Let me say up front that I am a lifelong Republican and conservative. I have never voted for a Democrat in my life and have voted in every presidential and midterm election since 1988. I have never in my life considered myself anything but a conservative. I am pained to admit that the conservative media and many conservatives’ reaction to Donald Trump has caused me to no longer consider myself part of the movement.
I would suggest to you that if you have lost people like me, and I am not alone, you might want to reconsider your reaction to Donald Trump. Let me explain why.
First, I spent the last 20 years watching the conservative media in Washington endorse and urge me to vote for one candidate after another who made a mockery of conservative principles and values. Everyone talks about how thankful we are for the Citizens United decision but seems to have forgotten how we were urged to vote for the co-author of the law that the decision overturned.
In 2012, we were told to vote for Mitt Romney, a Massachusetts liberal who proudly signed an individual insurance mandate into law and refused to repudiate the decision. Before that, there was George W. Bush, the man who decided it was America’s duty to bring democracy to the Middle East. And before that, there was Bob Dole, the man who gave us the Americans with Disabilities Act.
I, of course, voted for those candidates and do not regret doing so. I, however, am self-aware enough to realize I voted for them because I will vote for virtually anyone to keep the left out of power and not because I thought them to be the best or even really a conservative choice.
Given this history, the conservative media’s claims that the Republican Party must reject Donald Trump because he is not a “conservative” are pathetic and ridiculous to those of us who are old enough to remember the last 25 years.
Looking out for America
Second, it doesn’t appear to me that conservatives calling on people to reject Trump have any idea what it actually means to be a “conservative.” The word seems to have become a brand that some people attach to a set of partisan policy preferences, rather than the set of underlying principles about government and society it once was.
Conservatism has become a dog’s breakfast of Wilsonian internationalism brought over from the Democratic Party after the New Left took it over, coupled with fanatical libertarian economics and religiously driven positions on various culture war issues. No one seems to have any idea or concern for how these positions are consistent or reflect anything other than a general hatred for Democrats and the left.
Lost in all of this is the older strain of conservatism. The one I grew up with and thought was reflective of the movement. This strain of conservatism believed in the free market and capitalism but did not fetishize them the way so many libertarians do.
This strain understood that a situation where every country in the world but the US acts in its own interests on matters of international trade and engages in all kinds of skulduggery in support of their interests is not free trade by any rational definition. This strain understood that a government’s first loyalty was to its citizens and the national interest. And also understood that the preservation of our culture and our civil institutions was a necessity.
All of this seems to have been lost. Conservatives have become some sort of schizophrenic sect of libertarians who love freedom (but hate potheads and abortion) and feel the US should be the policeman of the world. The same people who daily fret over the effects of leaving our society to the mercy of Hollywood and the mass culture have somehow decided leaving it to the mercies of the international markets is required.
Third, there is the issue of the war on Islamic extremism. Let me say upfront that I am a veteran of two foreign deployments in this war. As a member of the 1% who have served in these wars which movement conservatives consider so vital, my question for you and every other conservative is just when the hell did being conservative mean thinking the US has some kind of a duty to save foreign nations from themselves or bring our form of democratic republicanism to them by force? I fully understand the sad necessity to fight wars and I do not believe in “blow back” or any of the other nonsense that says the world will leave us alone if only we will do the same. At the same time, I cannot for the life of me understand how conservatives of all people convinced themselves that the solution to the 9/11 attacks was to forcibly create democracy in the Islamic world. I have even less explanations for how — 15 years and 10,000-plus lives later — conservatives refuse to examine their actions and expect the country to send more of its young to bleed and die over there to save the Iraqis who will not save themselves
The lowest moment of the election was when Trump said what everyone in the country knows: that invading Iraq was a mistake. Rather than engaging the question with honest self-reflection, all of the so-called “conservatives” responded with the usual “How dare he?”
Worse, they let Jeb Bush claim that George W. Bush “kept us safe.” I can assure you that President Bush didn’t keep me safe. Do I and the other people in the military not count? Sure, we signed up to give our lives for our country, and I will never regret doing so. But doesn’t our commitment require a corresponding responsibility on the part of the president to only expect us to do so when it is both necessary and in the national interest?
And since when is bringing democracy to Iraq and Afghanistan so much in the national interest that it is worth killing or maiming 50,000 Americans to try to achieve? I don’t see that, but I am not a Wilsonian and used to, at least, be a conservative. I have these strange ideas that my government ought to act in America’s interests instead of the rest of the world’s interests. I wish conservatives could understand how galling it was to have a career politician lecture us about how George W. Bush kept us safe.
Time for civility is past
Donald Trump is the only Republican candidate who seems to have any inclination to act strictly in America’s interest. More importantly, he is the only Republican candidate who is willing to even address the problem. Trump may not have been right to say that we need to stop letting more Muslims into the country or, at least, examine the issue, but he wasn’t crazy to suggest it either. And like when he said the obvious about Iraq, the first people to condemn him and deny the obvious were conservatives. Somehow, being conservative now means denying the obvious and saying idiotic fantasies like “Islam is always peaceful” or “Our war is not with a radical strain of Islam.” Uh, sorry, but no it is not, and yes it is. And if getting a president who at least understands that means voting for Trump, then I guess I am not a conservative.
Fourth, I really do not care that Donald Trump is vulgar, combative and uncivil, and I would encourage you not to care as well. I would love to have our political discourse be what it was even 30 years ago and something better than what it is today. But the fact is the Democratic Party is never going to return to that, and there isn’t anything anyone can do about it.