"Values conservatism" began rearing its ugly head in the mid-1970s, when Jimmy Carter campaigned in part on having had a born-again experience, a strategy that would've been unimaginable during the "I Like Ike" 1950s, when religious experiences and other cultural markers were kept to oneself and the emphasis was on stewardship of the nation. "Family values" were cultivated in the domestic kinship sphere of life, not legislated and enforced through the government.
During the same time, "values liberalism" has replaced concern for the material welfare of the American people with airy-fairy philosophizing about the "rights" of Sodomites to sham-marry each other, the non-rights of citizens to keep and bear arms, and so on.
After picking up steam during the Reagan years, this culture war exploded during the 1990s under Clinton-Gingrich. The rallying cry was "political correctness" -- were you against it, or for social-cultural sensitivity? Either way, it had nothing to do with the state of the nation, but with these distraction topics like gun laws, abortion, racial epithets, sexual jokes, Biblical beliefs, and on and on. The war has continued on during the Bush-Obama years, although not at the huge spike level of the mid-'90s.
These spikes appear to have a 20-year period of cycling, though, so we're due for another one, and indeed are right in the middle of it, with Trump leading the anti-PC charge.
This time, however, the topics and targets are radically different from the past 40 years of culture-warring. They are no longer social-cultural values, but political-economic policies -- deporting illegal immigrants en masse, building a wall to stop further illegals, barring Muslims from immigrating, threatening domestic companies with steep tariffs if they choose to off-shore their labor force, rebuilding our infrastructure rather than playing video games in the Middle East, and so on and so forth.
Trump has appropriated the "political correctness" term, with all its negative connotations for the other side, from a recent and familiar culture war, but has adapted it to his political-economic focus. This makes it easier for Republicans and conservatives to transition out of the older worldview and into the newer one. It doesn't feel so abrupt -- we're just continuing the war against political correctness, not launching a revolution against values conservatism (and by extension values liberalism).
Trump's current main rival, Ted Cruz, recently attempted to attack him for embodying "New York values" such as being more pro-choice, pro-gay marriage, less evangelical, etc., than the typical American community. Cruz proved unable to adapt to the current situation where the past 40 years are going into reverse -- he believed we were still carrying on the culture wars, rather than political-economic wars. At least, he expected the voters to still be in that mindset.
So far that barb has failed to resonate with very much of the Republican base, outside of the most extreme cuckservative corners, located west of the Mississippi -- hence the explicit targeting of a back-East city rather than an even more disgusting den of degeneracy out West, like Vegas or L.A. or San Francisco or Salt Lake City, what with their long history of gambling, marijuana, prostitution, pornography, and polygamy, and where new-age cults prevail over traditional churches.
Moreover, Trump's response was not to accept Cruz's culture-war framing and quibble with him about how little or how much New York passes an evangelical's test of values. He flipped the script to talk about political and economic strength -- cohering as a group of citizens after an attack by foreigners, rebuilding downtown Manhattan, and rebounding as an even greater urban colossus.
Trump's message was clear: the Republicans are now going to be the party of political and economic strength, resiliency, and stewardship, rather than holier-than-thou tongue-cluckers in a war over social-cultural values (in public, while shilling for globalist elites behind the curtain).
Trump's populist counterpart has, for his part, also quietly discarded his party's values-oriented fear-mongering about gun nuts, wire hanger abortions, and Bible-thumping home-schoolers. Sanders has instead, like Trump, focused on how to purify the corruption of the political system and how to restore economic greatness to ordinary American communities.
They do differ on how to achieve that, with Trump viewing the government as a bouncer for a bar that's become too rowdy for good business and for its patrons to enjoy themselves, and with Sanders viewing the government more as a great big helicopter parent to dole out free stuff out of unconditional love for those who are still growing up. But this difference is minor compared to their major splits with their respective parties over the social-cultural vs. political-economic nature of their worldview.
The Trump-Sanders realignment heralds a winding down of the conflicts among the elites, for that is what the culture war has been -- an elite affair. Andrew Gelman and co-authors revealed this in their book Red State, Blue State, Rich State, Poor State.
At the lower end of the class pyramid, voters in both red and blue states were fairly close to each other, and voted primarily based on economic matters that would boost their material standard of living. At the apex of the class pyramid, there was a huge chasm between voters in red and blue states, with elite red-staters going to war for prayer in public schools, restrictions on abortion, and preventing gay marriage; and with elite blue-staters going to war for deviant sexual education in public schools, restrictions on gun ownership, and preventing bakers from refusing to make gay wedding cakes.
In Gelman et al's view, the wealthy already have their material needs taken care of -- not just economic well-being but physical security (low-crime areas, nudge nudge wink wink, in cha-ching zip codes). So they have more mental energy left to spend thinking about more airy-fairy topics that are not inherently political, and to draft these topics into a broader status war against elites on the other side of a cultural divide. The poor have more pressing matters to attend to, like making sure they have good jobs so they can pay their bills, and that their kids aren't going to go through school with a bunch of violent thugs or members of some hostile alien culture.
With widening inequality, the prospect of permanent indebtedness and physical danger within one's community is starting to hit closer to home for the middle class, which is being hollowed out by the elites, who are still very safe both physically and economically.
This would seem to be the proximate reason behind the shift away from philosophizing about values and getting down to brass tacks. Let the decadent elites flap their jowels about when exactly life begins and how intense of a born-again experience our leaders must have to pass muster.
Meanwhile, the bedrock of society is going to figure out how to re-glue its civic and political solidarity, and how to rebuild the dismantled economy. Not that there won't be disagreements about how to do that -- how much should we shut off immigration, how high should tariffs be to deter off-shoring, and so on -- but from this point onward, the airy-fairy culture war will begin evaporating off into outer space.