At the grocery store the other day, I found myself in the checkout line behind an old man whose T-shirt showed an electoral map of the country. The caption for red states said “United States of America”; for blue states, it said “Dumbfuckistan.” Like me, this man lives in California, which has a strong economy, low unemployment, the nation’s best public-university system, and some of the most innovative tech companies. But along with other blue states, it was being assaulted as a land of “dumbfucks,” while red states were praised as the “real” America.
In the parking lot afterward, as the man loaded his groceries into a luxury SUV, I stared at him, unable to get past the message he was trying to convey to people like me: that he and I were not fellow Americans, working to form a more perfect union, but rather citizens of two battling nations. This wasn’t just a political statement, it was propaganda—and it was emblematic of the current culture war.
The trenches of this war are getting deeper. In July, two Republican senators, Tom Cotton and David Perdue, introduced the RAISE Act, a bill that would effectively cut legal immigration by 50 percent over the course of a decade. According to its sponsors, the bill would spur economic growth and raise workers’ wages by limiting competition from newcomers. It would establish a point system for all prospective immigrants, place restrictions on the type of relatives they can sponsor, add an English-language test, eliminate the diversity visa lottery, and limit the number of refugees.
But this legislation will not necessarily help the economy, simply because employers’ needs range widely, depending on the industry. In California, for example, tech and agricultural workers are both vital to the state’s economic health. Furthermore, automation and declining unionization, not just immigration, have been shown to be strong contributing factors to declining wages. What the bill will do, however, is limit the arrival of relatives through family reunification, close our doors to refugees, and give an immediate advantage to immigrants from English-speaking countries. The RAISE Act may or may not make the economy stronger, but it will probably make the country whiter.
Outside the Senate, the culture war is being fought on many fronts. At the Justice Department, Jeff Sessions has been critical of consent decrees—reform agreements with police departments that are accused of abuses—saying they “reduce the morale of police officers.” Sessions’s attorneys have also filed a brief in federal court arguing that the 1964 Civil Rights Act does not protect workers from discrimination on the basis of their sexual orientation. At the Education Department, Betsy DeVos is currently reconsidering the responsibilities that colleges and universities have under Title IX to investigate campus rapes. And on July 26, Donald Trump abruptly announced on Twitter that transgender service members would be banned from the military.