Fellow conservatives, where do we go from here?
The conduct of former President Donald Trump and his enablers have produced incalculable damage to America and every aspect of American life, and pervasive political loses. While we have time before the next election cycle, daily we have a choice of what to believe and whom to support. These choices are not just political questions, but reflect deeper questions of our moral identity and who we want to be.
Over the last five years, many conservatives, holding traditional values like the sanctity of life, personal responsibility, small government, fiscal prudence and peace through strength, have grown increasing horrified by Trump’s conduct, and have been leaving the Republican Party at accelerating rates. While it’s tempting to say Trump and his enablers are devoid of principles, beyond oft used platitudes, their conduct does provide evidence of a few discernable beliefs.
Perhaps foremost in the Trump administration’s beliefs about governing is an overarching live-for-today mentality. The Trump administration and their enablers chose not to prioritize federal investments in education, health care, infrastructure or the environment, but sold the idea that if they enrich businesses and those already wealthy, they will, over time, take care of everything else. Trump and his enablers sold the belief that “trickle-down” tax cuts for the wealthy would trickle down to everyone else. Sadly, that didn’t work out so well for most.
While Republicans have been stereotyped for fiscal prudence, the Trump camp demonstrated a clear preference for growing the economy through deficit spending. Trump sold many on the idea that he was going to “Make America Great Again,” and with a majority in both houses of Congress, he led Republicans to abandon whatever beliefs they had in fiscal austerity and propelled the economy and his political fortunes forward with huge deficits. Sadly, these weren’t needed at the time and created a debt burden that is already beginning to bite.
With respect to foreign policy, Trump believed strongly in putting “America First” and going-it-alone in dealing with other countries. Given that multilateralism has been the bedrock of American foreign policy since WWII, it is surprising his enablers so readily acquiesced to this. Trump also had no hesitancy maligning any country he thought detracted from our economy and ingratiating himself to any country he thought might benefit himself and our economy in the short term.
Whether long steadfast to traditional conservative values or newly broken away the Trump dominated Republican Party, a growing number of conservatives have chosen to follow in the footsteps of icons of the Republican Party, like (Abraham) Lincoln, Fredrick Douglas, Teddy Roosevelt and (Dwight D.) Eisenhower. We have chosen to anchor ourselves to historical values, such as dignity for all, personal responsibility, building a more egalitarian society, protecting the earth, respect and cooperation among free nations, and fiscal conservatism.
While a messy divorce between Trump supporters and traditional conservatives will likely be undignified and last a while, I encourage fellow conservatives to not shy away from this reckoning. Obviously, no one wants to go through an ugly divorce, but if we are to bear fruit again, we must live with integrity and adhere to the Judeo-Christian values that are so much a part of who we are. If we allow fear of ridicule or short-term political downside to dominate us, or allow Republican “leaders” to sway us with speeches long on platitudes and white-washed versions of what has happened, I assure you we will never forgive ourselves for failing to protect our country, our children and ourselves.
It will take time, but eventually conservatives will begin to find favor again, not through voter suppression, or gerrymandering, or a web of lies, but by putting people and principles over party, by articulating policies that build a better life for all, and by calling out the better angels in all of us.
George R. Zadigian of Alliance manages engineering and construction projects and has been a student of foreign policy starting with graduate work at Cornell University.