About three decades ago, a group of neo-Nazi skinheads got together with members of the Ku Klux Klan to have a parade in West Chester. The borough council did not like the idea, but they stood on principle: so long as this group followed all of the town’s requirements, they had the same rights as anyone else.
I did not go, but I heard from others that the two dozen or so people in the parade practically sprinted up Market Street. Businesses closed their doors and spectators heckled the small group.
The neo-Nazis believed that the Holocaust was necessary. The Klan believed that it was better to threaten, destroy the property of, or kill black people than to let them live free in America.
West Chester’s elected leaders at that time — largely Republicans — had grown up during or shortly after World War II and had lived through the civil rights movement. They knew exactly what Nazis and Klansmen stood for. But while the council openly expressed their shame that this event would happen in their town, they understood that they had to apply the law equally.
Flash forward to this week, the West Chester Business Improvement District (BID) was planning a “Community OutFest” for October, an event designed to celebrate National Coming Out Day.
In response to the application, the West Chester Borough Republican Committee’s official Facebook account posted the following message: “We’ve heard from some friends in the community that our borough council will be voting to approve a drag show downtown. If you feel this is inappropriate as we do, please make your voice heard to borough council. “
Evidently this worked, because the next day Borough Council President Michael Stefano said that he received a “ton of emails” filled with “hate” and “vitriol.” The negative feedback was enough that BID pulled the application over security concerns.
The same party that, in the interest of protecting freedom of speech, approved a parade where men dressed up in Klan uniforms has evolved to a point where it finds that men dressing up in women’s clothes is too offensive to tolerate.
The same party that rails against “cancel culture” has canceled a cultural event.
The same party that bills itself as “pro-business” has rallied itself against a festival that would have brought hundreds of people to the heart of the retail, restaurant, and services district of West Chester. Not only would this have been a great opportunity for local businesses to have a busy Saturday but also to publicize what a welcoming place West Chester is, opening the doors to future business.
What we got instead is an image as a town overrun by a pitchfork wielding mob.
If you think about what we want our elected leaders to do to make our town, state, or country a better place, they are things like reducing inflation, fixing infrastructure, and creating a more secure future. These things require clear policy and legislation that address real issues.
The purpose of the culture war is to distract us from these important issues and band people together based on their dislikes. This has worked for decades as the GOP has continuously pretended that the most important problems facing America were flag burning, same-sex marriage or, more recently, CRT, while their actual policy agenda includes wildly unpopular measures like outlawing abortion, tax cuts that benefit the wealthy, crippling unions, repealing Obamacare, and fighting universal background checks for gun purchases (just this summer, 89% of Republicans in congress voted against this measure).
The most dangerous problem with this strategy is that it relies on and develops a sense of moral superiority. But this is a country whose constitution guarantees that no single moral code has official standing.
America is heading rapidly toward a future where the many minorities (race, gender, religion, orientation) will outnumber the traditional “majority,” and the result is that we are generally becoming a more diverse and accepting people.
But if people believe that they alone have the moral high-ground, no matter how much in the minority they are, then they can be convinced that saving the rest of us outweighs the importance of all other things. This can lead to a minority who will go to extreme lengths — even as far as denying the results of a fair election or storming the Capitol — to defy the will of the majority, and that threatens the very nature of our democracy.
Will Wood is a small business owner, veteran, and half-decent runner. He lives, works, and writes in West Chester.