The Battle Over the Smithsonian and the Right’s New Culture Wars
As the newly empowered House GOP gears up to start culture wars on issues from reproductive rights for women to religious freedom for American Muslims, there’s an important lesson to be learned from what happened this winter at the Smithsonian. Institutions and individuals will continue to come under attack from the right’s powerful extremist-to-media-to-politician echo chamber. But, as the Smithsonian’s experience showed once again, there is little to be gained by caving in to this loud and usually dishonest bullying. Clough’s attempt at compromise — instantly removing a work of art from an important exhibit — only drew louder threats to censor the exhibit as a whole, while causing some of the Smithsonian’s strongest supporters to lose trust in the institution. Despite what most might hope, the right is not going to stop its culture war campaigns anytime soon. The only thing the rest of us can do is aggressively tell the truth, unapologetically stand on principle, and refuse to back down.
In a report last year, People For the American Way profiled what we call “the new McCarthyism” — a type of demagoguery that hinges on the idea that America and all it stands for is being destroyed by enemies within. This new McCarthyism — in full display in the paranoid tirades of Glenn Beck, in the widespread fear that President Obama is an un-American imposter — has a new foothold in Congress, where Rep. Peter King plans to hold hearings investigating American Muslims and prominent lawmakers spread myths about immigrant “anchor babies” in order to replace real efforts at immigration reform with unfounded fears about immigrants. The House GOP’s fit over “anti-Christian” and — gasp! — gay art in the Smithsonian was a small but powerful example of this dynamic in action. GOP leaders, encouraged by far-right activists, created a narrow definition of what it means to be truly American — straight and a certain type of Christian — and in doing so framed the rest of us as impostors.
More here, as well as links with the Smithsonian backstory.