BY ROGER B. RENSVOLD
It seems incomprehensible that over 650,000 supposedly sane, decent citizens of Alabama – 98% of the Republicans who voted in the 2017 special election – would choose an accused child molester, a man who asserted that women should not run for office, Muslims should not be allowed to serve in Congress, and homosexuality should be illegal. What’s the matter with these people?
To understand, you need to be a doctrinaire conservative. I used to be one.
I was raised on a diet of Adam Smith, Ludwig von Mises, Bill Buckley and Barry Goldwater. At one time, I was a member of the John Birch Society, and the Oklahoma state chairman of Young Americans for Freedom which was, in its day, the fascist answer to the socialist Students for a Democratic Society.
It took many of years of living abroad, in Europe and China, to teach me that the way we Americans see America is not the way the rest of the world sees it. It took a PhD in Organizational Behavior, which required large doses of social psychology, to convince me that conservative theories of human behavior are specious. My Road to Damascus moment came late in life, and it was painful – but that’s another story.
Here’s the conservative worldview. In outline, it seems barking mad, but most conservatives would agree with it.
The fundamental conflict, throughout history, has been between individuals, with “God-given rights,” and the State. The State, which consists of a self-perpetuating, ever-growing cadre of special interests, seeks to use legislation and police powers to concentrate wealth and power in their own hands, for their own benefit. The end-point is a Soviet-style socialist monolith, controlled by a small elite.
The high-water mark in American history, characterized by the explosive growth of invention, industry and wealth, was the Gilded Age, between the end of the Civil War and the beginning of the Great Depression. The “industrial statesmen” of the era – Rockefeller, Mellon, Carnegie and others – built a colossus on the foundations of discipline, ingenuity and calculated risk. The Depression was a storm. It would have passed on its own, but the socialist authoritarians, always lurking in the shadows, seized upon it to advance their agenda.
Since Franklin D. Roosevelt, the Federal State has grown, at the expense of state and local governments, private associations, and personal freedoms. The American people have become dependent upon federal welfare programs, and habituated to federal taxation and control. The handcuffs are comfortable! People now prefer wearing them to facing, unfettered, the opportunities and dangers of true freedom.
The tide began to turn with Barry Goldwater. Although he was defeated, his principles found an audience. The beginning of the counter-revolution, a return to true Americanism, began with Ronald Reagan. It suffered a setback under Clinton, and made little progress under George W. Bush, because of the demands of the Global War on Terror. It seemed to be in danger of faltering during the administration of the avowedly socialistic mulatto freak, Barack Obama [who was also probably a foreign-born usurper]. But the Republican Senate held the line, and at least prevented Obama from naming a socialist to the Supreme Court.
The election of Donald Trump, along with a Republican House and Senate, represented a unique opportunity to start cutting away the socialist tumors that have been growing on the country ever since 1928. Tragically, Trump has not been up to the job. So far, he’s shown no evidence that he understands his office, and how to use it. But he’s only had one year. There’s plenty to time to turn things around, if – and only if – his presidency, and the Republican Congressional majorities, both survive.
Which brings us to the present crisis. Trump cannot – cannot – be impeached. If he is, and his sworn enemies are free to parade his various follies before the public, then two things will happen. First, the Republican Party will lose control of the Senate in 2018, and the House and White House in 2020. Second, the party will split. The so-called moderates [who are, in fact, doctrinaire conservatives] will be left in control of an empty shell. The hardcore activists, the so-called “alt right,” will either drop out of politics in despair, or form their own party.
Protecting Trump, and American’s future, justifies measures that would otherwise be unacceptable, such as compromising the independence of the judiciary. Trump may, technically, be a criminal – but keeping him in office is preferable to what would happen if he lost power.
Further: The Republican Party must, at whatever cost, maintain control of the Senate. If the House published Articles of Impeachment, a Democratic Senate would surely convict. A Democratic Senate would also be able to block conservative appointments to the Supreme Court, and hold them open for the next Democratic president. Enormities such as Roe v. Wade would continue to be the law of the land, and the slaughter of innocent unborn babies would continue. Protecting the Senate requires all true conservatives to do whatever is necessary, including holding their noses, and voting for candidates such as Judge Roy Moore.
So that, in a large nutshell, is what conservatives believe. It really is. Ask them.
It’s all a delusion. To refute it, we could begin with first principles, such as the origin of “rights,” but that’s not the point of this short essay. The point is to argue that modern “conservatism” is a cult, with its own myths, its own interpretations of history, and its own sources of “facts.”
Conservatives will not be converted. Those few who do change will do so in response to philosophical crises arising from the collision between the theories they’ve espoused, and the realities they’ve observed. Being lectured by non-conservatives will not – repeat not – work. Scientific studies have consistently demonstrated that attempting to change opinions by argumentation doesn’t weaken opinions; rather, it makes them stronger.
Fortunately, the way back doesn’t require us to convert any of them. The graphic below tells the story. The Right lost the popular vote, by over three million, and only won the electoral college because of 40,000 votes in two hotly contested swing states.
But the most significant sectors are the ones shown in gray; the people who were eligible to vote, but didn’t. A slight change there would have changed everything. And this is the way forward: registration and mobilization of non-voters. Nothing else is required.
Of course, some new voters will be on the Right, but most will be on the Left. Their political orientation is precisely the reason that so many have not been voting; their disgust and despair at the current situation are so extreme, they’ve retreated into postures of avoidance and denial. [Although some have told me, “If I’d known there was a chance of that fool (Trump) being elected, I would have voted.”]
The only way to defeat the Right is the same way that the Soviet Union was ultimately defeated – by containment. We must recruit allies, coordinate strategies, outnumber, isolate, marginalize, and wait for the movement to run its course.
After repeated defeats and disappointments, some on the Right will lose interest and withdraw from politics. They won’t be converted; they’ll simply be worn out. Others will fight to the end, but demographics assure us that the end is in sight.
Most conservatives are middle-aged, and many of them [to judge from the beer bellies on display at “alt right” rallies] have unhealthy lifestyles.
Modern “conservatism” is a cult, with its own complete, consistent world view.
Conservatives cannot be converted. They must be defeated and contained.
GOTV is the only strategy the Left needs. It is quite enough for the task ahead.
– Midwest City resident Roger B. Rensvold has had a varied career. After 20 years in the military, which included 18 months in Vietnam, six years in Cold War Europe, and flying as an experimental test pilot, he earned a PhD from Georgia Tech and taught for almost 10 years at City University of Hong Kong. Raised a right-wing Republican, he experienced his Road To Damascus moment during the 2008 campaign, and has been a progressive activist ever since.