Crenshaw Wants a Culture War

Texas Rep. Dan Crenshaw has made headlines several times over the last few years. He’s had social media spats with New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, settled a dispute with comedian Pete Davidson on Saturday Night Live, and emerged as one of Donald Trump’s most faithful defenders and a rising star in the Republican Party.

What exactly does that mean in 2020? He’s crying for a culture war.

Appearing on Fox and Friends earlier this week, Crenshaw said that statue removals are part of a generations-long Marxist revolution occurring in the United States. It’s part of a larger wave of Republican politicians and pundits framing the monument teardowns—and the racial justice protests that preceded them—as not just un-American, but anti-American. “It’s part of the plan, and it has been for decades, actually,” Crenshaw says in the clip. “They’re always looking to take advantage of some kind of situation to make people think that their country is evil so that they can justify their own Marxist revolution.”

Crenshaw leaves the “they” in his comments conspicuously undefined, but anyone with a working brain knows he’s not simply referring to “Marxists.” That’s just a catch-all term to catch the attention of Fox News-watching Boomers inundated with decades of anti-communist and anti-socialist propaganda. Crenshaw really means to villainize anyone acknowledging American history to include the parts that make the United States look like the enslaving, land-stealing, exploitative, war-mongering imperialist empire it truly is. That unspoken definition means that far more people and groups fit into it.

Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz is a more shameless (and likely dumber) version of Crenshaw, so he has no qualms saying the quiet part loud. Calling Black Lives Matter “Marxist” isn’t just an attempt to make the movement seem sinister, but frames it as an enemy force that needs to be overcome and eliminated. It sounds overly dramatic because it is, and Gaetz surely knows it. But when you and your conservative colleagues have been fighting an unending culture war for the last several decades, the only way to get people’s attention is to heighten the rhetoric and raise the stakes.

Crenshaw, Gaetz, and other flag-humping Republicans were always going to call Black Lives Matter protests and statue removals anti-American. It’s the natural endpoint of a hyper-nationalist worldview that paints the United States as the be-all end-all of human civilization and achievement. It’s the “love it or leave it” bumper sticker fleshed out into a full-scale propagandized ethos. Any person, movement, or organization that doesn’t worship at the altar of America’s whitewashed history and ordained heroes hates the United States and needs to be crushed.

What Crenshaw et. al. won’t tell you, however, is how much they love doing it. Calling movements Marxist and saying protestors hate America is the lifeblood of their relevance, the currency with which they purchase political and cultural cachet. It activates the people who agree with them and pisses off those who don’t. Every time a new statue is torn down or bathed in fake blood, Crenshaw books a cable news spot, gains a little more attention, and continues selling his monolithic view of American history and world-ending contempt for anyone who defiles it. That’s the playbook, and he and his conservative cronies are sticking to it with smiles on their faces.