Wednesday, November 30, 2016

TrumpLand: It's Not a Culture War, It's an Anti-Propaganda War

Our Urgent Tasks in a Post-Trump Anti-Propaganda War
Robert Oscar Lopez

The election of Donald J. Trump will prove to be far more significant than any of us Trump Train riders might have even dreamed. What looked like a desperate attempt to stave off complete and permanent domination by the American left has actually revealed truths that bear a lot of promise: [1] A large swath of the country is firmly with conservatives on social principles if not on fiscal matters, [2] the libertarian-conservative intelligentsia that demonstrated so much weakness and ineffectiveness for decades is not a valid reflection of conservatism in the population at large, and [3] conservative strategies can work if people are energetic, willing to take risks, and smart.

Perhaps the most important revelation of November 8, 2016, however, was that all of the right wing’s focus on political activism has been overkill. Republicans own America’s political structure; the GOP controls the House, the Senate, and almost 70% of state legislatures and governorships. These gains developed over time, even during the supposed peak liberalism of the early Obama years. So all of our consternation about the threat of a vanishing Republican Party was wasted worry.

If we never needed to spend so much time worrying about politics, why do so many of us on the conservative side still feel like we are immersed in a war with the left? The answer is simple: for all the domination of politics by conservatives, there is a corollary counter-domination of culture by liberals, and for most right-wing people, there is a deep awareness that the cultural exile experienced by conservatives matters and warrants some anxiety.

Trump’s win is important not because it is the final reward for the valiant battles we fought, but rather, because Trump will be the most important weapon in the battles awaiting us in the frontier of culture. This is not the time to rest—the iron is hot right now, so this is the time to strike. If given time unchallenged, the liberal forces arrayed against us will do what they have done in the past, scheming and manipulating and plotting so that when we mobilize, it will be too late again. Our great mistake over the past decades was to summarize these battles as a “Culture War,” when in fact we were not fighting a culture—the left has no culture, only propaganda.

For all of the left’s control of national conversation and entertainment, the left has failed to produce, in 60 years, any sort of compelling values, inspiring way of life, or holistic belief system that could make sense of human experience or instill happiness. The left has given us critiques of the past, vague notions of tolerance and equality, plus a neurotic need for authority figures to punish dissenters under the McCarthyite banners of “bigots,” “haters,” and “un-American fundamentalists.”

We are not culture warriors, we are anti-propaganda warriors. The culture that conservatives hold dear, based on American self-reliance, tradition, strength, and Judeo-Christian beliefs, is strong and well; it is simply buried under layers of the left’s fluffy platitudes and perversions. We need only brush away the propaganda and the culture will thrive again.

Money, Infrastructure, Time

So let’s get to it. How do we combat the left’s enormous propaganda? As someone who was in the trenches during the motherlode of all cultural flashpoints—the debate over same-sex “marriage” and parenting—I have to conclude that there were enormous mistakes made by the conservative movement, which must be addressed. Here are the key problems: (1) We sought to argue with the left in the hopes of winning with better arguments, (2) we trusted our cause to an exclusive clique of leaders better designed to look good to the left than to reflect conservative people truthfully, and (3) we neglected the practical matters of organizing our money, infrastructure, and time.

If we were really fighting a left-wing ideology, perhaps we could invest our hopes in the tenet advanced in Aristotle’s Rhetoric, namely “things which are true and things which are just are by nature stronger” (Book I, l.21). This assumption on conservatives’ part was wildly off the mark (pace Aristotle), for the left never gained its advantageous ground by having better arguments about anything. The left merely took control of the institutions, meeting spaces, money, and personnel who would be able to give them an exclusive platform.

From our misguided belief that the truth could speak for itself and victory would come from mounting better arguments came the folly of investing all our hopes in a tiny cabal of well-groomed and telegenic spokespeople. The same faces appeared again and again, shared millions of times on Facebook on Twitter. I can think of one spokesman for traditional marriage who delivered endless lectures at university campuses and elsewhere; he has been sent to over a dozen countries, in which traditional marriage lost every single time. With book contracts and flawlessly promoted appearances on TV talk shows, he was the embodiment of the right wing’s Peter Principle: keep investing in pretty faces who lose with style, and keep everyone else off the radar because they’re “risky.”

We have got to shift gears and completely re-envision our struggle and what we are doing. This means trusting that we have the truth already so we do not waste copious time repeating the same arguments to ourselves, hoping that some undecided people will overhear and come to our side. This means having a strong offense and a strong defense: With the post-Trump government decidedly within our sphere of influence, we must cut off the supply chain of money, time, and infrastructure that has enabled the left’s propaganda machine, and we have to move quickly to assemble our own arsenal. Going forward, we must be clear that there’s no point arguing with the left on the left’s turf. This is a war of resources, not a war of ideas.

Here are our priorities in order of importance:


When we were fighting against gay marriage, we made a huge tactical error in thinking we had to fight in the courts and media first, trusting that the churches would be safe. I fell for this delusion as well. As I pointed out in a recent conference in London (“The New Normal”), I followed many others’ leads and minimized the churches’ influence on my position, for fear of being tied in people’s minds to “old church ladies telling people what to do.” After half a decade of this, I’ve realized that “old church ladies” are the most important group to get on our side, and we have to have their confidence first. Why? Unlike everybody else, they show up and bring food. On their often unacknowledged labor rested most of the breakthrough moments I saw in the fight against leftist propaganda, not only in the United States but also in France and the United Kingdom.

It is alluring but fanciful to dream of winning over secular feminists and prestigious men in suits, but these would-be partners are notoriously slippery. I tried, for instance to open up a dialogue with innumerable liberal feminists in hopes we could build a coalition. Queer feminists Yasmin Nair, Claire Potter, Cathy Brennan, Sheena Malhotra, and others all reacted to my attempts to engage them in authentic conversation with paranoid recoil, feeling the need to repudiate or even viciously attack me in public lest their liberal allies think they were really in league with me. Other liberal feminists such as Claudia Corrigan D’Arcy and Laura Kipnis were hot & cold interlocutors, willing at times to share thoughts but then prone to close doors on key positions such as defense of life and/or the opposition to sodomy.

From time to time, there would be gay men who looked willing to engage in real discussion. I brought queer theorist Tim Dean to my campus to deliver a speech on Tom Jones in 2013. I agreed to speak on a panel hosted by playwright Tony Abbatemarco after a performance of Forever House. I even exchanged some messages with Frank Ligtvoet, a gay adoptive father, and hired a gay actor to play the lead in the premier of the play I co-wrote with Michelle Shocked, Sunlight. All these attempts ended up leaving me drained and exhausted, because in the end, such crossover discussants always wanted a veto to block discussion of the central issues they considered non-starters. I call this phenomenon “lefty creep.”

Highly esteemed conservative straight men can be nearly as frustrating. If they have sinecures or some kind of emeritus status in the movement, most likely they only want new advocates to emerge if they have personally mentored them. The effect of this is that the movement remains small, incestuous, and dull.

The beauty of church-focused social movements is that they offer a quick route to the grassroots and rely on long-established networks of trust and familiarity. Churches are a good offense against propaganda because of the physical resources alone: for instance, the multitude of multipurpose rooms, reading rooms, furniture, and props that spend much of the American workweek unused. Additionally, churches are a badly needed defensive theater, because the left has spent large amounts of money on promoting a false theology favorable to their pet causes like same-sex marriage. If churches at the local level block people with false theological grounding from taking over pastorates, this will protect the whole conservative movement as anti-propagandists fight on other fronts, such as…


As an academic of two decades, I will state a painful truth: there is no engaging with academia. The universities long ago passed a point of no return and are unsalvageable. Conservatives who have sought to “influence” or “reclaim” parts of academia by mentoring like-minded youths to enter doctoral programs are really just running around in circles. Such tepid attempts at a counter-intelligentsia require too much pre-tenure deception (“hiding” one’s conservative beliefs) and lead, at best, to a tenured sinecure that all but guarantees the protégé will remain cowardly and toothless, or else be converted to liberalism.

On the front of campus life, the task for conservatives is to seize the day with Trump in office, and cut off the pipeline of money into universities. By now it is clear that besides teaching students nothing of value and encouraging embarrassing “protest” displays of ignorance and petulance, universities are extorting trillions of dollars from the country by making their degrees necessary for people to get jobs and then practicing price-gouging. The only reason the entire apparatus looks sustainable is because the federal government funds colleges through 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status on endowments, backing of student loans, and direct grants.

The most important mission is to use our affinities with Congress and Trump to push laws that would (1) strip eligibility for federal funding based on basic criteria like financial responsibility or protection of academic freedom, and (2) disempower accreditation agencies that discourage start-up degree programs and protect the corrupt academic establishment. Remember—the war on academia’s propaganda is not a question of defending any particular idea or of protecting value-neutral concepts like “free speech” or “balance of viewpoints.” This is merely a question of shutting down the channels of support that are propping up an academia that we know we cannot change and which is a blight on the culture.

As an alternative to what exists, we can fight for a regulatory landscape that encourages more trade certificates, associate’s degrees, and master’s degree, while de-emphasizing doctorates and bachelor’s degrees. Also, to any extent possible, we should push the Trump administration to work on phasing out the practice of tenure.

Broadway and Hollywood

The pompous speech delivered by Brendan Victor Dixon, a star of Hamilton, to a theater-going Mike Pence, punctuated an insight that we’ve suspected a long time. Broadway, like Hollywood, is essentially abusive. These heavily institutionalized cultural institutions aren’t even producing good performances anymore. We really don’t need them, and they hate us.

One thing I learned from writing the play Sunlight with Michelle Shocked and premiering it in London on November 11, 2016, was that there’s no big secret to putting on a play. If you have a good script and a couple of people willing to give you a space, even with minimal funding you can put on a good show and captive the audience for a while. Storytelling through acting is something different from purely musical performances, and this distinction is important to note. Christians have made a lot of inroads into the music industry by promoting Christian singers and songwriters, but songs have a very limited economy of narration. You need acting and performed narrative to make a lasting impact on people.

Until now, unfortunately, Christians trying to break into narrative have focused on producing movies like God’s Not Dead for distribution. Films are capital-intensive and often depend on distributors and financiers over whom the creators will have fading influence once the process has started. Plays are directly engaging with the audience and can be easily corrected or tweaked. Also, as stated earlier, conservatives have a great advantage in this arena, because so many churches have spaces that can be used for performances.

The time is now to mount a rival metropolitan area to Hollywood and Broadway. This is the perfect time because both Hollywood and Broadway are overpriced and stale; there are so many people who are restless with their neoliberal preaching, vulgarity, and lack of imagination. Perhaps conservatives could funnel resources into a metro area like Dallas-Fort Worth, which has a large number of sympathetic institutions, or else a medium-sized city such as Jackson, Mississippi, where one could transform a tight geographic area into a site of renaissance. Once you develop and perfect performances they can graduate from stage to cinema.

Right now, with Trump in office, there is a real possibility that we can shut down the funding of biased and corrupt institutions like the National Endowment for the Arts or the National Endowment for the Humanities. With alternative funding we could build up a base of talent, write new stories, and present them as competitors in the marketplace of culture.

Trump won against all odds and let us know that what looks impossible isn’t always beyond our reach. But we cannot lose this rare opportunity—we must strike while the iron is hot and build a foundation on which to construct both our offense and defense against the left’s propaganda. There’s nothing stopping us but our own hesitation.

Robert Oscar Lopez can be followed at English Manif, Twitter, or CogWatch.

Monday, November 28, 2016

My Smug, Gloating, Patronizing Listicle to Help Progressives

Robert Oscar Lopez

My quest to get back to my Army weight was interrupted on a brisk Sunday night, when the health club TVs broadcast CNN’s chatty report of a crowded gathering of progressives in Los Angeles.

“No more whining!” cries a lefty Californian organizer, insisting that there has to be a real progressive movement as strong and original in its thinking as the Trump/Tea Party movement – which made me laugh; the Tea Party movement was more Cruz. LA liberals aren’t particularly good about small details with respect to conservatives, a group representing zero people they deal with on a daily basis.

It would be easy for me—a Trump supporter who liked Cruz but spotted the Donald’s winning combination early on—to pull up a lawn chair and a bucket of popcorn and watch clueless Che wannabes flail and make fools of themselves. Los Angeles, after all, was a place I left like a refugee, having experienced both Clintonista racketeering and incredible lefty racism there, so I was within my rights to gloat somewhat.

But that’s too easy. None of the 136 “scholars and writers for Trump,” among whom I am counted, could go for the easy route. I like to say that we rogue pro-Trump intellectuals (the deplorable hacks) will go down in history as even cooler than the 300 Spartans at Thermopylae.

Also, my wife belongs to the Green Party. I co-authored both a recent book (Jephthah’s Children) and a recent play (Sunlight) with progressive women—Brittany Klein, a self-disclosed Obama voter who went Trump this year, and Michelle Shocked, a Sanders supporter, respectively. Therefore, for the sake of these classy ladies, I owe an advice column for progressives like the people assembled at the Los Angeles confab.

If I can do it, you can too

I was once a thirtysomething grad student angry about the Bush administration’s decision to invade Iraq. There are parallels between the rush to invade Iraq and the rush to legalize same-sex marriage, worth considering. I opposed Bush but what replaced him? During eight years of Obama, the “other side” was much worse. I kept my spirits up and contributed to a new movement that eventually crystallized into Donald J. Trump.

Progressives who feel beleaguered should strive to replicate what happened on the conservative side of the dial, because it feels great. The night Trump won, I felt as though sixteen years of discouragement suddenly lifted and my perseverance paid off. As someone who tasted this triumph, I am happy to share my top six pointers with aspiring progressives.

1.     Dump LGBT

The LGBT movement is to the left what neocons are to the right. For too long, warmongering Republicans kept conservatives captive to their agenda by drawing on the stereotype that supporting them was in our DNA. “I bomb, therefore I am,” was supposed to be a non-negotiable credo of the right. And if we didn’t support foreign expansionism, we hated soldiers or we hated America.

The LGBT movement is similar on the left. The focus on gay and lesbian liberation, then trans equality (whatever that means), has destroyed the left’s ability to focus on the plight of the common man. A tiny fraction of the world population, based in the West, redefines family and dismantles religious chastity for billions of people who depend on traditional kinship, strong gender identity, and sexual restraint to survive in a world where they cannot rely on states to feed them. Does that sound like the left at its best? Of course not. It’s imperialism.

Even domestically, the LGBT agenda has stolen the focus from women’s rights, true civil rights, and especially class—the thing that the left never talks about anymore. To push LGBT agendas, the left must be constantly at war with religion and common sense, policing language to root out “judgment” and stamp out hate (an impossible dream). They must tell girls to be comfortable disrobing in front of trans women with penises in locker rooms, and assure everyone that millions of children will be fine without a mom and dad. The latter clashes with the realities of what children coming out of gay homes actually say, and even the highest profile examples of gay parents like Rosie O’Donnell, Elton John, and Marion Zimmer Bradley.

To imagine a left not smothered in rainbow flags might be difficult right now—but it was once harder to imagine a right-wing movement not itching to jump into war in the Middle East.

2.     Celebrate Manhood

Hillary Clinton’s sex did matter—but it’s complicated. Female trailblazers who go on to break the highest glass ceiling tend to do well as tough rightish gals like Maggie Thatcher, Golda Meir, or Indira Gandhi. People flock to the Elizabeth, Victoria, or Catherine who protects her nation with the ferocity of a Mama Grizzly (pace Sarah Palin). Liberal women who foreground the nurturing, all-forgiving, and bleeding-heart stereotype of womanhood seem likely to flop as leaders even if they can be marvelous wives, mothers, and neighbors. This was Hillary’s dilemma: she wanted to be the first woman president by mirroring soft veneers associated with women.

I am not ashamed to say that I was drawn to Donald J. Trump because he is manly. He doesn’t apologize, he speaks bluntly, he fights, he knows how to handle women (even two ex-wives and a current wife), and he exudes confidence. The reality is that people are drawn to leaders who exhibit these classically masculine attributes. Nothing is going to change the nature of humanity; we like firemen, soldiers, boxers, captains of industry, and a manly Jesus strong enough to carry a cross without curling up in a ball and crying.

During Obama’s presidency, the left sank into a mire of gender confusion, pushing Pajama Boy, male feminism, and hysterically anti-male conduct codes at schools. The endless campaigns against bullying and sexual harassment have seemingly criminalized masculinity. Leftists erred in thinking that the more men repulsed their attempts to feminize them, the more people needed to nag them about sexism and subject them to even more female-centric forms of institutional control: counseling, speech codes, classroom conduct, etiquette, etc.

Imagine a left that isn’t afraid of men. Whatever you picture will be far better than the progressivism of today.

3.     Stop trying to own racial issues

At California State University-Northridge for eight years, I learned the hard way that leftists are terrible at race. I was literally at a Hispanic-Serving Institution that elevated only the crudest Latinos while systematically excluding Latinos who had advanced credentials in important humanities fields like English.

Every racial group the left claims to champion is actually utterly opposed to most of what the left believes. African Americans are largely strict Protestants, Muslims are extremely conservative and religiously exclusionary, Asian Americans refute the leftist myth that upward mobility through hard work is impossible, and Latinos come from macho Catholic countries that enjoy cockfighting, jiggling showgirls in high heels, and a fattening non-vegetarian diet. While the left may be able to frighten these groups into voting for Democrats by telling them the Republicans want to kill them all, this is not a sustainable position on race. The left, driven by the dreams of yoga aficionados and tattooed girls with pink hair, is never able to lose their inner desire to change these minority groups into something more like themselves.

The left doesn’t know these groups because they only interact with them in fake, politically contrived circumstances. It is likely that leftists would start disliking them if they really got to the heart of people of color.

So liberals need to stop playing the race card. Talk about politics in other terms. Let those racial groups gather and set up leaders or spokespeople if they really want to, but lefties need to stop acting like they own people of color, since that’s the mindset that got Democrats into trouble before the Civil War!

4.     Talk about class again

Just look back to 2012, when Romney’s comment about the lower 47% of the country lost him a presidential election. Where have those days gone? Hillary Clinton trucked with Internet millionaires, Katy Perry, and Lady Gaga, while the über-wealthy Donald Trump won the support of Roseanne Barr and actually addressed the needs of unemployed people in Niagara Falls and Appleton (both of which he won!)

The left could serve an important purpose if leftists took on class inequality in all its brutal reality. This means valuing people who don’t go to college or who don’t buy into the prestige system of the university hierarchy. This means diverting resources away from the wonky jobs that proliferate in the beltway (“analyst,” “consultant,” “media expert,” “publicist,” etc.) to people who make things. And no, this does not mean just funding more startups in Silicon Valley to encourage more cell phone apps or web browser accessories. It means teaching people how to replace brake pads, install pipes and electrical wiring, scrub floors, and cook lasagna … for a living, as a trade.

5.     Part ways with academia

The left’s near total domination of the university system was once an advantage. It allowed three generations of left-of-center academics to brainwash hundreds of millions of Americans. But it has all broken down now, and it’s backfiring. The universities have become the biggest swamp of all, driving massive social inequality, under-educating students, plundering parents and taxpayers for trillions. It is hard to picture a left that isn’t completely driven by paid intellectuals, but here it is useful to note that the Trump revolution happened away from the leafy quads.

“The revolution will not count for credit.” If the academy turns left, turn right. If the academy turns right, turn left. Whatever the professors do, true progressives need to veer in the opposite direction. Going forward, any time they hand over their movement to Harvard and Stanford experts, they are tainted by academia’s embarrassing problems, of which the greatest is the present-day academy’s hatred of free speech, intellectual diversity, and democracy.

6.     Shut up and listen

Those of us who rode the Trump train had become very good listeners by the time Trump emerged as a viable candidate. That’s because one commonality uniting us was our past experience having been ignored, silenced, and rendered invisible. We learned how to listen because we weren’t allowed to speak. I, for one, was actually on GLAAD’s blacklist of people forbidden to speak in a public venue at all. Years of being gagged taught us to use our ears. We realized that by listening, we could figure out where pockets of people sympathetic to us were hiding. We could read between the lines when CNN or some polling racket tried to tell us that our dreams were unattainable. We developed a savvy ability to deconstruct propaganda being thrown at us. And people didn’t really know who we were or what we were thinking, so we benefited from the element of surprise.

Listening is not a strong suit for the left. They have to shut up and listen because their way out of the wilderness has yet to be revealed to them. None of us can predict what the new-New Left will look like. Like Trump’s revolution, it will develop its contours against expectations, on a timetable we cannot schedule with certainty years before the fact. Hopeful leftists will have to live with the protective cover of silence for a while and be open to new lines of action they might have never dreamed of. Perhaps they will not be leftists in the end, but something else entirely.

Since I must now go to bed next to my beloved Green Party wife, I can say, I love the left enough to hope they will become something much better than Hillary Clinton.

Robert Oscar Lopez can be followed at CogWatch, EnglishManif, or Twitter.