In Politico, Tim Alberta dives deep to find out why Republicans have given up on the fight against pornography. He begins by recalling how in 1976, Jerry Falwell went on the warpath against Jimmy Carter for having given an interview to Playboy. Flash forward to the present day, when Falwell’s son and successor embraced Donald Trump:
As they celebrated back at Trump Tower, Falwell sought to document the occasion with a photo. The future president stood in the middle, flanked by Falwell Jr. and his wife, Becki. Thumbs went up. The camera snapped. Falwell tweeted the photo to his 60,000 followers. There was just one hiccup: Lurking over Becki Falwell’s left shoulder, framed in gold, was a cover of Playboy, graced by a bow-tied Trump and a smiling brunette covered only by his tuxedo jacket.
The photo sparked a frenzy. Nothing, it seemed, could so neatly encapsulate the religious right’s backsliding as Falwell Jr. giving a thumbs-up in front of the very magazine his father had singled out as symbolic of America’s moral decay—while standing shoulder to shoulder with a man who had appeared in a softcore porno flick and who reportedly, as Jimmy Carter might have put it, screwed a bunch of women outside of marriage, including a Playboy model and hardcore adult-film actress.
And it highlighted something else just as striking: the total abandonment of pornography as a battleground in America’s culture war.
Today, pornography in America is a societal phenomenon and an economic behemoth. As of late 2018, according to Alexa.com, five of the 50 most trafficked websites in the United States. belong to the adult industry. The biggest site, Pornhub, typically ranks around No. 15, in the neighborhood of titans like Netflix and ESPN. In 2017 alone, Pornhub hosted 28.5 billion visits, an average of 81 million per day, the overwhelming majority based in America. All told, visitors to Pornhub last year searched 50,000 times per minute and 800 times per second. And that’s one website—merely the brightest star in a boundless constellation of explicit content.
We know that the ubiquity of porn is a problem: Even as experts debate the science of addiction and the link between consumption and destructive behavior, there is surefire sociological evidence of its exacerbating influence on those most susceptible—people predisposed to violence, for instance, or misogyny or child abuse. There is also consensus that it has, in plenty of cases, contributed to abusive relationships and the fracturing of families. And that’s just where adults are concerned. Millions of kids today are watching porn, a freedom afforded to the smartphone generation, leaving parents, educators and clinicians increasingly anxious. If ever there were a national dialogue needed about porn—if ever there were a moment for some opportunistic politician to make a cause of it—the time would be now.
So why not conservatives? It’s a fascinating story. The bottom line is that porn has become normalized in American life. More:
Meanwhile, inside the other half of the anti-porn coalition, it seems for every new step taken toward combating obscenity, two steps are taken back. Evangelical leaders I spoke with cited instances of pastors shying away from the subject for fear of alienating their congregants. “It’s very pervasive even in the church,” [Tony] Perkins says. “It’s not just men, it’s women, too. … Some pastors are afraid to hit the issue too hard.”
In this sense, it’s easy to understand why elected officials have backed off. If politics is downstream from culture, and culture has accepted porn, why wouldn’t politicians do the same? If pastors are afraid to alienate their constituents by condemning porn, what policymaker in his or her right mind would?
Alberta mentions too that feminists used to be squarely against porn, but now they have split. He also says that some European nations are moving against porn in their laws — but not the US. What a decadent country we are. Even pastors! A couple of years ago, I spoke with an older pastor who mentored young men at a conservative Evangelical college. The men in his particular group were undergraduates who planned to go to seminary after they finished their bachelor’s degrees. The older man told me that he had 16 undergraduate men in his group.
“How many of them do you think are addicted to porn?” he asked me.
I had no idea, but figured it couldn’t be many. Not from young Evangelical men who are so faith-filled that they believe they have a calling to ministry.
“Sixteen,” the older pastor said. Sixteen young men who want to quit using porn but could not find the inner strength to do so.