If you say you are a staunch defender of the rule of law, that you are devoted to ending systematic racism, that you are an advocate of legal immigration, that you believe in objective reality (including climate change science) and that you think illiberal regimes such as Russia are our greatest foreign threat, the party of Trump will lash out at you. They will accuse you of Trump derangement syndrome and dub you a “fake” conservative. Well, they have a point. Because conservatives no longer seem to champion any of those positions (or free trade or American international leadership or NATO), it is hard to say I fit in any longer.
Writing for the Bulwark, Shay Khatiri details the collapse of the alliance among economic, national security and social conservatives, concluding:
So yes, conservatism is dead. The Tea Party in 2010s tried to resurrect it. But all that the angry and bitter zombie Reaganites of the Tea Party ultimately accomplished was making conservatism look obstructionist — and, with the ascension of Donald Trump, they have turned into zombie Buchananites. To the extent that the mindless mush that is called “conservatism” today is in obedient lockstep with Donald Trump, it is nationalist, hateful, intolerant, and unpatriotic.
If adherents cannot defend their position without resorting to conspiracy theories, factual misrepresentation and racism, perhaps what they are adhering to is fundamentally flawed. The need to invent a scary, socialist-possessed Joe Biden to justify reelecting President Trump (as my colleagues have delightfully parodied) strongly suggests there is no morally defensible reason for reelecting a man who thinks our covid-19 deaths wouldn’t look so bad if we just ignored blue states. (First, that’s monstrous, and second, the states with spiking infection and death rates are red states.)
There is a healthy debate about whether Republicans were always racist frauds. My friend Stuart Stevens has a strong case to make that they were. Others claim Trump took that marginal element in the GOP and made it dominant. While I continue to believe that decent, honorable conservatives such as George H.W. Bush, John McCain and, yes, Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) were or are sincere patriots, I am forced to concede the racist, xenophobic and anti-intellectual element in the party was far more pronounced than I was willing to admit.
So if “conservative” has no meaning and if many of the 1980 positions (e.g., infinitely reducing taxes for the wealthy, hostility to the New Deal) are entirely unsuited to our current challenges, what ideology properly fits ex-Republicans unwilling to swallow the lies or descend into intellectual dishonesty?
The same set of beliefs that always animated me — America’s international leadership, defense of human rights, constitutional governance, equal justice under the law, a vibrant but not unfettered free market, limited but energetic government and public virtue — could be considered “19th century liberalism” (quite a mouthful) or moderation (which I have frequently explained does not mean the squishy middle). The name is far less important than the outlook and the rejection of extremism, racism, authoritarianism, isolationism, xenophobia, cruelty, deceit and tribalism.
There are very, very few self-identified Republicans on the national stage who meet that criteria (okay, maybe just Romney) and only a handful at the state or local level (e.g., Govs. Larry Hogan of Maryland and Charlie Baker of Massachusetts). Most are out of government (e.g., former governors John Kasich of Ohio, William F. Weld of Massachusetts and Jeb Bush of Florida).
There are many (but not all) Democrats, including former vice president Joe Biden, I believe, who represent that world view. We will see how he does if elected. For now, the objective remains removal of Trump and obliteration of a party that has grievously betrayed democracy and abandoned simple decency and honesty. Whatever alternative to the toxic waste dump of the Trump GOP arises to replace it may be worth considering — but only if it embodies the most basic American creed (“We the people. . .”) and abandons veneration of authoritarianism.
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