Where were you when we needed you?
This is my general response to a persistent trickle of emails from readers who keep asking me to, in fact, stop using the word “conservative” when I mean “crazy.” “Or ‘fascist’. Or ‘wicked’. Which is to say, these people, most of whom would consider themselves conservative, want me to stop using that word to describe people like Donald Trump, Marjorie Taylor Greene, Ginni Thomas and other luminaries on the political right.
While “conservative” is, in fact, the descriptor chosen by Trump and his cronies, these readers argue that these people are anything but adherents to the ideas of small government, heavy-handed foreign policy and minimal regulation by which conservatism has traditionally been defined. . Rather, it is extremists who have essentially hijacked the word and bent it to their own use. The readers are right about that.
There is nothing traditionally “conservative” about plotting to overturn an election as Thomas, wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence, did. Or undermine an election like Rep. Georgia Greene did. Or inciting an insurrection as Trump infamously did. Indeed, it is no exaggeration to believe that architects of traditional conservatism like Ronald Reagan or William F. Buckley would regard their ideological namesakes with contempt.
That said, I will not honor my readers’ request. Here’s why:
There was a time when every traditionally conservative voter, pundit and politician could have stood up against what conservatism has become, the rot it has inflicted. There was a time when they could have even stopped, they were tired of just talking about it. Almost none of them did.
We didn’t achieve the current state of affairs overnight, after all. Rather, it was a 30-year train wreck, a slow-motion disaster that crippled conservatism into the moral monstrosity it is today. And it’s not like no one saw it coming. With Newt Gingrich’s hostage-taking approach to government and Fox’s truth-optional approach to the news, it was pretty obvious.
Indeed, right-wing pundits tacitly acknowledged the change years ago when they began to find it necessary to use the term “thoughtful conservatives” to distinguish themselves from the demagogues and flamethrowers that increasingly populate their field. Yet the “thoughtful conservatives” were only too willing to make common cause with the unthinking in return for the jolt of energy and enthusiasm the latter brought to the cause.
So they did nothing because the alternate reality became the transmission address of the movement.
As newly brazen racism and xenophobia became the heart of the movement.
How the conspiracy became the voice of the movement.
Especially since violence has become the right arm of the movement.
As Trump has become the face of the movement.
They stood idly by and saw the values they claimed to revere smeared in mud and the name they used to brand themselves ripped away like silver by a playground tyrant. what that meant, friends, it doesn’t mean anything anymore. The fringe has become the mainstream. The game played the player. The tail was wagging the dog.
Now comes this trickle of readers who want me to know that Trump followers aren’t “real” conservatives. I’m afraid they don’t find me particularly likeable.
Yes, that’s a good argument.
But they’re addressing the wrong audience, about 30 years too late.
This story was originally published June 3, 2022 10:57 a.m.