There is no way Trump could be a credible combatant in the culture war as it existed for the last 40 years. But he has re-oriented the main lines of battle away from issues related to religion and sexual morality and onto the ground of populism and nationalism. Trump’s culture war is fundamentally the people versus the elite, national sovereignty versus cosmopolitanism and patriotism versus multiculturalism.
It’s the difference, in a nutshell, between fighting over gay rights or immigration, over the breakdown in marriage or Black Lives Matter.
The new war is just as emotionally charged as the old one. It, too, involves fundamental questions about who we are as a people, which are always more fraught than the debate over the appropriate tax rate or whether or not we should have a defense-budget sequester.
The participants are, by and large, the same as well. The old culture war featured Middle America on one side, and coastal elites, academia and Hollywood on the other. So does the new war. And while Trump has no interest in fighting over gay marriage or engaging in the bathroom wars, his staunch pro-life position is a notable hold-over from the old war.