I used to be able to avoid thinking about Conservatives. I occasionally thought about Republicans, but mostly I just ignored the whole batch of right-wing, addlepated, anti-everything-humane people. I might shake my head in dismay/wonderment at their antics about birth certificates, pizza parlors, and Sarah Palin, but I didn’t give them much thought. I was sure we’d elect the qualified woman, and she’d probably bring along a few legislators, who would then confirm some sensible nominees for the Executive and Judicial branch, and America, while still struggling with its ever-diminishing cadre of religious radicals and other fascists, would continue – ever stronger – down the track of justice for all.
Then … those simple conservative Republicans became active, empowered threats to my country. Their bubbling whackiness boiled over. Their domestic and foreign corporate overlords seated a dangerous dupe in the White House and radical Conservatives (not an oxymoron) took over my country.
The donors, surrogates, and competitors for rank and privilege couldn’t have succeeded without a bunch of people who believe they are the true saviors of American Liberty. The Defenders of the Constitution. The Experts on how business, government, and diplomacy should work. The believers in American Exceptionalism – but only as expressed in and for some Americans. But, who are these people? Really … who are they? How do they see America? What do they want?
As much as I’d like to take some (more) cheap shots and post commentary and photos from their rallies, torchlight marches, and Congressional hearings, I really do want to understand how so many of my fellow citizens can subscribe to notions so antithetical to the principles on which our Republic was established. I think there is a significant disconnect between what they think they stand for and what they actually vote for. But maybe not.
Today’s American Conservatives are closer in philosophy to the classical liberals of 19th Century America, to whom laissez faire did not mean leave us ALL alone, just those of us who benefited from government-provided tariffs, railroad subsidies, and infrastructure improvements: in other words, those who owned the means of production, not those who labored for them. Those classical liberal capitalists believed the tenets of laissez faire described by economist Toufic Gaspard as:
- The individual is the basic unit in society,
- The individual has a natural right to freedom, and
- The physical order of nature – and the market – is an harmonious and self-regulating system.
They decidedly did not, however, accept Gaspard’s final principle that:
- Corporations are creatures of the state and therefore must be watched closely by the citizenry due to their propensity to disrupt the spontaneous [natural] order.
That final clause of this definition of laissez faire has always been the only portion of that economic practice that advantaged the worker and consumer, not the producer. Wage earners and consumers are necessary for those owners, but if there were a way to make a profit without producing a product, and thereby not needing workers or consumers, capitalists would do it. And guess what … there is a way: Wall Street.
The overarching method for profiting from something you didn’t produce is called arbitrage, which is simply buying low and selling high. Modern arbitrage in financial markets occurs with the simultaneous purchase and sale of the same securities, commodities, or other financial assets in different markets to profit from unequal prices. For a closer-to-home version, if you buy discounted DVDs from Wal-Mart and sell them for a little bit more on eBay, that’s arbitrage, too. And so is playing with currency exchange by swapping two or more national currencies back and forth to make a profit in one of them.
Today’s American Liberals understand that businesses do not exist for the benefit of anyone but their owners. We do not believe in trickle-down economics. Further, we have centuries of experience demonstrating that periods of unrestricted free enterprise never end well for societies. Market economies without rules produce at least one of these three things: bubbles, revolutions, or retrenchment. In a speculative bubble, some asset has risen far above its historic or intrinsic value. For a clearer explanation, ask anyone whose house is still upside-down following the mid-2000s housing bubble. All revolutions against the ruling class are supported by disenfranchised bourgeoisies and peasants (or, as we call them now, wage-earners and the chronically underemployed). Retrenchment is the best bet for reducing both economic inequality and bloodshed. However, successfully re-orienting an economy to greater fairness demands wisdom, strength, and a balance between selflessness and self-interest that translates politically into “give a little, get a little.” And this is the fundamental separation point between America’s 21st Century Liberals and Conservatives. As Liberals, we are prepared to accept somewhat less so that more of us can have somewhat more; or put another way, Liberals want a bigger pie while Conservatives want a bigger piece.
Conservatives themselves on divided on political and social issues, but the two most basic positions for them are: 1) things used to be better; and 2) there isn’t enough for everyone. Christian Conservatives want to return to the morals and mores of the pre-Industrial Revolution eras, with women again operating in their separate sphere and God’s ministers (i.e., men) making the decisions for all of us. Constitutional Conservatives believe that the U.S. Constitution must be interpreted as it was originally written, ignoring the facts that the world has moved beyond the Old Post Road, slavery, and black-powder muskets. Libertarian Conservatives hate government, love business, and are sometimes at war with Social Conservatives, who believe that personal freedom should be circumscribed by 19th Century rules. Neoconservatives care more about foreign policy than fiscal policy and are interventionists determined to extend America’s brand of democracy around the world – using economic and military clout to do so. And finally, Paleoconservatives espouse the old-time religion of the traditional family, tribalism, and isolationism.
As we might expect, more Democrats identify as Liberal and more Republicans identify as Conservative. It’s also no surprise that the most Conservative states are among “the least well-off, least educated, most blue collar, and most economically hard-hit.” (Not for nothing are the most liberal democrats the Progressive wing of the Party.) I believe we could overlay the Republican U.S. map on the Conservative U.S. map and we’d have a close match. Conservatives believe poverty and inequality are personal failings. Liberals understand that systemic factors – primarily economic and racial – play the largest role in limiting opportunities. Liberals believe that extending a hand-up in employment, education, and other areas is not the same as giving a hand-out … and even if it were, shouldn’t people who have a history of generational discrimination be given some long-delayed affirmative action and justice?
In the past few decades, Conservatives have convinced people that Liberals are soft on crime and weak on national security. That’s an easy talking point and, as we’ve learned to say in these hyper-partisan times, red-meat for the base. But is it true? And is it germane? And would it be such a bad thing? Conservatives have given us private prisons, mass incarceration, criminalization of poverty, militarized police departments, and the school-to-prison pipeline – all of which impact People of Color disproportionately. Conservatives have given us unending wars in areas where private economic interests far outweigh national security needs. Also, given that deleterious climate change destroys the lives and livelihoods of people globally, increasing the likelihood of regional conflict over diminishing resources, Conservative denial of our human impact on the planet prevents us from addressing these threats. Acknowledging the reality of climate change is the greatest step toward securing our nation’s wellbeing we can take.
As I said before, more Democrats are Liberals and more Republicans are Conservatives. To answer the questions: Who are these Conservatives? How do they see America? What do they want? maybe I should let them speak for themselves. Here’s the link to the 2016 Republican Party Platform. As you read it, winnow out the hyperbole and qualifying modifiers. Look for the declarative sentences. Maya Angelou told us, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them; the first time.”
Cheaters and abusers say to us, “Are you going to believe me or your lying eyes?” Are Conservatives in a long-term abusive relationship with political leaders and media figures who lie and cheat? Are they blinded by privilege, exceptionalism, and willful ignorance? Can the love of a good Liberal redeem them?