The past few weeks have highlighted the new direction in which the conservative movement is going. Over the weekend, Kyle Rittenhouse appeared at Turning Point USA’s “AmericaFest” and received an introduction that would make a professional wrestler jealous. At the same conference, Donald Trump Jr. questioned whether conservative Christians should continue to “turn the other cheek” because it has “gotten us nothing.” This comes a few weeks after Colorado Representative Lauren Boebert made headlines for cracking a joke in which she compared Representative Ilhan Omar to a suicide bomber.
Unfortunately, the lack of seriousness manifested in the previous examples has become part and parcel of the conservative movement. Conservatives are not talking about substantive policy. They are not developing serious legislation that has a chance to be enacted into law. They are not modeling the type of public virtue they accuse progressives of lacking. Instead, they have devolved into publicity-seeking silliness that provokes discussion on social media while doing nothing to further debate the critical issues facing our country.
Conservatism is at a crossroads, and the decisions we make over the next two to three years will determine the future of the movement. Will the conservative movement be a movement that advances big ideas, or will it be a movement that focuses on grievances and getting even with opponents? Progressivism has made its decision. They are going to focus on ideas and implementing policy. As a conservative, I reject almost every idea they champion, but at least I know what they are for. With conservatives, I can’t tell anymore. Are we for a set of ideals, or do we simply hate the other side?
The conservative movement has always been a movement that was about ideas. The conservative movement that originated in the 1950s with William F. Buckley, the Reagan Revolution of the 1980s, and the Republican landslide of 1994 were all marked by a commitment to ideals. These candidates ran on big ideas–limited government, personal responsibility, freedom, a strong military, low taxes, law and order, and strict constructionism in interpreting the Constitution. Our columnists argued about the rightness or wrongness of ideas and specific policies. They attacked ideas without attacking people.
The conservative movement in its current iteration is not driven by ideas. It is obsessed with finding opportunities to “own” progressives. We’re not defined by what we fight for; we are defined by who we hate. That is why Kyle Rittenhouse was on stage this past weekend. All of the people that conservatives hate were convinced that Rittenhouse was guilty. These are the people who hate guns and cheered on the riots that emerged from the Black Lives Matter protests. A jury found Rittenhouse not guilty, so now young conservatives see parading him out on stage as one more opportunity to stick a finger in their opponents’ eyes.
The debate about gun control is a good example where conservatives can lead with ideas. Conservatives are rightly committed to preserving the freedoms enshrined in the second amendment. However, instead of coming up with serious policy proposals to protect gun rights while also championing responsible gun ownership, conservatives have settled for cheap publicity stunts. Representative Boebert and Representative Thomas Massie caused a stir when they posted Christmas cards of themselves and their families holding various weapons. They did this the week after a deadly school shooting in Michigan. The parents of the teen who is charged with the shooting have also been charged because they bought the gun for their son.
In addition to advancing ideas that lead to good policy outcomes, conservatives need to regain the moral high ground by modeling civic virtue. Showing respect to our political opponents is not a sign of weakness. In fact, it shows that we are so sure our convictions are right that we don’t have to devolve into schoolyard taunts to advance them.
In addition to basic respect, conservatives should also model a commitment to the truth. We believe that our convictions are grounded in timeless moral absolutes. This means that we are advocates for telling the truth and using sound, good-faith arguments for advancing our case. We reject buying into lying and conspiracy theories since they undermine the truth.
Even though progressivism has taken hold in most of America’s institutions, it remains extremely unpopular with most people. Conservatives have an excellent opportunity to make gains in the next few years and advance serious policy initiatives. Will we take advantage of it, or will we squander it by majoring on silly side issues?
The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Christian Headlines.
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Scott Slayton writes at “One Degree to Another.”