The continued rise of Compassionless Conservatives

“Social conservatism and neoconservatism have revived authoritarian conservatism, and not for the better of conservatism or American democracy. True conservatism is cautious and prudent. Authoritarianism is rash and radical. American democracy has benefited from true conservatism, but authoritarianism offers potentially serious trouble for any democracy.”
― John W. Dean, Conservatives Without Conscience

It seems like it would be wrong of me to dwell too much on politics while the #1000Speak link-up is still open. But, even with as many issues as the Democrats see to be having, the GOP, in South Carolina’s primary, has continued to prove that ‘compassionate conservatism’ is long dead. And perhaps that makes it necessary to raise the subject of politics. And whether Donald Trump or Ted Cruz would be the absolute worst choice for president since they still seem to be hanging on to the lead, so Republicans may need to make that choice.

Robert Reich wrote a FB post last week in which he discussed the demise of the GOP:

“I’m writing to you today to announce the death of the Republican Party. It is no longer a living, vital, animate organization. 

It died in 2016. RIP.

It has been replaced by 6 warring tribes:

Evangelicals opposed to abortion, gay marriage, and science.

Libertarians opposed to any government constraint on private behavior.

Market fundamentalists convinced the “free market” can do no wrong.

Corporate and Wall Street titans seeking bailouts, subsidies, special tax loopholes, and other forms of crony capitalism. 

Billionaires craving even more of the nation’s wealth than they already own.

And white working-class Trumpoids who love Donald. and are becoming convinced the greatest threats to their wellbeing are Muslims, blacks, and Mexicans.

Each of these tribes has its own separate political organization, its own distinct sources of campaign funding, its own unique ideology – and its own candidate. 

What’s left is a lifeless shell called the Republican Party. But the Grand Old Party inside the shell is no more.

I, for one, regret its passing. Our nation needs political parties to connect up different groups of Americans, sift through prospective candidates, deliberate over priorities, identify common principles, and forge a platform.

The Republican Party used to do these things. Sometimes it did them easily, as when it came together behind William McKinley and Teddy Roosevelt in 1900, Calvin Coolidge in 1924, and Ronald Reagan in 1980. 

Sometimes it did them with difficulty, as when it strained to choose Abraham Lincoln in 1860, Barry Goldwater in 1964, and Mitt Romney in 2012. 

But there was always enough of a Republican Party to do these important tasks – to span the divides, give force and expression to a set of core beliefs, and come up with a candidate around whom Party regulars could enthusiastically rally. 

No longer. And that’s a huge problem for the rest of us.

Without a Republican Party, nothing stands between us and a veritable Star Wars barroom of self-proclaimed wanna-be’s. 

Without a Party, anyone runs who’s able to raise (or already possesses) the requisite money – even if he happens to be a pathological narcissist who has never before held public office, even if he’s a knave detested by all his Republican colleagues. 

Without a Republican Party, it’s just us and them. And one of them could even become the next President of the United States.”

He’s right, and we should all regret its passing. As difficult and contentious, and often choiceless, as our 2 party system has proven to be over the years, we do not have an electoral system in place that will support a multi-part democracy. The electoral college and the primary system nullify that option. A 3rd party candidate might, just might, be viable – but only one that resonates strongly with enough mainstream conservative voters as well as progressives that a majority can be pulled off.  And I’m not sure I see that happening. What I am afraid of now is that Republicans will be so reluctant to cross party lines that they will vote for Trump or Cruz – even when they are ideologically far from the mainstream US population on most issues, and even when those same voters don’t like, or agree with, the message or the messenger.

What concerned me more, I think, was the lack of self-reflection on the part of my more conservative family & friends. Most either chose to blow off Reich’s piece as irrelevant, or went out of their way to find ways to point their fingers at the liberal hypocrisy of ignoring the problems in the Democratic Party (and of course to use the opportunity to demonize Obama, or Clinton, or both). But that misses the point – the answer to every criticism and concern simply cannot be ‘everyone’s doing it’, or ‘pot meet kettle’. When we do that, when we’ve allowed the manipulators to lead us to see only the divisions, and to respond with hate and insulting negativity, we’ve lost the ability to make things better for ourselves. I’m not conservative, admittedly I never was, although I grew up in a GOP household, but I recognize the need for both parties. Any political system will have people from all points of the politics spectrum – we will never be in 100% agreement with everyone else on every issue all of the time. But you want the ‘best and the brightest’ to represent your views. This is not where we seem to be as a country right now. And the GOP has been deteriorating for years, to the point where my very conservative Catholic mother ended up supporting Bill Clinton, despised George W Bush post-9/11, and I know she’d be horrified by the rise of Donald Trump now, were she still alive. In spite of what some of my conservative friends would like to believe, this Republican Party bears no resemblance to the party that I grew up with – one that I thought was dangerous then. And the fact that the Democratic Party has been changing as well does not alter that fact – or make it less relevant. Trump and Cruz did as well as they did in South Carolina because both of them lied, which is not new behavior for either, and both of them pulled in voters by increasing the emphasis on the hate – of Muslims, of immigrants, of homosexuals, of celiacs in the military (since Ted Cruz failed to realized that gluten-free is not merely a dietary fad). Sadly, this is the new normal in GOP politics. It was impressive, but not particularly helpful that Rubio came in second, since he had the endorsement of Governor Haley. And he is really only a marginally less divisive choice than Cruz.

Those of us that didn’t initially expect Trump to stick the campaign out this long must now accept that he is in it for the long haul. I think that he is likely to run as an Independent if a brokered convention keeps him from getting the GOP nod in August. That may be the best option for the country – he really can’t win then, but I’m afraid that he might actually win if he does get the GOP nomination. And I think I’m not the only one. A year ago, the Koch brothers said that they expected to put an obscene amount of money into 2016, but as of now, they are not supporting any candidates. And this is not surprising because they have no control over either Trump or Cruz – and are unlikely to in the future. And when Charles Koch writes a column in the Washington Post highlighting what he agrees with Sanders about (no they will never support a Sanders presidential bid), then you’d think more conservatives would take note (oh, but yeah, it was in the Washington Post – not Breitbart’s website, so no). And if Trump does run as an Independent, what happens if Michael Bloomberg finally decides to launch his own campaign? A potential 4 way race? A fascinating idea, but totally unworkable under our system because we are not a true democracy. We are a democratic republic that was designed as a representative democracy. Perhaps AFTER we’ve addressed the money in politics issues, and heavily gerrymandered voting districts, and the other stumping blocks that are in the way of having a successful republic, we can consider abolishing the electoral college in favor of a true ‘majority wins’ election system.

I should give equal time to the problems that the Democrats are suffering from, and I probably will sometime soon, but to be completely honest, with only two candidates – one well entrenched in the current political model, and one with strong appeal for the disaffected progressives, there is less to contemplate. Clinton is Bush or Kasich, but with a more socially progressive stance. Sanders is Trump’s polar opposite – they both appeal to the most disaffected voters – but with different visions for the solutions. The danger I see, the much bigger danger, is on the right – Trump’s nationalistic fervor, or Cruz’s evangelical delusions. Neither option is a good one – in spite of Cruz’s insistence that he is a constitutional originalist, any reading of the words of our founders would prove otherwise.

“Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man & his god, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, thus building a wall of separation between church and state. Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties.”

Thomas Jefferson – letter to the Danbury Baptists, Jan 1, 1802







11 thoughts on “The continued rise of Compassionless Conservatives”

  1. True conservatives are no longer what makes up the base of the modern GOP. They have adopted the name & corrupted the meaning. That is also John Dean’s point & what Robert Reich was lamenting. You can choose to disregard that because it doesn’t meet the definition of conservatism, and that’s fair, but that is then also allowing what is now passing for conservatism in the GOP to continue unchecked. Quite frankly, comparatively the Eisenhower & Goldwater Republicans that I grew up with look liberal.


  2. First – this is an opinion piece, and I personally, do think that the GOP has lost the thread. It was also written nearly 2 years ago. But, that said, the ‘select few’ are now running the show – and are redrawing the GOP. I know that there are still more traditional conservatives out there, and I listen to them as well, but they are struggling to be heard. The Libertarians, at this point, are philosophically closer to more traditional conservatism than the GOP. Personally, I think now that the ‘never Trump’ Republicans had a decent candidate in McMullen – but it was too little too late. As a boomer, the conservative Republican household I grew up in bears virtually no resesmbence to the modern GOP. Christie Todd Whitman made that observation herself over 10 years ago. The populism that gave Donald Trump the presidency is, at the moment, exerting nearly as much pressure on the GOP as their donors. And the Democrats are not immune, either. The system itself is failing – and an excess of money in political campaigns is a significant issue. Nothing can really be fixed until the money comes out.


  3. Robert Reich is also in error the Republican party did long ago. People have been fighting one its corpse at least since GW Bush was President. Meanwhile the white working class are correct – not only are immigrants undercutting their wages, they’re also voting Democrat, and will soon be the majority, if current trends continue. Moreover, some immigrant groups have a high propensity for crime.


  4. I haven’t been watching the US elections closely. Just bits and pieces. It’s a bit scary when you realize the sort of money it takes to be President and that’s not democracy. When you think about the position the US President holds in global politics, it seems quite terrifying.

    Liked by 1 person

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