How everything became the culture war

Take infrastructure spending, which was once reasonably uncontroversial, at least in principle. Today, many conservatives portray it as a liberal plot to siphon rural tax dollars into urban bike paths, subways, and high-speed rail boondoggles that unions will build and Democratic city slickers will use. The Trump administration actually changed the rules of the most prominent grant program for local transportation projects so that it explicitly favors rural projects, infuriating liberals who now see it as a slush fund for sprawl roads to nowhere serving out-in-the-boonies Trump voters.

Policy skirmishes tend to metastasize into cultural battles when they involve identity issues, and after spending time on the campaign trail recently, I got the sense the next big Republican culture war will be a war on college. For generations, the notion of higher education as a ladder of opportunity for everyone has been an anodyne nonpartisan talking point, even if Democrats and Republicans disagreed on the appropriate levels of federal funding and regulation. But Republican attitudes are changing. In Ohio, I heard them talk about taxpayer-funded school bureaucrats who trick kids into believing that expensive and often useless liberal-indoctrination universities are the only way to get ahead in life, siphoning students away from vocational programs that could prepare them for well-paying jobs.

It’s probably not a coincidence that this shift is happening at a time when college-educated voters are trending Democratic and non-college whites have been Trump’s most reliable constituency.

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