By Irene Starkehaus -
In many ways, it was easier being a conservative in the 1980s and 90s than we will likely ever experience again in our lifetimes. Those two decades represent an extraordinary mini-Renaissance in American Exceptionalism; a genesis in the philosophy of constitutional revivalism that is hard to bring forth out of the bog of eternal lethargy, and evidently even harder to sustain for any length of appreciable time.
Decorum and tradition might demand that the revivalist era be marked from as early on as the 1960s, but try as I might, I'm just not enamored with Barry Goldwater as the father of modern conservatism. I know I should be. Everyone say so. Goldwater was a great thinker, but he's also the great traitor of the conservatism defined as a revival of Founding principles.
To start, Goldwater fancied himself libertarian, but championed a government inclined toward shepherding the rabble to a promised land rather than trusting in liberty's broad base appeal with morality as its necessary wellspring for our style of self-government.
In 1986, Barry Goldwater named Dwight D. Eisenhower as the greatest president of the twentieth century. Look, I know that Eisenhower was a Republican, but he was hardly a paragon of conservative virtue. By any standard, he was more ideologically aligned with Bob Dole and Mitt Romney. Goldwater saw Reagan's vision of conservatism as an encroachment on individual liberty rather than the path to individual liberty.
Barry Goldwater viewed abortion, for instance, as a matter of personal choice and supported abortion rights to such an extent that he threatened to kick Jerry Falwell "in the nuts" for his opposition to Sandra Day O'Connor's nomination to the Supreme Court.
Had he foreseen that the Supreme Court rulings on abortion would one day lead to an oh-my-God, are we seriously discussing the right of Planned Parenthood to harvest and sell fetal tissue and organs, would Goldwater have reconsidered how libertarian he really was? I don't know. Hard to say. I certainly hope so, but it doesn't change the simple truth. In retrospect, Falwell was more right about O'Connor than Goldwater was.
In her final decade as a Supreme Court Justice, Sandra Day O'Connor was an unmitigated disaster for the US Constitution. In her unwillingness to confront the Left's overt encroachment on natural freedoms, in her desire to be seen as a moderate team player, she weakened the protection of life and liberty that is guaranteed by the very document she swore to protect. The sanctity of life is foundational to all other freedoms, and she failed to honor that responsibility many times over. This weakness in character was merely foreshadowed in her views on abortion at the time of her appointment. Prolife advocates could envision that end result clearly enough.
There's a distinction to be made here. A free and moral people won't need to be marshalled into proper behaviors through overreaching regulations because they will marshal themselves, and anyone who believes himself to be a "leader" in such an environment fails to embrace what it means to be a laissez faire, libertarian. For a moral people, the question of abortion never gets as far as the Supreme Court because a moral people can't envision a right to kill babies. Once society finds itself asking about the legality of genocide, the Supreme Court must find in the favor of the baby to be in keeping with the spirit of the constitution. A secular people who lack moral certitude will become slaves first to their passions and then to an authoritarian government. It's unescapable, they box themselves into overregulation by the anarchy that ensues. Before you know it, they're advocating not only in favor of infanticide but also a woman's right to have someone else pay for it. Every dictator who ever lived has justified the enslavement of his people for the so called betterment of the majority.
The Reagan and subsequent Gingrich eras were to modern conservatism what the Hershey's Kiss was to confection. Ronald Reagan and Newt Gingrich were true believers in the American founding and were unabashedly evangelical in distribution of their product. They sought to put liberty in the hands of as many consumers as possible. In that time, conservatism was fresh, confident, crisp and less overgrown with invasive ideologies than the conservatism that RINOS feed us like castor oil in this modern era.
Donald Trump is the castor oil that we are being fed as a new, libertarian conservatism. Mind you, that new conservatism is nothing more than the old libertarian conservatism that sold its soul over the course of American history for the instant gratification of winning. Conservatives are tired of being beaten up and I get that, but they are anthropomorphizing Donald Trump's charisma and passion for winning into a principled belief in the America that Pope Pius XII saw when he described her in this way:
"The American people have a great genius for splendid and unselfish actions. Into the hands of America God has placed the destinies of an afflicted mankind."
The American people, mind you – not the American government. Or the America that Alexis De Tocqueville described in this way:
"In the end, the state of the Union comes down to the character of the people. … I sought for the greatness and genius of America in her commodious harbors, her ample rivers, and it was not there. I sought for it in the fertile fields, and boundless prairies, and it was not there. I sought it in her rich mines, and vast world commerce, and it was not there. Not until I went into the churches of America and heard her pulpits aflame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her genius and power."
I will say this today as I've said it in the past, Donald Trump is not a conservative. He doesn't live like a conservative. He doesn't act like a conservative. He wasn't a conservative until he decided to run for office. When so inclined, he will babble about how great America is. Indeed, Donald Trump will throw jingoistic taglines about making America great again, but when pressed for details about how to reinstitute American greatness, he says nothing.
There can be only two reasons for this. He is either empty – devoid of the well-considered, foundational principles that ought to be guiding him about limits to presidential authority and governmental authority. In this scenario, he doesn't know why he's against abortion. He doesn't know that protectionism will hurt the American consumer more than it will hurt the Chinese. He's just saying what he thinks conservatives want to hear.
The second possibility is that Donald Trump is really smart, HUGELY smart, smarter than everyone else but thinks that the voters are empty, and that makes him no different than Hillary Clinton. Either way, he is symptomatic of hedonistic nihilism in a country where prosperity's destination has become more highly valued than the journey to fulfillment.
Only in such a nation might we prefer a man who would whore out his wife in soft porn for the enticement of votes from a slothful, emotionally numbed citizenry rather than a man who has dedicated his life to the preservation of the Constitution because he bears a resemblance to Grandpa Munster and because his wife is less photogenic than Mrs. Trump number three…or is it four? I keep losing count, which represents the same kind of foreshadowing that conservatives recognized when Sandra Day O'Connor was nominated to the Supreme Court.
During this entire election cycle, I keep circling back to Glenn Beck during his Common Sense Comedy Tour:
Conservatism is at a crossroads because the ascendency of Donald Trump points toward a schism in the Republican Party brought about by an unrestricted "Big Tent" ideology that has overgrown constitutional revivalism, and left the ideological garden strangled by its own identity crisis.
The revival of American Exceptionalism that was begun in the 1980s was a "Big Tent" open invitation that Ronald Reagan instituted to welcome people with similar values into the party with the explicit understanding that a "Big Tent" wasn't synonymous with "anything goes." Conservatism has a definition that can be articulated beyond legalized pot, illegal immigration and post-birth abortions.
Any more than Jesus Christ instituted prostitution as the Eleventh Commandment because he protected a woman from being stoned to death by hypocrites, neither does "Big Tent" conservatism fail to notice transgendered men in the ladies' room because Ronald Reagan began his career as a Democrat.
Truth, liberty and justice are active pursuits that those who are enamored with supremacy tear and rip with razor-sharp vengeance. One cannot pursue conservatism complacently because those who seek to replace laissez faire with a throne and an organized caste system have the advantage of greed to energize them.
Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence. Donald Trump is not a conservative and he will strangle the ideology that buttressed the conservative goal of a shining city on a hill. We have traded our idealism and our principles for only a vague inclination of defiance. That it may be too late to stop Donald Trump is quite beside the point, the truth is still true and must be spoken.