The Classic Conservative Movement No Longer Exists

You may have noticed, many moderate Republicans are leaving the party. Why? Read what Steve Schmidt wrote on Twitter: “29 years and nine months ago I registered to vote and became a member of the Republican Party which was founded in 1854 to oppose slavery and stand for the dignity of human life. Today I renounce my membership in the Republican Party. It is 1fully the party of Trump.”

This is a very strong declaration of independence. It comes from a man who has run many a political campaign. One who is committed to traditional conservative principles, but who understands his party is no longer his.

George Will is another high profile Republican who left his party. Pro-Choice Republicans also see the writing on the wall, and perhaps log cabin Republicans do as well. The party of Abraham Lincoln has strayed far from what it once was. It is no longer a party that supports human rights of all Americans. It is no longer a party that wants to preserve the environment. Nor is it in favor of some limited government. In other words, it has run from the classic conservatism that it once embraced.

There were planks that Republicans once embraced that are far and away from the party of Donald Trump. Among them, a commitment to internationalism, and US Leadership abroad. For example, the 1956 party platform read “We shall continue vigorously to support the United Nations.” This matters, since the current party desires to leave the world order, we created.

This classic conservatism embraced economics without the intervention of the state. This is not what a trade war stands for, incidentally. They believed in the idea that freedom from the state was essential, which is not what modern-day Republicans stand for, at least not under Trump. It also embraced a balance budget. From the same agenda: “We have balanced the budget. We believe and will continue to prove that thrift, prudence and a sensible respect for living within income applies as surely to the management of our Government’s budget as it does to the family budget.” And there are even more examples.

Classic conservatism is related to classical liberalism as understood in the 18th and 19th centuries.. It emerged from the writings of Edmund Burke. The main concern was social stability, and economic freedom. The hand of the marketplace was critical. So was the idea that the role of government should be limited.

Incidentally, this was hardly the philosophy followed by early Republicans and Abraham Lincoln. They were radicals who believed in the dignity of people. Or at least the 19th century version of it. We should not go crazy. Lincoln had doubts about blacks remaining in the United States after the civil war. He had the bright idea of deporting freed slaves to Central America and the Caribbean. The emancipation declaration was a military measure . Slave holding states that remained in the Union were not affected, for example. Nevertheless, they were radicals for their era, and unimaginable for modern-day Republicans. They held a moral core. Lincoln put his country abs future ahead of enemies, mostly domestic. The civil war was not a walk in the park. More than once the mission seemed to be near failure.

We have to be clear eyed about this. Modern day republicans are a white identity party. They used to have an extreme fringe, that was kookie, and conspiratorial. This fringe took over the Republican Party. In a classic political science sense, this party realigned into a far right political party. One that is actually growing smaller. To be fair, both parties are losing cache, but Republicans are growing smaller by the hour.

However, hey are not nazis or fascists, yet. And for all our sakes, they’d better stop that realignment before they do. Could they get there? Yes, and they are making haste towards that extreme. There are many warning signs that Republicans are embracing totalitarian ideology, and abandoning democracy. Partly it is the radical ideology they follow, which cannot happen in a Democracy.

How did we get here? Back in the 1950s and 60s Republicans had a fringe. The John Birch society was their extreme. Members believed in a series of conspiracy theories. Yet, they were the laughing stock in social circles who believed the United Nations was going to take over the country, and there were Russian commies begins every corner.. they were the crazy uncle most people didn’t pay attention to.

These days these conspiracies are coming from President Donald Trump over Twitter. He is fighting the lugenpresse, the lying press. He has even used a term that was used by classic authoritarians in the 20th century. He has called the press, the enemy of the people. We live in dark times.

As the essential man he believes he is the only one with access to the truth. He is a divider, attempting to consolidate his personal power above all. His base believes his rankings, which are worst than anything the John Birchers dreamt out. He, and the party, have embraced post truth, and made it their own.

This white identity movement is also increasing racial tensions. Part of this is the country moving towards a minority-majority country. This is frightening to people used to always having access to power. Sharing is not something they wish to do.

These tensions are not new. The United States still refuses to face its foundational sins of genocide and slavery. Race is not something we speak about if we can avoid it. We also would like to believe that the election of Barack Obama meant we moved to a post-racial society. Never mind that if factually wrong, and Trump’s proved it wrong. It could be seen as a reaction to it.

It is related to the status loss that many whites feel. Whether it is happening, or not, is independent. The future is not going to be as white as the past. There is a high anxiety over this. At present many of these people also know that they have trouble getting jobs is that minorities are preferred. The laws passed in the 1960s and 70s due to the civil rights movement are heavily resented. Many would love to get rid of these In particular the Equal Opportunity Law of 1972 and affirmative action.

Oh never mind that pressures on employment are happening due to robotics, more than any sort of quotas. This creates fear, and tensions. It also creates a sense that the world is not what it once was. It is time to confront what robots will do to the economy.

In a study early this year, McKinsey found that about half of all work activities globally have the technological potential to be automated, but the new report provides a more realistic assessment based on economic, social and technical factors. It concludes that from zero to a third of work activities could be displaced by 2030.

In the U.S., 39 million to 73 million jobs could be destroyed, but about 20 million of those displaced workers can be shifted fairly easily into similar occupations, though they may take on slightly different tasks, the report says. That means 16 million to 54 million workers — or as much as a third of the U.S. workforce — will need to be retrained for entirely new occupations.

The reaction to all these disruptive forces have been tribalistic in the extreme. It is very dangerous, since we are starting to see language that should scare us. When the president refers to immigrants as invaders and vermin we all should pay attention. This is the language of genocide. We do not have excuses since we understand the steps, However, most in his party are ok with it. We are also seeing racist displays more often, and even open recruitment. According to the Washington Post, this is happening in a small town in Pennsylvania:

Neo-Nazis and their opponents here say that white extremists have grown more confident — and confrontational — since the rise of Donald Trump. Two months before the 2016 presidential election, the KKK established a “24 hour Klan Line” and sent goody bags containing lollipops and fliers to hundreds of homes. “You can sleep tonight knowing the Klan is awake,” the message read. A regional newspaper ran Klan advertisements saying, “God bless the KKK.”

Local police said the group had not openly recruited in years.

It is hardly just Pennsylvania. It is understood to be part of the Trump effect, where people feel safer saying what they mean. Even when their belief system may be toxic.

A new study, however, suggests that the main threat to our democracy may not be the hardening of political ideology, but rather the hardening of one particular political ideology. Political scientists Steven V. Miller of Clemson and Nicholas T. Davis of Texas A&M have released a working paper titled “White Outgroup Intolerance and Declining Support for American Democracy.” Their study finds a correlation between white American’s intolerance, and support for authoritarian rule. In other words, when intolerant white people fear democracy may benefit marginalized people, they abandon their commitment to democracy.

This us versus them is increasing as economic changes continue to run though the country. This is technically in group as in group, out group dynamics. You may call it what it is, increasing racism. This is increasing divisions and leading to this white identity movement embraced by the modern Republican Party.

It did not start with Trump. Rather the first signs Republicans were adopting this ideology was Richard Nixon’s Southern Strategy. That was the point of inflection when many Dixiecrats, who were white identity warriors, and in many cases local members of the KKK, and followers of the Lost Cause, joined the Republican mantle. This fringe ideology has become mainstream.

This also comes from a deep sense of resentment. Every time that a black American makes it, that is an affront to these people, They see it as an attack on them, and what is rightfully theirs. It was the government that did this to them. It is the government that has to both fix it, and be destroyed for it. This explains a lot of the hate the government ideology from Republcians. They want a government that works for them, but nobody else. Since it is required to serve all, it needs to be destroyed.

Incidentally, this is why they cannot govern out of a wet paper bag.

What they chiefly want is a return to a past that no longer exist. It never did, but that will not stop them. The past is a foreign country where a few things did exist and in their minds they matter more than life itself. These they long for. First off, respect from those they perceive as lesser people. They know that people have lost any fear of them. Those lesser people do not get down from the sidewalk when they come. They do not remove any hats, They do not show any fear. This is why the Black Lives Matter movement scares them. It reminds them of the civil rights movement, which also demanded change. This is why they say that all lives maters. All lives, stands for them, and nobody else. It is a call for that past when those people did not talk back to them.

This is a time when people knew their place and Hispanics did not occupy positions of power. This is a wold where women didn’t go to work, and only served their husbands. It is a world where things were ordered as they should. In the process this white identity movement is ready to give up on democracy itself, and self government. Why? They, whoever it is they, are taking power away and growing powerful

This is a nihilistic movement, willing to give up all, including life itself. Why climate change denial is also strong with them. It is a movement that is prepared, in fact desiring of the final battle between good and evil. This final battle is conceptualized in the new testament, end of days, way. They are of course the good guys, and will come on top, restoring society (and religion) to its rightful place. This is not about democracy.

For them the only world worth living is a white, christian world, or not at all. This is what the Republican party has become. A party of the chosen few who know the truth. A party that embraces conspiracy theories and sees the president as a savior, as the essential man. This is no longer a movement that embraces what were once American values of conservation and good government. This is why many old style conservatives know it is lost.

A movement such as this is cult like, even if not all are part of the cult. In time the fever will break. It has broken in previous eras. But the damage it is already doing is deep and intense.

However, this movement is not yet fully fascist, or nazi like, though it is authoritarian. These are close cousins, but we must be precise in what we face. Fascism would make us wish for the less dramatic, and less damaging authoritarian movement. When people call them fascists, they are not doing themselves any favors. It helps to confuse the issue, and that is not a good thing.

Written by

Historian by training. Former day to day reporter. Sometimes a geek who enjoys a good miniatures game.

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