Thursday, May 12, 2016

Conservatism is the cancer, Trump is merely the symptom

Texas governor Rick Perry once said that Donald Trump’s candidacy is a cancer on conservatism. The fact that Perry has since changed his mind and jumped on the Trump wagon doesn't detract from the quotability of his comment. However, it misses the really salient point about Trump's candidacy, which is that it is a popular response to a bankrupt conservative movement. In other words, conservatism is the cancer and Trump merely the symptom.

What is conservatism really? Literally, conservatism means wanting to preserve or return to old traditions, but what are the traditions that conservatives want to conserve? For American conservatives, the traditions include religious adherence, duty to country, trust in government, historical gender roles and the like. Unfortunately for conservatives, these things do not resonate today with many Americans who value the social freedoms they have gained since the conservative political ascendancy of the 1950s.

On the other hand, conservatism usually means support for a market economy, but even this is not quite what it seems. The market economy most conservatives envisage is a cronyist realm where large corporations are protected and subsidized and small businesses are kept from competing with the big guys by a heavy blanket of government rules and regulations. American conservatives don't really want a truly free market because that means having to compete with the rest of the world and letting people make their own decisions about what they buy and from whom. Donald Trump is about as conservative as you get on this point.

The problem with conservatives is that they have never been honest with themselves. They have deluded themselves that the traditions they hanker for are about freedom, when in reality they are about conformity and control. At least the left-wing values social freedom, even if they don't understand that economics is a social science and social freedom without economic freedom is a nonsense.

It is unsurprising that Trump, a former Democratic supporter who is anti-free trade, anti-property rights, internationally isolationist and jingoistic, and pro-higher-taxes, is now the presumptive presidential nominee for the Republican Party. It is ironic that his candidacy is being opposed by prominent Republicans such as the Georges Bush and Mitt Romney, who claim he has sold out conservatism. Conservatism has always been only too prepared to sell out any principles of freedom it may have had in the pursuit of wealth and power for its supporters. In that respect Trump is right on form.

No comments: