OPINION | JOHN BRUMMETT: Tactical, not practical

Culture means way of life. A culture war occurs when hostilities break out between colliding ways of life seeking dominance over each other.

We don't have a culture war in Arkansas. Instead we have unilateral cultural assault by the powerful mainstream culture against cultures of the weak and different few.

The assault is official, coming in the form of government laws that formally disapprove, ostracize, discriminate and generally punish.

There is no clear and present danger to the mainstream local culture from a drag show, a gender-uncertain youth, a private business choosing not to deal with the gun or fossil-fuel industries, or the idea that racism in America is no longer a matter of individual hearts, but of long patterns of discrimination embedded still in our systems and institutions.

The culture warriors of the mainstream are motivated much less by what they see, know and experience than by what they fear--by what they hear that "they" are doing out there in the sin hotbeds of cities and colleges.

Perhaps you heard the story out of Iowa and a few other Midwestern states that a public school had installed kitty litterboxes in classrooms in sensitivity to students identifying as cats.

The "experts," if you accept that there are experts in such things, explained that the rumor--do I need to make clear it was false?--took life because people can't resist the titillation of telling it.

They say it serves a dual partisan purpose. First, it pokes invigorating fun at the thing feared, meaning these gender declarations differing from birth certificate assignments. Second, it damages the emerging change by taking seriously a supremely silly supposed natural progression.

When the local legislator comes around to ask constituents what's on their minds, they say it's the dark cloud moving in with all these new and different ways of life.

Then legislators descend on Little Rock, and, when nothing is happening early in the session because it takes time to write complicated school and crime legislation, they fill the void by introducing their culture-war bills in service to their constituencies' fears.

They're all aflutter currently to punish drag shows as threats to decency and fortify the daughters' bathrooms against guys declaring themselves girls to get eyefuls.

This kind of thing is not new.

In the early '80s we had a bill to stop the long-haired musicians from the supposed menace--false, need I say?--of putting satanic messages in their songs when their recordings were played backward.

The difference is that, now, Republicans nationwide have degenerated from Barry Goldwater's rugged independence and Ronald Reagan's conservative optimism to Donald Trump's resentful bluster blended with Marjorie Taylor Greene's insanity.

One of their brighter young operatives, trained at the knee of Trump, has gotten herself elected governor of Arkansas.

The effect is that Arkansas is now governed by tactical cultural fear rather than practical reality.

A political party known not long ago for a message that we must end big government is now making big-government laws to stop bugbears. A political party known not long ago for devotion to the free market now wants to say a firm can get no state business if it chooses with its own money not to do business with firms in the fossil-fuel and gun industries.

Let me close with a word about so-called critical race theory.

There is a field of thinking emerged in recent decades that racism is no longer a matter of individual hearts, which have generally improved on race, but of systemic or institutional manifestations of a racist past that the civil rights laws haven't reached.

For example, a police department can have a Black chief and scores of Black officers but still be systemically racist. Embedded business and political processes can enable by inertia that poor Black neighborhoods get zoned for liquor stores and convenience marts while affluent white neighborhoods get zoned for Apple stores and fresh-food supermarkets.

Generally speaking, public school kids aren't ready for that kind of challenge to comfortable thinking. And they're not being burdened with it in our schools.

But, just as some of the higher- achieving high school kids can handle advanced-placement math--I think they called it "modern analysis" when I eschewed it for Typing II a half-century ago--some of our brightest kids could handle a 12th-grade elective inviting modern analysis of this theory that Americans with kind and evolving hearts can be part of racist institutions and systems.

Now we're apt to see a bill to keep a guy from saying something like that in a newspaper.

John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat- Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame. Email him at jbrummett@arkansasonline.com. Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.

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