Monday, July 17, 2017

Conservatism In The Age of Trump, Part 1 (...or, "Yes Virginia, There Really Are Deplorables!")

It’s hard to believe that it’s been a year since my last blog posting here…especially with so much having happened since. For me, observing and writing is a fulltime endeavor—even outside of my books and other blogs (such as my Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter page)s. However, given how reality has been turned and stood on its every-lovin’ head of late, this piece is long overdue. The reason, at least in part, for our collective trip down the rabbit hole is due to worst of ideologically far-right individuals who fancy themselves as representing “conservatives,” but have no clue, no real idea of what the particular ideological school of thought means in relation to American history, the rise of Donald Trump, and the rejection of pragmatic political policy. To say the least, these are the Deplorables that former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton referred to during her now infamous “Basket of Deplorables” speech during the Election of 2016 (For an in-context transcript of the speech, See: "In Context: Hillary Clinton and the 'Basket of Deplorables'" and the video below).

But to understand what sets Deplorables apart from traditional (i.e., real) conservatives, it’s best to understand what traditional conservatism is all about.

Traditional Conservatism 

Let’s just start by defining just who and what the Deplorables are; they include not just the most devoted of Donald Trump supporters, but those far-right, self-identified conservatives who are rigidly uncompromising, and seemingly incapable of practically legislating with others, who Deplorables support. They include racists, politically-active and fanatical "Christian" fundamentalists, rabid gun-owners (who believe that the 2nd Amendment is the only thing in the Bill of Rights), ardent isolationists, anti-government activists, xenophobes, and politicians who both cater to these constituents as well as share and express their views.  And though some of them may be proud to consider themselves such "real Americans" who "love America," to paraphrase Martha Stewart, this is not a good thing. Sadly, these individuals have made political discourse all but impossible with their brand of black-&-white, only-my-view-is-rightism—in some ways like their counterparts on the far left. What’s more, Deplorables as a group among conservatives have been around since long before Clinton’s speech.

The major reason for this is that among political conservatism in America, there has always been a strain of rigid adherence interpreted by nearly puritanical individuals with an intense sense of nativism. These hardest of right-wingers have always embraced this more potent idea of conservatism in much the same way that fundamentalists within any religious tradition do their more fanatical beliefs. And pretty much like religion, the problems lay not so much in the precepts themselves as much as they do in the hearts and minds of its adherents.
But it should be mentioned that any misunderstanding of conservatism as a political ideology is not entirely due to misinterpretations and/or misapplications by ardent believers. The fact of the matter is that there is a noticeable level of ambiguity in the definition of conservatism among many contemporary conservatives. According to most dictionary definitions, conservatism is defined as a political and social philosophy that promotes retaining traditional social institutions in the context of a particular culture and/or civilization. But unless one is stepped in political philosophy, one might not know that there are many philosophical schools of conservatism, including liberal conservatism, which combines seemingly oxymoronic principles in the areas of social and economic policies (go ahead…you know you want to confirm this. Google this philosophy right now. I’ll wait…).
The problem then, is that what one considers “traditional” can vary from individual to individual, and place to place…even in America. This means that it is “conservatives” themselves who tend to define what the basis for their beliefs are, rather than rely on a list of universally recognized and accepted traditions. The result is that the definition of what conservatism is will in fact, vary from one point in time to another, and from one individual to the next…whether educated in the philosophically esoteric sense or not. Where one individual might consider, say, a tolerance for immigrants as representing traditional institutions worth maintain, another might see immigrants are being “anti-American.” Even so, trying to come up with a workable definition for American political conservatism is not as easy as one would think. But let’s make the attempt by using the words and thoughts of the late William F. Buckley, the erstwhile go-to idealist of modern American political conservatism.
In his 1959 classic "Up From Liberalism,"Buckley wrote:

"I will not cede more power to the state. I will not willingly cede more power to anyone, not to the state, not to General Motors, not to the CIO. I will hoard my power like a miser, resisting every effort to drain it away from me. I will then use my power, as I see fit. I mean to live my life an obedient man, but obedient to God, subservient to the wisdom of my ancestors; never to the authority of political truths arrived at yesterday at the voting booth. That is a program of sorts, is it not? It is certainly program enough to keep conservatives busy, and Liberals at bay. And the nation free” (See: “Conservatism Defined”).

                                                      The late William F. Buckley, founder of the conservative National Review

From this, let’s infer that many of the beliefs and principles of traditional conservatism can be extrapolated…most prominently that of limited government, an idea that hearkens to the notions of Thomas Jefferson's declaration that "government is best that governs the least." back to   Furthermore, by adding the “retaining traditional social institutions” aspect of the dictionary definition of conservatism, one can conclude that many of the same traditional ideals that helped to establish and grow traditional social institutions that—in turn—helped to grow and establish the country are the basis for conservative beliefs.
Indeed, from the duo standpoints of being a solid ethos, as well a proven institution for socioeconomic stability, there is much to be said of traditional conservatism (Buckley's sometimes questionable interpretations of left-of-center thought notwithstanding). The benefits of its emphasis on education, hard work, self-reliance, thrift, old-time religion, and the support of a traditional nuclear family have been principles by which the United States was built upon. What’s more, there was a time when these principles were universally promoted and practiced—to some degree—in America, until sometime around the arrival of the activist-driven counter-culture of the mid 20th-century.
Beginning in the late 1950's and into the decade of the 1960's, it was non-conservatives who noticed that the level of social stability and conformity that widespread conservatism demanded would reveal to have a major false bottom… that other groups, whether they practiced conservative beliefs, were being marginalized based on how other individuals and groups sought to preserve traditional institutions. We saw this most prominently in the equally traditional institution of stratified racial hierarchy among social groups in America—in other words, racism.
Widespread institutional and ‘Ole Boy Network biases (prior to the various social movements in the 60s) notwithstanding, those us who didn’t fit the socioeconomic model of Protestant white males soldiered on through life in America, adhering to conservative principles…some prospering economically. This reality was most prominently demonstrated in the African-American community, where—despite the oppressive reality of Jim Crow laws and (often violent) racially-based social subjugation—blacks had higher levels of family cohesion. This was evidenced by the fact that marriage rates between black and white women of child-bearing age up to the 1950's were nearly equal, despite their different social standings (see: “African American Marriage Patterns”). Additionally during these earlier times, the rate of black children being born to single mothers was equally as much as white children…upwards of 80% or better. In similar fashion, in the racially-regressive period between 1900 and the 1930s—when blacks were politically impotent and socially-marginalized as a demographic—black entrepreneurship was at its highest. From figures gather from the time period, that translates to between 40,000-50,000 black-owned businesses in a nation where blacks comprised just under 11-million of the total population of the U.S. in a climate where open hostility toward blacks was the norm. Finally, truancy rates, rates of major crime, and teenage pregnancy, and most of all of the other socioeconomic pathologies that are antithetical to traditionally conservative principles were far lower in earlier times than they are in contemporary times.
An example of African-Americans pooling their resources to form black businesses--despite the blatant and often oppressive racism of the time period (the 1920s)--utilizing the same moderately conservative principles that their white counterparts were utilizing.

Yes, I know…it all sounds idyllic. But this is by no means meant to imply that America was ever a Shangri-La, devoid of issues. The point is that when basic conservative principles were—relatively speaking—widely practiced by most seeking their particular piece of the American Dream, there was more social order, and less breakdown; statistics and anecdotal history from the recollections of those living in earlier times bears this out.

But to some, these earlier times of widespread conformity, conservative principles, and social order were, in fact a romanticized period of nostalgia. Of course, it didn’t matter that blacks and others were oppressed—both legally and illegally—and made to feel like Second Class citizens by law and often, by force, just so long as order was maintained. Then, as now, the most ardent of conservatives--the Deplorables--have always been able to reconcile maintaining America’s traditional institutions, while ignoring—or even justifying—any negative aspects or impacts on others.

The Deplorables Cometh 

One thing many ideological conservatives have always denied is that one major aspect of conservatism—the notion of limited government, at least at the federal level—worked against maligned groups like blacks, Hispanics, women, and other politically- and historically-disenfranchised groups. In the case of blacks, for more than a century local governments were allowed the freedom to institute discriminatory laws that affected every aspect of life...including life itself.  This was because any notion of the federal government intervening on behalf of the daily oppression of blacks at the hands of state and local governments was maligned as “federal government overreach,” and justified under the aegis of “states rights.” This reality included allowing laws to remain in effect that, among other things, restricted voting restriction and participation in the electoral process, enforced legal segregation, and even restricted marriage (in the form of anti-miscegenation laws). And for the record, most of those writing and enforcing laws that sought to preserve traditional Southern institutions were politically Democrat, and ideologically the most conservative (as most pro-segregation and/or racists white Southerners were).  This can be proven in the formation of the so-called "Dixiecrats" of the late 1940's, who were extremely-conservative white southern Democrats committed to states' rights and the maintenance of segregation (and like otgr early Deplorables, opposed to federal intervention into race, and to a lesser degree, labor relations). These enforcers of the racial social order in the South prior to—and during—the Civil Rights Movement of the 50s and 60s could be considered the first Deplorables.
In the infancy of the changing times and social upheavals that would mark the mid-20th Century, this earliest incarnation of today’s Deplorables in the form of The Klan, Old-Time Religioneers, Southern White Citizens Councils, John Birchers, and others who were to the right of traditional conservatism, saw themselves as defenders of the old ways. Many saw their collective cause as being righteous, Godly, and a preservation of the various social conventions that helped to make America the preeminent force on the globe.
What’s more, many of them believed that they were defending traditionally “wholesome” American institutions—discrimination, unfair advantages, and sexism all included—from those who worked to dismantle the old order (i.e., liberals). We see this in the way the Deplorable wing of conservatism described civil rights proponents and counter-culture types working for social change as being “Communists” and dupes of “outside agitators.” And to a country that already felt threatened by the competing ideology of Communism from its Cold War adversary, Russia, implying that any new ideas antithetical to the predictability and social order of traditional conservative idea would go on to help paint anyone harboring any idea to the right of rigid Deplorable thinking as—at the very least—as being a “socialist.”  However, then, as now, when Deplorables call those who harbor unpleasant ideas, they are not so much talking about the "anti-American" issue of wealth redistribution those seeing a redistribution of privilege.  As an example, early Deplorables often called Dr. Martin Luther King (as well as those associated with his progressive ideas) a communist because he wanted blacks to have the same rights as whites, and to them that was a redistribution of the privilege that whites had 'earned."  In other words, an attack on a value they saw as "traditional."

Early Deplorables, as shown during the push to integrate public schools in the South, as per the Supreme Court Brown vs. The Board of Education (1954).  Such obstinacy from extreme adherents to conservatism illustrates how any progressive, left of reactionary idea was considered "Communism," and by implication, "anti-American" (Source: "Race Mixing Is Communism").

So it could be argued that the various social protest movements of 50's and 60's was not so much a push back against conservatism, as much as a push against Deplorables’ defense of their being oblivious to how others were marginalized in their attempts to preserve the old social order. So as social activists and their liberal ideas began to chip away at these worst aspects of conservatism, the weaknesses of the Deplorables’ position began to become clearer. Their interpretation of conservatism failed to keep up with changing ideas and changing perceptions of others who did not benefit fully from the old ways. This is to say that, while conservatism produced a certain level of social order and stability, it demanded rigid conformity of thought that ignored the suffering of others.
For blacks and other maligned groups, social order took a back seat to the desire for equal rights under the laws…including oppressive state laws that sought to preserve the traditional social order of de jure racism. It didn’t help that at times, those who loudly proclaimed to represent a defense of “conservative values” seemed to be on the wrong side of history. Former arch-conservative and 1964 Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater’s opposition to the then-recently passed 1964 Civil Rights Act is the best example of this. For blacks and others seeking federal government protection of their civil rights from the oppressive state government laws that worked against them, this represented a repudiation of the aspect of conservatism that emphasized smaller (federal) government. And as much as they did not—and still, do not—want to believe, the obstinacy of Deplorables was partially the blame for this.
On one side, there were ideologically-rigid conservative Southern Democrat (Deplorables) representing a defense of the old order (i.e., Jim Crow/segregation). On the other, you had equally hard-right of mainstream conservatism Republicans supporting a Republican presidential candidate taking a stance that equated to also opposing changing the old order (in the name of rejecting “federal government overreach” and supporting “states’ rights,” for who it was almost assured that Deplorables were also among their number). As it stood, moderate Northern Republicans would join with more liberal Northern Democrats—with very few Southern Democrats no Southern Republicans voting in favor—to pass the Civil Rights Act (“Were Republicans Really the Party of Civil Rights in the 1960s?”). Throw in social liberals’ activism and political liberals’ creation of social government
programs, and under such a reality, it was for hard blacks and other previously disenfranchised groups to continue to embrace conservatism as a social and political ideology...which, as time would go on to prove by widespread socioeconomic pathologies in the communities among these groups, abandoning basic conservative principles was not entirely a good thing.
With the old social order changing, Deplorables, instead of moving left to the more moderate, more mainstream mode of traditional conservatism that would fit with changing attitudes (while still keeping intact the more practical and proven aspects of conservatism), they would double-down on trying to preserve what was left of the notion that the country could return to a time where “things made sense”—at least to those who were in favorable socioeconomic positions in the traditional sense.  But many Deplorables would find champion in their beliefs in the form of a old Confederacy Southerner.
In 1968, former Alabama Governor George Wallace, who was a die hard segregationist, would make a run for the presidency under the third party American Independent Party. His campaign platform represented issues that appealed to right-of-moderate conservatives who—much like Donald Trump today—felt that moderate conservatism and every aspect of liberalism were dragging the country kicking and screaming into uncharted, and unappealing waters in both domestic and foreign policy. Among Wallace’ stances was his vehement anti-federal government position that was part and parcel of his anti-desegregation, anti-integration beliefs and platform...a questionable, if not politically-imaginative application of “limited government” to be sure. And like Trump today, he was dead-set against foreign-aid and getting the U.S. involved in foreign entanglements like Vietnam.
                                                          Former Alabama Governor, George Wallace

His campaign represented hard departure from changing social and economic realities that many saw as going upending traditional social and economic conventions at the time. And finally—also like Trump—Wallace’ campaign sought to siphon off more conservative votes from both established Democratic and Republican candidates…who had no problems distancing and distinguishing themselves from Wallace and his merry band of supporters (Deplorables among them). But what made put Wallace and many of his supporters in the right-of-traditional conservatism Deplorables camp was his stance against changing racial attitudes of the time. His appeal to his most ardently anti-federal-government, anti-racial integration fellow Southerners was enough to win him states of the former old Confederacy in the 1968 general election, placing him as a major figurehead among early Deplorables.
After Wallace’ 1968 presidential run, Deplorables as a group seemingly went underground, out of the limelight of mainstream politics. This, of course is not to say that they wouldn’t rear their heads from time to time to make national headlines (such as in the mid-1980's in Forsyth County, Georgia, when racist residents of the then-all-white country pushed back against efforts to integrate the county).  But from Richard Nixon’s administration through to the Bush I Administration, Deplorables would cease to be a significant political voice in American politics…overshadowed by the rise of a more and relatively moderate form of conservatism. This was symbolized by larger than life political figures who were ideological polar opposites, but willing to work together through political compromise...without the reoccurring gridlock we see in current politics.  Deplorables were relegated to the Lunatic Fringe, where they seemed to seethe politically--remaining stubbornly resistant mainstream attitudes.
In fact, the age of politically-active Deplorable conservatism wouldn’t be seen again until after late Reagan-era changes in broadcasting rules allowed for the rise and proliferation of right-wing radio—that in turn, both fed and fueled a paranoia-driven brand of far-right conservatism of the 1990's ("A Brief History of The Fairness Doctrine").
Driven by a combination of a new generation of self-styled conservative ideologues (and their talk radio programs) and the start of the Clinton Administration, the Deplorable wing of conservatism got an infusion of new life in the early 1990's. Gone from the public eye were the faces of Deplorables of days past. The blatantly intolerant coveralls-wearing hillbilly rubes, posturing governors facing down federal troops, and political outliers who provided occasional theater for the press. These Deplorables of old were replaced by gun-toting, Constitution-quoting militiamen, disenchanted and politically-astute blue- and black-collar working rural Americans, and articulate, expensive suit-wearing talking heads--along with traditional Deplorables—speaking to traditional conservatives as well as those with far-right beliefs—many who believed that the America they once knew was going the way of the dinosaur. These new Deplorables were not afraid to vote for those they considered representative of their own ideas and beliefs. What's more, they were also not afraid to take political office themselves. And in turn, when they were holding public office, they were not afraid to pander to just their own constituents (as opposed to the general voting electorate)--just like their fore bearers among the old Dixiecrats in Congress.  They would no longer compromise and work with those with opposing views as they had done throughout the 1970's and 80's.  These new Deplorables no longer possessed the honor of strength of character to point out the wrong-doing of those who shared their political affiliations...instead opting to deflect and defend their fellows by pointing and asking, "What about them when they...?"
In addition, they were now represented in the media by far-right conservative celebrity commentators—Deplorables in themselves—with surnames like Savage, Limbaugh, Liddy, and Drudge. For an unhealthy amount of hours per day, each week, these talking heads successfully fed throngs of listeners far-right interpretations of reality that was at times, seemed almost comically revisionist. To this point, they were no longer content with just returning to the old ways of Borg-like conformity and social order.  Their rhetoric now also emphasized the issue of government as having too much influence in our daily lives.  What's more, the overall message of the new Deplorable agenda had gone from solely promoting far-right-of-center conservatism and anti-government themes to anti-liberal propaganda.
The new Deplorables had begun to engage in the total demonization of every thought, idea, and belief that remotely smacked of progressivism. “Liberal” was now a bad word, synonymous with being anti-capitalism, government give-aways, and anti-wealth.  It didn’t help that liberals didn’t bother to take ownership and control of the way Deplorables painted them. This is the say that Deplorables were proud to call and proclaim themselves (far-right) “conservatives,” while many liberals would not adopt the same mindset in defense of, and pride in and of their own beliefs.

Deplorable caricature of liberal Democrats

Among traditionally conservatives, belief of smaller government had morphed into a paranoid fear of our own government, seized upon by Deplorables. There was talk about how “evil’ the federal government was, and how it conspired to take away the Second Amendment gun rights of each and every American (which, ironically, was only a “threat” when Democrats ran for the highest offices in the land). And of course, the government conspired—at least to the most deranged among the Deplorables—with (imaginary) Trilateral Commissions, one-world-governments, and even the Illuminati to take away our long-held Constitutional rights. Armed self-styled “patriots” in the form of far-right militias began to show up on radars, coalescing around events like Waco and Ruby Ridge….romanticized “proofs” that the federal government were in fact “suppressing our civil liberties.” Some among the numbers of Deplorables took their animus too far, and we got Oklahoma City in April of 1995. Also peppered throughout the decade, we got abortion clinic attacks, Olympic bombings, and various plots by far-right of center Deplorables that reinforced how far they were willing to go to express their political beliefs.
All of this happened as Republicans had seized control of Congress a year earlier.  And many of these
Republican Congressmen voiced many of the same right-of-center fears—such as a fear of impending "socialized medicine,” and his move to include homosexuals in the military by his "don't-ask/don't-tell"—that those far-right of center had voiced. On the whole, many Republicans had moved to the right of traditional moderate conservatives. Though not as paranoid, conspiratorial, and/or xenophobic as Deplorables, they were every bit as hostile to the notion of compromise or being open to even moderately liberal ideas.
Finally, Deplorables, many of whom were working Middle-Class or rural, working poor, became staunch defenders of trickle-down economics, a dubious form of economic policies that favored supply-side economics...which, ironically worked against the personal economic self-interests of those who were living one paycheck away from poverty. These new Deplorables bought into to questionable notion that "job creators" and rich business people were the driving force of economic growth...and not a thriving Middle-Class.
By the end of the 20th-century, the reality of somewhat more tolerant (compared to days past) general population, shifting ethnic/racial demographics, and the perception--in the minds of Deplorables--that America was paying the price because of these changes, had created prime and fertile political ground for the rise of today's Deplorables...which pretty much has left traditional and moderate (i.e., real) conservatism as the new fringe in politics.

To be concluded



  1. "Fake news" - a narrative created by Donald Trump, and oft-repeated by his Deplorables to discredit ANY and every news article by a reputable news agency that dares to print and/or publish stories that don't support THEIR view of "alternative facts."