In the scrum of the political fight, it seems that name calling has become de rigeur. I’ve been called many things of late, including snowflake, libtard and cuck. But as much as I and the rest of my progressive cabal have tried, we haven’t been able to effectively return with a sticky zinger. Yes, we’ve called the other party bigots, sexist, homophobes and hypocrites. In certain cases, these tags are true, yet none have the staying power of an angry and insensitive moniker like cuck. More bothersome is that conservatives have been designated as the right, which must leave the rest of us in the wrong.
The right has worked hard to weaponize language in service of its political positions, but I’m not exactly sure what those positions are anymore. Conservative politics no longer stands for the carefully considered values of our parents and theirs before them. Using language as a starting point, conservatism should represent caution, stability and moderation. Yet anyone who has lived through the past 20 years has seen otherwise. The known unknowns of the George W. Bush years pushed us into a calamitous war based on shaky evidence if not outright lies. That was followed by a financial collapse, further proof that without the guardrails of common-sense regulation, our inherent greed can quickly overwhelm and destroy us. The Obama years exposed stark divisions based on race and religion, fueling a panoply of right-wing conspiracy theories from birtherism to Pizzagate, all while stalwarts of the Republican Party encouraged and enabled these acts of moral indecency and decay.
But this was only a preview of what was to come—and, sadly, what the future holds. The last four years have been the least conservative and they oblige us to reconsider our definition of the right, which continues to descend so utterly into the wrong. It’s hard to know where to start when listing all the degradations we’ve endured from Donald Trump. We try to rationalize his behavior by telling ourselves that he has simply broken the norms, but that alone is an astounding understatement. Remember when President Obama was so bold as to wear a tan suit? Fox News feigned its typical faux apoplexy, labeling him a “wimp” and a “Marxist” while conveniently ignoring that Ronald Reagan had worn the same. Thanks to Trump’s innate ability to radically redefine what his party will submissively and sadly allow, I can now say that even the suit wars were a simpler time. We should remember, though, that Trump is a symptom and not the disease.
Tan suits aside, I have to ask, what’s conservative about gutting environmental regulations at a time when scientists and weather patterns repeatedly warn us that if we don’t make a down payment on protecting coastal cities now, we’ll be paying much more in the future? What’s conservative about flagrantly ignoring, flouting and lying about our best remedies to slow the spread of a deadly global pandemic all while increasing the burden and dangers for the nurses, doctors and other front-line workers we rely on? What’s conservative about pitting citizens against each other and tearing at the fabric of our democratic processes by falsely questioning the legitimacy of an election process that experts from both sides of the aisle have judged free and fair? What’s conservative about reducing safety training for railroad employees, deregulating the disposal of toxic coal waste, eliminating the requirement that recreational marine vessels carry fire extinguishers, or, if you’re having pork for dinner tonight, repealing a rule that mandates hog carcasses be cleaned before they’re processed?
In the past I wrote about the not-so-subtle demographic shifts that happened to the Republican and Democratic Parties in the 1950s and ‘60s, comparing those to changes occurring today. So it wasn’t a surprise to hear Sean Hannity, bloviator-in-chief at Fox News, recently christen a “new” Republican Party defined by hard-working middle-class men and women who love America. That I don’t love America as much as a staunch Hannity viewer reminded me of Sarah Palin, our first Fox-sanctioned candidate and a pioneer who laid the groundwork for Trump, when she defined “real” America for me.
If the new Republican Party is ready for a rebrand, then it’s a good time for us to apply better labels to help their supporters build those all-important bonds of fealty. I might suggest a few options for them to consider. Obstructionist, racist, scheming, selfish, misogynist and narrow-minded are all good options but they just don’t zing the way I’d like. There is one word, however, that I’d never consider for a political class willing to disenfranchise and endanger the lives and livelihoods of Americans to keep a firm grip on the levers of power, and that word is “conservative.” I reserve that label for progressives willing to take the long view where a more perfect union is always the goal. You know the type: wise, sensible, inclusive, prudent and, yes, patriotic.
Amos Klausner lives in San Geronimo and serves on the local school board.