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Dylan Mulvaney Latest Flashpoint in...

Dylan Mulvaney Latest Flashpoint in Growing Culture War

By: Russ Latino - April 12, 2023

Russ Latino

Dylan Mulvaney was thrust into the national spotlight last week when Bud Light & Nike made the transgender TikTok star a spokesperson. Mulvaney is the latest battle line in a culture war with deep historical roots designed to destabilize America from the inside.

Before last week, I had never heard of Dylan Mulvaney. Born a biological male, Mulvaney identifies as a woman. This alone has bought Mulvaney instant celebrity. There are no astounding lifetime achievements, no evidence of great artistic talent. But there are millions of social media followers, billions of video views, and a growing bevy of advertising deals built exclusively on gender identity. 

Announced deals with Bud Light and Nike have thrust Mulvaney further into the mainstream spotlight. The deals have also prompted visceral responses from right wing activists, like Kid Rock, who expressed his disapproval of Budweiser by buying a bunch of its products and then using it for target practice. 

The brew-haha (pun intended) is the latest flashpoint in a burgeoning culture war – more emblematic, than causative, of a fissure driven by identity politics.

Is our current cultural divide the product of decades old design?

It’s worth stepping back to examine some historical philosophies that may be at play in American culture today.

Chances are that you have heard of Karl Marx. The German 19th Century philosopher was the father of Marxism. Marx believed that all of human history was a class struggle between the owners of the means of production, the bourgeoisie, and workers, the proletariat.

Under his formulation, the bourgeoisie were oppressors, and the proletariat, the oppressed. Marx believed the working class was destined to rise up against the owner class, assume control of the means of production, and usher in an era of socialism.

His ideas found a home near the turn of the 20th Century in Russia. The Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 saw Russian people rise up against a feudal system governed for generations by Czars and bring down the Romanov Dynasty. Vladimir Lenin ushered in a governing philosophy built on Marxism, a system that became known as communism. Communism spread beyond the Soviet Empire, taking root in China under Mao Zedong, and as close to home as Cuba under Fidel Castro. 

Unfortunately for adherents, it did not bring about utopian prosperity. One group of autocrats was exchanged for another group of autocrats. By the end of the 20th Century, communist governments had overseen an estimated 94 million unnatural deaths from genocide, famine, and the systematic killing of political dissidents. 

It bears noting that while a system designed to lift up workers caused unprecedented human suffering in the communist world, the supposedly oppressive free enterprise system embraced in America, and beyond, led to unprecedented prosperity, even among disadvantaged classes of people.

In the early days of communism, an Italian philosopher offered a different packaging of Marxism. Chances are that you have never heard of Antonio Gramsci, but his ideas permeate the present struggle for the American consciousness. 

Like Marx, Gramsci believed that an “oppressor versus the oppressed” framing was the key to disrupting power structures and bringing about socialism. Unlike Marx, Gramsci did not believe that economics was where the battle lines should be drawn. He looked at capitalist societies and saw economic mobility that meant people could move from the category of oppressed to oppressor. Instead, Gramsci thought the battle lines must be drawn around characteristics not subject to easy change. Combatants needed to be tethered to their army.

Gramsci also did not think the Bolshevik Revolution offered a good example of how to destroy capitalist power structures. He theorized that overthrowing a government alone in a capitalist society would have little impact, since most power in these societies was held outside of government in cultural institutions. Instead, he believed that socialists needed to infiltrate the church, the media, universities, and even corporations.

Gramsci characterized his strategy as a “war of position” versus a full-frontal assault on capitalism and western democracy. It was later dubbed as “the slow march through the institutions.” But the goal was always the same: to subvert western culture. Gramsci’s ideas found homes in the writings of people like Saul Alinsky and on college campuses throughout the United States. He is now thought of as the father of “Cultural Marxism.”

The Weaponization of the Past

Too often, conservatives seek to whitewash the unpleasant portions of America’s past. We bolster the principles of the founding – the equal rights of humankind to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness – without grappling with the fact that those rights were denied to entire groups of people at various points in our nation’s history. America is not perfect. Our track record is complicated. 

Failing to reckon with the past in an honest way presents openings for people who would exploit it to undermine the institutions that have historically bound us together as a nation. It’s one reason that I think that policy efforts to combat ‘wokeness’ by restricting access to challenging ideas are a mistake. Another is that in so restricting we, ourselves, act against the American values we are fighting to preserve.

Conversely, America’s past is not wholly bad, nor is it exclusively defined by those instances in history that deviated from the high ideals of our founding. 

While it may be useful in waging a culture war predicated on “oppressors versus oppressed,” portraying all of American history as a racial, gender, or economic struggle is dishonest. It ignores that as a people we are not homogenous in thought, motivation, or adherence to moral codes. This is true not only across our diverse population, but within both racial and gender subsets. Not all white males think alike, just as not all Black women think alike. We are first individuals. What’s more, in the course of our lives, experiences change the way we think and behave. 

Most of us intuitively know this from our own life experience. In our daily lives we have witnessed good people, of all races, creeds and colors, doing good things. If this doesn’t ring true to you, take a jaunt into a disaster zone, like Rolling Fork, and see people of vastly different backgrounds lined up shoulder to shoulder helping one another.

The retelling of American history as one rooted wholly in subjugation of entire classes of people also ignores the tremendous progress – the arc toward justice – that we have experienced as a nation. It further ignores the prosperity we collectively enjoy compared to other nations and cultures. 

But this retelling is tactically useful through the lens of Gramsci’s philosophy. Because if people can be led to see other people not as individuals, but as members of tribes based on immutable traits, then it is much easier to draw battle lines. A person can become an ‘enemy,’ a ‘racist,’ a ‘sexist,’ a ‘misogynist,’ or a ‘-phobe’ simply by virtue of their own race, gender, or sexual orientation, and regardless of what they actually think or believe. Tribal identity politics allows us to ascribe evil to people based on traits they had no control over at birth. 

Most people do not want to be considered any of those inflammatory labels because most people are not those things. The fear of being labeled, and the consequence of being labeled in a culture quick to virtue signal by “canceling” people, becomes a silencing factor, and not just on delicate questions of race or gender. Those labels are weaponized in modern discourse to silence viewpoints on policies that are race and gender neutral. Oppose a policy that expands government or redistributes wealth? In modern debate, that makes you one of those nasty ‘-ists.’ 

The tribal groupthink has infiltrated every institution in the country, to the point that corporations would forego productivity and profit to create “equity,” which is a concept much more akin to socialist thought than it is the American value of equality. In this sense, Gramsci’s playbook seems to be coming to fruition in America. 

So, about Mulvaney

In one respect, Dylan Mulvaney is a perfect example of identity politics. Mulvaney’s worth is almost solely tied to gender identity. The use of that identity by corporations is arguably a form of cheap tokenism, one that further entrenches battle lines. 

Truth be told, though, I do not care how Dylan Mulvaney identifies. I do not care whether Bud Light or Nike make Mulvaney wealthy with endorsement deals. (I don’t drink Bud Light because it’s bad beer. I don’t wear Nike because I like New Balance.) 

What I do care about is ascribing ‘goodness’ to Mulvaney because of gender identity or ‘badness’ to someone who questions the science of treating a person, whose every cell is marked with the male ‘XY’ chromosome, as a woman, or who has sincerely held religious beliefs about gender. If Mulvaney’s gender identity was not a choice, then it is a peculiar thing to celebrate. If it was a choice, different from immutable characteristics like race, then there should be room to disagree with the lifestyle. Either way, in a pluralist society, there should be a place for both reasoned debate and grace.

About the Author(s)
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Russ Latino

Russ is a proud Mississippian and the founder of Magnolia Tribune Institute. His research and writing have been published across the country in newspapers such as The Wall Street Journal, National Review, USA Today, The Hill, and The Washington Examiner, among other prominent publications. Russ has served as a national spokesman with outlets like Politico and Bloomberg. He has frequently been called on by both the media and decisionmakers to provide public policy analysis and testimony. In founding Magnolia Tribune Institute, he seeks to build on more than a decade of organizational leadership and communications experience to ensure Mississippians have access to news they can trust and opinion that makes them think deeply. Prior to beginning his non-profit career, Russ practiced business and constitutional law for a decade. Email Russ: