Here are two things we know. We know change is a natural universal constant. And we know conservatism resists it, even though conservatism itself goes through changes.
Those changes have been for the worst, especially during the past few years. Conservatism has spawned Trumpism.
There are hardly any moderate Republicans left in the federal government. Except for Mitt Romney, they have shown no sense of decency and conscience in their lock-step loyalty to Trump and desire for power.
Were conservatives always this way?
What is conservatism? What are its values and purpose?
We know what it isn’t.
Political conservatism isn't much of a philosophy, but professes to be.
It isn’t religion, but usually comes wrapped in it. Institutional religions and especially fundamentalist sects are generally conservative in nature, depending on their greed/charity ratio.
It isn’t patriotism, but claims it as its own.
It isn’t necessarily tradition, but is presented as such.
It isn't even much of an ideology, unless the status quo is defended as the ideal. But conservatives are good with change that benefits them, or empowers them politically.
It’s flexible. It is dogma. It is belief. It is authoritarian.
So what are conservatism’s values and purpose?
If it promotes the well being of our population, fairness, equal rights under law, democracy, and rule by consent of the governed, then it is good. Religion is also a good thing for conservatives when it helps them treat their fellow human beings better. Faith should be a personal matter for those it benefits. They should try to understand why the founders wanted no state religion, that faith should be a guide in our private lives, rather applied to government policy and the law.
Some conservatives have these values, shared by liberals and our nation’s founders. These are traditional American values, forged while the conservative Tories opposed our Revolution.
In the first four score and seven years of the republic, many conservatives with a conscience opposed slavery, alongside progressive abolitionists.
Some conservatives thought it was right to let women vote.
But more often conservatism is mindless embrace of tradition over progress, as long as tradition includes the status quo. Not coincidentally, but conveniently, the status quo serves the interests of the wealthy, and their power to suppress democracy, equality and the general welfare of the people.
Wealthy conservative Southern white men waged war on the US to preserve slavery. They did their best to suppress voting rights of the former slaves after the war.
Tragically this conservative tradition lingers.
Today’s conservatism rejects fair elections and fair representation while it constantly seeks ways to suppress voters, especially minority voters.
As we’ve seen over the years, the Republican Party made some serious reversals on minority issues.
They are definitely more conservative than ever. In fact, American conservatism has been significantly radicalized over the last few decades. Social media and the Right's vast propaganda network have succeeded in pushing conservatism further to the right than its ever been in U.S. history.
We’re told by some voices on the far Right that Republican policies are not “real conservatism”, because of corporate subsidies and other market involvement. Not that any of them complain about it. They’re too busy resenting welfare for the poor and needy.
Be that as it may, all Republicans say they are conservative and “real conservatives” empower the Republican Party.
Historically conservatism has tended to be authoritarian in nature. It has embraced and served monarchy, aristocracy, slavery, capital punishment, theocracy, fascism, empire and autocracy, and now Trumpism.
It’s been marked by an entrenched, closed minded resistance to democracy, racial and gender equality, labor rights, women’s reproductive rights, social safety nets and humanitarian progress.
Conservatism has values beyond fundamentalist evangelical religious dogma. Conservatives tend to revere wealth and the wealthy. They invoke their infallible "free market" god that defends, abets or tolerates all of those authoritarian institutions listed above.
What did Jesus say about taxes, the rich, and serving mammon? Conservatives would generally prefer not to discuss this.
One thing valued by conservatives is freedom. Or at least their interpretation of freedom. Some believe Constitutional taxes are “tyranny”. Some of the more delicate and over-sensitive ones think wearing a mask during a pandemic is a loss of freedom. They don’t seem aware, or care, that spreading a virus, disease, and death has an even greater impact on others’ freedom.
Libertarians and other conservatives love their Second Amendment “liberty”, but have little use for protesters’ First Amendment rights to challenge racism, vote suppression, theocracy, corporate malfeasance and authoritarianism.
Too many conservatives are now openly hostile to a free press, siding with Trump and accusing the press of being “enemies of the people”. “Liberal media” and “fake news” didn’t go far enough to demonize journalism. This has always been an underlying conservative attitude towards dissent and questions about their intentions and methods. But they love their state media and their bias for Trump. That’s different. Only pro-Republican propaganda becomes “good journalism” in their view.
How’s that for "Constitutional liberty” and a “free press”? Do they care that Trump admitted to CBS's Lesley Stahl, “You know why I do it? I do it to discredit you all and demean you all, so when you write negative stories about me no one will believe you.”
We recall the second Bush administration promoted a new “compassionate conservatism”. Then it promptly started a war based on lies, imprisoned people without charges, and tortured them.
Since 9-11 right-wing terrorism has been as deadly as Jihadist terrorism in the US. Both embrace their respective hypocritical and radical religious conservatism.
Speaking of terrorist activity, what happened after Trump
tweeted, "LIBERATE MICHIGAN!"?
Radical Right terrorists were inspired to plot the kidnapping and murder of Michigan's Governor Whitmer. This is the dark side of conservatism.
The truth is, conservatism has rarely advanced compassion of any sort. Too many “other people” don’t deserve it. Let them eat cake.
Now under the dark shadows of Trumpism, former President George W. Bush's speechwriter David Frum noted, "If conservatives become convinced that they cannot win democratically, they will not abandon conservatism. They will reject democracy.”
And they have done just that.
“Stop the steal” has become their crazed projection in their attempt to overturn our fair election. To them, Constitutional impeachment was a “coup”, but destroying our democracy for a tyrant is “liberty”.
Their glaring hypocrisy was also displayed by Mitch McConnell’s flagrant disrespect for his constitutional duty to vote on Merrick Garland’s Supreme Court appointment. He shut it down because an election was 8 months away. “Let the people decide”. That went out the window when he rammed through Amy Barrett’s appointment to the court a week before the 2020 election.
Treachery, hypocrisy, greed, and conservatism have always been partners in authoritarianism.
If I may expand on Frum’s assessment, ”If conservatives become convinced that they cannot win by facts and reason, they will not abandon conservatism. They will reject facts and reason.”
Firm conservative beliefs rarely yield to facts and reason. The Right will even redefine words to fit their viewpoint. Now the Democratic Party is the “socialist party”.
And that is how they shut down dialogue
Since good faith discussion is impossible with hard-core conservatives, they cannot be trusted to act in good faith. They always serve wealth and the wealthy over the public good. Given the opportunity, they will take food stamps and healthcare from the poor, and give tax cuts to the rich every time.
Today’s conservatives cannot be trusted with the safety and well-being of the people. Those were never their priorities.
It has become a cult that breeds division, bigotry, racism, sexism, greed, militarism, and nationalism. Trumpism and QAnon are its latest toxic sects.
I understand not all conservatives have fallen into the authoritarian dark side. A lot of them can see Trumpism threatens our democracy, decency, government and norms. I’m afraid they are a shrinking minority under the Party of Trump. The far Right has essentially taken the Republican Party, and recruited it into their open war on our elections and democracy.
Let it be clear, and let's take their word for it. The radical far Right claims to be conservative. Neo-fascism and racism are dominant forces in the new conservatism.
I would hope this would induce rational, honest and decent conservatives to prefer to be called moderates. Many are doing just that.
Bush and Cheney, and now Trump and the alt-Right, have exposed the lie behind the conservative trappings of "values", personal responsibility, honesty, decency, kindness, compassion, and fairness.
None of these are essential to conservatism. Wealth, power and control are all that matter.