who shouldn’t be put in “a proverbial box” because of a little bit of “racism.” Moving right along, Fried asserts “none of us is perfect.” What an insight.
Yet Fried’s shrill outrage is as phony and invented as is her knowledge of how I really feel about Confederate monuments. After all, if she had read that part of my book on Madison County about ol’ Zeb, the place where Vance grew up or my discussion of his Confederate governorship and afterward in my The Tar Heel State: A History of North Carolina, or, even more pointedly, an article I wrote on “Of Monuments and Men,” she would know differently. Still, in her Trumpian world, facts don’t matter.
Fried derives her phony outrage from a Corpus Bannonteum playbook that passionately believes “radical, culturally Marxist” professors have exercised real power in the world and, as easy targets, should be attacked. It’s all part of a populist anti-intellectualism now prevalent in American society, one that derides public education in general and a “higher” college one specifically. Brainwashed by “biased” leftist professors, poor college “kids” are “cowed” into “politically correct views” they otherwise wouldn’t have, seduced into taking unnecessary classes, thus incurring an insurmountable debt they’ll never be able to pay. Thus, all the cultural problems we have — racism, sexism, gender issues and bathroom choices — wouldn’t exist, all the monumental “great Americans” like Vance, Lee and Trump would be properly celebrated and our deepest historical wounds healed. We would all then help “Make America Great Again.”
Yet perhaps the saddest part of all this shadowboxing is that Fried and others actually take their claims seriously without examining the gap between their moral poses, actual policies and reality itself. There are no winners on either the right or left, only a distraction while the real victors, mega-leviathans like Facebook, Amazon, Twitter, Google, Yahoo, Chase and Goldman Sachs do far more to shape our culture than a few college professors or our phony, contrived “wars.”
— Milton Ready