I spent late Saturday afternoon in what has become for me a rite of spring. I watched the Kentucky Derby. I am no aficionado of horse racing and will not betray my ignorance of the sport’s desiderata in this column. At most, I watch three horse races a year. After the Kentucky Derby I watch the remainder of the races hoping to round off the Triple Crown. The Derby is a spectacle, from the enormously beautiful thoroughbreds to the women’s glamorous hats. It is like the World Series and the Super Bowl; all are a piece of American culture.
I know the Derby is under siege. For that matter so are the World Series and the Super Bowl. On the other hand, find me an area of American culture that is not under siege. There are people out there who want to force their politics on us, and they use the prestige events of our culture to do it. Take a knee, carry a protest sign, lie down on the track — all for a noble cause. Balderdash!
About the only prestige event that has overcome the political fanatics is the Masters golf tournament, which, by the way, is also a spectacle of great beauty. Drive that little white ball down the fairway. Shove it into the cup. A colorful crowd of spectators is watching. The Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Georgia, is beautiful in the springtime too. A decade ago this piece of American culture was also in danger of being politicized, but somehow it escaped the demonstrators’ wrath. Perhaps we could prevail on the club’s leaders to write a book about how the Masters Tournament went from being a gathering of political pariahs to reverting to its former dignity of being a stylish spring sporting event.
America is in danger of being divided into two cultures. One will be free of political sloganeering and cant. It will remain true to its original purpose of putting on a first-rate sports event or a cultural event or exposition. The other will go the way of the Academy Awards or, for that matter, of Major League Baseball or the National Basketball Association. I almost feel sorry for Oscar night. It once had real stars and real dramas to celebrate. Now, well, did the Soviet Union ever offer awards for film? It had Pravda, whose journalism closely approximated CNN and the New York Times. How about little statues of Lenin for the American films and the actors who most slavishly followed the Communist Party line? I believe the comrades did offer the Lenin Peace Prize for humanitarian endeavors from a Marxist–Leninist point of view. They should have offered the Lenin Peace Prize for film. I will bet you that, if the Soviet Union were still standing, by now our Hollywoodians would be annually flying to Moscow to get a little Lenin to put on their mantels back in Malibu.
Political scientists tell us that they see increasing segregation in the way Americans live. It is not racial segregation but political segregation. The coasts, particularly the Pacific and the northeast Atlantic coast, are left-wing. The rest of the country is pretty much right-wing to centrist. People divided along these lines also live different lives. My guess is that left-wingers increasingly follow the culture of forward-lookers: marijuana, rock music and rap music, bird watching, video games — I hope I am not diminishing their culture. The right-wingers settle on the old standbys: booze, country music and the American songbook, NRA outdoor pastimes, old movies — surely I have not diminished the Right, have I? Well, my knowledge of both cultures might be a little shaky, but surely you get my drift. Americans increasingly self-segregate and gravitate toward different cultural values. Think back to last weekend’s Derby. Surely you did not see Sen. Elizabeth Warren wearing one of those flamboyant bonnets.
My guess is that this segregation is going to get worse before it has a hope of getting better. My mind goes back to 15 years ago. I was having a talk with one of the wisest confidants I know, Jim Piereson. Jim has been in the philanthropy business for years following his career of teaching political science. Fifteen years ago, Jim startled me by predicting that America was going to become more politically polarized, and he spoke of the possibility of civil war. He made no prediction, but he let his proposition dangle before us. I still see it dangling before me. Had Jim become a prophet?