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We Don't Actually Need Conservatism
A Not Very Modest Proposal
In all of the discussion about Donald Trump and his leadership of the Republican Party, the argument is often made that it is vital for America to have a vibrant and robust conservative movement. The notion is that Trump has perverted an otherwise important ideology and that while liberals may not agree with the right, the United States nonetheless needs a back and forth.
Those who have forwarded this notion say that we need balance, that liberalism can’t just go unchecked and that conservatism must be supported to keep liberals and the Democratic Party, where liberalism dominates, “honest.”
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But this doesn’t really make much sense. America needs conservatism like it needs a hole in the head and it should definitely not be on liberals to keep such a retrograde ideology, the ideology that completely birthed the bigotry and ignorance of Trump, alive. We don’t need conservatism at all and we would be better off without it.
Stripping Trump away, what is conservatism? It is the idea that the government should not serve any social purpose, that taxation should favor the super-wealthy (if there is any taxation at all), that there should be little to no attempt to regulate business and capitalism in general, that society should abandon the quest for racial, gender, and sexual equality, and that we should engage in unchecked war with no end. Why does such a fundamentally flawed world view deserve the grace of support? When former Speaker Nancy Pelosi calls for a “strong Republican Party” that is what she is calling for the restoration of. That isn’t good for the United States, the world, or humanity.
What if, instead of advocating for liberalism to be “balanced” by such a destructive force, we collectively shunned conservatism and encouraged the growth of an alternative world view that didn’t have so much harm and destruction at its core?
I consider myself someone of the mainstream, center-left, the dominant ideology within the Democratic Party. But there are people far further to our left, be they leftists or socialists or whatever you want to label it at the moment, who have a completely different world view and see liberalism as too cautious and careful and cozy with corporate power. They disagree vehemently with us and see the world through a completely different lens. I would argue that some of their ideas are unworkable or impractical and there is often a considerably wide gulf between the two perspectives on things. It is a robust debate.
But what conservatism has that leftism doesn’t is ignorance and bigotry. Generally speaking, people to the left of Sen. Bernie Sanders aren’t making elaborate arguments about Mexicans being rapists and Blacks deserving police abuse. They generally argue that the carceral system is too all encompassing and that immigration policy is too restrictive. They don’t want to build a wall and often want to erase the border. They believe that business suffers from a lack of regulation and have often made the case that the entire concept of a billionaire should not exist.
I would much rather engage in a back and forth with people presenting ideas like that than people who argued in the middle of a global pandemic that vaccines don’t work and that science isn’t real. Give me a debating counterpart who sees the world in very different terms than I do, but who at the very least can operate from within a moral framework that doesn’t elevate one race, gender, and sexual identity above everyone else based on hundreds of years of oppression and exclusion.
The idea that the right is the only one who can keep liberalism in check is a broken concept based on a rigid acceptance that this is the only viable option. It ignores the baggage that conservatism brings with it to every exchange of ideas. Even worse, it doesn’t acknowledge that the very roots of modern conservatism are extremist. It didn’t start from a rational place.
The first presidential nominee of the modern conservative movement, Barry Goldwater, was opposed to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Conservatism was built on opposition to Black equality. “Mr. Goldwater represented an unrealistic conservatism that was totally out of touch with the realities of the twentieth century,” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote while opposing Goldwater. King also wrote, “Senator Goldwater represented a philosophy that was morally indefensible and socially suicidal.” This was in 1964 and the Republican Party has gotten more conservative since then.
There shouldn’t be any moral urgency to keep something rooted in such a universally destructive mindset afloat.
I’m not arguing that conservatism must be outlawed or banned. This is after all America, where the Ku Klux Klan has a constitutional right to hold on to their bile. If conservatives want to cling to their failed ideology, they should feel free to do so until the end of time. But liberals don’t have to keep acting like conservativism is viable or a worthy opponent. We don’t need to prop up the right as a check on our impulses. If anything, this would be an ultimate test of whether conservatism can survive in the “free market” of ideas without liberals and Democrats operating like it automatically deserves a seat at the table.
By the same token, lets give leftism a chance. Let’s start operating like they, not conservatives, are the ones offering up a set of debatable ideas and notions. Want to keep liberalism honest and in check against its worst impulses? Leftists have never been shy about their beliefs in the superiority of their arguments and the failures of liberalism. They think we are broken, we think they’re impractical (I’m making wild generalizations about nuanced arguments on both sides!), but let’s have the debate.
It would transform American political dialogue from a conversation between liberalism and a dead-end world view to a dialogue between liberalism and a mindset that thinks we need to do much much more, not less for humanity. No matter how much I might disagree with how leftists want to get to a better America, at the very least I can concede they want to get there and that there are some basic, rock bottom, shared universal principles that they share with liberalism as human beings and fellow citizens of this country.
We can’t say the say the same for conservatism or its practitioners within the Republican Party and conservative media. That’s reason enough to say we don’t need them. At all.
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Me: “Kal, lets take a picture where we look like cool badasses”
Kal: “YAWN! It’s nap-o-clock again, I need my beauty rests.”