Rearguard Strategy for Progressives

Trump, Putin, Stalin, and Hitler - each on the cover of Time as "Person of the Year"

Time’s Person of the Year is in familiar company.

Here’s a friendly heads-up to my progressive friends. The political clout of the progressive movement is currently, at best, at a 70-year low. 100-years is probably more like it. The KKK is literally marching in the streets. Enemies of civil rights, clean air and water, worker’s rights, and the social safety net control the Senate, the House, 2/3 of the state legislatures and governor’s mansions, and – soon – the entire Executive Branch of the government and the Supreme Court.

They have the keys to the kingdom, and we have snarky think pieces in Slate and HuffPo.

Regardless of how normative our views are among educated elites, in terms of actual political power, and likely in terms of majority sentiment, we are in the minority.

When you are in the minority, it is tactically absurd to further weaken your position, or to waste energy on soft or useless targets.

So, not to put too fine a point on it, stop attacking fellow progressives and our allies.

Did someone fail to nuance their ideas in a way that fully encompasses your position? Bummer, but unless they are threatening to force LGBT persons into shock and/or conversion therapy, they’re not the biggest threat we face.

Did someone’s efforts for advocacy seem to you to be more a product of their own guilt, or their own privilege, than the purity of your own motives? Wow, that’s annoying, but unless they’re planning to undermine the freedom of the press and use bullying tactics to silence you, they aren’t exactly our biggest problem right now.

Did someone fight too hard for a cause you think is less important, and not enough for the cause dearest to your heart? That must make them seem like they’re not a true ally. However, if they’re not trying to pump chemicals into your drinking water, they’re probably a better friend than the people we’re about to entrust with our lives.

Fringe-right theocrats and plutocrats have outmaneuvered us time and again, and we are now fighting a rearguard action to preserve what we can until we are able to fight back. Now is the time to build coalitions and shore up alliances. Now is the to strengthen our weaker comrades, not push them from the fold for their lack of ideological purity. We know what we’re going to have to fight for:

  • clean air and water
  • safe workplaces
  • living wages
  • healthcare
  • civil rights
  • freedom from religion
  • reproductive freedom

Let’s put all our energy into these issues, all of which are grievously threatened. The rest can wait until we get to the point where we’re actually in a position to influence government policy again.

Finding Joy in the Morning

Sunrise in Joshua Tree Park by Jessie Eastland (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Sunrise in Joshua Tree Park by Jessie Eastland (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

I was awakened in the early hours by multiple texts from friends confirming that the victory of Donald Trump in the 2016 U.S. presidential race, which had seemed all but certain when I went to sleep only a few hours earlier, had become a reality. I wept. I have already written about what a catastrophically terrible candidate he was, so I will not rehash that here. I will simply note that it is irrefutable that themes of racism, misogyny, xenophobia, bigotry, and ignorance were central to his campaign.

That point is crucial, because watching my social media feeds has revealed that many of Trump’s supporters are attempting to disavow those elements of the campaign, while celebrating their victory. Not only is doing so disingenuous, it is dangerous and insulting to those most likely to bear the brunt of the vile prejudices on which Trump so adroitly capitalized. The voices of those who are now placed on the outside by Trump’s “outsider” campaign are the ones that have dominated my social media feed, and their words are the ones we need to hear right now, especially on the 78th anniversary of Kristallnacht.

We must listen to the voices of people of color. We must listen to the voices of women. We must listen to the voices of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer Americans. We must listen to the voices of our Muslim neighbors. We must listen to the voices of those who have been victims of sexual assault. We must listen to the voices of those who battle with physical or mental illnesses or disabilities. We must listen to the voices of those who work eighty hour weeks, but cannot feed their families or afford safe homes for them.

We must listen to their voices, because the voices they hear are calling them “niggers,” “ragheads,” “spics,” “gooks,” “kikes,” “cunts,” “hajis,” “dykes, “faggots,” “whores,” “retards,” and “parasites.”

“Those are horrible words. No one should ever say them. It makes me uncomfortable to even read them. Those words are nothing but hate,” should be the first thought of every single person who reads them.

I agree, completely. Unfortunately, when those of us in the majority use fancy metaphors like “dogwhistle,” or talk blithely about the “dangers of racism and bigotry,” we lose the tenor of bile, the growled threat of violence, which rumbles underneath the more subtle rhetoric of intolerance. If we listen more than we speak, though, we can hear it.

“We’re not saying that!” is the immediate response from most Trump supporters, although clearly not all.

“You’re talking, not listening,” is my reply.

If we listen to the voices coming from those who, after a few brief gulps of fresh air, feel themselves being shoved back into the shadows, it becomes clear that this is exactly what they are hearing. They are afraid. They are afraid of physical violence. They are afraid that their marriages will be annulled. They are afraid they will lose their jobs. They are afraid that they will face discrimination, supported by the force of law. They are afraid that they are no longer welcome in their neighborhoods, in their communities, and in their country.

They are also angry. They are angry that their patriotism is in question. They are angry that the work they have done to make this country great is ignored. They are angry that their values, their marriages, their families, and their accomplishments are considered second-rate. They are angry that after working twice as hard for half as much, they are still being told they have overstepped and need to learn their place.

“But we don’t believe any of that stuff. We just wanted someone to finally shake up the political system, fix what’s broken, and give us the opportunities we’ve been denied. It’s about the economy for us, and being safe from people we think are threatening us.”

Leaving aside the obvious parallel, to put it simply: No! You don’t get to do that. You don’t get to choose the person who threatens to commit war crimes, rip apart families, revoke civil rights, curtail free speech, validate bigotry, and dredge up every vile prejudice in this nation’s history because you thought you’d make more money and be safe from a hypothetical threat that is more dangerous to the Muslims whom you deride than it is to you. Just because you feel safe from the consequences of the bilious hate that runs through a campaign, that’s no excuse for ignoring it because you think you’ll come out of the other side a winner.

Listen to the people who have lost, so that you could get your win. Their fear, their grief, and the very real dangers of loss and violence they face, that is the price of your pyrrhic victory.

And now I am done speaking to those who are celebrating the election results, but I hope you will keep listening.

Many of my friends, and people who have read my other essays, reached out to me this morning to offer a word of hope. I couldn’t do that without first honoring the chorus of voices of terror and rage I have heard all morning. As a cis, straight, white, healthy, professional, veteran, Christian, male, I had the least to lose last night. Blithely offering encouragement without first listening struck me as a arrogant in the extreme. So I have listened, and within the limited range of my privilege, tried to amplify the voices I have heard.

Now I will speak my word of hope to you.

I have your back.

If you are a Muslim, a Jew, a Sikh, or of any other faith, you are also my brother or my sister. I have your back.

If you are a woman, you are my equal and my partner. I have your back.

If your skin is a different hue from mine, I want to hear your voice. I have your back.

If you view yourself as queer in gender or sexual orientation, I think you’re awesome. I have your back.

If you are an immigrant, I am grateful for your courage. I have your back.

If you wrestle with disability, I honor your strength. I have your back.

If you struggle to make ends meet, I know you fight battles I can’t even see. I have your back.

If you feel betrayed by America this morning, I do too. I have your back.

That is my word of hope this morning. Not just that I have your back and that you have mine, but that we, collectively, have each other’s. It has never been the government that has made this country great. It has never been the Constitution, as dearly as I love it, which has made this country great. It is the people of the United States of America who make this country great.

I struggled this morning with what to text a friend who is both a Muslim and a woman, living in a red state. I finally settled on, “I know you are a fighter, and not easily frightened, but if you feel unsafe, threatened, or in any way marginalized today, please know that I love you and I have your back.”

I’ve sent similar messages to other friends today, as I have heard their shock, their anger, their horror and their fear. They have replied in kind. When I told them of my tears, they told me of theirs. When I felt alone, they told me they were there. It wasn’t in political strategizing or contemplating policy options that I found hope, it was in their love.

So, in offering you what hope I can, I ask that you also become that hope for others. It’s a simple message:

I know you are a fighter, and not easily frightened,
but if you feel unsafe, threatened, or in any way marginalized today,
please know that I love you and I have your back.

Send it to anyone whom you think needs to hear it. Post it on Facebook. Say it loudly, clearly, and unambiguously. Because there is hope to be had, and that hope is found in the countless women and men who will be our sisters and brothers in the tough days ahead. There will be much to do as we move forward, tangible ways to act and hold back the dark, but right now it is imperative that we let our fellow citizens know that no one stands alone.

Standing together is the hope we need when the rhetoric of hate seems to tear us apart. As a person of faith, I believe that the full power of the gospel is only realized when we who are many unite as one. Whatever is “good news” for you, whether you are from another faith tradition or none at all, I hope you will indulge me in closing with the words of the Psalmist, famously proclaimed by Dr. King. “Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes in the morning.

Let us weep together tonight, and tomorrow let us look to the horizon. It seems darker now, the city upon the hill farther away, but the dawn will come, and we will find the joy of the morning. We will get there, together.

Overwhelmingly Rejecting Trump is the Top Priority

Donald Trump at the Marriott Marquis, NYC on Sep 07, 2016

Donald Trump at the Marriott Marquis, NYC on Sep 07, 2016 (Source: Michael Vadon via Wikimedia Commons)

It’s crucial that Donald Trump be summarily and soundly defeated on November 8. The electorate of the United States must send a clear, unequivocal message to the world, and to our fellow citizens: The ideas, attitudes, and behaviors of Donald J. Trump are no longer acceptable in the twenty-first century. The first step in offering a healthy vision for the future of America is unambiguously and permanently abandoning the failed prejudices of past centuries. In repudiating the candidacy of Donald Trump, we are drawing a clear line in the sand against bigotry, arrogance, and the entitlement of wealth and social privilege.

Here are a few examples of exactly what voters must repudiate on November 8.

Xenophobia

Donald Trump claims that immigrants from Mexico to the U.S. are rapists and drug dealers, despite the fact that immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than the people who already live here. Trump also claims that immigrants are stealing jobs, and should not be helped or supported by Republicans because they “will not get any of those votes.” This claim also has no basis in the evidence. In fact, nothing Donald Trump says about immigrants holds up to scrutiny. There is no place in our diverse nation for this kind of xenophobic rhetoric. We are stronger because we welcome all who want to work to build this great nation, and Donald Trump’s claims are a direct attack on the foundation of the American melting pot.

We must make it clear that in the United States, a nation of immigrants, there is no room for xenophobia.

Religious Bigotry

Donald Trump does not limit his proclamations of bigotry to chicanx North Americans. He also feeds into the feverish anti-Muslim lunacy of the far-right. Without a hint of embarrassment, the Trump campaign published on their website a call for a “complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.” Most of Trump’s off-the-cuff comments are unintelligible or contradictory, but even his later attempts to “moderate” that stand only reinforce his anti-Muslim views. Trump is even comfortable summarizing what he believes are the consensus beliefs of a billion adherents to a diverse religion, saying, “Islam hates us.” In making these claims, Trump ignores the very research he claims to cite, research that consistently shows high unfavorability ratings for fundamentalist, extremist groups like Daesh in majority-Muslim nations. Here too, Trump’s biased rhetoric of inflammatory ignorance ignores a fundamental premise of our secular nation, one found in the First Amendment, that we shall neither establish priority for one religion nor shall we prevent its free exercise.

We must make it clear that the United States is a secular nation, where people of all faiths are welcome, and where people of all faiths stand shoulder to shoulder as citizens.

Ethnic Bigotry

Unfortunately, Donald Trump is not content to foment the popular racism of the modern era. He is also more than willing to turn back the clock and dredge up the specters of prejudices past. Donald Trump’s long corporate and personal history of racist actions is well-documented. Unsurprisingly, those attitudes have persisted in his campaign, leading to him calling a supporter a “thug” and having him ejected from a rally. Trump has also ventured into criminology, ignoring the actual research on the subject (which correlates poverty to crime), and tweeted smugly that the “overwhelming amount of violent crime in our major cities is committed by blacks and [H]ispanics.” Behavior like Trump’s, which would be uncomfortable if it were to come from your drunk neighbor at Thanksgiving, is particularly excruciating in contrast to the thoughtful, measured analysis of racism in the U.S. consistently offered by President Obama.

We must make it clear that the hopes of the American Civil Rights movement represents the future of democracy in the United States. The train has left the station, and any American who wants to be part of the future of this country had better get on board.

Gender Inequality

Shockingly, we also have to make it clear that the suffrage movement of a century ago is also a settled issue in modern America. Upon learning that female voters will likely be instrumental in defeating Trump, a number of his supporters to Twitter with a hashtag demanding a repeal of the Nineteenth Amendment. That could be seen as an aberration, if it weren’t for the fact that Donald Trump’s campaign is either silent or hostile to every major, modern issue dealing with the status of women in society. Even when the GOP leadership tries to distance itself from Trump’s boasts of sexual assault, their track record on women’s rights makes it clear that Trump’s failure to support these issues is not an anomaly. The question of women’s equality should have been settled decades ago. The fact that it has not is a national embarrassment.

We must make it clear that, in the United States of America, the rights and privileges of citizenship are not guaranteed to all men, they are guaranteed to all people.

Environmental Devastation

Then there’s the topic of the environment. Donald Trump has a long history of ignoring the destructive environmental consequences of his actions. Consequently, it is no surprise that he wants to cut or eliminate the EPA. Nor is it a surprise that he thinks climate change is hoax, which would make him unique among the heads of state for the 195 nations recognized by the U.S. State Department. Contrary to Trump’s cavalier and dismissive statements, the threats of mass extinction and climate change are perhaps the single greatest threats facing humanity for this and future generations. Even the conservative leaders in other Western nations recognize this. Producing political leaders who deny the scientific consensus in this way makes us look as if our government is shamelessly in the thrall of wealthy business interests. Disingenuously parroting baseless propaganda for selfish gains has no place in twenty-first century America.

We must make it clear that the citizens of the United States will work to fight environmental threats with the same drive, commitment, and sacrifice that we used to save the world from the threat of the Axis powers in the 1940’s.

Chicanery

In repudiating Donald Trump, we are not just repudiating his ideas and platform, we are also repudiating his character, or his apparent complete lack thereof. While Trump claims to be a successful businessman, the record of his “business” career shows a string of broken contracts and unpaid bills. In fact, old habits die hard, as indicated by the Trump campaign’s apparent unpaid debt to a polling firm. None of this should be terribly surprising, since it is increasingly clear that Donald Trump, whose actual net worth is unclear, was completely comfortable making money from blatant fraud. We do not need to return to the days of the Teapot Dome scandal, a national disgrace that would almost certainly pale in comparison to a Trump presidency, especially since the candidate apparently does not even understand what a blind trust is.

We must make it clear that the United States does not venerate “businessmen” for their “success” at betraying the workers who built their fortunes, or at conning the desperate out of their hard-earned money.

Ignorance and Incompetence

Perhaps most embarrassingly, despite these practices, Donald Trump has actually significantly underperformed for someone who started with such a large nest egg. That is, however, less unexpected considering the multiple, long lists of astonishingly stupid things he has said. Sadly, Donald Trump’s entire platform consists of ill-informed, poorly-conceived, and often plainly absurd ideas – all of which demonstrate his complete inability to engage in serious, informed policy discussions. The idea behind a democratically-elected leader in a republic is that we choose someone who represents us at our best, not at our most base, ignorant, and ill-informed.

We must make it clear that the United States deserves its place at the head of the world’s table, and to do so we must clearly reject simplistic, childish solutions based on empty rhetoric and unsophisticated ignorance.

Misogyny and Abuse

Finally, in looking at the character of Donald Trump, it is inevitable that we examine the way he represents the worst caricature of white, male privilege and sexual entitlement, to a degree that would make the characters on Mad Men cringe. The most egregious example is undoubtedly Donald Trump’s claim that his celebrity allows him the freedom to sexually assault women without consequences. While Trump tried to dismiss this as “locker room talk,” women immediately recognized it as embodying the violent, predatory nature of sexual entitlement that has deep roots in male privilege, especially among the politically and professionally powerful men of Trump’s social tier. In addition to Trump’s own claims, the women around him are stepping forward to share their allegations that Trump sexually assaulted them, and barged in to ogle their naked, teenage bodies. Beyond that, we have Trump’s massive catalog of offensive, demeaning, and insulting statements about women. It is as if the GOP has decided to run as their standard bearer the platonic ideal of all of the worst stereotypes of the leering, groping, patronizing boss. Men like that have held power for far too long, and it is time to bring their reign to a close.

We must make it clear that the United States embodies a twenty-first century paradigm of leadership that is rooted in respect and inclusiveness, and that we reject the patriarchal traditions used to abuse women and diminish their power.

Conclusion

There is no need to use exaggeration, parody, or hyperbole to describe the ethos of the Trump campaign. In fact, none of those tools could approach the reality of Trump’s own words and actions. Sadly, the xenophobia, bigotry, recklessness, ignorance, chicanery, and explicit misogyny that define both Trump’s platform and his brand are deeply rooted in the shameful recesses of America’s past, the very past to which Trump has offered to return the nation by making America great “again.” This election will decide whether or not those “values” continue to define the politics of power in the United States. The alternative is for voters to step forward and send a clear, final message that those days are gone, that the America of the future is a place of inclusiveness, diversity, equality, thoughtfulness, accountability, and vision.

As terrible as Donald Trump is, this election is about more than just his candidacy. It is about defining the identity of the American people for the next generation. Trump’s shocking candor has left no ambiguity in the choice. Do we collapse back into the worst elements of our past, or do we unite and move forward? That is the choice that matters most on November 8.

The GOP is Not the Conservative Party

Oath of the Horatii - Jacque-Louis David (1784) (Wikimedia)

Oath of the Horatii – Jacque-Louis David (1784) (Wikimedia)

As Donald Trump’s campaign of racism, ignorance, and misogyny collapses around him, some members of the Republican Party are now, finally, trying to distance themselves from his candidacy. Their ongoing argument, especially after Trump’s spectacular defeat in November, will be that the Trump candidacy was an aberration, and that his views did not reflect the actual, “conservative,” values of the Grand Old Party. This will only be partially true. The fact is, Trump’s vainglorious lies and pleas to radical bigotry are not “conservative” values, but they are completely in line with the longstanding Republican practice of selling self-serving rhetoric to the American people under the guise of “conservatism.” In so doing, Republicans have shifted the debate away from meaningful discussions based on both facts and civic virtues, and toward a false dichotomy between their self-interest and the hypothetical liberalism that opposes it.

Defining Real Conservatism

Real conservatism is about preserving the hard-won, received wisdom of our ancestors rather than simply embracing something because it is novel. To be conservative is to value tradition, and to care more about the substance of an idea rather than whether or not it is au courant. To be conservative is to tread lightly in the presence of elders, or others deserving respect, because their struggles have earned them that courtesy. To be conservative is to cherish, preserve, and pass on the concepts, behaviors, and rituals that elevate us above our baser instincts and bring out what is best in ourselves: as individuals, as a community, and as a nation.

I have lived and worked in a number of settings that value actual, conservative values like honor and tradition. I graduated from the U.S. Army Airborne School in 1992, and in 1994 was the top graduate from my PLDC class, making Sergeant in under three years. Although it is not how I earn my income, I am a seminary graduate and a member of the clergy, and my post-seminary, graduate work focused on preserving the historic liturgies of the Church. I am currently a police firearms instructor whose work focuses on counter-terrorism and public safety. I am, by many definitions of the word, a “conservative,” but I vote straight down-ballot Democratic because the modern Republican Party shares none of my conservative values.

Republican Misappropriation of the Term

Instead, the GOP has come to shield two completely unacceptable behaviors behind the conveniently benign label of “conservative.” The first is defending bigotry and oppression under the guise of “religious” values, in other words equating “fundamentalist” with “conservative.” The second is lying – about science, about the Constitution, about the consequences and motivations of legislation – in the interest of protecting either wealth or power. There is nothing “conservative” about either category of action, and disingenuously labeling those actions as such does a great disservice to the spectrum of political discourse in this country, a conversation that is almost always framed as a dichotomy between “conservative” and “liberal.”

As a result of that framing, and of the misappropriation of the “conservative” label, actual conservative and liberal views get lumped together in the convenient binaries of political journalism as “liberal,” because the “conservative” position is already staked out. This means that there is no viable debate between conservative and liberal arguments, but rather simply between the Republican position and “everything else.” These Republican positions, as noted above, fall into one of two distinctly non-conservative categories: fundamentalism or self-service.

Equating Fundamentalism with Conservatism

Let’s begin with the issue of Christian fundamentalism. Fundamentalism is a modern movement that grew out of the resistance of some early twentieth-century Christian groups to the ways in which science undermined their superstitious understanding of faith. By the end of the twentieth century, whether in Christianity, Judaism, or Islam, fundamentalism had become primarily a tool by which those whose personal or political power is threatened by the modern world – generally men with little or no education – clung to that power by hiding their racism, bigotry, and misogyny behind religious rhetoric. Two clear examples of this are: the fundamentalist Christian opposition to the American Civil Rights Movement (until it became politically untenable); and, the oppression of women and suppression of free speech that resulted in Iran after the takeover of their government by fundamentalist theocrats, something many modern Iranians continue to oppose.

It makes sense to tie American and Iranian fundamentalism together because fundamentalism in a monotheistic religion typically has more in common with other forms of monotheistic fundamentalism than it does with ideas from its own religious tradition. This is to say, fundamentalist Christianity has more in common with fundamentalist Islam or fundamentalist Judaism than it does with traditional Christianity. The reason for this is that fundamentalism doesn’t grow organically out of the historic beliefs of the tradition, it grows out of a desire to gain or retain power, and to justify that power with religious rhetoric.

Conservative Christianity

Actual, conservative Christianity is concerned with preserving the teachings of Jesus as recorded in Scripture and as practiced in the early Church. This should be self-evident, since – to be “conservative” – the goal should be to conserve the full breadth of the earliest records we have of what it means to be a Christian. In practice, though, this leads to such radically difficult and counter-cultural behaviors that anyone who truly seeks to live this way stands out for how bizarre they are. A conservative Christian:

That’s what conservative Christianity looks like. Anything less is just culturally-conformist Christianity. Personally, I’m so far removed from that it seems like hubris to even call myself a Christian, but my one saving grace is knowing how far removed most of us are from such a high standard. Additionally, not all of the practices of the Early Church (most notably, slavery) are ones I would endorse. Others are so difficult that the few who manage to implement them consistently are called “saints.” Nonetheless, what the media and the GOP consider “conservative” Christianity ignores this theological reality and replaces it with a cobbled-together collection of ideas that reinforce a white, straight, male narrative that the world was better when they were in charge.

Republican Christianity

The GOP form of “conservative” Christianity claims to be counter-cultural because it counters certain social values of cosmopolitan, urban, American culture, but actual, conservative Christianity is genuinely counter-cultural – not just in New York City, but in Kansas City as well. The priorities of real, conservative Christianity are so radically different from everyone else’s that those who practice them lead lives of extreme poverty and asceticism in their desire to fully live out the clear mandates of Scripture. They fit in nowhere, because they are not of this world.

In those instances where Republicans concede that the biblical writers genuinely meant what they said on these issues, they make the disingenuous claim that Christians aren’t expected to use the tools of the state to compel the redistribution of wealth that defines Christian piety. Yet, on the very small number of issues that define “conservative” Christianity for fundamentalists and for the Republican Party – limiting women’s reproductive freedom (while ignoring the needs of those women and their existing children), LGBT rights, teaching an unscholarly approach to Scripture and myth alongside science, insisting on sexual abstinence, and controlling, in particular, female sexuality and appearance – the GOP has built its modern brand demanding that the government compel compliance with their extremely limited understanding of “conservative” Christianity. This is not because of any theological conviction on their part. Requiring political action and authority is essential to their message, because the goal is to use religious rhetoric to acquire political power.

Consequently, those who claim that fundamentalists and Republicans are preserving “conservative,” “Christian” values are committing blatant hypocrisy, both in ignoring the vast majority of Christian teachings and in building a political platform based on the government compelling compliance with their limited, sophomoric pietism. They are not “conserving” anything but a desire to impose their will, in a biblically and theologically inconsistent way, for a limited range of issues. Calling these views “conservative” does a disservice to actual conservatives, and gives these bigotries far more credibility than they deserve.

Protecting Self-Interest and Calling it “Conservatism”

This is even more blatantly true for the second category of shameful behavior that Republicans now cloak under the “conservative” label: telling lies to protect a vested interest of money, power, or both. In every instance where this happens, Republicans betray an actual conservative value while pushing forward an agenda that – while hiding behind the language of conservatism – is really just shameless egocentrism and self-preservation. Here are a few examples.

Traditionally, as Americans we believe in honoring and protecting the people who work the land, through their own sweat and muscle. Farmers built the backbone of our nation, and carved out the frontier that made our unprecedented growth and prosperity possible. Defending big corporations like Monsanto when they try to crush small farmers, especially when they try to destroy established farming practices that go back thousands of years, is not “conservative.”

Traditionally, as Americans, we value those who’ve worked their whole lives in hard jobs, not just the bosses who made millions off of them. We recognize the dignity of hard, back-breaking work, and we honor the debt we owe to those who do the jobs we cannot or will not do. Denying healthcare and pensions to coal miners is not “conservative,” especially if you shill to those same miners as a defender of the jobs created by the coal mining industry.

Traditionally, as Americans, we cherish the lush abundance of our natural resources. Poisoning the air and water, through processes like fracking, for short-term gain is not “conservative,” especially when you trample the rights of local communities to protect those resources. Denying the rights of our citizens to act through local government to protect the land that is our birthright is not a “conservative” act. Likewise, choosing profit over protecting our citizens’ health and the viability of our ecosystem conserves nothing, and destroys what we hold most dear.

Traditionally, as Americans, we privilege innovation and problem solving. The freedom that defines our nation has allowed our scientists to pursue truth, unfettered by political expediency or consequences. Silencing those scientists because their overwhelming consensus – that industrialization without strong environmental regulation is destroying the planet – hurts the bottom line of the wealthy is not “conservative.” There is also nothing “conservative” about the intentional, politicized scientific ignorance consistently displayed by the GOP, especially its members of Congress. Protecting the truth is a conservative value, no matter how high the price.

Traditionally, as Americans, we hold the right to vote as a sacred trust. Denying citizens that right through plainly partisan voter ID laws, limiting early voting, and inhibiting the votes of college students, all despite virtually no evidence of voter fraud in this country, is not “conservative” behavior. In fact, anything short of ensuring that every citizen has an easy and unimpeded access to voting, is hostile to the conservative, American value of preserving the constitutional rights of our citizens.

Traditionally, as Americans, we honor those who serve and sacrifice in the uniforms of the armed forces and of public safety. Refusing to: meet their needs, fund their physical and mental healthcare, assist them in re-entering the civilian work force, and protect them from the brutal health consequences of their heroism – that’s not “conservative.” In fact, it betrays every conservative value that defines us as a nation.

Choosing the wealth of the few over the freedom of all of our citizens whose work makes this country great, choosing short-term wealth over the long-term good of the country, ignoring facts and telling lies because they’re bad for business, denying civil rights because they are politically inconvenient, and refusing to care for our warfighters and first responders – these are the “values” that the GOP consistently defends and promulgates. Not a single one of them is “conservative,” yet the media’s acquiescence to the Republican insistence on that vocabulary and narrative creates a dichotomy where anyone who opposes this shameful agenda is, implicitly, a “liberal,” thus allowing the Republican agenda to proceed unhindered.

Concluding Thoughts

This pattern neither began nor ends with Donald Trump, but his campaign has taken full advantage of it. Decades of meaningless misappropriation of the “conservative” moniker has allowed countless Republicans to push an agenda that has consistently undermined the foundations of our country, while gleefully claiming that they are actually championing “conservative” causes. Trump is no different, he’s just more transparently fatuous than most Republicans, so his hypocrisy and doublespeak is easier to spot.

Once Trump disappears from the national stage, and the Republicans attempt to rebuild their party from the wreckage he leaves behind, it is important that the media and the general public refuse to allow the GOP to reclaim the “conservative” label that they and their party have hijacked and brutally abused. When Republican politicians argue for a fundamentalist position, it should be labelled as such: “Fundamentalist Christians assert that homosexuality is incompatible with Christianity, while the majority of mainline Protestant denominations in the US disagree, although conservatives and liberals within those denominations continue to differ on what constitutes a Christian sexual ethic.” When Republican politicians argue for a position that is patently self-serving and not rooted in fact, the narrative should be: “On climate change, those who profit from or are funded by the fossil fuel industry deny its reality, whereas conservatives are looking for ways to create new jobs through the industries supporting environmental protection, and liberal activists want to stop the destruction of the environment, regardless of the cost.”

We need to hear conservative and liberal voices in our political dialogue. The modern Republican Party has consistently demonstrated that it is neither, but is instead a curious blend of the desperate bigotries of fundamentalism with the self-serving deceptions of the wealthy and powerful. Their use of the “conservative” label for their destructive agenda is an outright lie, one that threatens the freedoms, resources, and values that make the United States of America uniquely great. And the truth is, America has been and remains, great.

We don’t need to reclaim the nation’s greatness, we need to reclaim “conservative” ideology and language, and make them great again. It is imperative that we find a more precise vocabulary for discussing the implications of political decisions. In addition, we have to eschew the lazy habit of speaking in ill-informed generalizations about the attitudes of various demographic groups, especially diverse constituencies like “people of faith.” Finally, as an informed electorate, we need to insist on dialogue that ignores media or party-imposed labels and focuses instead on issues, values, and outcomes. Otherwise we cede far too much power to those who benefit from obfuscating the consequences of their agendas behind empty bombast.

On Talking “Dirty”

Sappho and Homer - Charles Nicolas Rafael Lafond

Sappho and Homer – Charles Nicolas Rafael Lafond (Wikimedia Commons)

I often speak in a blunt and explicit fashion about sex. I like having sex. I like thinking about sex. I sometimes meet attractive women and think, “I wonder what she looks like naked…” or “I wonder what she’s like in bed…” or “I wonder if she finds disappointing sexual performance amusing or just sad?”

I talk honestly about these things, and other sexual topics, with my friends because I think friends should talk about what’s on their mind, and what interests them. Leaving something many of us think about a lot, and are very interested in, off the table keeps us from building honest intimacy with those we love and trust.

I also think that the more open we are about our private thoughts, the easier it is to distinguish between what is healthy and what is unhealthy. Sex is a powerful desire, but one that gets channeled in countless unhealthy ways in our (and every) culture. Being open about it takes the stigma away, and allows thoughtful people to engage in real, meaningful discussions – without shame – about what constitutes healthy sexual expression.

Case in point. Some Trump apologists are referring to his jubilant claims of sexual assault as “locker room talk” or “private, boys-will-be-boys conversation.” No. Just…no. There’s a world of difference between: “Wow, oral sex is amazing. Isn’t everything better after a oral sex?” and “…when you’re a star, they’ll let you do it. You can do anything…Grab them by the pussy…You can do anything.”

One is sexually explicit, intimate conversation. The other is an endorsement of sexual assault.

We are all kinds of screwed up about sex in this culture, but listening to people confuse sexual assault with “dirty” talk is the most egregious example I have seen in a long time. We need a sexual ethic of healthy intimacy AND healthy honesty, but before we start working on that we need to draw a clear and explicit line that – no matter how wealthy and/or powerful you are – you are never, ever, under any circumstances entitled to sexually assault someone else.