Since the American Revolution, American conservatism has been based upon a set of core beliefs: liberty, justice, and equality. In recent years however, the movement has strayed far from its ideological roots. Instead of following principles, conservatives have begun to follow politicians and media figures. The intellectual underpinnings of conservatism have been reduced to tweets and memes. If conservatism is to survive, it must return to its foundational beliefs.
Many conservatives now base their beliefs off of talk show hosts and political pundits. People like Tucker Carlson, Ben Shapiro, and Ann Coulter have large fan bases and shows that bring in millions of viewers. However, many of their viewers take their claims at face value, failing to do any additional research on their own. This has often led to weak arguments with little to support the conservative viewpoint.
The dangers of following politicians or media personalities are readily apparent. Kanye West recently posted a series of tweets that indicated support for Donald Trump and the MAGA movement. Many conservatives, including several prominent politicians and pundits, heaped praise upon him. Unfortunately, shortly after these posts, he sent out a tweet stating that Emma Gonzalez, a Parkland school shooting survivor and prominent gun control activist, was his hero. Predictably, many of Kanye’s right wing supporters were horrified. Their new cultural icon had turned on them, seemingly shedding his conservative beliefs in favor of liberal ideals.
Another threat posed by following people instead of principles is the intense tribalism that can arise. During the 2016 GOP primary, Donald Trump and Ted Cruz engaged in a vicious smear campaign against their respective opponent. Cruz, who had previously been a conservative bannerman, found himself subject to attacks that accused him of being the “establishment” candidate, despite his record and policy stances remaining consistent throughout his Senate service and his presidential campaign. Often these attacks came from people who were staunch supporters of him just the year before. This devotion to candidates has led conservatives to become unable to vote based on principles, lest they suddenly become the “establishment” or a “RINO” when the base’s preferred leader comes out in opposition to a bill.
When we begin to follow people instead of principles, often we lose our principles entirely. Prior to Donald Trump’s candidacy, an overwhelming majority of Republicans supported free trade agreements. However, shortly after his nomination, over 60% of Republicans stated that free trade deals were harmful to the country. In one year, conservatives had abandoned decades of believing in free trade principles in favor of a candidate who had captured their hearts and minds.
Similarly, many conservatives believe in their principles only as long as those principles serve their interests. Facebook’s censorship of conservative pages and figures and YouTube’s demonetization of conservative channels has caused outrage among those on the right. Many prominent conservative voices have called for the Federal government to step in and regulate these companies, as well as other mega-companies who suppress conservative content.
Less than a year ago, however, conservatives were shocked and indignant when the Oregon Court of Appeals ruled that a Christian bakery was not allowed to refuse service to a lesbian couple on religious grounds. They loudly declared that the government should not be able to dictate how a private company conducts its business.
Conservative principles work. They are the foundation on which the United States were built, and they are what made this country great. We need politicians and public figures to implement conservative policies and to proclaim the conservative message. However, we cannot allow the conservative movement to become about one prominent figure or another. We must follow our principles, or else our principles could be washed away at a moment’s notice.