About 38% Americans today view themselves as conservatives(according to a 2015 Gallup poll), but what that means is becoming increasingly unclear.
In the 2016 presidential election so far, conservatism has displayed an extreme face,embodied by the vitriolic rhetoric of Donald Trump. Some of the foundations of Trump’s campaign, such as his “Make America Great” slogan, resonate with many conservative voters. But the extreme social positions and exclusionary language of his campaign have alienated many conservatives (look at the writings of George Will and Glenn Beck and Thomas Sowell). and they have led some moderates, independents and liberals to view conservatism as discriminatory.
The truth is that conservatives are a diverse group of people inclusive of individuals of all colors and backgrounds.
Don’t believe the hype that it is a monolithic group.
Conservatism, at its core, is about protecting individual liberties and promoting a free market economy. A free market is a market economy based on supply and demand with little or no government control. A completely free market is an idealized form of a market economy where buyers and sellers are allowed to transact freely (i.e. buy/sell/trade) based on a mutual agreement on price without state intervention in the form of taxes, subsidies or regulation.
There has always been diversity in viewpoints among conservatives, which is a great thing for the country. What stands out about the 2016 primary, however, is the rise of extremism and of hate. Donald Trump’s platform to many domestically and in a global market place, to world leaders and to be based more on prejudice and hatred than on true conservative values.
“Donald Trump’s ignorant view of Islam could make both our countries less safe: It risks alienating mainstream Muslims around the world and plays into the hands of the extremists.” London Mayor Sadiq Khan
Let me be CLEAR: Conservatism has never been about hate. Thus, strong immigration policy does not require racist stereotyping of Hispanic groups. Socially conservative positions do not require belittling women. Trump’s hate filled (to many) rhetoric erodes the conservative brand , and it makes diverse conservatives hesitate to support conservatism at all. When it comes down to it, however, Trump is more of a populist than a true conservative.
During this election and moving forward, it’s up to us to redefine conservat-ism. Let’s reclaim what it means to be conservative based on our traditional principles: protecting individual rights and liberties, limiting government to a reasonable size and promoting a free market. These are the pillars of traditional conservatism, and they are values that all conservatives should be able to agree upon. Conservatives tracing all the way back to our founding fathers have emphasized the importance of individual rights free of government impingement. Let’s emphasize that in our campaigns and political rhetoric. And let’s remember how a free market supports businesses and promotes a strong economy. Limiting regulations and taxes on businesses should be part of any strong conservative platform.
Of course, conservatism cannot be separated from social political values, and differing views of social issues have been a major cause of rifts among conservatives. To forward thinking conservatives, I propose: let’s support social values that don’t endanger the success of businesses, that don’t alienate diverse people and that don’t impinge on individual liberties. Let’s remember the root of true conservatism: Protecting individual rights. Can a social policy be truly conservative if it limits individual rights? I don’t think so. There’s room for debate on controversial modern topics, but it’s time to promote a conservatism that respects American traditions without disrespecting today’s Americans.
It may seem like the future of conservatism is in the hands of elite political candidates, but that isn’t true. As leaders in the world of business and local communities, our voices matter. We can reshape the reputation of modern conservatism and conservatism itself by promoting traditional conservative values with our votes, our campaign donations, and our conversation. Don’t underestimate the power of your voice, even if it’s just talking with a couple of friends. The future of conservatism is unclear, and it’s up to us to define what it will be.