Not a Pretty Picture, That's For Sure!
"Conservatives" come in all shapes and stripes, sizes and styles. You may even think of yourself as a "conservative". You may define "conservative" as being cautious, frugal, traditional, Christian, perhaps even "average American". You may believe in small government, low taxes, a strong defense and "traditional" values. These decriptions may well apply to the "good-old-boy" or gal out there in the populace, generally hard-working, meaning no harm, just trying to live their lives.
But these descriptions woefully fail to fully detail the complexities of conservatism, both in the individual "Mom and Pop" Conservative, and certainly in the positions of conservatives in political, economic and cultural power, now and throughout American history.
Let's take them separately.
Mom and Pop Conservative:
These are usually decent folks, but they are just confused. They are confused all the more because they don't even know they are confused. Here's why. Most of them haven't thought deeply about their political beliefs; they just go along with the flow of the society they belong to. It's very similar to their religious beliefs. They don't go out and learn about and try out all of the world's religions to find the one that brings them closer to God; usually they believe in the religion that is given to them by their parents or spouse or immediate society. You would think that if they really love God as much as they say they do, they would make a little more effort to learn as much as they can about God by understanding what other religions and cultures have to say about the subject. But no, they are satisfied to take the easy way out and just believe what they are told to believe.
So, too, with their politics, which actually often marches in lock-step with their religious affiliation. You would think that if they love America so much, they would have studied American history and closely follow all of the nuances of the major political issues facing the country. But they do not. Most of them haven't studied and don't closely follow politics. They never knew or have forgotten much about American politics and history. They haven't even thought very deeply about what makes America America. They mostly rely on their "gut" instincts about what is right and wrong, but that instinct is fostered largely by what everyone else around them seems to believe, and is very easily manipulated.
In other words, they follow the herd. And while in the herd they hear all kinds of reasons why they should believe in the herd. The herd is the best! The other herds are flawed, weird, possibly dangerous. They learn to be suspicious and fearful of members of any other herd. And so, the seeds of a sense of superiority and fear are deeply sown. These twin emotions now taint all of their convictions.
It's called clan mentality. There was a time when such a mentality was useful, actually logical. When the Germanic tribes or the Vikings might come raiding over the hillside any particular day, it was wise to be wary, even fearful, and a sense of superiority might be just the edge that helped you win a sword-fight against, say, the Trojans. But that time has long passed. Clan mentality is now a dangerous relic. We don't live in clans any longer; we live in nations of millions of people, and we are connected through modern communications, commerce and culture with billions of people around the globe. Thinking of oneself, or even one's nation, as superior, and fearing the rest of world is a schizophrenic mindset, and a pathway that leads to catastrophe. Submitted as evidence: Nazi Germany.
Conservative Moms and Pops think they are being good people by maintaining the values of the herd, but such clan "values" are warped and woefully out of date. Not only does the herd feed a sense of superiority and fear, but by reinforcing its own traditional clan values it distorts real values. What "real" values? Actual moral and ethical values, including Christian values and American values. And so, conservatives get wrapped up in a tangled web of group-think that actually makes very little sense, outside of clan mentality. They are not stuck in the 1950s, they are stuck in the Middle Ages.
For instance, Mom and Pop Conservative profess to believe in freedom. But they really don't. What they actually believe is that everyone should be free to conform to the way they think. That's clan mentality. When someone actually acts upon their freedom through non-conformity, it makes Mom and Pop conservative very uncomfortable. The clan, the herd, is threatened by such behavior. The precept of freedom, or liberty, is not a clan value.
They say they believe in equality. But they really don't. What they actually believe in is the traditional clan heirarchy. Some people are just naturally superior to others. Rich, white, Protestant males are at the very pinnacle of the heirarchy in the minds of many Mom and Pop Conservatives. These are the former lords, princes, kings of old. Anyone different, including females, but also people of a different culture, religion, culture or color, are automatically inferior in the minds of the conservative, and not to be respected or trusted. Equality does not really work within the clan.
In the great tradition of the west, Mom and Pop Conservative proclaim they are "rugged individualists". Far from it. They are members of a herd. They are clones. Especially the men. Look, see them dressed up in their little uniforms, the white shirt, the tie, the suit coat, the pressed pants, or the blue-collar uniform, or the polo shirt and slacks, or the sports get-up. Moreover, they look the same from birth to death: the same clothes, the same hair style, the same ideology (both religious and political) they received as a child. The word individualist is squandered on them. They are conformist.
Mom and Pop Conservative claim to be Christians. But they rarely act like it. Christianity as a whole is not a clan. Its overriding themes are love and forgiveness, but these are effortlessly demoted by clannish sects in favor of a mentality that focuses on superiority and fear of the other. Love and forgiveness do not promote or protect the clan.
Mom and Pop Conservative claim to love America. But they don't really understand what that means. They think it means their own social group. That's not all America means. They think it means their home town. That's not all America means. They think it means their religious denomination. That's definitely not what America means.
America is just three things: land, people, ideals.
To a real American patriot, the land is sacred. Mom and Pop Conservative don't have much affinity for the land except perhaps when they're off wandering in their RV. Their values don't include fighting against an American river being polluted, or a smokestack belching poison into American skies, or an American mountain-top being lopped off for the sake of profit, or an American wilderness being punctured by oil wells, or an endangered American species being driven to extinction. Instead, Mom and Pop Conservative imagine that it's probably a member of their clan cashing in on these natural resources, and that's just fine. America the Beautiful, to them, is just a tuneful ditty.
America's people represent the melting pot of the world. The Statue of Liberty proclaims, "Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!" Though it's all-American and entirely Christian, Mom and Pop Conservative don't like those words. Clan mentality doesn't have any use for the tired, the poor or tempest-tost.
Yet the Native Americans were here first, by a long shot. Then came the Vikings, those despised enemies of the English. A long time passed, then came the Protestants seeking sanctuary from religious persecution, whereupon they immmediately began to religiously persecute. The Catholics arrived about the same time or were already here. They were followed by Dutch, Germans, Irish, French, and a host of other nationalities, including, of course, Africans who arrived very early on, but not by first class ticket. It was just this well-shaken rabble that the founding fathers were thinking of as they conjured a system of government for "We the People." Mom and Pop Conservative don't believe in that "We the People." No, they believe only in "We the People of the Clan".
The ideals and founding principles of the United States of America are: "All Men are Created Equal", "Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness", "Justice", "We the People". Mom and Pop Conservative are edgy about all of them. That "All men are created equal" part... why, that might, some day, allow a black man to be elected president! Egads! "Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" as "inalienable rights", what weird, non-conformist activities and identities might result from such a dangerous idea? "We the People", couldn't that be modified to "We the White, Protestant, Male, Somewhat Wealthy, at least not Poor or Colored, People"?
The preamble to the Constitution states, "We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America." Mom and Pop Conservative are not pleased. Included are not only the dangerous words "We the People" but also the horrendous word "welfare"! Yes, indeed.
God is not mentioned in the U.S. Constitution. A nebulous, define-it-as-you-will "Creator" is mentioned in the Declaration of Independence. Jesus is not mentioned in any American foundational document. Yet American ideals are complimentary to the major tenets of Christian love and forgiveness. It is conservatives who don't realize their clan mentality is opposed to them both. American and Christian principles emphasize the importance not of the clan, but of the wider community, the whole, Jews and Gentiles, We the People. All of the people. All of your neighbors. Not just the white ones. Not just the rich ones. Not just the Protestant ones.
The ideal in both systems, American and Christian, is to be a good member of a greater whole. Take care of each other. Indeed, love one another. We're all in this together. All for one, and one for all. Yes, be a rugged individualist (which, as stated, is nigh impossible for a conservative), but your rights end where the next person's rights begin, and your rights definitely end where the community's rights begin. The community, the nation, is more important than you. "We the People" is the American way, not "it's my property, I'll do what I want." "Domestic tranquility" and "the general welfare" are to be respected and promoted. "All men are created equal" demands respect. Only if Mom and Pop Conservative give up their feelings of superiority and fear can they embrace these true American, and Christian values. But they are unwilling to give up clan mentality. It is more important to them to conform to the herd than to think deeply about and embrace true Christian or American values. And so, they remain poor Americans and poor Christians. Neither Jefferson or Kierkegaard would have much respect for them.
Mom and Pop Conservative claim they love America but not enough to pay very much, if any, tax to support it. They love American highways, the postman, Social Security, Medicare, retirement, the internet, the Space Program, the National Parks, the electrical grid, the water supply, dams and bridges and airports, plus, of course, the armed forces, but they hate socialism, which is exactly what all of these things are. They complain about people who "blame" America for its mistakes and sins, while they, the true patriots, are perfectly willing to allow America to wallow in mediocrity and dabble in immorality. They love America, but don't care much for its land or ideals, or most Americans. They disdain liberal Americans, feminist Americans, unemployed Americans, poor Americans, Native Americans, African Americans, Hispanic Americans, Asian Americans, Catholic Americans, Jewish Americans, Islamic Americans, Hindu Americans, Buddhist Americans, Taoist Americans, Shinto Americans, Confucian Americans, agnostic Americans, atheist Americans, gay Americans, lesbian Americans, transgender Americans, and Americans with disabilities. As a modern political (or religious) philosophy, conservatism is an absolute mess. It only makes sense as clan mentality.
So Mom and Pop conservative are basically good-hearted people, who in their conformity and clan mentality just haven't thought things out very well.