What’s wrong with Conservatives These Days?

As somebody who remembers the thoughtful and intelligent conservatism of the 1980s and 1990s. It pains me to see what today’s conservative movement has become.

Disturbingly modern American conservatism has degenerated from an ideology and philosophy into a collection of reactionary prejudices and behaviors. These emotional responses do not constitute a movement or a belief system, only a shallow knee jerk response to the world’s problems.

The guiding principles of the ugly remains of American conservatism can be described as:

Hatred and contempt for the poor

Frighteningly, many of today’s conservatives seem to regard poverty as a crime to be punished.

Criminalization of poverty and the use of law enforcement to oppress or drive the poor out of town are well documented. There is also a widespread movement to convert the welfare system into an instrument of punishment for the poor. For details of this movement see: Automating Inequality: How High-Tech Tools Profile, Police, and Punish the Poor by Virginia Eubanks.

Movements to strip the poor of basic rights such as property and the vote are gaining ground. Voter suppression, policing for profit, forfeiture, and eminent domain abuse have all become widespread. Even debtor’s prisons have reportedly been revived in some states.[1]

Worst of all, conservatives are making blatant public efforts to dismantle the safety net. The talk of economic opportunity and freedom is gone, only oppression remains.

Fear of nonwhite people

The old conservative belief was to pretend nonwhite people did not exist, or treat them as whites with dark skin. The new belief is to fear nonwhite people as a menace to our way of life.

The main practitioner of this belief is Donald J. Trump (R-New York). Trump makes a show of attacking African American football players for not acting like Uncle Tom, and condemns Mexicans as rapists and murderers.[2]

In power, President Trump has appointed an administration of white males and gone out of his way to antagonize nonwhites. Trump has shown an ugly double standard.

The President treats non-white foreign leaders even the loathsome Kim Jong Un, with the utmost courtesy. Yet the Donald goes out of his way to disrespect and belittle nonwhite Americans such as Kobe Bryant and former President Barack Obama (D-Illinois).

The bothersome message being that those with dark skin are not “real Americans.” The idea seems to be to take America back to the 1920s.

Disturbingly, there is a well-organized and systematic attempt to make racism acceptable again through the “alt-right.” Old fashioned code words for whiteness; such as Western Civilization, are reappearing even in respectable media outlets.

Denial of Reality

The most destructive attribute of the narcissistic and self-destructive remains of American conservatism is its systematic denial of ugly realities.

One of the strengths of the old conservative movement was its ability to grasp and confront ugly realities. The conservative movement of the 1970s succeeded by admitting the welfare state had failed and Communism was a threat to America.

The great weakness of today’s self-styled conservatives is their tendency to deny almost any unsettling truth. The list of problems conservatives deny includes; Climate Change, Technological Unemployment, Income Inequality, Pollution, Poverty, Racism, Sexism, Voter Suppression, Corruption, Russian Cyberwarfare, the Budget Deficit, the Pension Crisis, the Social Security Crisis, the Student Loan Crisis, and the Healthcare crisis to name a few.

 

At least the old conservatives often paid lip service to some of these problems and offered solutions. Those solutions were usually shallow and superficial, but at least the conservatives tried. Today’s conservatives do not even try, they close their eyes and pray and the problems will go away.

Rejection of Modernity

The final; and probably fatal, flaw in modern American conservatism is its complete rejection of modernity.

This rejection manifests itself in an administration that wants to cut the budget for research to the bone.[3] The idea being that getting rid of science will end progress.

The same administration wants to return to the 1950s manufacturing economy, and rebuild an infrastructure based on fossil fuels. Tellingly, the Trump administration wanted to eliminate the Advanced Research Project Agency Energy and provide subsidies to coal-burning power plants. Fortunately, Congress simply ignored the administration’s crackpot budget plans.

It even tries to reassert American superpower status and revive isolationism by rejecting most international agreements. At the same time vast sums will be invested to rebuild American military power.

Yet there is no apparent purpose or strategy for that military expansion. Revealingly, the military buildup seems to include no serious plans to modernize tactics, or adopt new weapons technologies.

Other examples of the rejection include protest movements aimed at one particular facet of modernity. This includes the antiabortion movement and opposition to gay rights.

A related phenomenon is the spread of anti-science philosophies and movements. Examples of this include the revived Flat Earth Society and the widespread anti-vaccination movement. Both groups are dedicated the organization rejection of scientific fact.

The thinking behind these movements being if one facet of modernity is resisted, the modern world will disappear. Such single-minded protest movements are another rejection of reality because they fail to grasp the extent of modernity.

Another facet of the rejection of modernity is the glorification of a mythical past. This includes shallow fantasies of World War II, or 1950s family life, and efforts to present mythical accounts of the Old West or the American Revolutions as history.

Conservatism is Doomed to Irrelevance

Worst of all, none of this is an ideology or a belief system – instead it is simply a knee jerk reaction.

Like the “counterculture” and New Left of the 1960s, the New Conservatism is an emotional rejection of elements in society many find distasteful. Yes, there is much that is wrong and disturbing in modernity, but knee jerk rejection is not the answer.

Like the counterculture the new conservatism is a noisy, shallow, and obnoxious protest movement with no real purpose or strategy. It simply reacts against what its members dislike and offers no program or ideas.

The modern conservative movement will make a big noise, offend a lot of people, and achieve nothing just like the counterculture did. Like the counterculture, our modern conservative movement will end up as an answer to trivia questions.

We need a new generation of conservative leaders who are willing to stand up and fight for their values. Such leaders will have to be people of the stripe who led the conservative movement of the 1950s and 1960s.

The new conservative leaders must be prepared to be mocked, derided, and dismissed by leaders on both sides of the aisle. Like the conservatives of the 1960s they will be attacked as fascists by the left, and dismissed as fanatics by moderates.

Who those conservative leaders are and what their program will be I do not know. Although the first steps those leaders must take are clear.

They must accept modernity and stop denying reality. Until conservatives learn to take those simple steps, again their movement is doomed to irrelevance.

 

[1] To be fair to Conservatives it must be noted that some very liberal political figures including U.S. Senator Kamala Harris (D-California) and former Attorney General Loretta Lynch have been outspoken advocates of some of these practices.

[2] It should be noted here that Trump treats prominent whites; including many of his own political allies, with the same disrespect. Therefore, Trump may not be a racist but he definitely promotes that prejudice.

[3] To its credit Congress actually approved the largest US research budget increases in a decade in March 2018; and President Trump to his credit signed it, see: http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2018/03/updated-us-spending-deal-contains-largest-research-spending-increase-decade for details.