Conservatives are correct about cultural transformation

Ta-Nehisi Coates has an interesting post over at The Atlantic about Rick Perry’s new ad. In the ad, Perry crams as many culture war issues as he can into 31 seconds: Christians under attack, gays in the military, school prayer, and the War on Christmas.

The ad comes off as the typical culture war paranoia that seems to have gripped huge swaths of the conservative electorate. The culture war wedge is so strong that it manages to seep into all sorts of issues, up to and including climate change for some reason. However, as Coates points out, the conservatives are probably on to something when it comes to their theory that the culture will dramatically change.

As fun as it is to discount conservatives — both in the present and history — as crackpots, they have often correctly predicted forthcoming cultural shifts and fought them vigorously time after time. Perhaps unfortunately for them, conservatives have lost almost every culture war battle that they have ever fought.

They lost on slavery. They lost on segregation. They lost on interracial marriage. They lost on women’s liberation. They lost on abortion. They lost on the secularization of public spaces. They lost on teaching evolution. And so on.

They have not totally lost on these fronts. The discriminatory and bigoted power structures that were constructed prior to these cultural shifts still exist, but they have been considerably weakened and undermined

So when it comes to the current crop of culture war concerns, I suspect conservative fears are completed warranted. When it comes to gay marriage, the following polling data is pretty terrifying for conservatives who hope to keep gay marriage permanently illegal:

In the last year alone, support for gay marriage has shot up in every age and gender group measured in the poll. More troubling for the conservatives is that they have almost completely lost the battle among younger Americans. Those in the 18-34 age group support gay marriage by a whopping 70%, a 16% increase in just a year. Conservatives will lose here; the demographics of the polling make it just a matter of time.

A less pronounced trend can be seen when it comes to cultural secularization. Conservatives no doubt look towards Europe in horror, but we can see a move towards increasing secularization in the United States too. The Pew Data I found on religious affiliation by age group was displayed in a strange way, but the trend is still noticeable. For instance, despite making up only 20% of the population, people aged 18-29 make up 37% of all atheists. Unless people get more religious as they move into middle age, a somewhat more secular population awaits us.

We could also walk through immigration fears and the conservative fears of the destruction of the current American — by which they mean white — cultural dominance. Consider this chart:

Minority births — defined here as anyone but non-Hispanic whites — are slowly creeping over the 50% line. States on the southern border have already passed that line, and other states are soon to follow. According to the Census, Hispanic populations in the United States currently have 9 births for every 1 death, while non-hispanic white populations have only 1 birth for every 1 death. The paranoia that immigration will diminish the hegemony of the white culture in the United States is probably somewhat justified, especially in border states where conservatives are the most heated about it.

In these three cases, conservative paranoia is often mocked, but they are probably right about the forthcoming cultural transformation. Like almost all the other cultural issues they have battled with throughout history, they seem pretty likely to lose on all three fronts too. I think that is a good thing, but I can see how someone who wants to cling on to the current culture (and no doubt the privileges it provides to them) would be terrified enough to take the Rick Perry ad seriously.