Conservatives contend that the Republican Party hasn’t nominated a presidential candidate from our movement’s ranks since 1984, and before that, not since 1964.
“What’s past is prologue,” the Bard wrote; the party isn’t nominating one of us this year, either.
Whatever can be said of Donald Trump, he hasn’t demonstrated an understanding of, or even an instinctual preference for, conservatism. He certainly hasn’t campaigned upon its principles and there’s no sign he’ll govern with them once elected.
Quite the contrary, in fact. Trump’s recent attempts to unify the party have been to say that he doesn’t need conservatives to win, and then to speculate about raising both taxes and the minimum wage.
Move over, Bernie.
No matter. “It’s not about conservatism or liberalism,” a radio talk show host in Birmingham recently told me. His admission that Trump was basically a reactionary came a day after the candidate dismissively asked, “Who cares?” what political beliefs he actually holds.
The better question might be, “Who knows?”
And after this primary season, who knows what the party’s voters think conservatism is anyway.
“Conservatism means being resistant to change,” a caller to a Huntsville talk show said last week, reading from a dictionary while charging that people like me aren’t boarding the Trump Train because we fear “change.”
(Head hits desk.)
For the record, his dictionary was defining a personal disposition, not a political philosophy.
To the 57% of my fellow Republicans in Alabama who didn’t vote for Trump in our primary: We may have lost control over the national party’s direction this cycle, but we cannot lose the meaning of conservatism or allow it to be polluted with Trump’s form of senseless populism and erratic personal preferences.
So, before our voices fade into the cacophony of Trumpism (if they haven’t already), here’s a brief reminder of what we conservatives have been fighting for since the American Revolution, and what we’ll continue fighting for long after Trump leaves the scene:
- The value of tradition, which offers each new generation the beliefs, customs, and courtesies that have proven themselves beneficial and worthy of imitation. To toss them out without significant reflection not only destroys what previous generations sacrificed to achieved, it robs future generations of their inheritance. Edmund Burke wrote of this as the bond “between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are to be born.”
- The usefulness of doubt, which gives a nation pause before erasing time-tested traditions, leaping into arrangements that haven’t been proven or into endeavors whose benefits are perhaps uncertain. Before giving the state power to do something in our name, or with our blood and treasure, we should demand, “Show me where this has worked before, and what you’ll do if it fails.”
- Individual rights, which are beautifully captured in our Declaration of Independence and our Bill of Rights. A government cannot grant these because they were “endowed” by our creator, and a government cannot repeal them because they are “unalienable.” Along with “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness,” they are the freedoms of religion, of speech, of the press, of assembly, to bear arms, and being free from “unreasonable searches and seizures,” among others that … may I say tradition … have preserved for us.
- Limited government, which has proven itself the best guarantor of these rights because, as has been written, “any government big enough to give you everything you want is also big enough to take away everything you have.” Furthermore, history has shown that large centrally planned and controlled governments are ineffective, inefficient, and ultimately unaccountable to — and unalterable by — the people they claim to serve.
- And free markets, which keeps individuals active, governments idle, and leaves producers and consumers free to make the best products and services for the lowest price. Though often warranted to some degree, to include reasonable regulation, interference in this system has an exponentially deleterious effect on its outcome.
So then. Regardless of which party’s candidate wins next November, I will continue advocating these principles and opposing liberalism wherever it’s found, especially if its lurking within the administration of a Republican president.
The only question for my fellow conservatives is this: Will you?