How the GOP gave up on porn

America is an exception in this sense. Many governments around the world aggressively police erotic content; even the liberal nation of Iceland has toyed with a sweeping ban on pornography. A controversial British law requiring internet users to be registered and age-verified before accessing adult websites is expected to be implemented by year’s end. There is no prospect for such action on this side of the Atlantic, in part because the First Amendment’s protections are so strong, but also because political appetite is so weak. In lieu of legislative intervention, advocacy groups work the edges of the issue, pressuring companies such as McDonald’s, Subway, Starbucks and Panera Bread to install filters on their free Wi-Fi networks. This, at least philosophically, represents a conservative’s dream: civic society stepping up to address a problem government cannot solve. But these efforts can go only so far. It has become evident over the past half-century that in this particular theater of the culture war, high-level government action is a prerequisite for victory. Without it, defeat has become certain.

What happened? The pervasiveness of porn is a reminder that politics historically hasn’t been much of a bulwark against the most primitive human desires—money, power, sex and, in this instance, a combination of the three. But it’s also a window into the mentality on the right, which has surrendered the fight on many social issues as America has moved left. Even with Trump in the White House and five conservatives on the Supreme Court, there is no reversing the cultural tides that have swept away the Moral Majority’s footprint on supporting traditional marriage and prayer in public schools. The difference is that some on the right still pay lip service to those lost causes. When it comes to porn—more accessible, more acceptable and less scrutinized than at any time during its history—they don’t even bother anymore.