I just finished reading Max Boot’s “The Corrosion of Conservatism” and it really hit home with me. Like Boot, I worked on the conservative side of the policy and advocacy world for many years, and was attracted to the right’s intellectual foundation. Personal freedom, the efficiency of markets, free trade, and diversity of thought and experience were all things I could readily get behind. Like Boot I also was socially liberal in that I supported a strong social safety net, minority rights, and marriage equality. Frankly I saw the socially liberal part as consistent with support of personal freedom and an embrace of diversity.
One of the best experiences in my intellectual life was serving as the research director for a right-leaning think tank. There I wrote constantly. I penned a piece about my own immaturity in supporting the Iraq War as a college student, confronting the ways in which I rationalized something that I was simply wrong about. I penned pieces supporting gun control, marriage equality, increased government spending, and amnesty for undocumented immigrants. I would get e-mail and snail mail agreeing with me, and disagreeing with me in fairly equal measure. But I was allowed and even encouraged to engage with these ideas on the conservative side of the spectrum.
Admittedly I was never one to idolize any individual in politics or the world of ideas (I still have a bad habit of reading library books on my kindle without knowing the author). Someone once showed me a bust of Ronald Reagan in their office because they thought I would like it…I was indifference. People are of their time and circumstances, but words and ideas live on. I prefer to engage with words and ideas rather than personalities (My favorite songwriter is Bob Dylan but I am pretty sure he would be insufferable to actually be around). If we engage with personalities over words and ideas we enter dangerous territory.
And that is where we are with our current president. I do not get it. I do not understand how the entire Republican Wisconsin Congressional delegation could vote against a resolution condemning Trump’s most recent racism. I do not understand how Paul Ryan can condemn Trump in an interview but do nothing when he had the chance. I do not understand how Scott Walker can go from saying he is dropping out of the presidential race to unite Republicans against Trump to saying he will be Trump’s greatest cheerleader in Wisconsin. I do not understand how the conservative infrastructure, which welcomed me and my ideas even when many on the right disagreed (and it is a story for another day, but the left was not so welcoming), so quickly degraded into a cult of personality.
Perhaps I was simply wrong about being welcomed. Perhaps I was merely tolerated. As Boot wrote, there were always signs of trouble, but like Boot I was happy to dismiss the signs of trouble as unrepresentative outliers. Now I am not so sure. And I am not one to condemn all Trump supporters; in a free democratic society people have every right to support who they want for the reasons they want. I am just saddened and confused to see where the conservative side of the policy and advocacy is currently at.