Conservatism is not the GOP
…….and it sure as hell is not Trump
The Democrats of the Jacksonian era were not the Democrats of the Progressive era are not the Democrats of the 21st century. The Republicans of abolitionism were not the Republicans of the Civil Rights Era are not the Republicans of the 21st century. Reagan’s famed words come to mind, “I didn’t leave the Democratic Party, the Democratic Party left me.” Similarly, this election cycle has left many conservatives feeling displaced. Trump’s persona clashes with the values held dearly by many traditionalists. Principles, both social and economic, thought to typify the Republican Party have been rebuked by large portion of the GOP Primary electorate.
Conservatism in America faces a much larger crisis than Trump’s ascendancy. His emergence is only a symptom of a disease that plagues conservative circles. The Republican Party has disenfranchised persons who see social justice as their primary political objective. By failing to promulgate a conservatism that seeks to apply its principles rigorously against the injustices of our society, the Left has been given a virtual monopoly on issues of social justice. Unfortunately, what most our peers consider conservatism is an ugly caricature of what free-markets and individual liberties can do to bring prosperity and dignified living.
We cannot claim to be the party of civil liberties when we stand by uncritically while those few policemen who commit injustice get off with a slap on the wrist or give widespread support for the Patriot Act. It makes little sense to call ourselves fiscally responsible and pro-market when conservative administrations have allowed hundreds of billions of dollars in corporate subsidies to exist unscathed and have done nothing, even buttressing, the bastions of legal/institutional privileges that allow corporations to subvert free markets and work against the welfare of average citizens. We are not the keepers of classically liberal values if we allow rapid environmental degradation, a clear violation of the harm principle towards persons who do not posess the means to speak out themselves.
There are pressing issues our country faces that only the privileged among us can ignore. It is immoral to stand by and be a “no” party while there are millions who suffer as a consequence of a host of societal pathologies. It isn’t uncommon for conservative pundits and politicians to criticize policies, that seek to address important issues, put forth by liberal legislators. But how often have we put forth our own plan of action that addresses critical issues of social justice while overcoming the legislative downfalls we criticize?
Conservatism has two intellectual traditions that can be powerful engines of social justice. The Burkean tradition of government seeks deliberate and careful consideration and implementation of policies as to minimize the suffering that can be caused by reckless legislation (this cannot be used as an excuse to be unresponsive to injustice and infractions against individuals). The Kantian moral tradition, rather than seeing individuals as cogs in socio-political machine, obliges us to respect the autonomy of each individual and treat them as an end in themselves. When these principles are mixed with the civic-minded and transcendental mores, Conservatism becomes a powerful tool towards material stability/prosperity and non-material fulfillment.
Call me crazy, but I don’t think people should have to take out a second mortgage to receive treatment for a life-threatening illness. Perhaps I have a weird conception of individual rights, but I don’t think it’s just to deny someone a fulfilling and dignified life because of their gender identity or sexual orientation. And, the fact that 19.6% of undergraduates have to work full-time year round while attempting to maintain a GPA and craft a resume that will give them competitive opportunity is a glaring waste of human capital and institutional resources.
We must refuse the Left a monopoly on social justice. What needs to differentiate conservative minded reform from that of the left is its methodology. It must understand that the national debt is a social justice issue, as the problems associated with debt default and financial ruin most decidedly harm the poor. It has to reduce the influence of bloated federal bureaucracies that have become co-opted by big business; limited government is the most democratic and least susceptible to corruption. It puts forth a plan for an effective solution to healthcare inequality without saddling the country with trillions in debt. It will give state and municipal governments more autonomy to address regional issues that require local understanding while vigilantly protecting citizens from territorial prejudices. It facilitates the role of the market as a bringer of material prosperity, but fights monopolies and privileges that reduce the democratizing influence of competition. It does not allow the basic liberties of its citizens to be in peril.
The time has come for us to step up and refuse to be silent. Conservatism has a lot to offer social justice. The question becomes whether we are going to fight piously against the immoralities perpetuated by both major political parties and put the fight for justice at the head of our agenda? Or, will we defend the indefensible structures of privilege in our society under the pseudonym of conservatism?