Opinion

Where Have America’s Real Conservatives Gone?

The ones who valued moral propriety, rigorous policy, public decency — and not grabbing women?

By Mitchell Anderson 20 Feb 2017 | TheTyee.ca

Mitchell Anderson is a freelance writer based in Vancouver and a frequent contributor to The Tyee. Find his previous articles for The Tyee here.

If actual conservatives still exist in America, this must be a difficult time. I’m speaking of those who hold Christian beliefs that encourage charity and generosity towards those less fortunate. Or pragmatic conservatives who value rigour in decision-making and disciplined public policy. Or those cold warrior conservatives on guard against traditional military foes like Russia. And, of course, there are the family values conservatives who maintain a rock-ribbed allegiance to moral propriety and public decency.

In less than a month, their elected champion, Donald Trump, has turned these simple precepts into intellectual and moral origami.

Cold warriors must be aghast that their commander-in-chief is apparently entwined with Vladimir Putin in ways so concerning to U.S. intelligence agencies that they have reportedly withheld sensitive information from presidential briefings. Or that the national security advisor was forced to resign after providing “incomplete information” about his potentially illegal communications with the Russian ambassador.

Family values conservatives must square their allegiance to the president with the now partially corroborated dossier from a former MI6 spy that raises additional troubling questions about Trump’s alleged ties with Moscow — including unsubstantiated reports of salacious acts that could leave him open to blackmail. The dossier was apparently credible enough for Senator John McCain to personally deliver the document to the director of the FBI.

Christian conservatives have their own hypocrisy to ponder. In one of his first acts, Trump closed borders to refugees in the absence of any evidence that this will make America safer and in the face of considerable evidence that it will accomplish the opposite. Matthew 25 articulates the core Christian value of charity and compassion towards those less fortunate: “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” Rather than courageously embracing such laudable values, a majority of conservative supporters cited the fictitious “Bowling Green massacre” as a credible rationale for turning away families in need at the nation’s airports and even handcuffing at least one child.

Realpolitik Conservatives enjoy deriding the left for subscribing to woolly-headed ideals rather than seeing the world for how it is. Trump on the other hand is reportedly foregoing regular intelligence briefings, while apparently parroting patently false claims from televised conspiracy theorist Alex Jones.

In spite of these and other humiliating affronts to core conservative principles, Republican loyalists battle on — twisting reality into ever more undignified contortions. All this raises the real question of whether conservatism as a credible American value system still exists. Do conservatives actually believe in anything they purportedly hold dear? Or has it all descended into farcical political theatre?

Imagine for a moment that Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders had won the presidency and U.S. intelligence agencies had credible evidence Russia interfered in the election for their benefit. Any self-respecting Republican’s hair would be on fire. Instead the GOP-controlled Congress is resisting calls to investigate whether a hostile foreign power subverted the U.S. democratic process. I was never a huge fan of Ronald Reagan, but the Gipper would be spinning in his grave if he heard that after winning the Cold War, America meekly ceded the peace to Vladimir Putin through plausible collusion with a sitting president.

Among American Christians, not even the Mormons rejected Trump, despite his grotesque personal excesses and disgusting remarks towards women. Almost all evangelicals have embraced Trump in a display of hypocritical expediency that would make the Pharisees blush. I don’t claim any expertise on the scriptures, but it seems many of the gospels were written in principled opposition to almost everything Trump has said or done. And those individual Christians who do have the courage to live their convictions have incurred the wrath of a vindictive Republican establishment.

Many observers have raised concerns about the conspiratorial worldview of White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, who reportedly believes a “fourth turning” is now upon America. This requisite period of tumult will somehow purify the nation through the cleansing flames of war and chaos — just the kind of beliefs we want in someone who occupies a senior seat on the National Security Council.

Assuming we can avoid a nuclear apocalypse or some other variety of cataclysm incited to explore this personal version of the end times, perhaps we are at a different type of turning point. Perhaps President Trump and his unseemly crew of conspiracy theorists will force a philosophical reckoning across the American political spectrum.

The right has tolerated (or even nurtured) a festering growth of ignorance, racism and xenophobia within its ranks, largely for tactical utility of dog whistle politics. But you cannot run a country on tactics; there need to be morally credible aspirational principles that resonate beyond the next election cycle.

Unless the GOP is going to morph into an unabashed bastion of white supremacy, this internal intellectual hypocrisy will continue to tear the party apart. Sooner or later the gallstone of bigotry and engineered ignorance needs to make the painful passage into the light of day. Trump and his cronies may be just the unwitting agents needed to move this ugly mass into the disinfecting sunlight.

Likewise, the left has languished under a lazy leadership enamoured with neoliberal economics and business-as-usual trade deals, regardless of the employment implications for the working and middle class. Climate change proceeds apace, technological turning points are ignored and economic disparity yawns ever wider.

Instead of meeting these challenges, vast efforts of so-called progressives are expended fighting a perceived culture war — further refining the minutia and nomenclature of identity politics. We sleepwalk towards catastrophe while dreaming up new names for our perceived differences.

For better or worse, Trump has wakened America from its slumber. The women’s marches held across the country the day after his inauguration were estimated to be the largest public demonstrations in American history. More significantly, there is evidence that this alarmed rage is being channelled into effective grassroots political action, taking a page from the highly effective tactics pioneered by the Tea Party. Perhaps the polarized grassroots can bridge the political divide, realizing they have more in common with each other than they do with their increasingly compromised leaders.

Even the most functional democracy will only get the politics it deserves. Citizens of all political stripes need to work hard to inform themselves with credible information, act within our shared institutions to affect change they believe in and be on guard against charlatans seeking to sow seeds of tactical ignorance or division.

Conservatives in particular need to have a hard look in the mirror and decide whether their storied school of intellectual thought has any remaining credibility. Will Republican voters stand with their avowed virtuous principles — or side with the GOP leadership so obviously accustomed to the Washington swamp it seems to be sprouting scales?  [Tyee]

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