Fundamental Transformation of a Nation, Culture: The Decade in Review
COMMENTARY: The 2010s, the Decade of the Dictatorship of Relativism
“We are five days away from fundamentally transforming the United States of America,” declared a confident Barack Obama in Columbia, Missouri, on Oct. 30, 2008. He stood on the cusp of a historic presidential election and historic decade still to come — a decade of fundamental transformation. He predicted a “defining moment in history” to “give this country the change we need.”
Obama’s audacious assertion was perhaps surpassed only by the response of those in attendance, who, rather than urging pause over such a bold ambition, wildly applauded. To be sure, Obama enthusiasts would have ecstatically cheered anything their man said at that moment. Obama himself admitted to serving as a kind of “blank screen” upon which Americans could project whatever “hope and change” they wanted.
And yet, Obama’s two-term presidency no doubt marked a turning point. The country experienced a fundamental transformation in that period and throughout the 2010s.
That transformation, however, did not happen in areas hoped for (or feared) in 2008, or that Obama even had in mind, let alone dared to mention in Missouri. It has not been a fundamental shift in attitudes regarding, say, foreign policy, taxation, regulations or even health care, where Obama had his signature legislative achievement. The reality is that the true fundamental transformation in America (and the West generally) has come in the realm of culture, notably in matters of sexual orientation, gender, marriage and family — a transformation where every individual is his or her own arbiter of truth and reality.
The shift has been unprecedented — and far beyond anyone’s imagination in 2008. It was signaled most conspicuously mid-decade, in June 2015, when the Obama White House — the nation’s first house — was illuminated in the colors of the “LGBTQ” rainbow on the day of the Obergefell decision, when the Supreme Court by a one-vote margin rendered unto itself the ability to redefine marriage (theretofore the province of biblical and natural law) and imposed this previously nonexistent “constitutional right” on all 50 states.
That photo is the picture of the decade, the sign of the 2010s. To say that the image would have made the American Founders blush is insufficient. Presidents from Washington and Jefferson to Lincoln, Wilson, FDR, Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy and on would have been speechless.
If ever there was a picture of a fundamental transformation of the United States of America, that was it.
And such was just one of countless bold examples of cultural-sexual revolution advanced, heralded and literally posted by the Obama administration. In June 2016, to celebrate the one-year anniversary of Obergefell, the White House Press Office released two extraordinary fact sheets detailing Obama’s vast efforts to promote “LGBTQ rights” at home and abroad. The first, titled “FACT SHEET: Obama Administration’s Record and the LGBT Community,” was released on June 9, 2016. The second, titled, “FACT SHEET: Promoting and Protecting the Human Rights of LGBT Persons,” was issued on June 29, 2016.
Not only was it telling that the White House would assemble such lists, and tout them, but their sheer length was stunning. There was no similar roster of comparable dramatic changes by the Obama White House in any other policy area. Such achievements included the infamous Obama bathroom fiat, when, according to President Obama’s executive word, all public schools were ordered to revolutionize their restrooms and locker rooms to make them available to teenage boys who call themselves girls.
Looking back, that was where Obama’s heart was and where his deepest impact was stamped. And in that regard, Obama was partly leading U.S. progressives and partly following them. They advanced this revolution together. This was a joint crusade, a juggernaut that would steamroll beyond Obama’s time in office.
After Obergefell in June 2015, the culture’s fundamental transformation — well beyond Obama — shifted into high gear, if not warp speed. The number of optional “gender identities,” for instance, expanded exponentially. It has been alarming to behold how quickly and aggressively emboldened progressives pivoted from redefining marriage to redefining gender. Not long after Obergefell, the New York City Council began offering public employees the option of 31 “gender identities.” That was nothing compared to Facebook, which at various times since 2014 has named 51 gender options, 53, 56, 58 and 71, or the BBC, which now teaches children that there are “100, if not more.”
This new spirit is everywhere — in every town, city, school and university. College applications list multiple boxes for students to check their preferred “gender identity.” You can expect that your child on Day One arriving at campus, orientation day, will be asked which “gender pronoun” he or she prefers.
Where does the revolution end? Truly no one knows. So much so that the 2010s decade ends less with the label “LGBTQ” than the more necessary (and increasingly popular) “LGBTQIA+.” The latter includes lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, “queer or questioning,” “intersexual,” “asexual,” and on and on. The plus symbol rightly denotes the never-ending new arrangements. They are literally limitless. At the rate we’re going, by the end of the 2020s, the number of “gender identities” will be uncountable. They change constantly according to the feelings and fads and whims and fancies of each and every individual.
This fundamental transformation is all around us and unceasing, as is its intolerance of dissenters. We see it in the culture of fear and intimidation imposed by the self-prided forces of “diversity” and “tolerance” who viciously seek to denounce, dehumanize, demonize and destroy anyone who disagrees with their newfound conceptions of gender and marriage and family, even as their inventions are at odds with the prevailing position of 99.99%-plus of human beings who have bestrode the earth since the dawn of humanity. Instead, traditional, faithful Christians are the ones portrayed as the outliers, as abnormal, as extremists, as “haters.”
Correspondingly, this disaster has been a major blow to the religious liberty of Catholics and Protestants who follow the historic teachings of their faith. Every day a new story emerges on a new threat to Christians who beg not to be forced by the state to bake a cake or provide flowers or do photographs for a same-sex “marriage” ceremony that violates their religious convictions, their freedom of conscience, and the ancient teachings of their faith. Catholics and Protestants alike increasingly find themselves in trouble at their schools or workplaces for not using a preferred “gender pronoun” or for resisting efforts to allow transgendered students into single-sex restrooms or locker rooms or to participate in sporting events based on their “gender identity.” Those who resist are harangued, harassed and sometimes sued.
The effect on the political landscape has been likewise profound.
Look at the Democratic Party’s recent and current presidential contenders: When Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton both first ran for the presidency, both publicly stated their professed support for biblical-natural marriage. Both were expressly against same-sex “marriage.” They both flipped in the 2010s.
How much of a sea change has occurred within the Democratic Party, the party of FDR and Truman and Kennedy?
Among the nearly two dozen Democrats who ran for the 2020 presidential nomination, all vigorously favored same-sex “marriage” (none would dare do otherwise), including the supposedly leading “moderate” among them, Joe Biden, a Catholic who “officiated” a same-sex “marriage” ceremony while serving as vice president of the United States. And, currently, the front-runner among Democrats in Iowa for several weeks now has been Pete Buttigieg, a man legally married to another man.
All of this was unthinkable a decade ago. Now, it dominates politically as well as culturally.
Did anyone see this coming? Or at least discern seeds of the chaos to come?
In retrospect, a prescient insight into this revolution of fundamental transformation was a trenchant phrase by Pope Benedict XVI the decade before. In his final homily after the death of John Paul II, given just before the College of Cardinals convened to ultimately choose him as the next pope, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger called out a “dictatorship of relativism.” He was prompted by the readings that day, April 18, 2005. He quoted Ephesians 4:14, where St. Paul warned of people being “tossed here and there, carried about by every wind of doctrine.” As Cardinal Ratzinger noted with exclamation, “This description is very timely! … How many winds of doctrine have we known in recent decades, how many ideological currents, how many ways of thinking?” He observed: “Every day new sects spring up, and what St. Paul says about human deception and the trickery that strives to entice people into error (Ephesians 4:14) comes true.” He continued:
“Today, having a clear faith based on the Creed of the Church is often labeled as fundamentalism. Whereas relativism, that is, letting oneself be ‘tossed here and there, carried about by every wind of doctrine,’ seems the only attitude that can cope with modern times. We are building a dictatorship of relativism that does not recognize anything as definitive and whose ultimate goal consists solely of one’s own ego and desires.”
Yes, every day a new something pops up — a new form of gender, sexuality, marriage, you name it. How many forms? As many as there are people to invent them anew according to their preferences. It was the 2010s where this was cut loose.
The decade of the 2010s was no doubt the “LGBTQ” decade, but also the decade of the dictatorship of relativism, a decade when Americans (and the West generally) took upon themselves a fundamental transformation of a nation, a culture and of human nature itself.
Paul Kengor is professor of political science at Grove City College in
Grove City, Pennsylvania. His books include
A Pope and a President
and The Divine Plan.