Every Republican president has remade the party in their image. For the first time in a long time, America elected a progressive Republican, a man in favor of more power government, and in particular, a more powerful executive branch. While many feared that Trump’s nomination meant a drastic and irreversible change to the Republican party, it means more – the death of conservatism.
Ironically, the meaning behind the term “conservative” has changed quite a bit from its origins. The first “modern” conservative is usually recognized as Edmund Burke, the British MP who, for principled reasons, supported (although quietly) the American Revolution and loudly denounced the French Revolution. He did this because he had a solid foundation in philosophy. He understood that humans were flawed, and therefore, if left to their own will, would often make “wrong” decisions. These decisions would ultimately lead to the destruction of the family unit, and then the downfall of civil society.
Later on, following four terms of FDR and New Deal policies, the term “conservative” was first used by Russell Kirk, who would go on to inspire William F Buckley, Barry Goldwater, and Ronald Reagan. Even all of these men are wildly different, but one good thing that all of these men had in common was their thoughtfulness and love of learning. They were all students of history and philosophy, and had deep understandings, again, of human nature.
Also, this generation of conservatives didn’t deal with the media in the same manner contemporary conservatives do. William Buckley hosted long debates between leading intellectuals on both sides of the aisle. He debated Gore Vidal and Noam Chomsky. This is in stark contrast to Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly, who act as conservatives, but deliver information to their viewers in soundbites, often just shouting matches with few ideas actually being discussed.
It gets worse when these soundbites begin to define what “conservative” is. Conservative is not a specific stance on any particular policy. Conservative is a handful of principles, learned through thousands of years. It comes from understanding history, philosophy, and human nature. Why do conservatives believe in limited government? Because they understand human nature – that power corrupts. Conservatives like power to be widely dispersed. At least they used to.
The term conservative has so many meanings, is so flexible and fluent, that it doesn’t really have one single meaning anymore. The term “conservative” represents anything from Burke, to Kirk, to Reagan, to Trump. If that is the case, then the principles that initially guided it, are gone, and it is in no uncertain words – meaningLESS.
Consider for instance, Ann Coulter’s latest book. Coulter is known for fighting for conservative ideas. She regularly debates liberals on cable television, but her arguments do not pertain to principles. The title of her latest book, “In Trump We Trust”, should sicken conservatives to their core. As conservatives, we do not place trust in man, we place trust in God. We understand that men are flawed, so we don’t worship at the alter of anyone. This is not the view of Ann Coulter, yet she wears the conservative banner for all to see.
The changing of a political party is one thing, but the death of a political philosophy is another. True conservatives should no longer call themselves conservatives, because they will be lumped in with the Hannitys and Coulters of the world, who are not guided by principle, but by party. The Republican party has already been rebranded. It is rebranded in Trump’s image, as it was under the Bushes, Reagan, Nixon, etc. It is a much different thing to rebrand a philosophy.
At the very best, conservatism needs to be rebranded. However, all things considered, the term “conservative” is no longer meaningful, and hence, is dead. More than Trump, who never paraded on the notion that he was a “conservative”, Ann Coulter and Sean Hannity are accomplices in the death of conservatism. Those who wore the banner have soiled it.