Conservatism has thrived since the 1980s, when it became a “big-tent” party, welcoming of every sect of the right, from evangelicals to Ayn Rand libertarians. Now, I’m all for ideological inclusivity. I personally think every political party needs diverse and moderate voices to counterbalance each other and to further argue through ideas and legislation. That diversity of opinion blunts ideological demagoguery (think Robespierre and the French Revolution) and breeds decent, well-thought-out policy. But when a party starts welcoming in groups that stand against the core values of the party and of morality itself, it’s not really a party anymore, is it? At least not in the way it thought it was, anyway.
Let’s not kid ourselves. Democrats aren’t immune to fracture either. In fact, we’re still dealing with internal problems today. Never forget that somewhere in the 1990s, we took up extensive and lasting relationships with Reaganites in blue clothing, relationships that severely stunted the growth and development of the party. People are undeniably mad at us. They think we don’t stand for anything — just against the president. And it only got worse we took in Joe Manchin and Jim Justice and courted moderate Republicans up and down the country in the months before Nov. 8, 2016.
But this piece isn’t about Democrats, who I personally think have a chance to turn public opinion around and to stand for something powerful. This is about the conservatives and the GOP.
First and foremost, conservatism itself is a very tricky ideology that exists in many, many different forms, and can’t be pigeonholed to a particular type of person or set of beliefs. There’s social conservatism and economic conservatism. There’s Edmund Burke’s brand of conservatism, Friedrich Hayek’s brand, Milton Friedman’s brand and Ted Cruz’s brand. I guess the best characterization of conservatism is, unsurprisingly, that it strives to conserve. What exactly does it want to conserve, you might ask? Well, it depends. Rights, liberties, society, culture, political order, tradition, you name it.
But here’s the problem with that: when President Dwight D. Eisenhower came into office in the 1950s, he had to swallow a pretty tough pill. He was a conservative, and he wanted to conserve what came before him. But, if you know any history, you know that what came before him were incredibly comprehensive government programs like social security. The government’s role had been undeniably expanded, its hand in the economy was omnipresent, its duties forever changed.
Eisenhower conserved all of that, because he took a look at it and figured out that it was working. He even contributed to Franklin D. Roosevelt’s legacy, commissioning highways and other infrastructure projects that would have typically been reserved to the states.
It seems like conservatism became about preservation of what was working, of what was practical and viable and good. Even Edmund Burke, the appropriately dubbed “father of conservatism,” conceded in 1790 that “a state without the means of some change is without the means of its conservation.” In short, you’re not going to be able to keep the more important parts the same if you don’t let some things change.
Modern conservatives have forgotten all of this philosophical mumbo jumbo — and it shows. I mean, it’s a cage match every time they get together, because some people — people like John McCain or Lindsey Graham or Rand Paul — are somewhat responsive to Burke’s point, while others are hell bent on freezing our society and culture in one spot, or even worse, hurling it back into the 1950s. They’ve accepted people who just don’t get what the objective is, and those people command the party, dictate it in some ridiculous direction, and tear apart what it is in the process.
Trump isn’t a conservative. He doesn’t want to conserve. He wants to uproot, to destroy, to ignore and to warp. Trumpism is not and will never be conservatism — it’s antithetical to it, and an embrace of it by conservatives would mean the end of conservatism in America. Period. Whether or not that’s worth a comprehensive tax cut is up to the Republicans.