It’s time for the conservative movement in America to take a deep, cleansing breath.
The Trump era is a perplexing one for many of us. President Donald Trump has made great strides on some of the issues we care about most — protecting religious liberty and human life, promoting the value of work as the key to economic success and independence, and re-focusing our federal government’s priorities on protecting Americans by regulating our borders.
And yet...so much of his behavior seems to reflect the absence of values we cherish. Modesty. Humility. Graciousness. Self-restraint. Civility.
This is why pundits like Michael Gerson describe “religious conservatives” who voted for Trump as having “elevat[ed] the ends of politics over the means of character.” This is certainly not true for all of us. But if we’re being honest, we can see why he thinks so.
The question many conscientious conservatives are asking ourselves is: How do we talk about politics in the context of an administration that is serving us well in many ways, but is also degrading the public perception of our character? Here are a handful of suggestions, drawn from my new book, "Restoring America’s Soul: Advancing Timeless Conservative Principles in a Wayward Culture."
Be honest. Despite what our social media-crazed culture suggests, we don’t have to let ourselves be pushed into either a “biggest fan” or “hate him” box when it comes to Trump. We can say that we love his policy, but aren’t fans of the way he communicates. Let’s honestly say that we respect him as our president and that we pray for him regularly.
Be gracious. Our political discussions should be driven by the maxim, “tough on issues, gentle on people.” It does no one any good to demonize those who disagree with us, no matter how vehement the disagreement. I couldn’t disagree more with the growing tide of politicians pushing socialism, but I don’t believe they are evil. So rather than suggesting that they are bad people, let’s focus on explaining why they are wrong.
Be persuasive. One of the lost arts of the conservative movement is the ability to paint a positive vision of our ideology. Because limited government is a core feature of it, too often the GOP sounds like “grumpy old people.” While the Left is telling young citizens how government can make life better, the Right appears to be telling them that we want government to leave us alone. We can and must do better at expressing our vision of a nation where government is limited so that the people can use liberty to pursue virtue. That vision doesn’t lack care for the poor and the sick; it values human needs so highly that it assigns them to personal, local care rather than relegating them to cold, distant bureaucrats.
Be wise. Author George Will has said that the basis of civility in public discourse is a mature, humble talent for thinking historically. This is what America’s founding generation did so well. They used the lessons of history to devise a government powerful enough to govern the people, but obliged to control itself. When we buy into the idea that our Constitution is “organic,” — that its meaning changes with the winds of time--we move away from the original genius of the finest governing document ever written. We must insist that our leaders respect the original meaning and wisdom of our Constitution. And we must act to restore the original meaning of the parts that have been twisted.
Be virtuous. It would be a mistake to focus all of our energy on public policy while our culture continues to grow more crass, vulgar and trivial. The culture is the water that we all swim in. It’s the air that we breathe. So if it is toxic, we don’t stand much chance of producing a healthy government nor healthy officials to run it. To restore a culture of virtue, we have to start at home. We must foster genuine spiritual faith, and pursue goodness, truth, and beauty. We must teach respect for the inherent dignity and worth of every human life. We must strengthen families if we want to strengthen the nation.
In other words, today’s conservatives need to be all the things we want our leaders to be. We, the People, sit at the helm of our government, whether we act like it or not. It’s time for us to take a deep, cleansing breath, and then get back up, and be the kind of people we want to represent us.
Rita Dunaway lives in Harrisonburg. Her column appears on thestream.org.