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  • Sheri Rivlin Allan Rivlin

How to Win the Culture War and the 2024 Election

Learn from Beyoncé, Taylor Swift, and the arts how to stand in the power of our multicultural inclusive democracy and unite a coalition from bold progressives to Reagan, Bush, Cheney Republicans


By Sheri Rivlin and Allan Rivlin

June 7, 2024


This is Part 2 of a series. Part 1 details the stunning achievement of the propaganda and disinformation campaign directed by Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump. Now fully one-third of American voters and a majority of Republicans share the MAGA culture and have made a choice to believe Trump and only Trump and have disengaged from any contradictory news, information, evidence, and political discourse. But macho MAGA culture is not attractive outside Trump’s base, and two-thirds of the electorate could be united by our cultural values of diversity, inclusion, democracy and the rule of law, defending voting rights, women’s rights, abortion rights, and standing up to bullies like Trump and Putin.


How can Democrats win the Culture War … 

We win the culture war by celebrating our culture!!! -- and its power to unite us as Americans across lines of politics, race, and geography. Our culture is strong, very popular, and sending messages the MAGA side of the Culture War hates but most Americans embrace. Taylor Swift, Beyoncé, the Barbie Movie, Hamilton, Zendaya, Bad Bunny, Lady Gaga, Oprah Winfrey, Michelle Obama, Liz Cheney, Lizzo, Simone Biles, Disney princesses and superheroes, Fast and Furious movies, Law and Order SVU, late-night and stand-up comedians, regional and local theater companies, artists, poets, dancers, musicians, museums, and ethnic heritage and cultural societies are delivering messages of diversity, inclusion, equality, and introducing us to many strong characters, a lot of them girls, women, or non-binary standing up to bullies and fighting injustice.

 

Our diversity is our strength. Everyone’s voice should be heard; all of us have stories to tell; and our stories are interesting because they ring true, and our American experiences are all so different. Our culture is now so popular it reaches the mainstream earning huge audiences that include young Americans living in the cities, but also their parents living in the suburbs, and their grandparents living in the deep south. Our culture has created a shared set of values that now reach across the political spectrum, progressive activists, moderate Democrats, and suburban Republican moms all agree racism is ugly, diversity makes America stronger, peaceful protest is every American’s right but there is no place for threats or violence in civil political discourse. American democracy, while far from perfect, is a gift from our ancestors that must be preserved, and men should not make rules about what women can do with their bodies.

 

… and the 2024 Election?

The Democrats win in 2024 by uniting the majority of Americans who share these cultural values into a coalition to stand up to the bullies that are taking away our rights: our right to vote and have our ballot counted, our civil rights, LGBTQ rights, the right to healthcare including reproductive rights, and the right to live in a civil society where the rule of law is obeyed, disputes are settled by truthful reasoned discourse and racism, intolerance of diversity, violence and threats of violence have no place.

 

President Biden, Vice President Harris, and the Democrats must reject bad advice to break faith with the progressive base and move to the center to court swing voters. Democrats need a strong energized base, and they also need non-MAGA Republican, independent, and moderate Democrats to join an inclusive coalition to stand up to the MAGA bullies trying to take away our basic rights. This may seem impossible for people who perceive politics on the level of policy, but it can be very powerful if understood on the level of culture.

 

On the level of policy, difficult choices must be made, dividing voters into groups with opposing points of view, but culture has the power to unite disparate groups. It is not a question of whether someone likes hip-hop or country music when Dolly Parton and Beyoncé can collaborate to update “Jolene” to be not a plea but a warning from a confident strong woman.

Part 1 of this series detailed the cultural signals, disinformation, and propaganda that knitted MAGA together based on their exclusion of other groups. Democrats can overwhelm MAGA at the ballot box with a multicultural response based on inclusion.

   

We are right now in a cultural moment of collaborations and crossovers when all genres are meant to be expanded, merged, and recombined. Artists that have hits in Country, Rock, Pop, Hip-hop, Reggaeton, Reggae, Electronic Dance, etc., etc., immediately start seeking collaborations with artists in other styles to merge their fan bases, but they have to do this with care not to signal a power imbalance, or anything racist, sexist, intolerant of diversity, body type shaming, or in any way objectionable to their fan bases. In the two-thirds of America that is outside the MAGA base our culture is now anti-sexist, anti-racist, and anti-colonial. Our cultural heroes are singing, dancing, and fighting the patriarchy in The Barbie Movie. Taylor Swift is setting an example of female empowerment with her lyrics but also by taking full control of her music and career.  And Beyoncé is telling her “Renaissance” story and asserting her right to create in any genre with “Cowboy Carter.” Our culture is multiracial, multiethnic, gender fluid, LGBTQ positive, inclusive, self-accepting, and self-empowering.

 

You can tell our culture is strong by noting each time it freaks out the MAGA Culture War bullies. The MAGA precursor Tea Party, and Freedom Caucus movements started as a response to Barack and Michelle Obama living in the White House, and of course MAGA was launched on the basis of cruelty to immigrants. Governors like Florida’s Ron DeSantis have tried to out Trump Trump with cruelty to Trans youth and efforts to take control of Disneyland. At the time of the Super Bowl in February, the far-right echo chamber was deranged by the prospect of a Taylor Swift halftime endorsement of President Biden. That was the same day Beyoncé dropped the “Cowboy Carter” album, a shock-and-awe counter-offensive in America’s Culture War. Some country radio stations tried to declare themselves Beyoncé-free for a minute, but the quality, depth, and danceability of the album again proved Queen Bey to be an unstoppable force. The White House used a required annual financial disclosure form last month to release the fact that Beyoncé gifted Vice President Harris two tickets to her 2023 Renaissance World Tour.  

 

Our culture is extraordinarily popular with the young, diverse, progressive voters the Democrats need to energize, but our culture is also popular among the non-MAGA Republicans, independents, and uncommitted Democrats Biden and Harris also need to win decisively in the 2024 election. There are large numbers of voters outside the MAGA cult, that have deep concerns about Donald Trump’s lawlessness, treatment of women, and the threats to US national security. It is disappointing that Nikki Haley has announced her intention to vote for the Republican nominee, but many of the Republicans who used her primary campaign to register their opposition to Trump as the GOP nominee, may well have been in the audience for the Taylor Swift Eras Tour as Haley was, and she told the Hollywood Reporter she saw the Barbie Movie with her daughter and “loved the messaging of it.”

 

Since the Dobbs Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v Wade large numbers of voters, including, many Republican and independent women, have been turning out to vote for abortion rights. Biden, Harris, Democrats, and women’s groups have been preparing for years to turn out their voters on this one issue alone in 2024 by getting referenda and constitutional amendments on the ballot in as many states as possible. Tying abortion rights to other rights under threat (e.g. voting rights, civil rights, LGBTQ rights) adds force to the argument, but the distinction between MAGA and the rest of America is in the power relationship between men and women. While MAGA culture celebrates traditional wives, cheating husbands, and Trump brags about getting away with sexual assault (except when he doesn’t), pro-choice Republican women have jobs and are trying to raise empowered daughters.  

 

A lot of the voters Democrats need to activate have been watching actress Mariska Hargitay battle sex criminals for twenty-five years as Detective Olivia Benson on Law & Order SVU. It is easy to imagine that we were not the only ones to have a fantasy of Detective Benson interrogating Donald Trump about his relationships with women during his various trials. Police procedural dramas (aka cop shows) are a very large part of American culture, and it is rare for the storyline to show much sympathy for suspects that claim the FBI, local prosecutors, and corrupt judges are out to punish the innocent. In addition to pro-choice Republicans and independents there is another group of voters that are open to supporting Biden and these are the national security and law-and-order conservatives.

 

Liz Cheney and the January 6th Congressional Investigative Committee are the bridge between two overlapping groups, national security conservatives and law-and-order conservatives, because they can detail the ways in which Trump has become such a great threat to both law and order and our national security.  Of course, there were veterans and law enforcement officers storming the barricades on January 6th and many police and veterans support Trump, but outside the MAGA disinformation echo chamber there are a lot of members of national security and military families and law enforcement families that understand what’s wrong when, to pick one specific example among many, a former president hides boxes of national military secrets from FBI agents and stores them in publicly accessible places.

 

The Biden/Harris campaign is preparing to pursue these voters aggressively and has just taken on Adam Kinsinger’s former Chief of Staff, Austin Weatherford to be their national Republican engagement director. The real question is what role Liz Cheney chooses to play in the 2024 election, can she bring along her father, former Vice President Dick Cheney, and can he in turn bring along his boss, former Republican President George W. Bush? Republicans who define their political views based on the meaning of conservatism during the Reagan/Bush Administration and the Bush/Cheney Administration are looking for leaders to give direction for their 2024 vote. They believe in the Constitution, the rule of law, and “peace through strength,” a strong military, with strong alliances, and a robust foreign policy standing as a bulwark of democracy around the world. Liz Cheney has a PAC to raise money for ads like this one which uses clips from several presidents including Reagan and Bush to honor the D-Day heroes and warning against a man “consumed by spite, revenge, and self-pity.” We think this is a pretty clear indication she has booked her travel to the Democratic Convention in Chicago.    

 

President Biden is doing his part to win over national security and law and order Reagan/Bush/Cheney conservatives. He has been clear since 2020 that his priority is to “fund the police, not defund the police,” and defends the justice system against Trump’s claims that his trial was the rigged result of a “fascist state.” Biden has been showing strong leadership in standing up to the world’s worst bully, Vladimir Putin. He began his State of the Union address warning of the threat Putin’s Russian military aggression poses to Europe and the world, making the case for stepping up aid to Ukraine and expanding America’s commitment to our democratic allies. This week at Normandy Beach he echoed Ronald Reagan’s D-Day speeches, remembering the sacrifice of the soldiers who gave their lives to fight fascism, and renewing America’s commitments to stand firm with our European Allies.

 

And what about the hats?

A cultural movement to unite American voters to defend American democracy and our basic rights needs a symbol of unity and we suggest this movement should adopt the white Stetson-style cowboy hat embraced by Beyoncé long before the Cowboy Carter album, featured in the Barbie Movie, but also representing the Reagan/Bush/Cheney brand of patriotic conservative leaders. We win the 2024 election by uniting voters on the far left, with the center, political independents, and the Reagan/Bush/Cheney Republicans Trump defeated to seize control of the Grand Old Party (GOP) over the past 8 years.

 

If this plan was put in action, the Democratic National Convention (DNC) would include one night of generals and foreign policy experts who served in the Trump White House warning of the threats posed by Puttin and Trump; one night of strong leaders representing diverse political roles but a common set of values and a commitment to protect women’s rights, and LGBTQ rights, but also the lessons moms teach every five year old: respect for teachers, other children, and the rules of civilized society. The DNC should end with a “We Are the World” moment with Joe Biden and Kamala Harris flanked by celebrities and political leaders like the Squad, Beyoncé, Dolly Parton and Willie Nelson, the January 6th Investigative Committee, Lynn Manuel Miranda, our Democratic leaders, Taylor Swift, Nicki Haley, Bruce Springsteen, Liz Cheney, Dick Cheney, and Jeb and George W. Bush. Would the most progressive political leaders be willing to share the stage with their nemesis Dick Cheney? You better bet they will; this is what multicultural, radical acceptance and inclusivity in defense of Democracy means. And at the end, all of the good guys would be wearing white cowboy hats. 

 

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