I take conservatives and conservatism at their word: they’re all about conserving things. My question is always: “what?”. What is it exactly that any conservative wants to conserve? It can’t be the future, of course, because the future – not existing yet – can’t be conserved. That leaves the present and past for conservatives. Okay… what then about the present or the past are conservatives so intent on conserving? What about the future – about the way the future will change the present (and therefore the past) – concerns them so much that they want to resist going into it? What about progress makes conservatives dig in their heels?
In America, conservatism has circled its wagons around keeping America white for white people. Antonin Scalia’s legal-theory-sounding name for it was “originalism”. Part of the mythology we’ve created for ourselves is that our “founding fathers” were as infallible as a pope. Well, as our founding documents keep telling us (Maya Angelou would insist we believe them), the white, Christian, land-owning men who met and memorialized their intentions to start a new country based on laws not the rights of kings, for all their good intentions, screwed up their execution of this amazing idea. They didn’t get it a hundred percent right.
In fact, they knew it themselves! That’s why they made the Constitution a “living”, adaptable, dynamic document NOT tied to the original founders beyond the most basic idea of self government.
When our founders agreed that “All men are created equal”, they cynically meant only men – and only white, Christian, land-owning men like them. Yet, some of our founders clearly grasped the flaw in that thinking. James Madison – with his own conflicted view of slavery – understood what made (and would continue to make) America unique among the world’s nations. He insisted we make “E Pluribus Unum” our motto. It’s on our Great Seal.
“Out of many, one”. There’s no hierarchy in that presentation. There’s community built of diversity. That, by the way, is American Exceptionalism and American Exceptionalism (when allowed to “be”) is a very, very real thing. It’s the allure of this country. It’s why getting here and being here and getting to call yourself “an American” means so much to people NOT from here. Americans have lost all perspective on what we have here.
We’ve lost “civic pride”. If we reminded ourselves – “taught our children” would be the technical term – that America is indeed a remarkable experiment that demands constant renewal, constant revision, constant updating by the newest Americans especially because they are the ideal as it rolls from the factory. The process of maintaining this remarkable thing isn’t easy. It’s harder than hard.
As Churchill famously put it, democracy is the worst form of government – except for all the others. Yeah… democracy’s a “necessary evil”. The alternative is Vladimir Putin. There simply is no middle ground between authoritarianism and democracy. No compromised. How can one compromise with evil – that’s what all authoritarianism is. Even a beneficent dictator would lose her way. Power is corrupting and absolute power absolutely so. That’s why power-sharing is the only way.
And power-SHARING is what scares conservatives more than life itself.
That’s our core problem here in America. Are all conservatives this loopy? I hope not. I can’t speak for them. But, the less-loopy conservatives have allowed the loopiest conservatives to drive their bus toward a cliff. Speaking only for myself (I can’t speak for “the left”), I think the wave of anti-Trumpers was great. Project Lincoln – love their messaging skills. Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger? They stood up at an important moment. But this moment should never have happened. This moment was a product of their political will!
A huge, greasy slab of the Republican Party excused itself from responsibility for Trump by telling the press how little they cared for the man while loving his policies. Rather than respond “Well, that’s kinda slutty, don’tcha think?” our news media normalized it – accepting such morality-free, “But, I got richer and that’s what matters” explanations as “how Republicans are”. Meanwhile, regular, old right v wrong morality was still being applied to the Democrats.
The GOP may have loathed Trump but they knew exactly who – and WHAT – he was when they hitched their wagon to his. They KNEW Trump’s wagon was firmly and irrevocably hitched to Putin. The Republican Party knew and accepted that “Putin pays [Rohrbacher and] Trump – swear to God!” as of June 25, 2016, a month BEFORE the GOP made Trump their nominee for POTUS. That left them plenty of time to call the FBI and reassure themselves that current GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy was wrong to accuse their nominee of being a traitor. No one in the room did that. No one in the entire GOP leadership did that.
Conservatives will even resort to TREASON to have their way. What other message can reasonable take from their behavior?
And for what? For what purpose? To NOT have to share political power with a diverse and diversifying America – as per E Pluribus Unum?
Why, I wonder, don’t conservatives want to conserve THAT part of America’s original premise? Why don’t conservatives trumpet “E Pluribus Unum!”? Because diversity is antithetical to everything they stand for and believe in.
The nations of Europe struggle with diversity. A lot of the right wing nationalism that’s flared up has flared because so many immigrants have flowed into what were previously homogenous cultures. They never thought of themselves or advertised themselves to be “diverse”. Swedes are “Swedish” going back a millennia. It took a thousand years for the various hunnish tribes of Germany to fuse into Germans. Same goes for the Frankish tribes and Visigoths who became “French”. When one crossed a European border – once they existed – one often went to a different culture with a different language.
America never experienced any such insularity. Once European pathogens wiped out the majority of Native American peoples, there were, in essence, no proto-Americans to speak of. Whoever got off the boat? That was an “American”. The fact that European money financed those ventures is important. Money, not ideals, brought Europeans to these shores. The “freedom” Europeans originally sought here wasn’t political, it was economic. Even the Puritans – having found religious freedom in the Netherlands (but no way to make a living there) – came to North America in search of money, not their souls.
The American Dream is as real a thing as dreams can get. It’s a vision. A promise that, if you’re willing to work your ass off, you can realize your full potential. You can accomplish your dreams and live a contented, satisfying life. The whole point of self-government is to make that possible for every American who wants it (and for everyone willing to go through the rigor of becoming an American).
Now, here’s the rub – from a conservative perspective. All those newbies from all the other nations of the world? There’s more than just clothing and personal items packed in their luggage; they’ve brought ideas with them. New ways to solve old problems (and new problems, too). They bring innovation.
For conservatives, that’s a double whammy of gut punch. Not only are newbies “newbies” (translation: not white), they approach problem solving differently – sometimes in ways white people aren’t “comfortable” with.
The problem with any innovation is that it asks a very hard question right up front: “why can’t the old ways solve this problem?” The answer: “Because the old ways CAN’T. We need a new way”. Thus innovation. Thus the death of the old and the birth of the new.
Thus the end of conservatism.
Crazy leftist that I am, I acknowledge that I don’t represent how every American thinks. My point of view must be balanced (to a degree at least) if we’re to continue succeeding as a democratic republic. We need a “conservative” party that represents less progressive values and priorities than mine. But that party needs to be pulling toward the same goal progressives ultimately want: the best possible America for our children and grandchildren etc. A party pulling with all its bullying might toward authoritarianism ain’t doing that.