Everyone likes to believe they know the relevant facts and their conclusions are truly reasonable. This is true in politics and so many areas of life, but it is particularly dangerous in the political world, where false assumptions, outright lies, and emotional conclusions can lead to grave consequences. The more fridge your politics are, the easier it is to fall into this emotional trap. I speak from my own experience – having begun in my youth as a self-professed Marxist, Socialist, and Anarchist, then I jumped from the radical left to the radical right, voting Libertarian in the 90s – and my study of history. What all these seemingly different political camps have in common is their uncompromising faith in a simplistic, utopian worldview, and a knack for seeing reality through the colored glasses of a predetermined conclusion.
For the last decade and a half I have called myself a conservative, because I see this as a sober, thoughtful, and mature way of assessing the world. I have tried to ignore and marginalize the reactionary extremists who profess to be, “real conservatives,” because I did not want to be associated with their tendency toward racism, sexism, and homophobia; nor did I approve of their conspiracist view of “elites” and their mythologized version of America’s lost greatness. I have criticized Tea Party Patriots for their ideological connection to previously misguided groups, particularly the John Birch Society, and I have come to understand their emotional form of politics as structurally the same as all the other fringe groups on both the right and the left. Unfortunately, I can no longer ignore the fact that these phony conservatives are fast becoming the only thing the general public thinks of as, “conservatism,” and the battle for hearts and minds is quickly being lost.
I recently had an exchange with Trump Supporter Sonny Girard (@) on Twitter that speaks volumes about how my idea of conservatism differs from the reactionary camp that is driving the news cycle, and driving away young people, women, blacks, hispanics, and others from even considering the political right as an option. Sonny was full of contempt for the “elites” and equally full of faith in Trump, who will, “put America first.” He didn’t want to accept that Trump University was a scam and he is now being scammed by the same con artist; he would rather attack the “Mexican” judge and his alleged radicalism. He did admit that Trump’s, “POW snipe at McCain was dumb,” but he didn’t really see a problem with it. I can only imagine if a Democratic politician had dodged the draft and spent the Vietnam War partying, then insulted POWs as not real heros, how do you think Sonny would react? Wouldn’t this be proof of that the Democrats disrespect America? But when his favorite Reality TV Star does it…
When I pointed out that Trump believes in nutty conspiracy theories, like the idea that vaccines cause Autism, Sonny said, “I have an autistic grandson & we wonder about vaccine’s effect.” Yes, why bother to get the facts when you can “wonder” about baseless accusations? When I directed him to a piece I wrote comparing Trump to McCarthy, Sonny retorted, “Was McCarthy all wrong, or the beginning of the end of U.S. inner strength?” So America has been in decline since the 1950s? Really? Passing Civil Rights, putting a man on the Moon, defeating the Soviets, dramatically growing the economy, living longer than ever before, etc. None of that counts? Sonny needs to believe that America is in decline, like he needs to believe that McCarthy was some kind of hero, because it justifies his elevated emotional state. The fact that Republican President Eisenhower opposed McCarthy and the Senate censured McCarthy matter not. Such details don’t feed Sonny’s emotions so they aren’t relevant.
Finally, we got to his opinion of, “Liberals like Killary & Obama [who] are America’s enemy. The enemy of America’s enemy is my candidate.” I tried to tell Sonny that liberals are our fellow Americans but there is no reasoning with such, “logic.” The only thing I can do is give him more reasons to hate me and see me as another one of America’s enemies. By contrast, I recently saw President Obama on The Tonight Show and found him to be very measured and thoughtful. The gulf between Mr. Obama and self-professed super patriots, like Sonny or The Donald, could not be greater.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not loving Obamacare. I’m not thinking that the Democrats suddenly have the right answers to all of our problems. I’m still glad I voted for President Bush, John McCain, and Mitt Romney. And I know for a fact that there are plenty of nutty people on the left wing (the kind of people who think Bush was behind 9-11 and communism is a great idea, if only it were implemented properly). But the fanatics have not taken over the Democratic Party (no matter what Sonny and company wish to believe) and the clear and present danger of a Trumpified U.S. is too great to ignore. I want to work for less emotional politics and the rejection of hyperbolic nonsense. That to me is conservatism. That to me is patriotism.