I enjoy a healthy friendship with conservative thought leader and former Virginia Republican party spokesperson, Shaun Kenney. I disagree with him on almost everything, but I respect him.
I see our friendship as akin to the famous Christmas Truce of WWI. There, the soldiers from the trenches set aside their quarrels for some bonhomie and soccer, before they headed back to the long slog of killing one another. The major difference here is that conservatives have long been armed and have been successfully conducting a war on liberalism for a generation. Liberals have basically been sleeping.
Recently, Shaun Kenney asked me to justify my statement that conservatism is the death of conscience, democracy, reason, and language, so here goes. It’s time for liberals to finally wake up and get in the game. If you are a liberal, if you have a net worth of less than $10 million, or you are not in favor of a particular brand of conservative theocracy setting policy in this country, conservatism has been at war with you for a generation.
This is a language war, and we’re not even fighting.*
THE PURPOSE OF CONSERVATISM
First, you must understand the purpose of the conservative enterprise and what the conservative agenda means. Conservatism itself is the domination of society by an aristocracy. Call them the 1% or identify them as those with a net worth of over $10 million, but those aristocrats and those who support their absolute power in society are the conservatives. This is as old as the Pharaohs or the feudal thugs of Rome or pre-enlightenment European monarchies. In each society in which conservatism takes hold language, reason, democracy, and conscience are destroyed in a way unique to its own culture.
In America, conservatism has arisen as a reaction to the democracy, education, wellness, empowerment, and freedom that the middle class enjoyed as a result of FDR’s New Deal, and it seeks here in America to empower an authoritarian, corporate, theocracy.
To this point it is critical to emphasize that Trump is in no way an aberration of conservatism but its fulfillment, without the messaging figleaf. He is precisely what conservatives of both parties have been aspiring to and empowering in this country, either intentionally or out of ignorance. To blame the full horror of the current situation on Trump is to absolve a generation of zealots from their responsibility. Burn the fruit and the tree remains. If progressives are going to effectively uproot this tree, we must take it at the root.
That root is conservatism. There is only one force in America that can protect the nation from authoritarian, corporate, theocracy, and that is a healthy, wealthy, secure, free, and powerful middle class in control of governments worldwide. Conservatism opposes all of this. Conservatism is at war with American freedom.
Conservatism ignores history’s lesson that cultures and empires fall when the people are dis-empowered. The goal of conservatism in America has always been to move all the wealth and power of the nation into fewer and fewer hands. The welfare of the common good is the enemy of the accumulation of dynastic wealth. Because of taxes, conservatives argue, any and all efforts by the American government to ensure the well-being of the American people must be destroyed by any means necessary. Conservatives wage war on “regulations”. Regulations are simply protections for the American people and American freedom.
THE FOUR DESTRUCTIONS
In America, conservatism attacks freedom through four key types of destruction: the destruction of conscience, the destruction of reason, the destruction of language, and the destruction of democracy.
THE DESTRUCTION OF CONSCIENCE
Whenever people complain that the poor should not have healthcare, that they should not have food stamps, or that they should not have education, that is the destruction of conscience, regardless of the argument. Caring for others is defined by the conservative movement as weakness. Progressives know that we are stronger together. Many conservatives will argue that government should leave the poor to the care of churches. This is anti-American and disastrous for two reasons. First, that effort failed absolutely in the great depression. Second and much more fundamentally, we are a nation of laws, not religion. It is unconstitutional for the government to leave these responsibilities in the hands of churches.
The destruction of conscience relates back to the core goal of the conservative enterprise; corporate domination. As long as the people deny their responsibility to one another, they will continue to cede power to the super wealthy. The game is pretty horrifying, but it’s been very successful. The destruction of conscience is the poison tree and this is the fruit. Teach the middle to hate the bottom and the top gets all the money and power.
THE DESTRUCTION OF DEMOCRACY
The destruction of democracy is necessary for the conservative agenda. The greater power individual people have without the wealth multiplier, the less power the wealthy have in government. With Citizen’s United and other campaign finance laws, America no longer has a democracy in any real sense whatsoever.
Unless you have a net worth of over $10 million, your opinion has zero effect on the workings of Congress. If you have that net worth, Congress reacts directly to your desires. Citizen’s United was engineered by conservatives, and conservative die-hard Justice Roberts was seated specifically to overturn the laws that were protecting democracy from the influence of money. He succeeded. As a recent Princeton University study determined, Democracy in America is over. We now live in an oligarchy. The conservative agenda to destroy democracy in America has succeeded.
THE DESTRUCTION OF LANGUAGE
The conservative destruction of language is well documented. Yet progressives don’t understand how pervasive that destruction has become. Control of language is critical to the conservative agenda of aristocratic domination of society. People would reject the actual goal of conservatism out of hand. Conservatives have effectively waged war on language for decades, so as to make the people the champions of their own poverty and political destruction.
The conservative war on American freedom is primary a war on language. Starting with the “Powell Memo” in 1977, conservatives made the intentional decision to overturn all New Deal protections, from Social Security to Medicare to clean water and air protections.
Conservatives invested in “think tanks” on a massive scale. These set out to undermine the lasting New Deal consensus that a healthy, wealthy, informed, and powerful middle class in America was the primary purpose of American government. Their core tactic was the destruction of language. Newt Gingrich was a leading purveyor of language as a weapon against American freedom His revolution in Congress, through a concerted effort to weaponize language for the destruction of liberalism succeeded in redefining “freedom” as Washington discusses it.
Freedom has traditionally meant the opportunity for every man, woman, and child, to fulfill his or her personal destiny, in health, security, and peace. Thanks to conservative language warriors, American freedom now means only the ability of the super wealthy to exploit any economic opportunity without restriction.
Now American freedom means the strong do as they will and the weak suffer as they must.
Another great example of the destruction of language is the concept of “entitlement”. Historically, entitlement is what the aristocracy receive from the monarchy. A concerted effort to rearrange language by the right, took that hate and transferred it from the super rich to the poor. Now, thanks to billions of dollars invested in right-wing thin tanks welfare payments are called “entitlements”. This is where the destruction of language empowers the destruction of conscience. It is just one example of a universe of changes successfully engineered by conservatives.
THE DESTRUCTION OF REASON
All of this amounts to the overreaching destruction of reason: the ultimate control mechanism of the right. Conservatism, based on its effective destruction of conscience, democracy, and language, may now abuse reason without restriction. It has effectively trained a generation of believers to ignore every fact, every source of fact, and every purveyor of fact.
Conservatives have named their “four corners of deceit”: science, academia, government, and media. Any organization that states any position not completely in tune with conservative doctrine cannot be trusted. This is the destruction of reason. Reasoned debate cannot be conducted. Reasoned discussion cannot take place. Conservatism wages war on fact and supporters take this holy war as a matter of religious faith.
Global Climate Change can’t exist, despite the universal scientific consensus on the matter, because conservatism says it doesn’t. Hillary Clinton is corrupt, despite the absolute absence of any proof, because conservatism says she is.
IT’S NOT THE FIGUREHEAD, IT’S THE MOVEMENT
To accuse Donald Trump of being some kind of aberration from the core tenants of conservatism is to absolve a generation of conservatives predominantly in the Republican party, but many in the Democratic Party (e.g. Joe Lieberman) as well, of lying and destroying conscience, democracy, language, and ultimately reason.
These Anti-American zealots make use of racism, sexism, theocratic Dominionism and other hate/fear movements to support their enterprise, but the goal is singular and pointed: the domination of society by a dynastic aristocracy.
It is important for progressives to understand the process by which conservatives have succeeded. In propagandizing their honest religious allies into supporting their campaign of destruction, conservatism has destroyed the capacity for debate. This is war, and conservatism has been waging it for a generation.
It is important to understand how and why they are doing this. Most importantly it is important to define American freedom in progressive terms, and to fight for progressive ends in all things. There is too much conservative insanity flying around. It is important for our movement to stay resolved and focused in our goals and energy.
When we spend our time obsessing over this racist outrage, or that theocratic destruction of freedom, we lose sight of the core enterprise and the core conflict in American politics: who is the government for? Is it for the 1% or is it for the American people? Conservatism has one answer, and progressivism has another. Keeping that distinction clear will allow activists and leaders to overcome the confusion and emerge victorious for the protection of freedom, justice, opportunity and the future of the world.
Despite conservatism’s ongoing war on democracy, language, reason, and conscience, progressivism can still win. Progressivism can still save the world.
*Note: Much of this argument is explored in Philip Agre’s seminal, “What is Conservatism and What is Wrong with It.” ca 2004. Please read it in its completion. It is critical information for all progressive activists and organizers.
Crosspost Blue Virginia