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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 6/11/17

Stop Legitimizing 'Conservatism': It's Not an Ideology -- It's a Goddamn Death Machine

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Message David Michael Green

President Trump's First 100 Days: 45
President Trump's First 100 Days: 45
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There's no end to the maladies that ail American politics these days. It would, indeed, be far easier and quicker to identify what's working than to itemize the travails that bedevil our pathetic polity in 2017. Altogether, if this country was a piece of art it would have to combine the orderliness of Pollock with the perceptual logic of Dali, all rooted in the joyful well-being of Hieronymous Bosch, in order to do justice to our times.

For those of you who for some reason always wanted to know what it looks like when an empire cracks apart, I've got some lovely news for you: A certain North American specimen, not generally known for its generosity, is nevertheless happy to oblige you today. Truly, the full catalog of America's political woes could crash Amazon's entire array of server farms, and most of us are struggling enough with chronic nausea these days such that revisiting all these horror stories again is way too depressing to contemplate. So I won't. But there is one thing that inflames my tortured mind more than any of these items -- perhaps because it is the one thing that explains them all.

Here it is: I am sickened to live in a society that treats a malignant illness as just another legitimate point of view, when in fact it's the very disease that is killing us. We don't treat a heroin epidemic as an innocuous choice that some may opt for and some may reject. We don't treat cholera as just another flavor of ice cream that some prefer while others go for strawberry. And we don't welcome Nazism as a legitimate belief system that deserves the same consideration as any other old model of race relations a society might adopt. So why do we treat 'conservatism' like some harmless cup of tea that some choose over Earl Grey or Jasmine?

"That this movement is a threat to Western values is transparent."

I'm dead serious. And I mean like, literally, dead serious, because if we're honest about it, that which goes by the name of conservatism today is not an ideology -- it's a death machine.

Maybe there was once a responsible, legitimate (if misguided and merely moderately deceitful) ideology by the name of conservatism -- I don't know. Regardless, we're not talking about Dwight Eisenhower or Gerry Ford here. We're talking about societal hemlock. And it's been that way for a generation or two, but of course now the threat from this monstrosity is no longer just a moral disaster, it's a full-blown existential crisis, wrapped inside a suicide vest.

Death machine, huh? Maybe you're thinking, "Sure, those Trump idiots are completely bonkers, but calling them a willful agent of the apocalypse is little extreme. I mean, artistic license is a good thing, but c'mon man..." Sorry. I'm not kidding. I'm being quite literal. This is a belief system which is bringing death to thousands-year-old traditions of Western values, to democracy, to the country, to people's lives, to the truth, and to the planet. Because of the threat this represents, we need to stop treating 'conservatism' as just another legitimate ideological choice. It's not. It's a murder weapon metastasized to global proportions.

That this movement is a threat to Western values is transparent. Today's so-called 'conservatives' are the enemy of equality, human rights and liberty (despite their protestations to the exact contrary). They instead embody elitism, bigotry and repression. They don't stand for gay rights any more than they ever did for civil rights back in the day, or equal pay for equal work. They worship power and its use to colonize others abroad while repressing dissent at home. Five minutes at any given Trump rally last year would have made that clear enough. But in case the message was somehow lost, one look at our fearless leader and his fawning relations with the likes of Putin, Erdogan and Duterte, combined with the shattering of the Western alliance with leaders like Angela Merkel and those of other (once-)allied democracies tells you all you need to know.

And no, it's not just one buffoon we're talking about here. While a number of right-wing pundits have -- to their partial credit -- repudiated Trumpism, there are loads of problems with that alibi for their movement. First, a whole lot of other folks have not disowned the walking crime scene that is the Trump White House. Second, these are pundits -- hardly a single Republican officeholder in Washington has found it ethically necessary to distance him or herself from the moral abyss DBA an orange-haired gorilla in a Brioni suit. Most importantly, however, Trump is far less the historical aberration from the tendencies of the last four decades than he is the expression of its logical outcome. The right has been trucking in racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, military aggression, environmental destruction and armed robbery of the 99 percent going back at least as far as William F. Buckley and Ronald (Jesus' Kid Brother) Reagan. Methinks the ladies of the conservative intelligentsia (pardon the oxymoron) doth protest too much when they seek to distance themselves from an administration whose only difference from its Republican predecessors is the grotesque overtness of its toxicity. (Especially when it doesn't take a Svengali to see that this administration is going to jail, and that its place in history will make Nixon look like Abraham Lincoln by comparison. It ain't too brave to want to make sure your name isn't associated with that particular catastrophe.)

Speaking of the rest of the GOP, they are even more liable for the destruction of American democracy than is McDonalds Stump himself. Democracies, of course, are built on such requisite features as constitutions, elections, fixed institutions with defined powers, and so on. But underlying all of that is something of even greater importance, a political culture that forms the fabric and the foundation upon which any democracy must be built. This foundation silently and implicitly stipulates the rules of the game and the boundaries of permissible behavior, and without it, there can be no functioning democracy. It is defined by elements such as a shared national identity that supersedes partisanship, an understanding that certain principles must be protected -- even at the cost of one's own political fortunes -- in order for the system to survive, and a basic level of trust such that one can hand over the keys of government to the other side without fearing that that new government will become a weapon used against the losers of an election, while at the same time believing that the next election will provide a genuine opportunity to return to power. These are the least tangible aspects of what sustains a functioning democracy, but they are also the most crucial. After all, you can have a formal written constitution or not, you can have a president or a prime minister, you can have two parties or many, you can have powerful states within a national government or not. In all these profound ways the British system differs from the American one, but nobody would claim that the UK is therefore not a democracy. What matters at the end of the day is the political culture of mutual respect and trust, the norms and the self-imposed restraints that form the fabric and foundation of a functioning democratic political culture.

And this is precisely what 'conservatives' have not been conserving for forty years now, but rather instead destroying. The necessity of preserving this crucial political culture is why impeaching a president for lying about a personal sexual relationship matters. It is why five conservative members of the Supreme Court breaking all their own internal rules and supposed principles in order to install their guy in the White House matters. It's why using the country's racial divide to win elections matters. It's why relentlessly employing the filibuster to block every item on the agenda of a president from the other party -- even those items that you supported yourself only yesterday -- matters. And why it matters when you then alter filibuster rule when it's used in the same way against you. This is why radical gerrymandering matters. This is why targeted voter suppression of the other party's base in order to prevail in elections you couldn't otherwise win matters. This is why refusing to act on a Supreme Court nomination for a year in order to get the nominee you want instead matters. And its why falsely claiming elections are rigged matters.

I have nothing particularly nice to say about the feeble and ineffectual (on a good day) Democratic Party, and especially its last two presidents. But all of the above examples of the undermining of American democracy in our time come from the Republican Party and the supposedly conservative folks who inhabit it. For all the many failings of the Democrats, there is no equivalent to any one of these items on their side of the aisle, let alone an equivalent to all of them. The upshot is that rather than conserving the Founders' democratic system that conservatives are forever cynically clothing themselves in, they are in fact destroying it. This is not death by a thousand cuts, but rather death by relentless saber slashes.

Conservatism is also death in a quite literal sense, as well. Just ask the million or so Iraqis who perished because of the right's war of choice justified by lies. Er, oops, wait a second... Turns out you can't ask them, because they're dead, killed by conservatives. But you could ask the tens of thousands Americans who are alive today because of Obamacare -- which conservatives have fought relentlessly -- and who may be dead tomorrow if the GOP manages to kill what skimpy health care protections Americans now enjoy. Or you can ask the workers who will be dying because the conservative movement is so determined to remove any sort of workplace safety regulations from providing them even modest protection. Or those who whose lives will be sacrificed in order to destroy the (woefully) basic environmental standards that have been built up over the last half-century. If you want to know what conservatism means for our environment and health, look no further than Flint, Michigan. The story that nobody in the media bothers to tell about that insane catastrophe is why it happened. The reason that 'Flint' has now become shorthand for environmental meltdown and lethal governmental buffoonery is that conservatives in Michigan's government -- who fervently 'believe' in local control, mind you -- passed legislation allowing the state to simply take over control of municipalities whenever it saw fit, despite the electoral choices of voters in those communities. That's what the conservative Snyder administration then proceeded to do in Flint, and the rest is history. By the way, their justification for doing so was that Flint was being mismanaged, so they -- wait for it, now -- had to come in and get it right. You can't make this sh*t up. And if you did, you could never find anyone in Hollywood willing to make a movie out of it, on account of its absurdly ridiculous improbability.

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David Michael Green is a professor of political science at Hofstra University in New York.  He is delighted to receive readers' reactions to his articles (, but regrets that time constraints do not always allow him to respond. His website is (more...)
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