An Open Letter to Conservatives

From Michael Zhu, a voice from The Left:

Conservatives have the power in America today—they must use it well.

To my friends on the right:

I admire you.

I admire your strength in the face of endless opposition and your resilience in a society that increasingly shuns you for unalterable ideological beliefs. I admire that often you can make strong arguments without resorting to -isms or -ists, that you remain strong even when liberals can claim to have won the cultural wars and the moral fights. Even though I don’t agree entirely with conservative ideology — only bits and pieces of it — I respect you.

I also fear for you. I fear that your clear-minded and unfazed ideology will be tarnished by partisan divides in Washington, D.C., that the people who claim to represent you in our capital will lose their way in the swamp of American politics. I fear that our president, who is dangerously populist and not actually conservative, will weaken the dignity and legitimacy of your ideology and of the Republican Party.

Most of all, I’m afraid that you will make the same mistakes the left made that allowed the right to take Congress, the White House and soon — as a result — the Supreme Court.

So, I ask of you a few important things.

Don’t begin to generalize about liberals as those on the left once did to conservatives. Just as there are all types of conservatives, each with different ideologies and beliefs, there are different types of liberals — some of which are actually willing to listen and cooperate without slander or insult. Not all liberals are intolerant of views dissimilar from their own. Just because conservative ideology is in a dominant position of power should not mean that conservatives have the privilege to label another entire ideology. True liberal beliefs are just as valid and deserving of respect as your conservatism.

True liberal beliefs are just as valid and deserving of respect as your conservatism.

Be wary of our current president. I am a proponent of giving President Donald Trump a chance to govern, but only a month into his term he has already disappointed. Even if we disregard his detrimental travel ban and his propensity to govern with executive orders, he is not the conservative president that you have hoped for. He has embraced the populist message of restricting free trade, threatened companies to keep jobs in the U.S. even at great economic cost, proposed the expansion of a government that is already large enough by tackling immigration reform with his ridiculous and expensive wall and now could provide funds to the National Guard to deport over 11 million undocumented immigrants. He has unfortunately associated conservatism with anti-women, anti-Muslim, anti-Hispanic, anti-veteran and homophobic beliefs — each of which I know most conservatives disagree with.

Trump is not a conservative, even though he represents the Republican Party. He could save the GOP, but more likely he will destroy it — I would bet on the latter. Don’t let that happen. Modern conservatism possesses a clear-eyed recognition of our country’s enemies — even if it’s enemies are in our own government.

Ask your leaders to listen to their constituents. I think they’ve done a satisfactory job of it so far. Republicans came into power advocating the complete repeal of the Affordable Care Act — with no mention of a replacement — yet after weeks of dissatisfaction from conservatives about a complete repeal, some leaders have now introduced a plan to replace it with a new system.

After all, ideologies are constructed by people, not the other way around.

But conservatives in Washington can do better. At the end of Barack Obama’s presidency, a majority of people did want Congress to consider Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland. An overwhelming majority of people supported a proposal to ban gun sales to people who are on the no-fly list. Those are only two examples in the past several years in which Congressional Republicans blatantly ignored public opinion. Don’t stand for this, even if it means that your public ideologies must be adjusted. After all, ideologies are constructed by people, not the other way around.

Finally, make sure your leaders do not abuse their power. They have two years of almost complete political control on the national and state level before them. Do not waste it on partisan bickering or squabbles. Do not further perpetuate the issue of political gridlock; actively fix our country’s problems. Be conservative in ideology but not in action. Now that the left has given up the mantle of being moderates, take that position up. Let conservatism move to the center ground and the GOP will have its future.

Another four years of Congressional standstill and Trump’s detrimental whimsicality will end the legitimacy of the party. This is what I fear.

But I am confident that you’re up to the challenge, and I admire you for the fight you’ve put up these past few years. Liberalism might have won the cultural and moral wars, but conservatism clearly has won the political battle of 2016.

Michael Zhu is an undergraduate at Dartmouth College.

This article appeared originally in the February 20, 2017 edition of The Dartmouth. 

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