Not The Conservative Party: Shunning The Better Angels Of Our Nature

A couple months back on Fox News Donald Trump quipped, “you gotta remember that this is the Republican Party, not the Conservative Party.” This has become painfully obvious, however it’s important to remember that the Republican Party has historically been the vessel for conservatism. Not any more. This past Wednesday over thirty million people watched as a convention crowd largely comprised of establishment, I mean outsider, politicians like Mitch McConnell, Kevin McCarthy, Chris Christie, Mike Huckabee, and Steve King booed while Ted Cruz was wrapping up a speech that sadly, has no place in Donald Trump’s Republican Party.

Cruz began by saying, “Like you, I want to see the principles that our party believes prevail in November,” though I get the feeling that he wasn’t addressing the convention crowd but rather was speaking directly to the millions of conservatives across the country who have suddenly been overwhelmed and exiled by the followers of Donald Trump, replaced by Bobby Knight, Scott Baio, Dana White (President of UFC), Antonio Sabato, Jr. and the general manager of Trump Winery.

The first Republican president once said of those who disagreed with his vision

“We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

Like many conservatives, I thought that the GOP was perfectly positioned to appeal to those better angels during this election cycle and win the presidency based on adherence to and the promotion of our principles, and Ted Cruz recounted a portion of those principles beautifully:

“On education, your freedom to chose your child’s education even if you’re not as rich as Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama. On healthcare, your freedom to choose your own doctor without Obamacare. On taxes, your freedom to provide for your family without the IRS beating down your door. The internet, keep it free from taxes, free from regulation. Freedom means free speech, not politically correct safe spaces. Freedom means religious freedom whether you are Christian, Jew, Muslim, or Atheist. Whether you are gay or straight, the Bill of Rights protects the rights of all of us to live according to our conscience. Freedom means the right to keep and bear arms and to protect your family. Freedom means that every human life is precious and must be protected. Freedom means Supreme Court Justices who don’t dictate policy but instead follow the constitution. Freedom means recognizing that the constitution allows states to choose policies that reflect local values – Colorado might decide something different than Texas – New York, different than Iowa. That’s the way it’s supposed to be – diversity. If not, what’s the point of having states to begin with?”

Over the course of the past year we have seen that no matter how justified our grievances may be, a disturbing number of people prefer to be pandered to rather than inspired, to rally against instead of rally for. The rise of Donald Trump painfully illustrates that over twelve million primary voters were more eager to side with a man than a philosophy, a personality than a principle. It’s easier if you believe you are owed something for being wronged rather than the dignity of striving to do better.

After eight years of hard left progressive leadership a staggering amount of Americans believe that our country is headed in the wrong direction. The Republican establishment and their voters have put their hopes in a man to fix everything, just as Democrats did with Obama twice. Mexico is not to blame. China is not to blame. The policies of Barack Obama are. Until now, the grievance industry has been a tool wielded by Democrats. Turns out, Republicans can swing it just as well. Just like the entitlements that Trump has no interest in reigning in, the new face of the GOP has found something that he wants and doesn’t want to pay for it. Principles are costly and no one that understands the high cost of principle and vision better than Ted Cruz. In Iowa before the first primary votes were cast Ted Cruz unapologetically took a stand against the ethanol lobby – the very definition of crony capitalism – in a state where taking that position is considered political suicide. The “Republican” governor came out and told Iowans to vote for anyone but Cruz. The moment Trump’s plane landed he was praising ethanol subsidies. Likewise, Ted Cruz came to the RNC to stand before a mob of Trump surrogates that desperately wanted to see him break down and endorse the man who outrageously linked his father to the assassination of JFK, heckled his wife’s looks and indefensibly branded him “Lyin’ Ted.”  

Instead of offering an endorsement, Cruz said

“We deserve leaders who stand for principle, who unite us all behind shared values, who cast aside anger for love. That is the standard we should expect from everybody.”

It is amazing and heartbreaking that this could be seen as a jab at Donald Trump but alas, in Trump’s New/Old, Left/Right, Pro-Russian, Anti-Free Trade, Isolationist GOP the walls of decency have indeed become a prison. Conservatism is challenging. It calls on every individual, as Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas says, to discharge our responsibilities, to be good citizens, to address our own obligations on behalf of liberty and family. There can be no freedom without responsibility. Liberty must be protected. It doesn’t exist independent of what we do. Our history matters. Without a legacy man is diminished and malleable. The new GOP and conservatives do share a commonality: we both want a change from the Democrat policies that have been so harmful to this country. But that’s where it ends. The conservative prescription is an ideology that is derived from lifetimes of study, debate and reflection into the nature of man. The new GOP and their new leader are reactionaries, nothing more, recycling the old campaign slogans of Reagan and Nixon. By taking over the Republican Party, they have inherited a precious and extraordinary legacy.

How many in this new GOP know what they have taken?

I wonder if they know that the GOP was founded to defeat slavery, that Republicans eliminated the Jim Crow laws that were written by Democrats a century after the Civil War was fought. Does Donald Trump know that Republicans passed the 13th Amendment that abolished slavery? Or that the Republicans passed the 14th Amendment that granted a right a due process and equal protection under the law? Does he know that Republicans passed the 15th Amendment that provided voting rights to African Americans? The Democrat Party, home to Donald Trump until about two years ago vehemently opposed every one of those amendments. Do members of this new GOP know that the first black men elected to Congress, Hiram Rhodes Revels and Joseph Hayne Rainey were Republicans? How many millennials realize that Frederick Douglass was a Republican. He called the GOP “the ark of the black man’s safety?”

Thomas Jefferson once said that “an educated citizenry is a vital requisite for our survival as a free people,” and here we are in an era of technological wonders with but a passing and brittle regard for the transcendent truths of our founding documents. It shouldn’t then be surprising to hear that the two subjects Americans have the least proficiency in are: American civics and American history. I think about that when I see “Republicans” – the party of limited government – gleefully chant, “Yes, you will!” as Donald Trump of all people stands before them, casually declaring, “I alone can solve. I will give you everything that you’ve wanted, believe me.”

We all owe our fallen heroes, the generations past and yet to come, the grantors of our own legacy a great debt. No one owes us anything for our own shortcomings. Opposition is not sabotage. Intelligence is not elitism. “This is a binary choice” is not a very good battle cry. Thomas Jefferson wasn’t guaranteeing the right to be happy but the right to pursue happiness.  America is not a promise of success but of opportunity. And what is opportunity but a challenge, a challenge that once taken up requires work. Hard work. Lots of it. And failure, too. Lots and lots of failure. Winston Churchill once said, “The price of greatness is responsibility.” Who is watching you, and what will you teach them?

So when Ted Cruz said

“If you love your country and love your children as much as I know you do, stand and speak and vote your conscience, vote for candidates up and down the ticket who you trust to defend our freedom and to be faithful to the constitution”

and the convention crowd began to boo and shout him down, screaming “Endorse Trump! Endorse Trump!” that seemed like a good time for me to close the door on the 2016 election. Conservatism isn’t going anywhere. JFK once said “A man may die, nations may rise and fall, but an idea lives on.” Of course, if he would’ve said that today, most of these new Republicans would probably respond by calling him a hater or a globalist.  

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