Whose Fault Is the ‘Cultural Divide’?

When conservative pundits can't agree on the dynamics of ‘lower-class’ dysfunction, perhaps it's time to bring in Cliff Huxtable and the queen of talk.

The Cultural Divide

“America is coming apart,” American Enterprise Institute scholar Charles Murray wrote at The Wall Street Journal last week. The problem is one of “cultural inequality,” Murray said, and it reveals itself in “a new upper class with advanced educations, often obtained at elite schools, sharing tastes and preferences that set them apart from mainstream America” and in “a new lower class, characterized not by poverty but by withdrawal from America’s core cultural institutions.”

Murray roots working class decline, not in macro-economic factors like the loss of manufacturing jobs, but in social policy developed during the 1960s that he says “made it economically more feasible to have a child without having a husband if you were a woman or to get along without a job if you were a man; safer to commit crimes without suffering consequences; and easier to let the government deal with problems in your community that you and your neighbors formerly had to take care of.”

His solution to this alleged cultural divide is the affirmation of core “civic virtues” like marriage, industriousness, and religiosity. Not only should they be advanced by the working class folks who adhere to them, but he says, “Married, educated people who work hard and conscientiously raise their kids shouldn’t hesitate to voice their disapproval of those who defy these norms.”

That ought to go over well with the young’uns.

Restoring American Dynamism

Fellow conservative David Brooks took a different approach to the problems faced by a hypothetical economically disadvantaged woman in his January 23 column at The New York Times. Brooks advocated “a two-pronged approach” to “restoring American dynamism” that includes “more economic freedom combined with more social structure; more competition combined with more support.” This translates into a simpler tax code, corporate tax cuts, streamlined regulations, flexible immigration policy, and a long-term balanced budget, as well as a host of measures that support education and more child care options for families.

Sounds reasonable.

Comparing Costs

At The American Conservative, Rod Dreher struck an even more moderate tone, rebuking Newt Gingrich’s “food stamp president” remark by reminding readers that SNAP benefits have doubled since 2008 because “the country suffered its worst economic collapse since the Great Depression!” Dreher contrasted SNAP spending with the estimated $107 billion bill that the Pentagon will present this year to U.S. taxpayers for what he regards as a futile war in Afghanistan.

Thank God for comedians …

Smoking Out the Satirical in Progressive Elitism

At The Weekly Standard, humor writer P.J. O’Rourke charged progressives with hating poor people. He was riffing on Maine’s new ban on smoking in all public housing, but he applied the critique WIDELY. Here’s a single satirical sentence that Murray might consider when pondering cultural divisions:

“Smoking kills smokers, which is about what they deserve for engaging in such lowbrow, wrong-headed, retarded, vulgarian activity, except they get sick first and that drives up the cost of a single-payer national health care system, plus their second-hand smoke is worse yet because it is a, yuck, inhalation hand-me-down from uncouth people who probably haven’t flossed, and it kills progressive elites who don’t even know anyone who smokes while also releasing greenhouse gases and stinking up the cheery curtains that elites hang in public housing group activity areas to brighten the lives of the underprivileged who are confined to concrete tower blocks with six-by-eight-foot living rooms, seven-foot ceilings, plexiglass windows, and sheet-metal doors with a dozen locks on them.”

Linament Salesmen and Other Ills

Speaking of humor, in a new interview with The Root, comedy legend Bill Cosby took on those who criticize him for “airing dirty laundry” about the Black community when he denounces its social dysfunctions, calling them “liniment salesmen.” He also expressed his concerns about teen pregnancy, Black-on-Black crime, and illiteracy. “I’m telling you that I’m worried and very, very concerned today when a mother, speaking about the son being in jail, says, ‘I’m happy. He’s in a safe place.’ You cannot take that casually,” Cosby warned, and that’s not funny at all.

Winfrey the Non-Conformist Anomaly

Leave it to media mogul Oprah Winfrey to defy them all. In an interview with India’s NDTV, Winfrey said that she and Stedman Graham would have been divorced by now if they had gotten married. “I really am my own woman and I don’t really conform very well to other people ideas about who and what I should be and being married calls for some conformity,” said Winfrey. But then, these guys would probably say she’s the exception that proves the rule.

What do you think?

Is there a cultural divide between a new upper class and a new lower class. If so, who’s to blame and what, if anything, is to be done about it?

About the author, Christine A. Scheller

Christine A. Scheller is UrbanFaith's News & Religion editor. In past articles, she has explored her personal journeys in urban ministry and racial diversity. Email her at cascheller@explorationsmedia.com if you have news tips or story ideas.
  1. I’m not sure anyone can point fingers blaming anyone else for the cultural divide. You can probably find enough blame to go around. I’m a firm believer in sweeping around our own front doors. The immorality in our own community has definitely contributed to the problems we face. When I say immorality, I’m talking about sexual immorality, teen pregnancy, drugs, gangs, fatherlessness, abortion, bad elements of the rap culture, etc. Then there’s the expectation for government to make up the difference for our missteps.

    In the larger society, there is a greater divide between the rich and the poor. To a great extent this has happened due to the economic downturn that occurred as a result of the housing and banking crisis. This happened because of the greed of many folks and bad decisions on the part of banks and folks receiving loans they could not afford.

    The rhetoric of our political climate has also contributed to this divide. Both sides are guilty of this, not just conservatives.

    Lastly, we the church probably are to blame for some of this as well. We truly have the Answer, but too many leaders have their own agendas. Like I said earlier, I believe there’s enough blame to go around!

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