I take conservatives at their word. They call themselves “conservatives” because their mission can best be summed up with that word: conservatives want to CONSERVE. Nothing is more important to a conservative than “what is” except for “what was“. What “was” really is the target — the past is what any conservative wants to conserve or as much of the past that still remains in the present. If they could suspend time and capture this moment in amber — and then force the rest of the world to live inside that frozen amber — that would make them supremely happy. White supremely happy. That’s the part of our human past conservatives point to with pride — when the descendants of white Northern Europeans ran America with zero interference from Black or brown people and also women. The Confederacy remains a high water mark in white culture TO white culture. In fact, I bet that if there was some way to put a “Bring Back Slavery” referendum on the ballot in some crazy Republican-run state, some Republican would do it, knowing that every other Republican now thought he was a god.
By its very nature, conservatism resists change at all costs. Whatever change it agrees to, it agrees to gradually and unwillingly. Conservatives know that change doesn’t just happen. It begins, often, with curiosity in the face of a problem: “Why are things the way they are (broken) — and what can we do to fix them or make them work better?” Conservatism will organically assert that the old way still works (“If it ain’t broke, don’t ‘fix’ it”) when, in fact, the old way NEVER worked for a significant portion of the population — the part that wasn’t rich, white and Christian. What conservatives mean is “If it ain’t broke for US, we have zero intention of letting YOU ‘fix it’.” All change, conservatives understand, begins with “new information”. Add “new information” to any environment and the environment instantly changes. Immediately, the old environment is gone — transformed into something, well, “new” because of that new information.
That terror has always been behind the conservative refusal to ever go along with sex education for kids. Right off the bat, the conservative assumption was that a young person armed with information about sex and their own sexuality would do the obvious: use it to start having informed sex. Or, worse, a young person armed with good information about human sexuality might go to the worst possible extreme. They’ll come out of the closet or confess to masturbating or, worst of all, find a modicum of happiness and contentment within their own skins. That’s the hold moral authority (usually in the form of a religious institution) has over many of us: they get to tell US what happiness is rather than each of us seeking the happiness that best suits us.
The last thing conservativism wants from those under its thumb is any sort of independent thinking. That’s ironic considering how married conservatives are to their notion that THEY are the “independent thinkers”. But, independent thinking and conservatism are mutually exclusive propositions. The commercial interests that started the American experiment — before the French Enlightenment had a chance to temper some of that exploitative thinking into at least the notion that “All men are created equal” — were conservative in their thinking. They didn’t see this continent as a place where everyone might be free, they saw it as a place where THEY might be free — at everyone else’s expense. Good thing the rest of the world grasped the magnificence of America’s founding concepts — the Black people the white people enslaved especially. Even better that they tolerated white people expropriating this magnificent idea for themselves as long as they did without surrendering. We owe them a huge debt of gratitude.
What’s changing — what’s making conservatives rise up in full grievance kabuki makeup — is that at long last America is beginning to realize the greatness of its ideals. That will not require a single white person losing what they have. In fact, it will make what they have even better. As more people — across the full spectrum of e pluiribus unum — benefit and prosper, the more fully EVERYONE will. Oh, the richest of the rich might not make quite as much as they used to — but then again, they might — because there will be exponentially more customers out there with money in their pockets.
When I think of what it is conservatives want to conserve, I almost feel sorry for them. They’re a sad, old spider protecting a wretched, old web, unaware that the future will eat them regardless. They might go kicking and screaming into that good night, but they’re going.
That’s the weirdest part: it doesn’t have to be. But change is so impossible for conservatives to accept that they’ll even blow a massive hole in their own foot to try and resist it. Then, still unsatisfied, they’ll turn that same weapon on themselves.