In the 1950s, William F. Buckley launched National Review in an effort to create a new, focused, and intellectually defensible conservative movement. After failing to elect Barry Goldwater in 1964, this movement spent years essentially mired in obscurity. They watched powerlessly as Lyndon Johnson launched his Great Society programs and expanded domestic entitlements. The counterculture of the late 1960s proceeded to break down traditional social norms regarding the family and sexual activity, as crime and drug use started ticking upward. America lost faith in its military’s ability to win wars, and many thought it proper to disrespect returning combat veterans instead of welcoming them home as heroes. Under Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford, the Republican Party became progressive-lite, seizing multiple opportunities of their own to expand the strength and reach of the Federal government. Our currency spun out of control, our courts became more activist, our nation was being embarrassed on a global stage, and our morale was in the dirt.
The conservatives didn’t give up though. While the GOP had left them, and they had failed once again in 1976 when they weren’t able to nominate Ronald Reagan (which led to a bloody general election defeat that year), they instead set their sights on the future. No matter how bearish everyone else was on America, the conservative movement knew that it was one solid election away from having at least a temporary restoration.
And it’s a good thing that they didn’t give up.
Trump supporters are wrong about so many things, but one area of agreement I’ve had with them is that the conservative movement, at least since Reagan left office, has been a straight-up failure. Sure, there have been some good moments, like nominating Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court, congressional Republicans pushing welfare reform and a balanced budget under President Clinton, and blocking leftist advances in a multitude of other areas. But it isn’t so much that we have nothing to show for the past 27 or so years of conservatism, it’s that what we have to show is small relative to what the left has to show for their efforts.
Culturally and economically the left has been winning. Single parenthood and divorce are rampant. Our government has become an entity that primarily functions as a transfer payment clearing house. Our public sector labor force is massive. Our regulatory code is insane, and only dwarfed in complexity by our asinine tax code. Yes, I’m happy that we got D.C. v. Heller, but I’m not happy that so many Americans are hurting, unnecessarily, from all the forced stupidity gushing out of Washington.
Trump happened in the primary, but if and when Trump loses in November, we can’t waste time pointing fingers. Yes, there is no doubt the Trumpers will point fingers at those of us, such as myself, who just couldn’t bring ourselves to vote for the man. They simultaneously believe that “Never Trump” is both a pack of irrelevant losers, and that we are somehow numerous and influential enough to throw the election to Hillary.
But ignore their finger pointing. They will have no one to blame but themselves and they know it. They spent the primary insisting that Trump can and will expand the GOP tent by appealing to a silent majority of white working class voters, and disaffected Democrats. If that’s the case, he doesn’t need the votes of a handful of ideologically serious conservatives to win now does he? And even if he does win, our challenges remain all the same.
Conservatives need 21st century champions – people like Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, Paul Ryan and Ben Sasse, to lead the movement once the dust has settled on the Trumpocalypse. We need people with a forward looking vision, not a candidate running on exhausted, decades old talking points about ‘jobs going overseas,’ or ‘building a wall.’
This comes as a shock to people, but guess what – lost jobs since outsourcing ramped up in the 70s haven’t gone unreplaced. In fact, here is a graph of the labor force participation rate from the BLS:
It only goes down due to a few cyclical economic factors, and the retirement of the baby boomers starting in the new millennium. It was ticking up through the 70s and 80s, even as jobs were being “sucked” away from us. The rate has remained in a small range of 60%-67% for over 40 years. This is not what the picture protectionists are painting should look like.
And for all the fuss about stopping illegal immigration, what will keep the problem under control the most are things like proper tracking systems, and e-verify, which are exactly the things that the supposed king of immigration, Marco ‘Gang of 8’ Rubio ran on. A one-time structure that can’t even be completed properly for a variety of reasons won’t do the trick alone, especially when so many illegal immigrants enter via regular land entrances, seaports, and even airports nowadays.
21st century conservatives need to understand that the old structure of conservatism isn’t working. Frankly, the current structure of America itself doesn’t work. We have the spirit to carry us forward into new heights in the coming decades, but our body is old and weak, and desperately needs replacing. The Federal bureaucracy is slow, anti-innovation, time consuming and expensive in a world that’s moving at an ever faster, globalized pace. Our tax and regulatory codes are self inflicted dead weights. 21st century conservatives need to embrace the information economy, and make the development of human capital through an innovative new educational system a top priority. America shouldn’t be running from trade and global competition, rather, we should be excited to participate in it. We’re exceptional after all, so we will dominate the global competition if we put our minds to it. Why should we fear a globalized world as long as we keep our sovereignty?
21st century conservatives need to hold firm when it comes to our basic rights and liberties. The first amendment, second amendment, and more are under growing threat from citizens and governments alike. We need to champion individualism, and yes, that may mean re-examining criminal justice, drug laws, and certainly bringing about a return to Federalism. Issues like government surveillance aren’t easy to solve, and as technology continues to develop the possibilities for governmental abuse will only grow.
21st century conservatives must be anti-cronyism. The time has long passed to get rid of corporate-favored giveaways like the Export-Import Bank, agriculture subsidies, and anti-free market licensing laws to name a few. How are Americans expected to listen to our arguments against welfare for struggling low-income Americans when our leaders support welfare for major companies and wealthy individuals?
Now is not the time to retreat from the world. In 1945, America accounted for roughly half of world’s GDP. Today, we are roughly 22% and declining further every year. This isn’t because our economy has shrunk, but because others have grown. China, India, Brazil, and many African nations are developing and will continue to grow over the coming decades. Western Europe and Japan have long since recovered from their post-war situation in 1945. We remain the tallest tree, but perhaps not for long. The forest is growing, and turning to isolation is no way to fix things. The 21st century will present geopolitical challenges like we’ve never seen before. While men like Rubio and Paul have their differences on how to confront these challenges, a flexible and intelligent foreign policy is not an option, it’s a necessity.
The threat from terrorist actors will only get more serious as well. The more advanced science and technology gets, the easier it will be for rogue groups to get their hands on biological agents, nuclear arms, and more. Iran is the clearest of these threats and the one that deserves the most attention today, but we kid ourselves if we think it will end there.
Finally, 21st century conservatives must oppose economic, social, or cultural collectivism in all of its forms, whether it comes from Sanders or Trump, who both want different flavors of the same anti-individual, ‘we are all in it together’ way of getting things done. Sanders wants to restrict economy liberty through higher taxes. Trump wants to do it through restricting the free movement of goods and companies across the globe, and by imposing new tariffs, which are taxes all the same. Both approaches are aimed at helping working class people, but neither will be successful in doing so.
The future has the potential to be the best time to be alive. Innovation will allow people to distinguish themselves from the crowd like never before, as the internet largely has already. Now is not the time to revert to collectivism, whether it be the redistributionist philosophy of Sanders or the Trumpian nationalism of the current right.
Nearly all doomsday predictions amount to nothing. Don’t stop fighting for liberty just because we lost this time around and people are claiming it’s hopeless. It isn’t. Let’s come back in 2018, 2020, 2024, or however long it takes to start things off fresh. Prior generations of Americans have sacrificed much more than we will need to in this fight, so it’s nothing that we can’t handle.