Donald Trump is not a Conservative – I think we all know this. He managed a take-over of the GOP, which had been the (alleged) home of Conservatism, but he made no declaration of loyalty to Conservatism when he did so. And don’t go thinking it was a hostile take-over…plenty in the GOP didn’t (and don’t) like Trump, but plenty more, did. In fact, of course, enough to secure him the GOP nomination. But winning the White House took far more than just holding the GOP. In fact, my guesstimate is that as many as 6 million traditional GOP voters either stayed home, or went with McMullin or Johnson (a very tiny number voted for Hillary, I suspect). Trump won because he brought in people who don’t normally vote GOP…and who are most emphatically not Conservatives.
But, then again, what are Conservatives? What is Conservatism? Over the past few months, I’ve seen a lot of different Conservatives going off in all manner of odd directions…some in Trump’s favor, some decidedly against Trump. Bill Kristol, as I noted in an earlier post, is a Conservative who is hoping that un-elected bureaucrats force Trump from office. Another Conservative is convinced that Hillary would be forcefully standing up to Russia because she’s some sort of patriotic American hero. Yet another Conservative I’m familiar with has gone in for some neo-Nazi “blood and soil” twaddle about just who can be an American. I’ve seen Conservatives in favor of vigorous war-making in Syria, others who are insisting that we become actual isolationists. Some Conservatives are finding a sudden respect for the “pro-choice” position on abortion, others are figuring that most Conservatives have always been secretly racist.
Let’s face something here: there is no Conservatism, because no one can provide a body of thought which most Conservatives will support. Perhaps there never was a Conservatism, really – maybe it was just something cobbled together by Reagan and only valid as long as he was there to provide direction? Maybe the pressures of the cold war fused together people who would otherwise hate each other and who didn’t really care about anything other than defeating Communism? Don’t get me wrong, defeating Communism is always a worthy goal…but once the major external Communist threat was gone, we have found that plenty of people who were allies against the Soviet Union are quite ok with the imposition of some Communist ideas (mostly in the realm of social policy) in the United States. Might it be time we re-think this whole thing? Start over again, from scratch?
It could be that Trump merely ripped off the mask – forced into the open divisions which were always there, but papered over simply because in a two-party system, anyone who is not Progressive in the fullest sense must be GOP? Think of all the truly Conservative things which could have been done over the past 30 years, and how few of them were actually done. For goodness sake, it’s 2017 and we still haven’t got to even relatively small things like defunding Planned Parenthood or axing the subsidies for PBS. These are things we could have forced through many times in the past 3 decades if there had been a genuinely Conservative movement in the United States. But always, whenever such things were proposed, we found alleged “fellow Conservatives” cutting the effort off at the knees. As if the reality was that plenty of Conservatives were really only Conservative in the sense of not being full-blown Progressive.
I cannot set myself up as the arbiter of what Conservatism is, but I think I’ll at least state what I think Conservatism should be…and then see if anyone else comes along. So, here we go – my 10 principles of True Conservatism.
1. As American Conservatives, our primary political aspiration is to preserve the ideals expressed in our Declaration of Independence. Most importantly, that government is instituted to secure God-given rights. Our Constitution is a sublime document and must be respected, and only altered via Constitutional means. The rule of law is a requirement for any civilized nation, and so Conservatism insists that the laws be enforced as they are, until such time as the people, via Constitutional means, alter or abolish them.
2. It is the family, not the individual or the social/ethnic/economic group which is the building block of civilization. A Conservative seeks to preserve the family (meaning, mother and father and their natural and/or adopted children) against encroachments by the State or other elements of society.
3. The secure ownership of property is one of the mainstays of preserving the family. Families which can work and build property (wealth) with a goal towards financial independence are the strongest of all families – and, thus, a Conservative will do all which can be done to make the ownership and transmission of family property secure.
4. Power corrupts, and so Conservatism will always seek to reduce as far as practical the power that anyone holds over any other person. There are many mechanisms which can be put into place to reduce concentrations of power, but the main thing is to ensure that the most power is exercised by people most immediately accountable to the people. So, local government must have more power than State government, State government more than federal – and federal government the least power of all.
5. We are all one community of people, bound to each other by ties of patriotism and love. No Conservative can hold to the view that another is inferior based upon ethnic, social or economic background. No American who works hard should be without the necessities of a dignified life. Nor should anyone who can’t work lack for any needed thing. Conservatism is in favor of charity, and realizes that, at times, the organizing power and wealth of government can, and must, be brought to bear to assist those in need.
6. All those who can contribute to society must contribute. Conservatism has no place for those who, able to work, refuse their duty. How this contribution is to be done is to be left, in almost all cases, for the local community to decide, but there is no place in Conservatism for the deadbeat.
7. Life, property and human rights are to be protected by force, if necessary. Always using mercy to temper justice, Conservatism still insists that criminal behavior is wrong and those who commit crimes must pay a price. True Conservatism will have only a few things decreed as illegal: a multiplicity of laws which cannot be understood by average people is not a system of justice, but a system of judicial tyranny. In general, only violent crimes and major theft will be treated by Conservatism as something meriting criminal punishment. In almost all cases, what is to be done with criminal behavior is to be left to the local community to decide.
8. Great disparities of wealth are not conducive to an orderly society. Conservatism applauds the citizen who will work hard, live frugally and build wealth – but when the wealth of an individual (or corporate entity) becomes so large as to distort the workings of society, then Conservatism seeks means of redress. There is nothing wrong with being rich; there is something wrong with using great wealth to secure special privileges.
9. Conservatism recognizes a dangerous world and thus insists that the armed forces of the United States be kept strong enough to repel any possible foreign attack. Conservatism understands that the ultimate defense or our nation, internal and external, is the citizenry, itself. To this end, Conservatism advocates for a citizen militia for home defense, and that all adults who wish to be armed should be so.
10. Faith holds a special place in Conservatism as it recognizes that the real hopes and dreams of the people are expressed via their faith. As far as is practical, Conservatism takes the side of religious liberty against any desire to restrict it. Even if what is being done in the name of a faith seems inexplicable to any particular person, a Conservative will only in the most extreme cases seek to interfere in the practice of a person’s religion.
And there you have it – it is, at least, the Conservatism I believe in. Perhaps you do, as well? We’ll see. But if you’ve got a better Conservatism, then let’s hear it. This does has to be hammered out. If we are to have a Conservative movement, it will have to agree on at least some basic principles and everyone who wishes to be Conservative must adhere to them, once agreed upon.