“When the old order begins to crack, he wades in with all his might and recklessness to blow the whole hated present to high heaven… To hell with reforms! All that already exists is rubbish, and there is no sense in reforming rubbish… He alone knows the innermost craving of the masses in action … and woe to those, inside and outside the movement, who hug and hang on to the present.” Eric Hoffer, The True Believer
In this gathering political storm, many Americans are being urged to sound the alarm, man the barricades, fight the fight, and repel the enemy in a last stand. The stage is set for a year of emotionally pitched politics America hasn’t seen since the Civil War. The electorate of 1860 knew what they were fighting for.
What are we, as conservatives, fighting for? [Insert silence here] We don’t seem to have much of a platform, because the current conservative call to arms has been so focused on The Enemy. The Democrats are The Enemy. Republicans In Name Only (RINO) are The enemy. Anybody who doesn’t agree with our most extreme positions? The Enemy.
Eric Hoffer, who was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Ronald Reagan in 1983, wrote extensively on situations like this in “The True Believer.” Referring to political upheaval in his time, Hoffer cautioned against political beliefs that “insulate the individual from the … world as it is.”
In conservative circles, these beliefs are growing stronger. They are supported by three frequently used fallacies that create an insular, xenophobic, even paranoid perception of our world:
The People’s Champion – Donald Trump has been characterized as a fighter for conservatism, who will stand against the Democrats and the RINOs. This myth persists, in spite of the fact that Trump has changed his political affiliation five times since the 1980’s, and has yet to champion any cause, conservative or liberal. He is credited as a friend of the military, although he avoided military service with four deferments. He is touted for his business acumen, when he would be wealthier today had he simply put his money into S&P 500 stocks and not his businesses, which have ended in bankruptcy four times. We see it on live TV and in his interviews – making statements and later denying he made the statements, using insult to distract from uncomfortable questions, making baseless accusations again and again. Yet many of the angriest conservatives persist in fits of fantasy in which Trump is something other than what he has demonstrated himself to be.
The People Have Spoken– Many of the very people who cry for the salvation of the republic are also crying “The people have spoken!” in a heartfelt but confused argument for direct democracy. Donald Trump received a historic number of votes in the GOP primaries. He also had a historic number of votes against him in the GOP primaries. Yes, we have state laws, party regulations, and more. But as other authors have shown (http://thebullelephant.com/answer-beau-corrells-question-yes-violating-virginia-law/) our approach to convention is littered with contradictory rules. Meanwhile, many conservatives ignore the fact that framers of the Constitution specifically intended for delegates to see past voters’ most emotional moments, to make the right choice. In this electoral year, when we’ve seen more candidates than at any time in the last century, we need to realize we are in truly unique circumstances that call for delegates to earn their pay.
The Evil Opponents – conservative rhetoric has decayed to a truly sorry state. Year by year, we have transitioned from a focus on broad principles to arguments over positions, and now to litmus tests of unquestioning loyalty. As our criteria for “conservatism” has tightened, our disdain for everybody outside of our ever-shrinking circle has become more severe. Recently, conservatives have obliged Mr. Trump by vilifying federal judge Golanzo Curiel, simply because he was assigned to preside over a lawsuit alleging Trump has committed fraud. As a federal prosecutor, Curiel was a target of Mexican drug cartels, following his prosecution of the Felix brothers and the Arellano cartel. He was appointed to the bench by Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. Until the Trump fraud case, Curiel was not subject to conservative scrutiny, but now he is the Evil Opponent, because Trump has asserted he is a Mexican (Curiel is the 3rd generation of his family to hold US citizenship), and Trump sees this as a conflict of interest because Trump has made inflammatory statements about Mexican immigrants.
This should be a wakeup call to conservatives that we have arrived at a dangerously insular point of view. Our willingness to permit insult and slander by and in support of our candidate is something not seen since Republicans were responsible for the Communist witch hunts following WWII. In that episode, Republican flag bearer Senator Joe McCarthy was finally stopped by Army lawyer Joseph Welch, whose outburst “At long last, have you left no sense of decency?” had the effect of breaking a spell under which Republicans destroyed lives and the integrity of the conservative movement. There exists no excuse for this behavior. We are responsible for letting it continue. If we do not stop it, we will pay a deservedly high price.
The immediate, enthusiastic (angry) response from the far right is a claim that we must do whatever is necessary to prevent the Horde from overwhelming the Republic. On a pragmatic scale, turning a blind eye to Donald Trump’s excesses heightens the likelihood a failed White House bid and a loss of the majorities held by the GOP in the Senate and House. On a broader scale, “the end justifies the means” is a cliché that every one of us has seen proven false in our schools, in our churches, and at the knees of our own parents. It is the hallmark of morally bankrupt organizations, most of which have failed.
What are we, as conservatives, fighting for? We are supposed to be fighting for liberty. We are supposed to be fighting for a vision of America that is true to the principles espoused by the founding fathers and the moral absolutes by which we aspire to live. But are we? Or have we lost track of what we are fighting for?
The GOP national convention will be held on July 18. Every day between now and July 18 is time conservatives must use to ensure we are making the right choice, not just to win an election, not just to avoid angering the pro-Trump group or the anti-Trump group. The integrity of conservatism rests upon what we show America we really value. We have only one chance to get this right. So let’s clear the air of fallacies, and promote some honest talk. We need to know what we’re fighting for.