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When the question is the “culture wars,” as it so often is these days, the standard liberal homily mourns the passing of a shared public sphere and appeals to everybody to step outside the echo chamber. How often, however, do we really do it ourselves? That was nagging at
me as we put to bed this issue about the “new American civil war.” Could it just be that the “war” framing is one that progressive Europeans apply precisely because we never engage with those from the cultural right, and the American right in particular? Is the whole notion, in other words, a creation of my own echo chamber? With that in mind, I decided to take stock of the (so-called) “debate” in Ohio between Donald Trump and Joe Biden not with my usual go-to news sources, but instead with the help of American conservative podcasts. Within minutes of tuning in to Steve Deace’s post-match analysis, I had heard several phrases that seemed to belong not only to another tribe, but also an entirely different era—“the reds are taking off the masks.” One thing, however, was entirely familiar: analogies from military conflict flowed through the discussion. The shouting match had been, Deace suggested, much like it would have been “if Lincoln had debated Jefferson Davis,” leader of the old Confederate South. We heard, at different points, that a civil war would soon be coming—and also that one was already raging.