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Do conservatives actually want a cultural renaissance?

By Matthew Delaney 

I hope I’m not the only one rolling my eyes as conservatives pat each other’s backs for their recent success on late night shows. 

Fox News’ Greg Gutfeld outperformed top man Stephen Colbert in a recent ratings report for all viewers. Now, the numbers won’t wow you, but Gutfeld did rank higher and earned bragging rights, at least for the week. 

If you watch any of Gutfeld’s shows, however, you’d be hard-pressed to understand why it’s a better alternative. He does opening monologues with the same wince-worthy jokes as Colbert. Instead of bringing in celebrity guests, he turns to his panel to have them quip about Chrissy Teigen or “cancel culture” while Gutfeld and Kat Timpf, a show regular, splice in try-hard comments. Then they return to preaching about their beliefs like every other fun-dit. 

It’s a carbon copy of the shitty late-night shows on network TV. The only difference is the crowd doesn’t feel compelled to laugh as hard. Maybe it’s because they’re conservatives — you know, the people who say they live in reality and judge everything off the merits. They’re not going to give away laughs like those liberal NPC audiences would! Their muted chuckles seem to tell us how much they like the product geared toward them.  

I bring this up because we’re given two options of the kind of content we can consume: left-wing or right-wing content. That’s why there’s The Onion, and then The Babylon Bee. Or just like how there’s YouTube and then Rumble. It’s the same junk with the roles and biases reversed. More importantly, it’s trite and boring and does nothing to win over hearts and minds to their cause — something conservatives say is crucial (more on that shortly). 

Although I can’t say I really blame conservatives for being unoriginal. Their entire philosophy is, in a nutshell, about preserving tradition. How do you make tradition cool…again? You don’t, at least not intentionally. People return to tradition during unstable times to find comfort. With the pandemic being masked as a Great Reset, there’s been a countercurrent resisting that by getting off the grid, becoming minimalist, and turning to God.  

The rebellious nature of this movement is what makes it cool. We shouldn’t conflate this simpler life with being conservative or caring about politics for that matter. It’s a response to a world that’s becoming increasingly hostile toward certain beliefs. Many of the most public conservative figures, whether in the media, think tanks or Congress, are firmly invested in the world we live in. They’re playing a part. 

It’s why their attempts to steer the culture toward a more “favorable” direction fall flat.  

Places like media outlet The Daily Wire say their prevailing mission is to win back the culture. They’re producing movies and hiring their own investigative journalists to influence the realms of information and entertainment. They want to win your heart and your mind. 

Yet they don’t seem to represent what we’re looking for. Ben Shapiro listens to classical music and didn’t get laid until he was 23. He sometimes joins other guys in sport coats to smoke cigars and talk with the token conservative black girl, Candace Owens. I think people respect Shapiro’s intellect, but he’s mostly a resource for them, not a role model. His version of life is a bit too square (and tacky) for the masses, and I’d bet that’s not the best starting point to re-do our culture. 

Everything trickles down from our pagan religion of politics. Republicans are shallow-minded legislators who care more about stopping things from happening than building anything meaningful. You see, that’s why we don’t have a Democratic party and a Republican party. What we have is the Democratic Party and the Not-Democratic party. 

Democrats want abortion; The Not-Democrats say no. Democrats want public healthcare; the Not-Democrats say no again. The Democrats want open borders; the Not-Democrats say, you guessed it, no. 

If the “gods” of one side of the aisle are unimaginative scrooges, then it sets the tone for their adherents. Just as the “gods” of the other side are vindictive sirens that bribe you into loyalty by freezing evictions and pausing student loan payments. I told you all a few weeks ago that your political worldview needs to be represented in reality for this very reason. Ideas and principles don’t do much when the other side offers people something tangible, like money.   

The one thing the right has going for it is they’ve assumed the ‘pro-freedom’ mantle. Democrats have made freedom toxic, and by doing so, have insulted your ability to make your own decisions. People don’t like being belittled. So, it’s given Republicans an opening to portray themselves as the protectors of basic dignity. 

The conservative media and entertainment infrastructure has rallied around that position and welcomed some politically homeless people as a result. 

I admit, I’m a zealot for free speech. It’s the most passive form of liberty. If you can’t communicate freely, then people turn to their fists or their guns to get their message across. When that’s not an option, you become Cuba or China. It’s cliche to put it this way, but it really is a slippery slope from “you shouldn’t say that” to “you have no right to say that” and the atrocities that undoubtedly follow. 

So, I’ve appreciated that conservative infrastructure can provide this oasis from the soft, left-wing oppression that makes up the background noise of our culture. I’m sure you have, too. But I sense that many of you don’t think of yourselves as conservatives. I don’t either. My political views are a mixed bag. I’m pro-gun as much as I am pro-social safety net. Above all else, I try not to treat one person’s stance on a single issue as a sign of their moral worth. That’s what normal people do. 

Sometimes, it feels as if there’s only two versions of America to fit into. By going along with it, we’re feeding the “cats vs. dogs” dynamic that drives us further apart. It’s an unhealthy mix where we stay in constant opposition mode, looking for the next way to cancel or troll someone to get high fives from our pals on the sideline.  

But we’re fatigued from the way things are. We genuinely want to see the good in one another. We’re just reflexively apprehensive to any kind of divergence from identifiable left-wing and right-wing talking points. When the stakes are so high that a misunderstanding can mean a lost job or tarnished reputation, people will rather stick to their circles than risk dabbling in nuance. 

If I were a conservative who wanted to influence the culture, that’s the angle I would take. Not try to deliberately craft a society around what I think the values should be but use their platforms to elevate non-conservative thinkers (in more ways than interviews about how they hate political correctness or wokesters). 

Ironically, a set of ideas becomes the center of gravity in a culture when it makes space for other ideas. Look at how popular Joe Rogan is — and he doesn’t stand for anything! People want to feel heard and will ally with whoever gives them that chance.  

That means breaking our “lib vs. con” paradigm, too. Sure, you might not get a purely conservative product in return. However, as I’ve already covered, that belief system has become more about what it’s against than what it actually stands for. Embracing those outside of your own network is the only way for the public to associate your values as part of the way forward and incorporate them into our reshaping culture. Any reticence to that can come across as conservatives being mad it isn’t “their turn” to manipulate society to their liking. 

So, what’s it going to be? The new way forward, or keep waiting until left-wingers come up with a new idea and then give it to people in a red box instead of a blue one? Having freedom on your side is a gift of true consent. Though I wouldn’t blame conservatives for sticking to the script. That raucous crowd on Greg Gutfeld’s show is proof they’re on to…something.

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Matthew Delaney


Matthew Delaney is a local journalist based in Washington, D.C. When he’s not questioning why he joined the media, he’s doing his part to restore some of its credibility with quality work

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