The conservative movement began some 40 years ago with high ideals. It aimed for principled reform of the government overreach of the stultified late-stage New Deal era. The original conservatives loved the government. They sought not to destroy it but to give government proper discipline so that it could better serve the nation. They also saw their movement as liberation from what they saw as sanctimonious moralizing by perfunctory liberals.
But that early conservative idealism gradually degenerated over time. Unprincipled hacks increasingly latched on to the movement for personal opportunity. Government discipline slowly devolved into heedless obstruction. Liberation from perfunctory leftwing moralization turned into rightwing moral absolutism. What began as high-minded statesmanship has deteriorated into something that would be shameful and frightening to the founders of modern conservatism, who saw foreign fascism first hand.
The degeneration of conservatism is not just a problem for the Republican Party, which has been co-opted by the likes of Donald Trump and Kurt Prenzler. It is the manifestation of a wide loss of faith in American democracy. Trump and Prenzler are emblematic of a cowardly giving-in to undignified lowness, a capitulation to despair. Theirs is not conservatism. They offer that we should elect them for their sake because nothing is any good.
This is our generation’s moment of truth. Shall we give in to feckless Trump-Prenzler despair? Or shall we restate our confidence in our ability to govern ourselves? This does not lie with any political party, but with restoration of fundamental American confidence, vision, and courage to rise above troubled moments by working together.
Stephen Jellen, Edwardsville