Has the left captured all the institutions?
I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, ad-free, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum on the news of the day. You're reading a subscribers-only Friday edition.
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On Twitter yesterday, I saw something from conservative commentator Steven Crowder that I see a lot these days:
"Name me an institution that hasn’t been overtaken by the left," he said.
The claim is rooted in a belief that both sides seem increasingly attached to: The system is rigged against them.
For conservatives, it's the feeling that Crowder is expressing here. Many view major cultural institutions — media, Hollywood, universities — as being overtaken by the left’s social ideals. For liberals, this perspective is most prominent when discussing the structural advantages of national politics; the idea that Democrats can win more votes in national elections but still lose control of the House, Senate, presidency and the courts, and be subject to minority rule.
What I find quite fascinating, actually, is just how much each side's perspective is rooted in truth. Which, in reality, reflects how evenly matched the levers of power and influence actually are.
Since I'm seeing this perspective increasingly from conservatives, I think it's worth starting with their claim: That the left has overtaken every institution.
Last week, I wrote about political extremism on the left and right. Early in the piece, I referenced the different ways the right and left view power:
In today's America, when people on the right criticize "liberals" or "the left" for radical views on gender, race, abortion, climate change, guns, or any of the other contentious issues in modern politics, they aren't necessarily imagining Nancy Pelosi and Joe Biden. Instead, they are often thinking about Hollywood, Big Tech companies, famous athletes, colleges and news outlets. For conservatives, the power center is not the government, it's the culture. It's the content their kids consume or what they're taught at school; the ideas proliferated in film and music; the decisions made by major corporations to sell what they think of as "wokeism."
I didn't elaborate too much on this in the piece, but I think it applies quite well to this conversation. And it's true. The left does have significant power in many important parts of American life and culture.
The perspective of the right.
The most obvious place is the media. Media bias is more complicated than most people think, but there is a fundamental truth that the right is correct on: Most journalists are, at least, left-leaners. In 2013, a study by two University of Indiana professors found that just 7% of journalists identified as Republicans (compared to 28% who identified as Democrat). In 2018, Arizona State University and Texas A&M found that 17.63% of financial journalists surveyed said they were “very liberal,” and 40.84% said they were “somewhat liberal,” for a total of 58.47% saying they lean left. Just 0.46% said they were “very conservative” and 3.94% described themselves as “somewhat conservative,” for a total of 4.4% of respondents leaning right. The other 37.12% said they were moderates.
Other data points to an even more skewed political tilt: In 2016, the Center for Public Integrity identified 430 "journalists, reporters, news editors or television news anchors — as well as other donors known to be working in journalism" and tracked the candidates they gave money to during the election. 96% donated to Hillary Clinton.