The election of Donald Trump in 2016 was largely due to a backlash against liberalism.

It's true that Hillary Clinton was one of the worst Democratic candidates to ever have a name on the ballot for president. A lot of people voted more against her than for Trump.

Still, Trump's core supporters, his die-hard base of acolytes and true-believers, were driven mostly by something else — an effort to push back against America's marching move toward more liberal social and cultural values.

President Obama and his mostly liberal agenda embodied what Trumpites had come to hate most about Democrats and the nation in general. Many Trumpites believed — deeply — that if Clinton had been elected, the nation would go to hell on a liberal train.

In 2016, Trump was seen as an anti-liberal savior to many on the political right. He was a loud, crude, middle-finger to the "elites" of the country. He embraced the fears and conspiracy-tinged thinking that fuel much of the politics on the right. Trump played on those fears, dividing the nation and polarizing — thereby controlling — the debate.

It worked. Trump got elected largely as an anti-immigrant, anti-minority, anti-abortion and anti-liberal flag-bearer.

And yet, that anti-liberal agenda has mostly failed.

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In an odd way, Trumpism may prove to have been the best thing to ever happen to the liberal "progressive" movement in America.

Trump's excesses — his incessant lying, exaggerating, bravado, immorality, narcissism, corruption and stupidity — have become a rallying point for what had been a very disjointed progressive movement in the country. Liberals of all stripes, from moderate to extreme, now have one thing in common: A biting disdain for anything connected to Donald Trump.

Trump has, unwittingly, given liberals something to rally around. With every dumb tweet, Trump is increasing cohesion within the progressive movement.

The reason for that is twofold: One, it motivates liberals to work harder at the grassroots level to register and get out voters; two, Tump's excesses turn off moderate and independent voters, forcing them to consider voting for a Democrat, or to just stay home.

•••

But what we see happening today in America is even bigger than Trump, or the political wars he's engendered.

The real conflict is the nation's cultural war — and liberals are winning that hands-down.

The evidence:

•Americans are much more accepting than ever of gay and lesbian relationships. It's now legal in the nation for same-sex couples to get married. Last week, the Supreme Court extended workplace legal protections for gay and lesbian people. Gay couples are common now in movies and television shows, something that was taboo just a few years ago. Even the conservative Hallmark Channel had to back down from its effort to stop a commercial that featured a lesbian couple. All of that came despite a furious effort by the religious right and some conservatives to stop it. It's clear, in 2020, that a vast majority of people in the country no longer care to fight against gay relationships. The liberal agenda won that battle. It's over.

•Americans are much more accepting of immigrants than the vocal anti-immigrant movement suggests. Trump got elected, in part, based on his loud anti-immigrant rhetoric ("build the wall"). But last week, the Supreme Court handed him a defeat when it extended protections for immigrants brought here as children (DACA), a program created by the Obama Administration. The political right was, and is, furious about Obama's DACA program, saying it was overreach and illegal. But that kind of argument rings hollow today in light of Trump's own excess and corruption. Most Americans, including a majority of Trump supporters, don't want to kick out those who were brought here illegally as children. This is the only country they know. Trump is misreading that issue and as a result of his excessive rhetoric, is losing the larger cultural battle over immigration.

•Americans have quickly embraced the call for police reforms in the wake of the George Floyd killing. That death, and other recent deaths of black men by police under questionable circumstances, has galvanized the country not just about police reform, but also about other racial biases endemic to American culture. While Trump and the right have attempted to undermine the general "black lives matter" movement by focusing on the looting and violence that has attended some of the protests, that has largely failed to stop the massive cultural shift taking place. Liberal voices are winning the fight to bring race relations into the the public square for debate and discussion. That is not a debate that Trump — or many on the right — want to see. But it's happening regardless and liberal voices are controlling the issue — and winning over public sentiment.

•Political correctness has become the norm in American culture, not the exception. You could debate whether or not that is a good thing, but it's the reality. The most recent evidence of that is the decision by several American companies to do away with images and icons that run counter to the evolving cultural values and sensitivities. There are several products where this is true (Aunt Jemima, Uncle Ben's, Mrs. Butterworth's), but the biggest change is with NASCAR, which has banned the Confederate battle flag from its races. That is a cultural earthquake, especially in the South where NASCAR is seen as a traditional, conservative cultural icon. The NASCAR move suggests that it won't be too long until a number of symbols of the Civil War in the South are removed from public display, something that has been on the liberal agenda for a long time.

•Cultural conservatives have always doubted science. That's been true for hundreds of years and continues today. But the COVID pandemic has quickly brought that into a modern showdown. It's pretty clear that COVID doesn't care about politics or political leanings, it can infect anyone. While Trump and some others on the right are downplaying the virus, the reality is very different. That has led some on the right to accuse respected medical doctors as being part of a "medical deep state" out to get Trump. But that has been offset by more moderate and liberal voices who have pushed science over politics and won the overall debate. Trump has handled the pandemic terribly with conflicting messages and dumb comments. Even his supporters don't believe most of what he says about the virus, knowing it's mostly Trumpian BS. People might still support Trump, but many of them are doing so from behind a mask. Scientific fact is winning over political rhetoric, another liberal victory.

•••

Overall, liberal and progressive causes are winning the culture war.

That's because conservatives made a huge four-decade mistake.

Starting in the 1980s, leading conservatives turned to politics in an effort to control cultural values. That was especially true on the religious right where many conservative ministers abandoned faith and embraced the levers of politics in their bid to change society.

But politics cannot, over the long term, control culture and society.

Liberalism as a cultural force is winning because that's how it's always been. Younger generations are always more liberal than older generations, from the Flappers of the 1920s to the Hippies of the 1960s to the Millennials of today.

The nation is always evolving as new generations come of age, begin to vote and start infusing their cultural influences on society in general. The result is that cultural and social liberalism always wins in the long run.

And as the culture changes, the politics will eventually change, too.

Donald Trump may get re-elected as president in November. It's way to early to suggest otherwise.

But there is nothing he, or the Republican Party, or the religious right, can do to stop the nation from adopting more liberal/progressive social and cultural values in the long-term.

"Est mutatio nisi assidue."

Change is the only constant.

Mike Buffington is co-publisher of Mainstreet Newspapers and editor of The Jackson Herald. He can be reached at mike@mainstreetnews.com

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