By LIANA IMPERATO
Since the rise of President Trump, conservatism has experienced a bizarre regeneration. As the movement metamorphosed over the course of 2016 to welcome a New York City Democrat-turned- Republican icon to the presidency, the result has baffled traditional conservatives. Not only does the current conservative crowd accommodate this man, but it now celebrates Trump and others like him, condemning those who question the motives and actions of these new leaders.
Mona Charen, political commentator and former White House staffer under President Reagan, was a featured panelist at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) late last month. A self-proclaimed conservative, Charen explains that speaking at CPAC should have been a natural t for her. However, this was not the case when she was booed onstage by attendees following comments impugning the integrity of Republicans for their support of men credibly accused of sexual harassment and assault.
Charen’s courage in confronting members of her own party about their hypocrisy is commendable, especially considering the fact that President Trump, one of the targets of her remarks, received great praise during his speech to the CPAC crowd. She intended to speak truth to a crowd blinded by unwavering loyalty to their party. It was a bold move, but one that was certainly not well-received by many.
Charen expected such an outcome. She noted that the right’s shift to prop up characters like Sheri David Clarke on the CPAC stage imply a growing distaste for true conservative thinkers. Further, granting demagogues like Clarke a platform at CPAC is symptomatic of a much larger issue in the American political landscape.
Conservatism is suffocating under a blanket of demagoguery that has swept over the nation and smothered honest dialogue and well-intentioned debate. Conservatives have opted to support credibly accused serial harassers and molesters, beginning with President Trump and spiraling to Judge Roy Moore, “for the sake of the party.”
Charen’s call-out of fellow conservatives is justified; these people decry feminism because of the ideological hypocrisy, yet give their undying support to individuals who are contributing to the breakdown of the Republican Party. No longer can the GOP rely on its claim of moral superiority if the people Charen refers to as “bad actors” continue to take charge of the party platform and its future.
These “leaders” are hijacking conservatism, claiming it as their own, and turning a significant amount of people who subscribe to conservative ideals into puppets, rather than independent thinkers. Even worse, if dissenters dare speak out against the leaders, they are bullied into silence and, as Charen says, “we’re made to feel like interlopers.”
This evolution has frustrated many traditional conservatives. As leaders of this new wing of so-called conservatism in infiltrate positions of power within the party, traditional conservatives are dissociating from the movement. However, this should not be so. Disillusioned Republicans should channel their frustration into action. They must stand rm for the principles for which their party once advocated vehemently, even though leaders have failed them.
Rather than submit to the forces pulling the party further away from its original values, conservatives who still abide by values of limited government, personal and fiscal responsibility and free markets must speak up. They must challenge counterfeit conservatives. Denouncing such instigators should not be taboo, but rather it should be understood as their responsibility in order to maintain the integrity of the party.
Ideological conformity is not only unnecessary, it is dangerous. Mona Charen’s experience at CPAC speaks volumes about that unfortunate reality, however her response leaves a sense of hope for those unwilling to succumb to the party of Trump.
“There is nothing more freeing than telling the truth,” Charen said. “And it must be done, again and again, by those of us who refuse to be absorbed into this brainless, sinister, clownish thing called Trumpism, by those of us who refuse to overlook the fools, frauds and fascists attempting to glide along in his slipstream into respectability.”
Conservatives must promote truth about their leaders, their ideals and the reality of the movement’s current state. They must embrace their principles and reject the absurdity of those who have usurped the label for their own political gain.
Conservatism does not require that all of those who subscribe to its ideals are entirely aligned on every issue, but party members must ensure that the foundational values are not compromised.