The American presidential primary this year has led us to question the meaning of conservatism in view of the civil war within the Republican party. Three facts have now emerged:
* Donald Trump, a volatile self-proclaimed conservative, is on his way to clinch the party’s nomination despite the anti-Trump attempt.
* The rest of the Republican candidates have already dropped out. They all call themselves conservatives, Ted Cruz being the most zealous.
* The paralyzed establishment has failed to unite the party except to reaffirm their conservative principles.
It seems that everybody wants to carry the banner of conservatism that the party considers sacred. They should first ask, what really makes a true conservative? By definition, a conservative is a person who holds to traditional values and attitudes, and is disinclined to change. What if those values become obsolete in the 21st century? To conserve means to protect. What needs to be protected? On an abstract level, to protect one’s values and principles. On a practical level, a true conservative should protect the country, its socio-economic system, the sustaining environment, the weak, the sick and the downtrodden.
American conservatism embraced by the Republican party has failed miserably on the practical level due to its inflexibility and inability to connect with the common people. As a consequence, they have lost two elections to Barack Obama. Recent polls suggest they may lose this one too come November. The 2012 loss has caused them to do some soul-searching. The party leaders have identified most problems, but have not found the right solutions. The problems boil down to just two major areas:
1. Inflexible Outdated Ideas
Conservatives are averse to change, let alone initiating it. The 21st century is marked by tremendous changes in technology, economics and social values whether we like it or not. To survive, we must adapt rather than stubbornly oppose because natural law says survival for the fittest. The conservatives have cultivated negative images on many fronts that are difficult to erase:
* They are less inclusive and less tolerant of people of other beliefs.
* Against everything modern including globalization, free trade and a resultant smaller world.
* Against the environment and ignoring scientific evidence about climate change.
* Against women due to their staunch opposition to abortion and higher wages.
* War mongering for supporting a stronger military and advocating unilateral action.
* Alienation from the young who think differently and progressively.
* Against immigration because they kill the reform bill in the House after its passage in the Senate.
* Against health care reform despite 5o million citizens could not afford health insurance. Now that Obamacare has covered 10 million of those previously uninsured, they still want to repeal it without any plan to replace it.
* Conservatives are friends of the rich and big corporations who have hijacked their ideas without their knowing it.
* Trump has finally hijacked the Republican party by appealing to its angry members frustrated by the impotence of the party establishment.
* On economic policy, conservatives have nothing new to offer except small government, minimal regulations and tax cuts. These play into the hands of the rich and big corporations, because they stand to benefit much more than the rest of society. As a consequence, America has suffered from a widening gap between rich and poor, and a relentless squeeze of the middle class.
* Conservatives try to woo the middle class by promising more jobs through their trickle-down economic policy that does not work because the rich and powerful want to have it all.
2. The “Angry White Men” Syndrome
Even in this modern Internet age, racial bigotry still exists in many parts of America. The Republican party receives little support among blacks (12.6% of total population) despite branding itself the Party of Lincoln. Why? One major reason is their “Southern Strategy” aiming to seduce the white votes of the Southern States by tacitly condoning their racial bigotry using the code word of “state rights”. In addition, the party actively engages in voter suppression of non-whites by advocating stringent rules for qualifying voters, and relaxation of the voting rights laws established around 1964.
The Republican party also receives less support from Hispanics, now the biggest and growing minority accounting for 17% of total population. Trump’s promise to deport 11 million illegals, build the wall and force Mexico to pay for it makes things even worse.
The party also makes Asians nervous who make up 5.6% of total population. Asian Americans tend to ally with the other minorities because they remember the official discrimination policies against them prior to the mid 1960’s.
In conclusion, the Republican party has a lot of fences to mend due to their outdated conservative values and attitudes. In view of their deep internal division, they need to decide whether they want to be a major political party that represents the common people, or a minor party that remains pure in their conservative beliefs. The moment of truth has finally arrived.